I don’t know about you guys, but I’m more than a little happy that the midterm elections are finally over. Whether or not Christine O’Donnell is a witch was never a question I struggled over, though I admit there is a part of me that found that question more interesting than some of the questions in this cycle. Running for public office is at once a declaration of one’s humility in wishing to serve and a declaration of one’s arrogance in believing one can do the job. It’s not a position, neither the office itself or the personal quandaries that office puts you in, that I envy. I heard several victory speeches and interviews over the last couple of days, and every politician I heard spoke about the great things they were going to do for us and for America. I guess it would be hard to imagine someone getting up right after being elected governor and saying “I want to congratulate the unemployed in this nation. Some day in heaven you will have it better. And I want to reach out to the malnourished children of our land and bless you for your hunger. And I want to say a word to the hated masses, to minorities and others who feel the sting of racism: some day you will receive a reward.”1
Would it surprise you to learn that Jesus did essentially that? By the time Jesus uttered those Beatitudes we just heard from St. Matthew, John the Baptist had been arrested, Jesus had called the first disciples, His fame had spread throughout most if not all of the Middle East, and people were coming from all directions, walking and riding for days, to hear Him preach, to touch His hands, to be healed of whatever ailed them. Jesus was and is the Messiah, the Chosen One who saves the world, but the crowds had anointed Him to be their political champion as well, and so when He climbed that mount and the crowds quieted down so to hear Him speak, what He had to say was, well, unexpected.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Not a list of the most likely candidates for being blessed. We hear about being young at heart, but rarely pure in heart; peacemaking is in fashion nowadays. We might not mind being known as merciful peacemaker or pure in heart, but being a poor, meek, mournful, hungry, thirsty, reviled, persecuted, pure in heart merciful peacemaker doesn’t sound so hot. If that is the standard, the list of criteria by which we get into heaven, I’m not sure how many of us would make it, or even attempt to. But Jesus isn’t saying that these are the heavenly entrance requirements. He is saying, however, that when we make the decision to follow Him, we should expect some if not all of these things to become true in our lives.
A few weeks ago there was a gathering of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu leaders called, and I’m not making this up, the Interfaith Summit on Happiness. There it was declared that the purpose of life is happiness, and even though that is not true, some of the presenters did do a good job at defining what makes their people happy. The Dalai Lama said that “true happiness comes from within,” unintentionally highlighting much of what is wrong with Buddhism. Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks said this of Jewish happiness: “The heart of all Jewish festivals can be summed up like this. ‘They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat,’” which is much closer to what happiness really is, not to mention funny. But true happiness, I’m here to tell you, looks a lot more like those blessings, those Beatitudes of Jesus. Happiness looks more like the Beatitudes because happiness is knowing and following Jesus, and in knowing and following Jesus, you will be blessed even in the midst of persecution and struggle, you can feel happiness, even joy, in being reviled for Jesus’ sake.
When we look at the lives of the Saints, we see all types of people. Rich and poor, persecuted and cherished, reviled and beloved, all traits and circumstances found amongst the Saints and sometimes in just one Saint. We do well when we study the Saints, because in them we see living examples of the Beatitudes. They mourned sinfulness, practiced meekness, hungered and thirsted for righteousness in themselves and in others. The Saints were merciful to the poor and therefore just; they made peace when others failed; they were reviled and accused, yet they purified their hearts. That’s not an easy race to run, it’s not easy to find blessing in hardship, happiness in struggle, to find joy amongst the changes and chances of this life. But we have indeed been compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses to this happiness, these joyful blessings of knowing Jesus, that we do not run our races alone. So may we rejoice in fellowship with one another and with all the Saints, running the race set before us, and may we, with them, receive that crown of glory that fadeth not away.