Today: Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The good life: happiness and poverty    (1/26/2014 )

Happy are the poor in spirit; the kingdom of heaven is theirs!

To say ‘happy are the poor’ would be nonsense. Poverty does not guarantee happiness, and for many people it involves misery and a struggle to survive. But neither is it true to say ‘happy are the rich’. There are plenty of wealthy people who know misery, too. They may have everything that money can buy, but not the happiness money cannot buy.

So what did Jesus mean when he said, “Happy are the poor in spirit” (Matthew [NT] chapter 5, verse 3), and offered that as the first of his recipes for ‘the good life’?

Fairly obviously, he wasn’t talking about money - whether a lot or a little. He did have some things to say about money; in particular, how having a lot could be a real problem, and that having little sometimes brought out the best in people.

My own experience of poor communities is that they can often be extraordinarily generous and hospitable, like the woman Jesus talked about - who gave a tiny amount of money, yet it was everything she had. The rich might give a fraction of their wealth, but she gave everything (read that story in Mark [NT] chapter 12, verse 41-44).

I’ve been offered meals in Romania and Brazil from some very poor but wonderfully generous people, who shared the best that they had - even though it meant they had nothing left for the next day.

Jesus’ words may not be about money as such, but there are links - and they are about our attitude to ourselves, and to what we have and what we do with it.

I’ve tried my own paraphrase of what Jesus was saying. See if it sets your mind exploring this bit of ‘the good life,’ too:

“Happy are those who don’t think that what they have is theirs to own or hang on to.

Happy are those who are generous with their love, their time and their possessions.

Happy are those who don’t think too much about themselves or their abilities.

Happy are those who recognise that everything they have, much or little, is a gift, and are thankful.

Happy are those who are content; their contentment is a blessing to them and to those around them.”

In a world which continually tells us that getting new things, getting more money, and being successful are the things that really matter, the idea of letting go of some of those things might be a real challenge. But if you think of the people you know who are the most content and happy, you might find they fit this pattern.

The language of ‘poor in spirit’ probably sounds strange to us. Perhaps we might think of it as an ungrasping attitude of generosity, humility, sharing and contentment, through which those around us matter more than we do ourselves. It fits, too, with the the spirit of Jesus: “rich as he was, he made himself poor for your sake, in order to make you rich…” (2 Corinthians [NT] chapter 8, verse 9).

Yesterday, Scottish people around the world celebrated their great poet Robert Burns.  One of his poems is a prayer before a meal. It finishes with the plea that whatever comes, good or bad, “Lord, bless us with content. Amen!”

Prayer: Lord, help me to find contentment, happiness and fulfilment through the values of your Kingdom. Help me to see where the values I live by now are out of step with the good of others and a hindrance to my own well-being.

Think: Contentment could too easily lead to complacency. How do we maintain that inner peace alongside a passionate longing for the good of others?

Challenge: Is there something that you need to let go of in order to find a new peace and contentment? Dare you risk letting it go?

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