Much is made of Jesus’s list of blessings. Matthew 5 (New International Version (NIV)
5 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and He said:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
In a law oriented theology these have been interpreted as prescriptive….In order to enter the kingdom of heaven you better be poor in spirit, meek, mournful, hungry for righteousness, merciful, a peacemaker. etc. It is a “do this or else” interpretation, prescribing what you must do, instead of descriptive…..If you are poor in spirit these are the blessings that will come to you. Not….become poor in spirit in order to dwell in the kingdom of God, but rather, if you are poor in spirit you will understand the blessings of that poverty. Not….choose to be poor in spirit, but …… if you are poor in spirit you will discover great joy….making them the “be happy attitudes”.
Zen Buddhism is known for a particular set of beliefs that they teach will lead to happiness:
- Life is difficult. We are all walking wounded. No one escapes this world without suffering.
- Suffering is the result of unmet desires/wishes/wants/expectations.
- Change your desire/wishes/wants/expectations and you change your level of suffering.
It is not what happens to you…it is what you think about what happens to you. It is what you think about before events and your sense of entitlement that determines how the event will affect you.
An example…..A woman was swimming at the rec center and some kids started playing water basketball and the game spilled over into the lap lane. She became very frustrated, telling them to be more mindful of her swimming laps, expecting them to change the way they were playing their game to accommodate her. Finally, in anger, she joined me in my lane. I do not consistently swim in a straight line and knew I would be continually bumping into her so left the lane to her and went into the lane where the kids were playing. The kids kept playing, I kept swimming. No problem. Nothing changed except my attitude, my sense of entitlement to a lane free of kids playing. If I don’t have the belief I am entitled to a swimming lane without distractions then the kids playing did not disappoint, frustrate, anger me or erode in one iota my sense of contentment, well being…..happiness. The kids didn’t change. The world did not change to accommodate my sense of entitlement. I changed….and was happier for it.
It is when we feel entitled to things occurring the way we want them to occur that we set ourselves up for unhappiness. The more we expect life to unfold in a certain way the more we set ourselves up for unhappiness. I was going into City Market one lovely mountain afternoon and a woman came out complaining loudly, bitterly, to the man with her that her dinner party was ruined. “They had no baby bok choi! What am I going to do now? Dinner will not be the same. Imagine no baby bok choi. What am I going to do?” Being the buttinski that I am I stopped her and said, “Seriously? Your day is ruined because the store didn’t have baby bok choi? Get a grip!”
If she had gone to the store, saying, “Baby bok choi would be nice, but if they don’t have it, something else can be used and dinner will still be delicious. Besides, people come to dinner parties to enjoy the company not to indulge in fancy cooking.” …..then…..she would have exited happy. It was her expectations that brought her down. The greater our expectations the greater our unhappiness. If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it then change the way you think about it.
The poor in foreign countries are often romanticized as there is sometimes a cheerfulness, a joy, present in their lives, out of proportion to their living conditions. A friend returned from Africa, a safari, during which she had spent a day touring a remote, primitive village. She said “that despite the poverty the people were happier……probably happier then she was in her “fancy schmancy hotel.” Why is that?
Easy! The villagers have no expectations they will have running water so walking 3 miles to and from the well is part of life so they accept it without complaining.
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Cassava for breakfast, lunch and dinner keeps hunger at bay so they are grateful they have cassava.
5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
They have no expectations that their children will all survive to adulthood so they bury their dead with deep grief, but then life goes on. They feel no sense of entitlement that an ambulance is going to take them to a hospital and fix their broken leg.
4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
One family runs out of cassava so their neighbor gives them some, knowing that in any given year the tables could be reversed and they will be the one needing to borrow cassava.
7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
The sun comes up, the cassava is dug, they eat. The family in the next hut lives the same. The villagers sit and talk into the darkness. Life is good. They are happy.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
On the other hand, my friend went to her hotel and expected hot water, clean sheets, soft mattress, bath towels, mirror, flush toilet and who knows what else. She went to a restaurant and she expected fresh salad, iced drinks, rock free rice, tender meat, sweet dessert, attentive service and a glass of wine or two. If she does not get what she expects she will be unhappy, disappointed. After all she paid an arm and a leg to stay in this bush hotel and she expects things to be right. Her happiness is dependent on 50, maybe 100, things going right. If they don’t she will not recommend the safari tour group as they did not meet her expectations and left her unhappy.
Paul and I recently went on a 10 day Mediterranean cruise on the lovely Norwegian Jade. 2500 people whose wants and needs are addressed by 1000 staff. Cruises are particularly noted for the excellence, abundance and unlimited variety of their food. When disembarking in Izmir, Turkey to visit Ephesus a man, his wife and daughter were also leaving. The difference is that we were just carrying cameras and they had all their luggage. I asked him why and he angrily said the food was so bad he could not stand it so they were immediately returning to Rome. I was astounded!!! What in his psyche created the expectation that this lovely ship was not meeting? Exactly what did he feel he was entitled to receive in return for whatever he paid? Whatever it was he expected he was entitled to receive, its absence made him bitter and angry.
So…..Who was happier on this cruise? Those of us who basked in gratitude for all and everything that went into making this vacation memorable? Or this bitter man stomping angrily away? Who finds it easier to be happy? The ones with few expectations outside of a life lived in simplicity or the ones who are dependent on thousands of things going right every day for them to be happy. They feel entitled to a dishwasher that runs, lights that turn on, cars that have gas, ad nauseum or …….a little cassava, the sun comes up, the sun goes down, life is good.
This whole question of entitlement has become very confusing! The same woman who went to Africa and remarked on the corresponding happiness and simplicity of the villagers asked me how the community dinner was going. When I told her she asked, I kid you not, “Aren’t you afraid the people who come to the dinner will feel entitled to free food?” I was astounded. She went on, “How do you know the people who come are deserving of the food and not just lazy?” I practically spluttered in my coffee!
One, there is no such thing as the deserving poor in the kingdom of God. There are poor people and rich people. The rich people, in every single major religion, are called upon by their holy books to take care of the poor, to give alms, to treat the poor with kindness, mercy, to create a just society that benefits all and does not exploit the poor. There is no mention in any holy scripture of a “deserving” poor. Jesus did not say, “Feed the widows and orphans if you find them deserving.” He said, “Feed the widows and orphans.” The concept of “deserving poor” is a political question, not a moral, theological or ethical question.
Two, no one in the United States has more entitlement issues then the wealthy! Examples:
Whose housing is subsidized? Those who pay rent or those who get a tax deduction on their mortgage? Who gets subsidized vacations? Those who work as grocery checkers or those whose company provides them with conferences at vacation resorts? Who pays every dime of their phone expense? A waitress or those whose workplace gives them a phone and uses their phone expense as a corporate tax deduction? Even the income of those who live off stock dividends is taxed at a different, read lower, rate than those who get paid by the hour!
The well-to-do strata of Americans howl grievously when their tax deductions are challenged as they believe they are the worker bees of industry who keep the country’s economy humming while everyone else can be classified as drones….fit only to serve the queen. Their belief is that those who make less deserve to make less. “They are not as hard working, they are not as smart. It is a good thing they have the wealthy to take care of them.” What is not acknowledged is that those who are extraordinarily successful financially have tended to be those who won the womb lottery. The womb lottery winners are those born to white, educated parents who are married to each other. Now what percentage of the population can say that? If you want to win even more in the womb lottery you will be male and tall. If your parents have any sense at all they will not name you Latoya or Jesus.
The United States has a bias towards white people, so that is always a good place to start. Educated people tend to plan their pregnancies, have insurance and obtain the best prenatal care and deliveries. The children tend to be highly stimulated from birth so their natural genetic bent towards a high IQ is amplified. Any disability is competently handled by qualified professionals. Successful parents tend to live in school districts where the finest of everything is the norm. The children are provided with music, athletics, travel, museums, to keep their little brains humming along, leaving the less advantaged children in the dust. Having done nothing to earn or deserve the incredible start they got in life the womb lottery winner, when they are grown, have the audacity to proclaim their success, and therefore all they are entitled to, is due to their own hard work! (Think the Sam Walton clan!) They become drunk on entitlements while the poor become stoned on poverty!
The poor are ground down by poor schools, poor health care, poor neighborhoods, (When Colorado springs ran into budget deficits they turned off the street lights. However, if your neighborhood could afford to pay extra the lights were turned back on for you.) poor diet (corn syrup and therefore unhealthy food is heavily subsidized making nutritionally bankrupt foods very cheap and affordable…..think Conagra stockholders who are getting rich while the poor become diabetic. Carrots, pears, broccoli are not subsidized making them more expensive for the poor penny counter in the checkout line.) The poor, seeing no light at the end of the tunnel, become helpless and hopeless, and emotionally less able to lift themselves or their children out of a life of poverty. They have lost all sense of entitlement. At the same time the more those with greater incomes have, the more they feel entitled to. Hence, drunk on entitlement, stoned on poverty.
Even though education is the great equalizer in the United States school districts in high income areas are loathe to allow a penny to pass out of their district to a less well endowed district. They know all too well the value of the best education possible and will fight tooth and claw to ensure their children get it. Their children are entitled to the best education money can buy! The exhausted, helpless, hopeless parents of poor children who are barely making ends meet do not have the resources, the knowledge or the inclination to fight for their children’s future. They have no sense of entitlement at all.
Eliminating entitlements mean all are equal. All are entitled to health care. All are entitled to healthy, affordable food. All are entitled to the best education money can buy. Your child’s education/health care/living conditions, even if you do not have the energy to fight for it/them, is as important as my child’s education/health care/living conditions.
Back to the Beatitudes….the be happy attitudes. It takes very little for a poor person to be happy. Enough money in their pocket for a Happy Meal, shared between three children. ….a half tank of gas…….a pack of cigarettes…..short term goals for small pockets of change. Ahh……a slice of heaven in a Big Mac.
A rich man cannot pass through the eye of a needle and enter the kingdom of God, not because he can’t give up his wealth, but he can’t change his mind set about his entitlements….all of the things he takes for granted that are important to making him happy, without which he feels as if he is in an unhappy state of deprivation. The veil between the poor and God, between happiness and unhappiness, is so much thinner as there is so little in between, no expectation that tomorrow will be somehow different/better, no sense of entitlement to things that are not available to them.
And woe to those who preach the gospel of rampant injustice brought on by the unbridled sense of entitlement of those more well off. “For in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”