Sunday, 30 January 2011
4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, Shaftesbury
If someone was to say to you, "You're a Christian, How does Jesus tell me I should live?"
That would obviously be a big question. Many of us might wonder where we would begin to answer it. I imagine that most of us would start by saying, "Jesus said that you must love God and love your neighbour". However, the point I want to make to you today, is that this is NOT what Jesus said -this is not how Jesus started His explanation of how we should live.
We just heard in today's gospel text how Jesus started His great moral discourse: The great Sermon on the Mount. Over the past few weeks our gospel readings have been telling us how Jesus began His ministry; today our gospel gave us the beginning of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount –the long moral discourse He gave near the start of His ministry; and over the next few weeks we are going to hear some of the details of that moral discourse, of that description of how we are to live.
But my point to you today is that Jesus started His moral discourse by addressing the question of happiness: How and where do we find happiness?
And Jesus did this because for two reasons :
First, He wants us to be happy;
Second, He knows that people are easily mistaken about WHAT happiness is and about HOW happiness is found -that was true 2000 years ago and it is true today.
When Jesus first said those words I just read out, namely the Beatitudes, the people who first heard Him must have been as puzzled as many of us today, because the people that Jesus calls "happy" would seem to include people that are not “happy” in a worldly way at all: those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst, those who persecuted.
The answer to this difficulty lies in the question of what true happiness is. True happiness, "blessedness", consists in sharing the very life of God, seeking God and becoming what St Peter called “partakers in the divine nature”(2 Pet 1:4). This is the glorious end that we are called to, and it is in as much as we possess this that we possess happiness.
This is the happiness we are called to in this life, and in its fullness in the life to come.
Of course, many people seek happiness in very different things: money, comfort, alcohol, and so forth. But none of these things, not even when taken together, none of these things is worthy of us. Only God is worthy of being the end and goal of human life. Only friendship with God is something that can satisfy us. Only friendship with God, the divine lover, can bring a joy to the soul that is more enduring, more profound, and more satisfying than the joy of any earthly lover.
And how does this come back to the Beatitudes? The Beatitudes not only address the question of happiness but they also point out how we should live: they commend to us humility, gentleness, purity of heart. But the way that they point us to live has an even deeper dimension: they point us to live in union with Christ, to live as Christ lived. As Pope Benedict has put it,
“In truth, the blessed par excellence is only Jesus. He is, in fact, the true poor in spirit, the one afflicted, the meek one, the one hungering and thirsting for justice, the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemaker. He is the one persecuted for the sake of justice. The Beatitudes show us the spiritual features of Jesus and thus express his mystery, the mystery of his death and Resurrection, of his passion and of the joy of his Resurrection. This mystery, which is the mystery of true blessedness, invites us to follow Jesus and thus to walk toward it.” (Pope Benedict, Homily for All Saints, 1st Nov 2006)
So, to come back to the opening question: How did Jesus start His explanation of how we should live?
He started it by addressing the universal desire for happiness. And He taught that that happiness is to be found in values that turn the world on its head. He taught that happiness is to be found in Him alone.