Common English Bible (CEB)
“Happy are you who are poor,
because God’s kingdom is yours.
21 Happy are you who hunger now,
because you will be satisfied.
Happy are you who weep now,
because you will laugh.
22 Happy are you when people hate you, reject you, insult you, and condemn your name as evil because of the Human One.[a] 23 Rejoice when that happens! Leap for joy because you have a great reward in heaven. Their ancestors did the same things to the prophets.
24 But how terrible for you who are rich,
because you have already received your comfort.
25 How terrible for you who have plenty now,
because you will be hungry.
How terrible for you who laugh now,
because you will mourn and weep.
26 How terrible for you when all speak well of you.
Their ancestors did the same things to the false prophets.
I just want you to consider this for a minute. This is who Jesus says will be happy:
And this is who Jesus says how terrible it is to be.
Imagine if all the self help books in the world had the first picture on the cover as the ideal of future happiness instead of the second.
Imagine if everything on TV pointed you to consider a life of poverty, making the case that you will find true happiness there.
Just imagine for a second the implications of what Jesus is telling us about the Reign of God, and how very far we are from that.
The sermon on the plain in Luke, and it’s counterpart the sermon on the mount in Matthew, are profoundly convicting and revealing in terms of how Jesus tried to express how very different God’s vision for us was from where we are now. One thing to take into account is that these are not commands: Jesus is not saying that in order to be happy, you need to be poor, hungry, and weeping. Is simply revealing the divine reversal of what is to come in the Reign of God.
What we think will make us happy really is all just vanity, so much dust in the wind.
Think about it though; it rings true for me. How terrible is it for people who are comfortable now; that comfort can be taken away just as easily as it was given. All it takes is one bad day for all that gain to become loss. People who weep now know how bad things can get, and they will be comforted. Those who laugh now forget the reality of pain and despair. People who hunger now will ultimately be satisfied; those who are filled now forget the pain and yearning that comes with hunger, and how terrible it will be when they remember.
Pop culture is full of reminders about the adventures of people going from rags to riches, as if riches were the ultimate goal in life. However, it’s just as full of stories about rich people bemoaning the fact that all their riches are practically worthless in the end if they have not happiness. Just watch Citizen Kane if you have any doubt of that.
That said, former is much more prevalent than the latter. Heck, we call going from rags to riches “the American Dream.”
We all dream of success; we never yearn for poverty. We desire comfort, not despair. We want to laugh, not cry.
Probably because the majority of us already know what it feels like to have loss, pain and hunger. Some more than others, but it’s common to the majority of people.
We don’t want to be reminded of that. We want to be comforted, filled and joyful. You don’t get people behind you by telling them that the happy ones are the ones with nothing, and promise them nothing more than a hope of something as intangible and inaccessible of an idea as the Reign of God. We’re a materialistic people, and we have the drive to accumulate more materials. More money, more power, more more more.
Greed, then, is what Jesus tells us to ignore, and instead, have your minds set on something less tangible.
Therefore, I go back to the old fallback position I come to when I talk about greed. That’s right, I’m going to talk about Lord of the Rings again. This time though, I want to talk about the Shire, and how it’s about as close to the kingdom of God as I can imagine.
Tolkien presents the Shire as perhaps the most desirable place to be. It’s by no means an opulent or wealthy region of Middle Earth. It’s inhabited by Hobbits, not the physically strongest people, or perhaps even the most intelligent, but simple people. They do live in relative comfort, but only because what they desire is not so much tangible as it is communal. Most of all, the hobbits love things that grow, living with the earth in peace and harmony, uninterrupted by greed save for the desire to smoke pipeweed, have a drink, and have a good time with their friends.
Contrast this with the One Ring.
Made of the finest gold, forged in the hottest fires, and imbued with unspeakable power. However, desire for this ring has been the downfalls of empires. Riches, power, all of it meant doom and not salvation.
The contrast is striking.
The people of the shire are not rich, but they have peace. The people of the shire might be constantly and humorously hungry, but they are filled nonetheless because what they seek is not unattainable but sustainable. As for laughter… well, they are always happy. So the metaphor falls apart there. But then again, the reason they are so happy is because they share in almost everything, and spread the joy around instead of seeking it all for themselves. So there. Nyah. I figured it out.
Don’t desire riches, but desire companionship and fellowship, and you will be comforted. That won’t get you many investors, but trust me, it will make you happier in the long run.
Well, don’t trust me. Trust Jesus. He’s the one who came up with the idea.