6th Sunday after the Epiphany
A television show that Carol and I used to really enjoy watching was “Malcolm in the Middle.” This series detailed the zany adventures of a family with four boys – Francis (about 18 years old), Reese and Malcolm (about 15 and 14 years old, respectively), and Dewey (about age 7).
One of the funniest episodes of “Malcolm in the Middle” was about a time when the oldest brother, Francis, announces to Reese and Malcolm that he was going to WRESTLEMANIA on Saturday evening – and that he had an extra ticket. Which one of them would like to go with him? Well, both Reese and Malcolm were super wrestling fans – and they both wanted to go. “WRESTLEMANIA! Wow, that would be so awesome, Francis! Please – take me with you! Choose me! Please! Please!”
So Francis – obviously very much enjoying the situation – says: “I know that both of you want to go – but unfortunately, I do have just one extra ticket. You’ll have to show me which one of you will be the happiest to have that ticket. Show me the happy dance!
“Oh, no – please, Francis – not that – not the happy dance!”
And Francis, holding up the ticket, says, “Which one of you really wants this?” After a moment, Reese and Malcolm start dancing – “Happy, happy, happy dance!” Francis tells them – “That doesn’t sound too happy. This is about Wrestlemania! Which one of you wants to go?” And so both Reese and Malcolm pick up the pace – “Happy, happy, happy dance! Happy, happy, happy dance!” Francis tells them – “Happier!” And Reese and Malcolm pick up the pace even more – “Happy, happy, happy dance! Happy, happy, happy dance!” Francis waves the ticket, saying, “Happier! Happier!”
I am sure that you’ve got the picture by now. The scene ends with both Reese and Malcolm dancing that “Happy Dance” with all their might – looking like total and absolute jerks – and Francis smiling and saying, “This pleases me!”
The “Happy Dance” – in which Reese and Malcolm were trying to pretend that they were happy – but of course, they really were not. They were just trying to get something that they wanted – something which they hoped would then make them happy!
Perhaps that “Happy Dance” is a good description of how many of us are like in our lives. As I have heard it expressed, we always seem to be one possession away from perfect happiness. And so again and again, we do the “Happy Dance” in trying to get that one possession we want, or that one sports victory, or that one special relationship, or whatever else we may want – that we think or at least hope will finally make us truly happy and completely satisfied.
Today’s gospel is about Jesus’ teaching on what makes for true “happiness” in our lives. As he says: “Blessed (this word can also be translated as “Happy”) are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed (happy) are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed (happy) are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed (happy) are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy (that is, dance! – do the “Happy Dance!”), for surely your reward is great in heaven…”
These teachings of Jesus about happiness (and the corresponding “woes”) are known as Luke’s version of The Beatitudes. Most of us are probably more familiar with the version found in Matthew’s gospel. But be that as it may, the Beatitudes as found in Luke have some important things to say to us.
First of all, in Luke’s gospel Jesus comes down to the people on a level place and teaches them there. This is different from Matthew, in which the people have to climb up a mountain in order to hear Jesus. In a subtle way, Luke is emphasizing that we don’t have to go to Jesus and seek him out, but that Jesus rather comes to us. Jesus comes to us in our lives – even in the midst of our needs and pains – and brings us his blessings and happiness.
How different this is from what most people think about Jesus and God! Many seem to believe that in order to receive God’s blessings, we have to do something to earn them – such as by living a good life, or going to church regularly, and giving him offerings and gifts as we are able. In other words, many people seem to think that we need to do a “Happy Dance” for God if we are going to receive what we need and want from him. But Jesus shows us that God is not like Francis – but that God rather wants to bless us and make us happy without expecting anything in return. God gives us everything that we have and need as a GIFT!
Secondly, Jesus according to Luke says that we are blessed (happy) when we are poor (the Greek word means being in total and absolute poverty), and when we are hungry, and when we weep (the Greek word means being totally grief-stricken). This is quite a bit different from Matthew’s version in Jesus seems to “spiritualize” things – such as in saying “Blessed (happy) are the poor in spirit” and “Blessed (happy) are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Again, Luke in a subtle way is emphasizing that we can be happy even in the midst of our physical hurts and needs – and that indeed they may even be the cause of our happiness.
How can this be? Jesus is not in any way glorifying poverty, and hunger, and grief – but these conditions do help us to understand our need for God and our dependence upon his mercy. Often, we tend to think that we can make ourselves happy – but when we are poor, or hungry, or grief-stricken, or hated by others we come to realize that we can’t. We begin to realize that true and lasting happiness must come from beyond ourselves – that is, from God. And often, it is only when we are driven to our knees by the circumstances of life that we are finally ready to let the God who loves us into our lives. Has that been true for any of us? I believe that it has!
And finally, unlike in Matthew, Luke in his version of the Beatitudes also shows Jesus giving a corresponding set of “woes” to go along with his “blesseds”. As Jesus says: “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”
These “woes” are a way of emphasizing that people who focus upon receiving their happiness from worldly things will miss out on having eternal happiness. Many people spend all their time and energy in trying to be wealthy, successful, having fun, and being well thought of by others. In other words, their focus in life is about looking out for themselves – instead of giving of themselves for others. But any happiness that is “self-focused” cannot last nor can it ever be completely satisfied. “Self-focused” striving for happiness is like drinking seawater to try to satisfy one’s thirst.
Reese and Malcolm did a “Happy Dance” in order to try to get that ticket to “Wrestlemania” from Francis – because they thought that this would be something that would make them happy. So often we are just like them – doing things and making choices that we hope will bring us true and lasting happiness.
But Jesus in today’s gospel shows us another kind of “Happy Dance” – a dance that comes from knowing that we are in the kingdom of God, and that our reward is great in heaven. Jesus’ happiness is something that we do not have to earn or deserve in any way. When we receive his love as a gift, and share that love with each other – that is when we know what true happiness is – a happiness that will fully satisfy our deepest desires and will last even unto eternal life.
The Beatitudes of Jesus are the “Happy Dance” that he invites us to be a part of. May they be so for us in our lives now and forever. Let’s dance, people! Let’s dance! Amen!
George R. Karres,
Pella Lutheran Church
418 W. Main Street
Sidney, MT 59270