Have a Blessed Day! Reflections on Matthew 5:1-12
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are those who turn lemonade into lemons.
Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are the assertive for they will not let themselves be taken advantage of.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are those with talent and drive, for they shall be unstoppable.
Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are those who can occasionally be tolerant of others' mistakes, for they will develop a pool of goodwill that will result in future favors from others.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the single-minded for they shall achieve their goals.
So far, so good, but when we get down to Mathew 5: 9, 10, and 11 (peacemaking, being persecuted, and being reviled), I'm at a loss for cultural cognates. All that come to mind are contradictions: blessed are those who are aggressive when their rights are threatened; blessed are you when you are celebrated and honored by others...
Of course I'm not the only person to have rewritten the beatitudes.When people rewrite them, they almost inevitably take them in an individualistic,somewhat self-serving direction.
A number of years ago Robert Schuller wrote a book called The Be-Happy Attitudes: 8 Positive Attitudes that Can Change Your Life. It purports to be based on Matthew 5:1-12. The description goes like this: "Many seek happiness in wealth, fame, relationships, even drugs—and, of course, they fail. How can we be happy? In his most inspirational best-selling book to date, Dr. Robert H. Schuller, the spiritual host of the weekly telecast "The Hour of Power," probes the Beatitudes for the answer—and discovers eight universal positive mental attitudes that have been used for their healing value through the ages. Through them, you can make real happiness truly possible."
The Be-Happy Attitudes follow:
1) I Need Help—I Can't Do It Alone. Learn two miracle-working statements: "I need help" and "I am sorry."
2) I'm Really Hurting—But I'm Going To Bounce Back. Learn that when bad things happen to good people, they become better people.
3) I'm Going To Remain Cool, Calm, And Corrected. "Blessed are the meek..." is a poor translation. "Meek" in the Bible means: mighty, stable, kind.
4) I Really Want To Do The Right Thing. Learn how to adopt a "Go for it" attitude toward your life and dreams.
5) I'm Going To Treat Others The Way I Want Them To Treat Me. Learn how to heal your hidden wounds, and allow them to turn you into a better person.
6) I've Got To Let The Faith Flow Free Through Me. Learn how to know God better and overcome doubt. Faith makes love a possibility. Love makes miracles happen.
7) I'm Going To Be A Bridge Builder. Learn how to make peace with yourself before becoming a peacemaker for others. Learn how to remain positive and pardon those who persecute you, even when all else fails.
8) I choose to be happy any way!
Positive attitudes are a good thing. We would probably all rather be around positive than negative people. But Jesus' beatitudes are less about insuring individual success and reputation and more about risking it for the sake of his vision of God's kingdom. They seem not to care about the opinion of others and personal success. Rather, it is our alignment with the values of risky faith, radical mercy, and an active search for justice for the entire community that matters to God.
Jesus was a subversive sage, using existing wisdom genres to present a subversive version of blessedness. When he says to us "Have a blessed day," we'd better not say, "Sorry, but I have other plans!"
Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.