Truly happy are the helpless, Jesus said, the naïve, those who decide not to affirm themselves with force, not to assert themselves at all costs. Truly happy are those who suffer. Truly blessed are those who are harassed and treated with violence. Those who empathize, who forgive always. Those who decide not to wear a mask that ensures their honor and power, those who reject hypocrisy. Blessed are those who renounce revenge. Those who openly choose to belong to Christ and are willing to pay for their faithfulness with their very selves. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad.
This all sounds absurd to our ears. We wonder how Jesus can be speaking in all seriousness; we wonder why he wants to contradict so excessively good human sense. So we tell ourselves that surely we must interpret his words figuratively. But to understand Jesus’s sermon on the [mount], one must follow it in its entirely. They are truly blessed, Jesus explains and promises, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. For they will be comforted. For they will inherit the land. For they will be satisfied. For they will be shown mercy. For they will see God. For they will be called children of God. For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. For your reward will be great in heaven.
Jesus speaks about the future and about heaven. The fact that most of the time, we don’t really believe heaven exists renders his words incomprehensible to us. For us, the world and this time in which we live do not really have a future. The things that we see and touch, the things that we eat and drink, our relationships, our friends, our loves, our children, women, men, our discussions, fights, money, our things, houses, the countryside, our work, career, prestige, power… none of these things can save themselves. Thus we worry and we become violent; we prefer to vindicate ourselves than to forgive, to cause suffering than to suffer, to commit rather than endure injustice, to take from others rather than lose something ourselves, to protect our honorable image at the price of hypocrisy, to accuse others rather than recognize our own evil. For all of this the thought of heaven is an abstract idea for us. If heaven doesn’t exist, life suffocates us, causes us to become fearful, and renders us evil.
Instead, heaven is a concrete reality. It is the communion among all men and women which has already begun. It is the joy of the saints in which we are each called to share, in which every distance will be overcome, every wound healed, and everything will be ours because we will be God’s. This future, real and pre-existing, is the depth of that which we live now. This future is the prospect which gives sense to that which alone would not make sense. It gives sense to that which, if heaven didn’t exist, would be absurd and depressing.
But if this Other exists, Jesus’s way of proposing how to understand true happiness on earth is no longer an unacceptable radicalism. Instead, much on the contrary, it becomes desirable. There is in fact a force that attracts us that we find in the radiant faces of the sick who offer their suffering, in the women who forgive their husbands’ or their children’s murderers, in the refugees who leave their homes without cursing their persecutors, in those who do not lose courage in the face of losses they must endure, in those who do not repay with the same coin of ingratitude and injustice, but rather passionately continue to desire the good of all because they are awaiting a great reward in heaven.
Seek what is above, St. Paul writes to his friends in Colossae, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Look at the aspect of life that is eternal. The present will appear in the only light that renders it livable.