How many of us sincerely believe that God’s law is a boon? Sometimes, we complain about it, shun it, or even have the temerity to think it a bane. We seem to put our trust and find meaning only in laws that we have devised, when actually they are far from fool-proof.

In contrast, God’s law is a blueprint for happiness; it was always meant to be so. That the Chosen People failed to see it that way and dishonoured their covenants is a different matter. God in His love sent prophets to salvage the situation. One of them was Jeremiah (700 B.C.), who minced no words when he said, ‘Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the Lord.’ But then, they turned down prophet after prophet, and threw a spanner in God’s plan of salvation.

Felix culpa! It paved the way for the New Covenant. Jesus came into the world as the new Adam, to form a new humanity. He infused new life into the law. He liberated it from false interpretations; he disapproved of sticking to the letter to the detriment of the spirit of the law; he condemned practices that were merely external and ritualistic. What is more, Jesus pointed to what should be at the heart of the law: love of God and love of neighbour. Finally, by his own death and resurrection, He created a covenant of love.

In the course of His earthly ministry, Jesus touched upon the topic of happiness – an ideal very close to the human heart. He wished to show how God’s law can be an instrument of human happiness. St Luke collected Jesus’ thoughts on the subject, titling it ‘Sermon on the Plain’ (corresponding to what St Matthew does, in a more detailed manner, in the ‘Sermon on the Mount’). In a few pithy statements, Jesus points to sets of people that are usually thought to be ‘unhappy’, and he pronounces them happy or blessed.

Jesus’ pronouncements appear contradictory and bewildering: how can the poor, the hungry, the suffering and the reviled ever be idealised? Which of us would like to be in their shoes? It simply goes against the grain, doesn’t it? But the key to the riddle lies in recognising that God does not think as we do; or rather, human ways have long moved away from God’s ways. In the heat of life’s battles, we see distorted images of reality; God in his wisdom sees it right. That’s good enough reason to let ourselves be guided by Him who is the Author of Life, to surrender to Him who is the Master Physician and can fix all problems. If in all humility we do God’s will, the rest will be given unto us: the joy of life and the promise of eternal salvation.

Jesus assures the poor, the hungry, the suffering and the reviled that their troubles will not go in vain. After all, don’t they trust the Lord better than do the rich, the satiated, the merrymakers and the sought-after? Jesus’ “poor” are those who do not covet earthly riches but set their eyes on the treasure that awaits them in Heaven; the “hungry” that He talks about are those who crave for the Bread and Water of Life; they “weep” who are deeply sorry for their sins; and they are “reviled” who side with the truth rather than playing to the gallery.

Jesus follows up the four beatitudes with four maledictions, as though to reinforce what He had couched in milder language. And when the rich, the satiated, the merrymakers and the sought-after understand that they have had their day is when it dawns on us that none can have it both ways. And who knows, maybe the rich, the satiated, the merrymakers and the sought-after were not even at peace with themselves; they only pretended to feel blessed.

Therefore, only they can be truly blessed whose God is the Lord.

(Banner: Church of the Beatitudes, Israel)