As a teenager in Sunday School, I always used to wonder whenever the text of the Beatitudes came up for discussion. Though at that time I was afraid to raise my questions and voice my doubts, I often thought this passage was an unfair one. Why is it that one has to undergo all these “hardships” as described in the Beatitudes in order to experience happiness in the afterlife?
Despite having these thoughts in my mind and questions at the tip of my tongue, I never dared ask my catechism teachers. Even today whenever I confide in a friend about the challenges of being a priest, I feel my body cringing when the one in whom I confided in says… “Don’t worry! Your rewards will be out of this world (heaven).” I sometimes catch myself saying, ‘Why can’t some of those rewards be here and now?”
The Beatitudes that we hear this Sunday is filled both with mystery and idealism – thus, making it difficult to understand. A simplistic reading of it makes it difficult for many of us to get a grip on them, given the context we live in. The Beatitudes certainly cannot be understood with human reason only, like how I tried to do as a teenager. Without faith, this teaching of Jesus seems ridiculous and perhaps even absurd.
Unlike in the gospel of Matthew where the Beatitudes (Sermon on the Mount) is recorded as Jesus addressing the crowd (Matt 5:1), in the version we hear today that comes from the gospel of Luke (Sermon on the Plain), Jesus is only addressing His disciples, the ones who had left everything and followed Him. Jesus is addressing the very sacrifices that these men made in following Jesus. He does not promise them a rosy path to happiness, but a path that has its own merit.
In today’s world, these men who left everything and followed Jesus would have been considered “foolish” but Jesus teaches them that the path less travelled brings about happiness because they were not tied down with the worry of money and material possessions.
The Beatitudes today present to us two quite opposite ways of looking at life and God ultimately gives us the freedom of choice. In a paradoxical manner, Jesus presents the life in the kingdom of God. The mystery and the idealism that Jesus presents in this teaching must be seen in the light of eternity, and not just in the here and now (like how I tried to do). There is always a price to pay in choosing to follow Jesus and it is not the same for everyone. However, there is a promise of objective happiness that no one can offer other than Jesus, and which no one can take away once given by Him.
In his book The Road Less Travelled, Scott Peck writes that in order to develop “the capacity to delay gratification, it is necessary for them to have self-disciplined role models, a sense of self-worth, and a degree of trust in the safety of their existence.” In some ways, Jesus’ speaking to His disciples about the “future rewards” is a way of inviting them to trust in Him and in doing so, find meaning and relevancy in their “leaving everything” and following Him.
In a way, Jesus is reminding us that by following Him, we cannot run away from making sacrifices, and if we do it generously and not grudgingly, there is true happiness to be found, even in the here and now. For us today, the way of life and true happiness is the way of Jesus, the way of the beatitudes, the way of rendering loving service to God by serving our brothers and sisters – not in pursuit of power, wealth, or fame.
What sacrifice(s) is God asking of us? Are we ready to make them in order to attain happiness both here and in the afterworld? As disciples of Jesus, our call is to be first in the eyes of God and not in the world. To attain this, we cannot run away from making sacrifices. Take time this week to ponder… Are you happy? What does God ask of you today?
6th Sunday in Ordinary Time (13 Feb 2022)