Education, wealth and power

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Being fulfilled with what is around you is great, but there are greater words the Lord spoke that let us fully understand what it means to be happy.

Happy are the well educated. The rich can look forward to a fulfilling life. Blessed are the well-armed nations.

There are many paths that promise fulfillment, happiness, or prosperity. Most of us, whether we are aware of it or not, follow one or several of them. One way or another, we look for things like fulfillment, happiness, prosperity, peace, resiliency, security and affirmation. We do that as individuals and also as collectives, families, communities and nations.

Does the Christian approach to life have anything unique to offer us in that quest?

It is of the greatest importance when asking what the Christian faith has to offer in this area (and in any area) to reflect on the teachings of Jesus Christ himself. All expressions of Christian thought and life are beholden to him.

Yet, to go back to the words of Christ, or to read the narratives in which they are embedded, is challenging. That is because he lived twenty centuries ago in a specific cultural and ethnic enclave. When he taught, he taught as a person of his own time and environment. He was a Jew and he spoke, mainly, to other Jews. He did not speak over their heads to us who live in the 21st century. Therefore, when we read his words, we are in a sense, eavesdropping, listening in.

The reason I bring up Jesus’ own context and identity is that since none of us lives in the same context, it can be a bit tricky to see what his words have to do with us.

Still, I would like in this column, from time to time, to consider what his words bring to our discussions. Today I’ll consider some of what he said that concerns our quest for fulfillment and its cousins.

Even though Christ lived many centuries ago, he observed that people tended to look for fulfillment in the same ways we do today. The Roman military presence in his country was oppressive. Romans looked to power, military power, to provide stability and young Jewish terrorists tried to achieve freedom for their people through the sword and dagger. Of course, education, though not as widespread as in our own time, was seen as a path to success in life. As was wealth, fame, and connections with the religious and political elites of the day.

Jesus’ own words about how to achieve happiness were a direct challenge to all that. They provoked controversy. You can find those words in a document called Matthew. It’s in the Bible, about three quarters of the way through. Maybe a little further. I don’t know precisely. Matthew is broken down into numbered chapters, so you’ll want to check chapters five, six and seven, but for now, I am only looking at the opening lines of chapter five.

Jesus says, “Blessed are the...” Blessed, happy, fulfilled are the...

Then there is a series of lines identifying who are, or will be, blessed (happy, fulfilled, etc.). This is where the controversy lies.

He says that it’s the poor in spirit (those “at the end of their rope” in one translation) who are blessed. The mourning. The hungry and thirsty for right things to show up in their own lives and in the world. The merciful. The peacemakers. The “pure in heart”. Those who are kicked around by others because they try to do good.

On the one hand, Jesus’ words were not brand new. God reaching out to his people when they were down and out was well-documented in the Jewish tradition.

On the other hand, these words were and remain new. I tend to feel good when my bank balance is healthy and a bit down when it is not. We tend to feel better when we can afford tickets to an upcoming comedy show. We expect some level of fulfillment from a well-crafted playlist or a well-crafted beer. We tend to feel better when our Warcraft game improves, or when it appears that the armed forces of the world are arrayed, more or less, in our favour. We tend to take satisfaction when we become well connected, well educated and on good terms with the social currents and ideologies of the day.

However, according to Jesus, God is opening the door for a reconsideration of this whole cluster of items that we take so much satisfaction in.

So, yes, we can focus all our attention on a good education, or the gathering of wealth and power. Some are devoted to one side or another in gender and identity discussions. Some are committed to the asceticism of Buddhism, the laws of Islam, or the rules of Bay Street.

However, Jesus teaches us to ask if we are looking in the wrong places for fulfillment, happiness, prosperity, peace, resiliency, security and affirmation. He invites us to look at the world differently in order to be happy and to be an inspiration to the people in our circles.

That’s a start. In what follows in Matthew, Jesus presents what is required to live well. I’ll look at that in later columns.

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