Wednesday, January 9, 2008


How to be Happy

One of the frustrations of old age is that you spend a lot of time looking for things. I waste a lot of my time searching the house for my coffee cup, a book, a magazine, a half-eaten cookie, my glasses, my wallet. You’ll often see old people wandering through the Wal*Mart parking lot, pressing their key rings, listening for their car to beep. Uni and I have often thought that all things losable, should have beepers.

The sad thing is that most of things we search for are not really that hard to find – like happiness.

I remember long ago hearing a very wise young lady tell me that people search for happiness like an old woman searching for her glasses when they’re right on the end of her nose.

I’ve come to realize that happiness is not something we can find by searching. It’s a by-product.

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is reported in two different accounts, one by Matthew (5-7) and one by Luke (6:20-49). Though Luke’s version is the shorter, he gives some material that Matthew omits, and sometimes has a different order.

The greatest difference between the two is in the so-called Beatitudes, the list of blessings that begins the Sermon in both versions.

It should be noted that the word translated “blessed” in most English versions is one of two words translated thus. The Greek word here is makarioi, which could better be translated “happy” or even “lucky.” It speaks of favorable circumstances, and thus there seems to be a bit of irony in Jesus’ use of it. The people He pronounces happy or lucky are not those that most of us would consider to be so.

In Matthew 5:3-11, the word is used nine times, while in Luke 6:20-22, it is used only four times. Only one of Luke’s uses corresponds with one of Matthew’s. Luke also includes four “woes.”

Matthew’s first eight are addressed in the third person, his ninth in the second person. All four of Luke’s are in the second person. Notice the difference. (There is no “are” verb in the first line in Greek. It’s added for sense in our English translations.)

Matthew 5:
3. Happy are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
4. Happy are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5. Happy are the gentle,
for they will inherit the earth.
6. Happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7. Happy are the merciful,
for they will receive mercy.
8. Happy are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9. Happy are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
10. Happy are those persecuted for righteousness sake,
for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
but 11. Happy are you whenever they will insult you
and persecute you and say all kinds of evil
against you falsely on account of Me.
12. Be glad and be overjoyed, because your reward
In Heaven is great! For in the same way
they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Luke 6:
20. Happy are the poor,
for yours is the Kingdom of God.
21. Happy are those who hunger now,
for you will be filled.
Happy are those who weep now.
for you will laugh.
22. Happy are you whenever people hate you and whenever
they exclude you and insult you and spurn your names as
evil on account of the Son of Man.
23. Be glad in that day and jump for joy, for look --
your reward in Heaven is great! For their fathers
used to treat the prophets in the same way.

Matthew’s ninth “happy” (5:11 and 12) and Luke’s fourth (6:22 and 23) seem to be the same except for some differences in wording.

Luke’s four “woes” are also addressed in the second person and are addressed to people in circumstances exactly opposite to the four “happy” ones. Since we don’t often use the word “woe” in modern English, and since the word is used as an antonym for “happy,” I believe the word “miserable” best expresses the thought.

Luke 6:
24. However, miserable are you the rich,
for you have your comfort in full.
25. Miserable are you who are filled now.
for you will be hungry.
Miserable are those laughing now,
For you will mourn and weep.
26. Miserable are you whenever all people speak well of you,
for their fathers used to treat the false prophets
in the same way.

All of these “happys” and “miserables” seem to be part of the same list and they undoubtedly are. Yet it would be improper to simply combine them into one great list. We have to consider why Matthew and Luke chose to record different ones – why the Holy Spirit inspired them to do so.

One major thing to notice is that Luke’s blessings and woes all seem to speak of present external circumstances: poverty and wealth; hunger and fullness; weeping and laughter; ostracism and acceptance. Also notice his references to time: “now” (6:21); and, “in that day” (6:23). Matthew’s first six, however, seem to speak of the inner person; his seventh is a transition, while his eighth and ninth speak of external circumstances.

Matthew’s list, I believe, is the simpler to interpret, at least the first seven “happys.” These groups, the poor in spirit, the mourners, the gentle, the hungry and thirsty, the merciful, the pure, the peacemakers, are not seven different groups of people. They are all descriptions of the same persons – those who are going to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. These are not, however, requirements for entering – Jesus is the way. They do describe the sort of person who enters or at least what he/she is becoming.

We could compare these with later lists in the epistles: “Paul’s “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22 and 23; or, Peter’s list of virtues in 2 Peter 1:5-7. I know this is an oversimplification and doesn’t totally explain the blessings, but I believe it has to be a basis for interpreting and applying it. If we develop the virtues in Matthew 5:3-9, we will experience these “blessings.” We will know true happiness, both now and in the life to come, when we are in tune with the mind of Christ.

More later.

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