In the Beatitudes Jesus redefines what it means to be happy and blessed.
Becoming an Ordinary Mystic
By Albert Haase
Like a master electrician, Jesus is rewiring our thinking about what it means to be blessed and happy. (The Greek word makarios, usually translated as “blessed,” can also mean “happy” or “fortunate.”) His understanding, requiring a vision focused on the kingdom, is both countercultural and mystical. And yet, it is also eminently practical and ordinary—Jesus systematically pulls the plug not only on the four ego obsessions but also on the desires and thoughts feeding them. Beginning with his Beatitudes (Matt. 6:3–12), Jesus offers an enthusiastic invitation to think in a new way and change the direction in which we are looking for happiness.
• He replaces a preoccupation with self-preservation with the fortunes of being poor in spirit;
• a fixation on self-gratification with the joys of having desires disappointed and hopes dashed (“Blessed are they who mourn”);
• an appetite for self-concern with hungering for conduct in conformity with God’s, not our own, will (what Matthew calls “righteousness”);
• an obsession with self-image with being meek, merciful, persecuted and insulted.
It’s clear, as St. Paul states, that we need to “be transformed by the renewing of [our] minds” (Rom. 12:2). By changing how we think about the ego obsessions, adopting the mindset of the Beatitudes, and looking in a different direction for happiness, we can change our behavior—are “transformed”—and end the cycle of recurring sin.
This requires mindfulness: not simply the awareness of how the ego obsessions are managing our lives, but mindfulness of our thoughts. Because thoughts affect our spiritual life, by acknowledging our ego-centered thoughts and replacing them with Jesus’—“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5)—we become ordinary mystics.
Continuing in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus scorns thoughts of self-concern or self-absorption.
• If we go to worship and remember a neighbor who bears a grudge against us, we should forget the self and seek forgiveness immediately (Matt. 5:23–26).
• Jesus challenges us to turn the other cheek and make generosity and charity the response to any unmet need, required duty, inconvenience or trial (Matt. 5:39–41).
• Jesus erases any battle lines drawn in the sand by telling us to love and pray for the enemy and not to judge (Matt. 5:44, 7:1–5).
When I am tempted to bolster my self-image with proud or arrogant thoughts, I need to remind myself that Jesus teaches I am “salt.” Mixing metaphors, he says the light of my good works is for the glory of God, not myself (Matt. 5:13–16). Jesus rewires my conceited and snobbish thinking using the expression, “You have heard that it was said … But I say to you,” insisting that anger makes me liable for judgment (Matt. 5:21–22) and forbidding me from polishing my reputation with showy acts of piety (Matt. 6:1–18).
For those who have a hankering for VIP treatment, he levels the playing field by stating explicitly: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matt. 7:12). He directly confronts any sense of spiritual entitlement based on one’s actions, and clearly points those who want to enter into the kingdom to the will of God (Matt. 7:21–23).
Jesus attacks a preoccupation with self-gratification by revealing the challenging terrain where the narrow gate leading to eternal life is found (Matt. 7:13–14).
• He internalizes the prohibition against adultery, broadening it to include thoughts and desires; with hyperbolic and exaggerated commands, he highlights how the senses can lead to sin (Matt. 5:27–30).
• He does not allow retaliation for injury, and replaces it with a spirit of nonviolence (Matt. 5:38–39).
• He forbids spiritual arrogance, vanity, materialism and a lifestyle based upon the demands of a consumeristic society: “No one can serve two masters … You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matt. 6:1–18, 19–21, 24).
Jesus contests the belief that happiness is found in self-preservation and feelings of security. In one of the most beloved passages of the Gospels, he chastises our worry and anxiety about tomorrow as he instills within us a mystic’s confidence in God’s providence: “Look at the birds of the air. … Consider the lilies of the field” (Matt. 6:25–34). Live mindfully in the sacrament of the present moment.
Excerpted from Becoming an Ordinary Mystic by Albert Haase, OFM. Copyright © 2019 by Franciscan Friars of the State of Missouri. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. IVPress.com