The longest teaching that Jesus gives begins with nine rapid-fire statements that display the galactic difference between a Godward life and world-centered living. The word, “blessed” provides the key to unlocking the what Jesus is teaching and it also reveals the how His disciples are to experience happiness in this life.
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.Matthew 5:1-11
2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
The idea of “blessed” in Jesus’ thinking could be translated “happy” or “fortunate.” Is Jesus saying that “happy” people are poor in spirit? Is depression a sign of spiritual vitality? No. The thrust of Jesus’ teaching is not how something causes happiness – like being with friends makes you happy or eating a great meal makes you happy or getting chocolates from a loved one produces feelings of happiness. The idea of “blessed” focuses on what the action signifies by way of a persons identity and not merely an event or occasion. The word is used in the sense of confirming something that is true and that confirmation, in turn, leads you in becoming happy. In other words, the feeling of happiness is not rooted in a singular experience but a confirmation of a person’s direction in life.
To illustrate this principle, imagine you are driving to the wedding of a dear friend, but after traveling some distance you get concerned that you might be lost and begin to panic. However, just then, you remember the final part of the directions instructing you to take the first right after you cross a large bridge that spans a river. At that moment you see the bridge looming in the distance and the feeling of “happiness” overwhelms you knowing that you are going in the right direction. The site of the bridge is not what makes you happy but what the bridge represents – the confirmation that you are going in the right direction. The same dynamic is at work in the teaching of Jesus. Godward disciples are “poor in spirit” – they have a dependence on the Lord… they experience an abiding need for God to provide and sustain them. While weakness is not comforting in and of itself, it does produce happiness because it confirms that he or she is going in the right direction in their relationship with the Lord. In this regard, the feeling of happiness flows past and around life circumstances to the substance of hope in the person of the Lord and His promises to sustain.
In each of the nine areas that Jesus mentions, the same conformational dynamic is involved – a person is to be happy (they are “blessed” or “fortunate”) when the appetites and outcomes of their life aligns with the profile of a Kingdom seeker.
Jesus then expands His teaching from the individual to what occurs when a group of people live Godward lives – they are as obvious as a city that is built on a hill: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14) In other words, Godward people are not “normal” people in this world. Godward people radiate a different set of motivations and dreams.
Therefore, focus on radically following Jesus today, knowing that the dependency you feel and the difficulties you face are a reminder that this world is not your home. In this way, the challenges you face can serve as a confirmation that you are going in the right direction in life and that should make you happy.