\” Happy are people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.\’\”
Matthew 5:3 (Common English Bible)
Crowds again gathered near to Jesus. Wherever Jesus seemed to travel, word would quickly move among the community and people would drop whatever activity that engaged them to listen for a word from Jesus – any word. Such was the power of the spoken word that fell from the lips of Jesus. That day was no different than today. As the old maxim goes, “Time is money.” If people stopped whatever they were doing to hear a word from Jesus, there was perceived value in that word. The value was simply that Jesus addressed life – life, as we have to live it. Jesus’ words were never dissociated from life. They were deliberate, vital, life-giving. Jesus never spoke to simply capture an ear. Jesus came to solve problems with living.
On this particular day, the first word spoken by Jesus was, “Happy.” It is not possible to over-estimate the significance of that beginning. This was not a chance word – a word chosen at random. Jesus could not begin his sermon that day with any other word. It was an inevitable word. The whole point of God coming to God’s people in flesh and blood, to live life as we lived life, was to experience life as we experienced life. Life is difficult. Daily, the determination to be happy, to experience life as God intends, meets with disappointment, inequity, and struggle. Our experience is Jesus’ experience. In the final analysis, Jesus sought to lessen the struggle. So, Jesus chooses this day to offer practical guidance for a happy life.
It is a welcomed word. The world is captive to an instinctive desire for happiness. Many may struggle for happiness day following day on what seems an endless journey. We might imagine that to be the story for many who gathered that day to listen to Jesus. Yet, the desire remains undiminished. However painful life may become, people cling to the hope – the possibility – that happiness might be claimed. Each of us believes in it, we seek it, the thought of happiness possessing us, demanding to be possessed. It is as though the great verdict of the world is that God intends that we are happy and Jesus has come do what is necessary to deliver on God’s intention.
As the people listened that day to Jesus, they heard God’s manifesto – they heard God’s singular concern for the well-being of all people. This would be the driving purpose, the driving force at the center of Jesus’ ministry. The absence of happiness was the cause of the world’s misery. The broken, the listless, the weary gathered at the foot of a mountain that day to be encouraged that hope remained in their grasp. Lives scorched by sin, lives on the cusp of despair nevertheless hoped against hope that there might be another day with beauty available to them. Matthew tells us that such a number gathered that they were a crowd. Looking at them, Jesus sat down and taught them. He began with one word, “Happy.”