I received some requests after I preached this homily over the weekend, from some of my parishioners to have it posted on this blog. I rarely do accede to such requests, but I do hold the Beatitudes very closely to my heart as a Disciple of Jesus Christ. As an exception, here is what I preached, and I do hope that this will invite many to re-look at how we have been living out our Christian culture. God bless.
The Hard Truths of Jesus Christ
In most areas of our lives, when we enter into a new culture, a new school, a new workplace, a new social group, there is a need to orientate ourselves. Schools have orientation camps or programmes, and so do many companies. Offices have what is known as ‘office culture’ where one needs to learn the silent and often unwritten ways of doing things, and learn to adapt to the psychology of the place. And often, one does this so that one can adequately ‘fit in’.
Is there a Christian culture? Certainly. Christianity, from the onset of the arrival of the Kingdom of God in Christ, set to establish or rather re-establish a certain culture, a way of living, and a way of loving, which is markedly different from the ways that the world was used to. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us in a summarized form, the Christian Culture. But he knows that it will not be something easily accepted. But it is real hard truth.
Known also as the Sermon on the Mount, “beatitude” is from the Latin beatus meaning blessed. We Catholics have a great tradition to bless all sorts of things, from our rosaries and crucifixes to our homes, cars, to even our animals. Many see being blessed as being loved and favoured by God, and each blessing reminds us of that, and it is. But if we extend this to the beatitudes, we will face a huge problem, because none of the beatitudes seem to be anything like a blessing. At least on the surface.
The Greek for the word ‘blessed’ is makarioi, or makarios, which translates to either ‘congratulations’ or ‘lucky’. It’s a bit like our familiar Gong Xi in Mandarin or Gong Hei in Cantonese that we use freely during the New Year or when something good happens. Imagine the ire evoked if we greet anyone of our friends and relatives with the spirit of the beatitudes – may you have the luck of poverty, the ‘congrats’ for being mournful, ‘may you have the luck’ of being hungry, thirsty and experiencing persecution. Or ‘May you be abused on account of Jesus’. It will be highly unlikely that you will get a smile as a response.
So is there more than meets the eye here? Yes. It is problematic; and it’s hard to understand and almost repulsive to our ears! When we hear the Beatitudes proclaimed, do we feel unsettled or uncomfortable? Do we say to ourselves “this is insane”? That’s a likely response. But if we said “I don’t think I get it, but I’d like to see what Jesus really means”, we are on the cusp of allowing ourselves to understand God’s peculiar language.
First of all, let’s set the record straight. God does not want us to suffer and be miserable in life. If that’s your vision of God, banish it, because that God doesn’t exist. You have created that God, and it’s a false God. You could be guilty, I suppose, of worshipping a false god. But the beatitudes seem to imply that God is like this, and it may seem that God wants us to suffer and be hungry in order to be happy. It’s not that at all; it is far from being the truth. Jesus is really trying to give us the key to happiness that many seek, but simply cannot find because they are looking at the wrong places.
Secondly, what does being poor in spirit mean? It means that you are unsettled in your life, despite all that you have achieved and attained in your life. That’s a poverty of spirit. Let’s just say you have that dream job, attained that title, that double PhD, that fat pay cheque, that fully paid up landed property, and one day, you are looking at all this and are saying to yourself – why am I still not happy? Jesus is saying to you – if you feel that way in your life right now, you are blessed. And ‘lucky’ are you when you reach that point in life, because you will begin to realize that true happiness lies in things beyond the material, beyond the possessing and beyond the achieving, it’s found ironically, not in the obtaining of all that, but in the letting go of all that. You have come to the all important second half of life. That they are not yours to possess and hoard is something that the beatitudes are trying to teach us. And that is a hard truth.
Thirdly, ‘lucky’ are you also when you see the virtue in being lowly and small. The language of the world speaks totally against this. The name of the game in just about every field is to rule and be on top, to thumb others down, to shut out the voice of the opposition. That is not Hard Truth. In fact, it is hardly true. In fact, tomes are written about these ‘methods’, and those methods do not the test of time stand.
But Jesus is saying that these ways are not the ways to true blessedness, and in fact, the many generations of people who have been despots and political bullies have shown that they have been insecure and were constantly on the lookout for those who shook their dominance. And some even openly say that they need to demolish their opponents.
You want lasting happiness? You want happiness perdures; happiness that is secure? It’s not up there in the winners’ circle. And if you know this, you will be happy because you are in the humble state, the earthy state, the state of the humus, from where ‘humility’ gets its root. That is hard truth.
Lucky are you when you are pure in heart. Too many of us have only one definition of purity, and that is related to sexual purity. It is just one of the many forms of purity. But sexual purity seems to be the only kind that we can relate to because that’s the only category that many of us think in. But purity is also being unadulterated, unmixed, clear and with nothing hidden. If that is the case, then purity must go beyond just the sexual. You want happiness in you life? Then attain a purity, a state of being unmixed, and clear in all areas of your life. Be focused; be unsullied – in your business dealings, in your relationship with your children and your spouses, in your reasons for doing anything in life. If you are clear of your intentions, not bluffing yourselves or others, and refuse to be deceived by impure motivations, you will see God working clearly in your life. You have a point of reference that is clear and purposeful. And that is another hard truth.
Reflecting on the Beatitudes in this way gives us a point of entry into the mystery of God’s language. Try to do it for each of the other beatitudes. It’s not impossible, but I’d admit that it isn’t easy and it can be dangerous. It is dangerous because if we are serious about it, it will shake us from our complacency of our secure platforms that we have built in our lives.
It requires a certain willingness to see life from another side; another angle. But when you do, I think you would be doing what the prophet Zephaniah told the people to do – you will be seeking integrity, and seeking humility. You will be earthy people in touch with your true roots. And our true roots are in God. It doesn’t take a whole lot of intelligence to do this. In fact, too much of intelligence becomes a stumbling block to entering into the key. Even St Paul says it to the Corinthians – it’s not the influential, not the noble, and not those wise in the ordinary sense of the word that respond appropriately, but those who are willing to be weak.
But none of us are willing to be weak. It doesn’t feel good to be weak, but that’s the whole spirit of the beatitudes – a willingness on our part to not be slaves to our feelings and to not let our feelings determine our morality, our choices in life, and our paths towards happiness. That’s the spirit of the Beatitudes, possible only in the spirit of Jesus.
This then, is the corporate Christian culture that we need to appreciate over and over again. Some of us have never seen it this way. May our eyes be opened to usher in a new light. And that is a Hard Truth.
I hope people don't misunderstand me - I am not saying that it's wrong to read about other peoples’ definition of Hard Truths. But it would be a travesty of our Christian identity if we only read those, and can speak about life in those categories, and have never before read the words of Jesus, who is after all, the way, the (real hard) TRUTH, and the life.