26th Sunday in Ordinary Time A 2017

I have always loved the ancient hymn of Jesus we heard in the second reading from the Philippians.  Every Saturday night we read it in the Liturgy of the Hours and I am moved by the heroic nature of Jesus’ life, “Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.  Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”  I find his humility astounding, his self-giving complete and I am in stunned admiration for the life he chose.  Then this week I asked myself a question I had never asked before about this humble, self-sacrificing man.  “Was Jesus happy?”

Now I don’t think that happiness was a very important value to Jesus.  Not as important as loving, caring and giving for sure.  But in a way that does not matter, for in our advertising culture, happiness is a priority.  If we are to take up St. Paul’s challenge to be of one mind and one heart; to have the same attitude of Christ, we will want to know if we would be happy.

Now there are some measures of happiness that we know Jesus would fail.  Some say that those who die with the most toys are happiest.  He ain’t going to win that contest.  Others suggest that those who managed to live like water, seeking the least resistance, are happiest.  Again, not his style.  And maybe more would insist that only a life without suffering and hurt would be happy. So how could it be that Jesus was happy?

I turn to the Beatitudes.  We know them for calling people “Blessed”.  But some translators believe the far less poetic “Happy” should be preferred.  It certainly leads to a jolt to say, “Happy are the poor in the spirit,” “Happy are they who mourn… or are persecuted.”   These seem to be the very opposite of happy.  Yet, for Jesus, those who are happiest know God is with them and that they are never abandoned.  They have no fear of ever being alone for God abides and God has promised.  This is the source of their happiness.

If he were happy then, what made him so?  Well they called him Rabbi which means teacher.  I know teachers and I taught.  It does not happen every moment or maybe not each day, but there is an indescribable feeling when someone gets it, when the light bulb goes on.  And he was teaching masterfully the most valuable lessons about the most valuable thing possible.  That must have made him happy.

And he was a forgiver.  If you have lived in a state of unforgiveness, you know the dark cloud that surrounds you, the burden you feel.  Jesus had the authority to lift that cloud and lighten that load.  He let the captive go free.  Imagine the liberation and relief that he provided, one sinner at a time.  If you have ever brought someone from to freedom, you know the rush of joy that comes upon you.

Finally, he was sharing what he himself called the good news.  His words were of liberty and joy and light.  He was able to tell the forgotten that God cherished them; to tell the despairing of a hope that cannot be defeated.  He made the lowly aware of how much they were loved by the God of all creation and he promised to the moribund a life that would not end.  He transferred our plane of understanding to a new horizon where there only exists in each of us beauty, holiness and blessing.

Trust me, if these were your tasks and these alone, you would be ecstatic.  To teach successfully the good things of God; to lift the burden of sin from others; to tell a story of good news where all discovered they were precious and unrepeatable in the eyes of God, you would be happy too.

I believe that even from the cross, when Jesus had seen the worst of it, he still knew he was happy.  He had knowledge enough to know that if he could forgive them for they did not know what they were doing or to whom they were doing it.  He could say in John’s Gospel where the cross is really a throne of glory, “It is done,” with a deep breath of completion and satisfaction.

For true happiness, we can still follow in his way.  For what can make us happier than sharing the light given us by our God.  Come and follow Jesus on the way to happiness.