What we have heard tonight in the Gospel is in some ways the beginning of the most important part of God’s Word. There are three reasons why.
The first reason is because what Jesus is saying goes to the very heart of what it means to be human. This might seem strange because it doesn’t sound that impressive: happy the poor, happy the gentle – it doesn’t sound like much because happiness isn’t that hard. I said mass here this morning, and looking out onto the trees with the sunlight made me happy. If I walk into a pub and they have Guinness on tap, I am happy. If the Bulldogs win the Grand Final this year I will be happy. All these things are nice, but it’s not a crisis if it doesn’t happen.
But the reality is that this isn’t what Jesus means when he is saying happy. The Gospels, as we know, weren’t written in English: they were written in Greek. And the Greek word used here is Μακάριοι, whose Greek root means three very different things:
- Something which belongs to the gods, which does not belong to mortal men.
- Being fortunate – not just being lucky, but having a fortune, great wealth.
- Being beyond the reach of all pain.
In other words, what Jesus is saying here goes to the heart of each of us. Because what do you desire? What do you want? The happy Jesus means here is freedom from pain and suffering – do you want that? An overabundance of every good thing? Do you want to become like God, smart and never decaying and perfectly loving and fearing no one? Each time Jesus says the word happy here, he is offering us these things: the answer to the desire of each of our hearts. That’s one reason this text is so important.
A second reason is that, as usual, Jesus not only tells us about what we can have, he tells us how we can get it. Accept the fact that we are poor – that we are totally dependent on God for every good thing. Be gentle with people. Don’t be afraid when you lose people or things you love. Hunger to do the right thing. Forgive others as you are forgiven. Live a life of purity. Make peace, not problems. Do the right thing even if you cop flak for it. Jesus promises that if we live like this, we will have a perfect and eternal happiness, the kind he talks about, which no one can destroy and everyone will want.
But why do these things make us happy? They’re hard, really difficult sometimes. The answer, again, is a simple one. It’s because God is like this. God is like this. Jesus describing all these things – he is describing himself. Jesus is poor in spirit – he owns nothing, but receives everything from his Father. Jesus is gentle and tender, especially when we are down and hurting. And so on. And this is really the third reason why what is said here is so important: the Sermon on the Mount is what makes Christian morality different to any other religion or ideology. The Commandments apply to every human being, whatever their religion, because they form part of every human heart. But the Sermon on the Mount is what makes Christian ethics unique: nobody else offers it. It is also what makes a Christian lifestyle better than any other. Because what is outlined here, this extension of the commandments, is what God is truly like. And because a human being is someone who is made in God’s image, if he is becoming like God then he is fulfilling what it means to be human. This is why what Jesus says here is the best lifestyle in the world, the one which makes us free to be who we have been created to be.
So let us pray for each other, and ask for this grace tonight: when we receive communion, we ask Jesus, who is in us, to make us people of the beatitudes. Amen.