Bottom line: Jesus does not say we should passively accept misfortunes, but he does tell us that we will never be happy unless we can find peace in the face of such trials.
A college professor once bared his heart to his students. He told them that when he was a young man, his great dream was to obtain his doctorate. He looked forward to the day when he would not be simply Mark Muesse, but Dr. Mark Muesse. When the day arrived, his family and friend had a big celebration. They pulled out all the stops. But Dr. Muesse said that he felt strangely empty. The dream did not match the reality.
Our lives are often like that. We imagine that certain things will make us happy: good health, financial security and a long life for our loved ones. But Jesus tells us something different. Not that those things are bad, but that we will never be happy unless we can find happiness in the midst of trials. Our problem is that none of us can see our lives from beginning to end. Good fortune can turn sour and what at first looks like bad luck might turn out to be a blessing. A famous story illustrates this paradox:
Many years ago a man received a magnificent horse. All his neighbors came to admire the horse. They said to him, "you are the luckiest man in our village." The man replied, "Maybe yes, maybe no." A few days later the horse escaped from his enclosure and the neighbors came to console him. "What terrible luck!" they said. The man replied, "Maybe yes, maybe no." The next week the horse returned and following him were seven wild horses. The neighbors congratulated him on his good luck. The man replied, "Maybe yes, maybe no." When his son tried to train one of the wild horses, it threw him and the young man broke his leg. The neighbors all commented on the bad luck. The man said, "Maybe yes, maybe no." Then the army swept through the village and conscripted all able bodied young men - but, because of the broken leg, they left the man's son. The neighbors of course told him how fortunate he was. And the man replied, "Maybe yes, maybe no."
In the beatitudes Jesus lists all the misfortunes which can befall a person: bankruptcy & debts, loss of loved ones, hunger and abstinence, political defeat, invasion of boundaries, misunderstandings, false accusations – and, worst of all, to become the laughingstock of former friends. Jesus does not say we should passively accept those conditions, but he does tell us that we will never be happy unless we can find peace in the face of such trials.
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you
and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.
Rejoice and be glad,
for your reward will be great in heaven.
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