Welcome to our virtual book club! We’re reading Fr. James Martin’s bestseller, Jesus: A Pilgrimage. Each week we will tackle a chapter and look forward to a lively discussion together.
Recently, our family was
addicted infatuated with Despicable Me 2. I downloaded Pharrell Williams’ hit song “Happy” and watched with amusement (and wonder) as my normally very quiet and reserved husband danced around the house with my children whenever it played. (No, really.)
One of the things that’s struck me—because I’m that person who analyzes song lyrics and gets turned off when the beat’s good but the words aren’t—is how happiness is portrayed as a choice in the song. It’s a very proactive approach, one that’s rather unusual in a society where most people seem to feel entitled to every benefit, every break, every dollar.
When I think of the happy people I know, I can’t help but notice that they do, overwhelmingly, seem to choose happiness. It’s something they control, not something that just happens.
So why do I keep pursuing happiness as though I’ll catch it by chasing after it? Why do I keep seeking it beyond the many gifts right in front of me? Why do I look farther than the blessings all around?
In Chapter 10, Fr. Martin considers the Beatitudes, and I’ll be honest: I’ve always struggled with them. Oh, on the surface, they’re fine. (Isn’t that always the way?) But when you start to listen to the words and consider the concepts, they’re…well, they’re downright uncomfortable.
Where are the “blessed are the well-rested” and “blessed are the nicely dressed”? How about some “blessed are the gadget rich” and “blessed are the fat and comfy”? Couldn’t Jesus have considered “blessed are those who read all the time” or “blessed are the people with ever flowing coffee cups”?
No. Turns out Jesus was a brass tacks kind of guy. We get “blessed are the poor in spirit” and “blessed are the pure in heart.”
Reading them is fine. Thinking about them and really internalizing what they teach is a realignment of my whole thinking process.
The Beatitudes don’t seem to go well with Pharrell Williams’ song, do they? Being “blessed” doesn’t make you “happy,” does it?
I guess it depends what you mean by “happy.”
Fr. Martin tells us that the word “beatitude” comes from the Latin beatus, meaning blessed. It can also, though, mean “happy.”
Fr. Martin has this to say:
Here, then, are Jesus’ favored ones. In his comfort of and care for them, Jesus is drawing on many of the Hebrew Scriptures that point to the poor and oppressed as those deserving special attention. But Jesus goes beyond that, elevating them in his reign and offering them as models of discipleship. They provide a partial sketch of character traits, attitudes, and virtues befitting disciples. Thus, the Beatitudes work on multiple levels and in multiple times: as a template for discipleship in the present (be humble now); as an indication of those who are favored (God loves the humble); and as a promise of future reward (God will reward the humble).
I was also struck by this:
Jesus of Nazareth, who had grown up in a poor village, knew that we can often learn much from the poor. Jesus’s comments about poverty are frequent in the Gospels: over and over he asks us to care for the poor—it is a litmus test for admission into heaven—so it is always surprising to me when Christians set aside this teaching. But Jesus is saying that more than helping the poor and more than working to combat the systems that keep them poor, we must become like them—in their simplicity, generosity, and dependence on God.
“The Beatitudes,” writes Fr. Martin, “are not just a promise of reward for those who suffer unjustly and a prediction of the turnabout of the status quo. They also paint a portrait of the person Jesus wants us to be.”
Jesus wants us to be happy.
Like a room without a roof.
Guess I have some studying to do, huh?
To Ponder, Reflect, and Discuss:
- Prayerfully read the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12 and/or in Luke 6:20-23. Read them a second time and substitute “happy” for “blessed.” How does this change how you read and understand them?
- Pick one of the Beatitudes. Try to pray with it and act on it every day this week.
- How does the quest for happiness rule your decisions and life? When can you let go of your desire for happiness and lean back into God for your happiness?
Feel free to comment on your own thoughts from this week’s reading, your impressions and reflections, and/or your answers to these questions.
Next week, we’ll cover Chapter 11: Capernaum. For the complete reading schedule and information about our Book Club, visit the Jesus Book Club page.
Copyright 2014 Sarah Reinhard