The Sermon on the Mount—Magna Carta of the Christian Life 
The Apostle Matthew here presents a catechism of Christian initiation and opposes it to the Jewish religious ideal. The ensemble of moral, social, religious, cultural, general, and collective requirements that holds good for the whole People of God was received by Moses on Mount Sinai. Jesus presents a new charter that he gives “on the Mount” (5:1) as if on a new Sinai. It does not take anything away from the Law but goes to the root of human conduct. Good intentions are not to replace act and obedience, but all that takes place in the heart and spirit of persons, their plans and their intentions, are already acts.
The Beatitudes. 
- When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on the mountain. After he was seated, his disciples gathered around him.
- Then he began to teach them as follows:
- “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
- Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
- Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will have their fill.
- Blessed are the merciful, for they will obtain mercy.
- Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God.
- Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
- Blessed are those who are persecuted in the cause of justice, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and utter all kinds of calumnies against you for my sake.
- Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. In the same manner, they persecuted the prophets who preceded you.
Matthew 5:2-12. (New Catholic Bible.)
I. Jesus’ Appreciation of Happiness.
Jesus recognized that the desire for happiness is a dominant motive in the mind of every man and that that desire is natural and right. He himself felt it strongly, and his teachings regard ing the way in which true happiness can be attained are based on his own experience as well as on his keen and sympathetic observation. So important did he deem this question that he placed the answer to it at the very beginning of the memorable talk on the hilltop with his disciples in which he laid down his fundamental principles of living (Matthew chapters 5 to 7). These beatitudes took the place of the stern “Thou-shalt-nots”; of the Old Testament law. This fact was a plain declaration that the religion which he proclaimed was indeed “Good News,” a religion of joy and not of gloom.
Jesus condensed his teachings regarding happiness into eight brief beatitudes. The beatitude is an especially attractive and effective form of teaching, for it is undogmatic and picturesque. In reality each beatitude is an exclamation: “How divinely happy are the receptive in spirit!” In the presence of a sunset we all exclaim involuntarily, “How beautiful!” So in the beatitude the teacher and the ones taught view life together and formulate their common conclusions.
The Greek word interpreted “blessed” was used by classical writers to describe only the superlative happiness of the gods. The original Hebrew [בָּרוּך] or Aramaic[ܛܘܒܢܐ] word represented the state of perfect happiness that came from going straight and being right: “How normal and happy are the modest!“
Most men in Jesus day as in our day, too, even after these many years, made the mistake of thinking that happiness can be attained by direct pursuit. Youth too often learns by pitiful experience the principle that Jesus was seeking to teach: real happiness comes only as a result of fulfilling certain simple but definite conditions. The supreme tragedy of human life is that in the hot and direct pursuit of that which promised to give happiness, countless millions throughout the ages have suffered physical, mental, and moral shipwreck. Moreover they fail to distinguish between pleasure and happiness. Jesus sought to prevent all this appalling human wreckage by showing men the better, the only way to win happiness that is real and enduring.
What is the difference between pleasure and happiness? Is pleasure wrong in itself? Why did the Puritans condemn practically all secular pleasures? How far does the happiness of the individual depend upon wealth? Upon the possession of health? What evidence is there that it is part of the eternal purpose revealed in the universe that every individual should be happy?
II. The Mental attitudes Required For Happiness.
The first condition of perfect happiness is a receptive attitude. The poor or receptive in spirit are those Who are ready to learn from every experience and every teacher and above all from the divine Teacher. They, therefore, are pre eminently qualified to co-operate in establishing the rule of God, and to them above all others belong the blessings that it will bring to mankind. In fact, as a result of that attitude they are already enjoying the blessings of that rule. The second condition is modesty or humility. Unfortunately our English words do not fully convey the strength and heroism suggested by this beatitude. To curb one s natural tendency to be self-assertive and to resent real or imagined slights requires the highest strength and courage. He who is able to do so, at once frees himself from those feelings of envy and jealousy and wounded pride that are the most insidious and malignant foes of his happiness. Ordinarily men feel under obligation to repress the one who is ever urging his own rights and sounding his own praises and to champion the cause of the one whose ability outruns his claims. Notwithstanding appearances, the real honours in the end pass to the modest. As Jesus declared, “The modest inherit the earth.” The modest man learns from his own mistakes and from the unenvied excellence of others, and thus acquires power to attain for himself. It is frequently the case that our best business men endeavour to secure the services of lawyers who have beaten them in court or of rivals who have surpassed them in competitive fields. They are glad in their meekness to learn from any one. And their modesty pays dividends. The very wealthy usually have this sane, teachable spirit.
Not the least of the possessions of the modest is the atmosphere of tranquillity and contentment which this modesty creates and which is absolutely essential to happiness.
From the context its self evident that the happiness of those who mourn is not because they mourn for the loss of friends or material possessions but because their ideals for themselves and for society are those of God himself and they lament their own failure and that of others to realise them. The sense of forgiveness, of growth, and of progress alone comforts them. Hence theirs is the feeling of harmony with God and man, the joy of achievement, the consciousness of development, and these are among the most fertile sources of real happiness.
Hunger and thirst are perhaps the most compelling forces in the life of humanity. We of the western world, however, cannot appreciate the full significance in the fourth beatitude that Jesus had for the men, women, and children living in the arid sun-baked east and in a thickly populated land where excruciating thirst and persistent famine are a frequent experience of a silent majority. As in most of Jesus beatitudes, his opening words, “Happy are those who hunger and thirst,” seemed a strange paradox. He took pleasure in thus putting in startling contrast the superficial thoughts of men and those of God as proclaimed by fact and experience. They who hunger and thirst for the right and to be right and that the right may prevail are supremely happy. Theirs is a diviner happiness, when their hunger and thirst are satisfied, than that of the famished man at a bountiful banquet or that of a thirst-wracked desert wanderer as he at last stoops down to drink from a cool, gushing spring.
An open and receptive mind, a modesty which is forgetful of self and loses itself in the service of others, high ideals and persistency in striving to attain them, and an impelling desire to know what is right and to see that the right always prevails these are the qualities that the business man demands in him to whom he entrusts important interests. These are the virtues that we desire to find in our friends, and these are the mental attitudes that insure our happiness in this life and through eternity.
What is the value of the paradox in teaching a new and important truth? How does Jesus life illustrate the strength and heroic quality of humility? Which is the more potent source of unhappiness: the consciousness of being wronged or that of having wronged another? Which of these beatitudes have you found most productive of happiness? Have you tested and found the truth of them all? What ones have you thus tested?
III. The Attitudes Towards Society Essential For Happiness.
No teacher in the history of humanity saw more clearly than Jesus the tragic, deadly effects of sin; no one appreciated as did he, the infinite mercy and love of God toward the victims of sin. Slow-footed science is beginning to discover how potent are the forces in nature that combat disease and the influences at work in society to overcome the effects of the folly and weakness of individuals and races. In the presence of modern scientific discovery, we stand in awe before the forces that make for health and sanity and progress. The forces that make for degeneration and destruction are present too, but the theory of evolution is simply a formulation of the conviction, based on the study of millions of data, that the forces working for life and progress in the physical world are ascendant. The same is true in the mental and moral realms. The struggle between these antagonistic forces is the drama of eternity, a drama of realities that make up the history of the universe.
In the last four beatitudes Jesus was trying to make clear to men the unending happiness that would be theirs if they enlisted all their energies on the side of the eternal forces that make for progress. He taught his disciples to pray, “Forgive us our wrong-doing as we forgive those who wrong us.” Mercy is one of the attributes of God. Mercy begets mercy. To a sensitive soul no pain is more intense than that which comes from regret and remorse for wrong done to others. Regret and remorse are the flames of the real hell in which every sinner finds himself sooner or later. They are the deadly foes of all happiness. Every religion has been compelled by the crying needs of suffering humanity to offer some way of escape. Judaism suggested the insufficient palliatives of almsgiving and sacrifice and ceremonial. Jesus quietly waived these aside and proposed a more fundamental, in fact the only cure: like God, be merciful to all men, and then the happiness you crave will be yours, for you will learn the power of love to forgive. You will be merciful to your penitent self as you are to others. Your fellow men will gladly grant to you the mercy and forgiveness that you give to them, and at last you will understand how completely your own sins and failures are forgiven by the eternal heart of love. Then you will experience the deep abiding happiness that comes to a soul freed from all harshness and hatred and filled with a sense of harmony with all men and with the infinite Will that is working for perfection.
The sixth beatitude is too axiomatic to require interpretation: “Supremely normal and happy are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” The Aramaic word means both mind and heart. The scientist who studies nature with unbiased mind sees clearly certain of the infinite manifestations of God. The open-minded inventor discovers certain principles^ hitherto hidden and makes them useful for the service of mankind. The joy of discovery is certainly one of the purest sources of happiness known to men.
In the light of its Old Testament message, the phrase “pure in heart” described especially that freedom from prejudice and from the shadow of sin and of those impure or superficial thoughts or unbridled feelings that darken the vision, confuse the judgment and make the great majority of men wholly or partially blind to the manifestations of God and of his good purpose. These good purposes are evident at every turn to the men who have eyes to see, and give, them while here on earth a foretaste of the happiness which is in store for us throughout eternity.
Why does a merciful attitude require more accurate analysis of motives but no more leniency in the treatment of a defiant criminal? Cite typical cases from the life of Jesus and from modern life. Why are children usually inclined to condemn sins or faults in others which they overlook or excuse in themselves? How far is the science of Christian teaching ‘that the sins of an individual do not represent the real-self correct?’ Is social immorality increasing or decreasing within our Anglo-Saxon nation? What measures can and should the church take to combat this evil?
IV. The Joy of cooperating with God the Father.
Into the seventh and eighth beatitudes Jesus put the essence of his life experience. Whatever be his origin, his supreme title to be called the Son of God lies in the fact that, like his divine Father, he was a creator of harmony and completeness. From childhood to old age one of the chief sources of happiness is creation. The author, the artist, the architect, the manual labourer, the devoted parent, the statesman, and all who rise above the mere struggle for food and possessions find their great joy in constructive work. “Constructive workmanship” is one of the most significant watchwords of our current day. To make man’s happiness complete its important:
- that the work would be well done,
- that it wins recognition because it provides a real need, and
- that it permanently enriches the lives of all of humanity.
The work that Jesus sets before his followers in the highest measure meets these exacting requirements. He invites them to join with God in building well that which is not temporal but eternal: developed manhood and womanhood, the perfect home and community and society, and above all thus to secure for themselves and for their fellows that complete happiness which alone will make perfect the joy of God himself.
Were we not living in an heroic age, Jesus eighth beatitude would seem too paradoxical to be true: “Supremely blest are those who are persecuted because they are doing right, for they already share the joys of God s rule!” Lest it should not be fully grasped he elaborates: “Suffering for a cause like that which I present allies you with the heroic order of the prophets and insures to you unending happiness.” The records of the beloved community that rallied about Jesus and his cause illustrate the joy that came to ordinary men and women even in the midst of persecution and in part even because of persecution. The joy of sacrifice for a noble cause and for consciences sake was theirs. And there can be no truer joy. The history of his followers during the strenuous opening Christian centuries is also replete with dramatic illustrations. The blood-stained battle fields of France illustrated the unspeakable happiness that comes through the sacrifice of comfort and possessions, and life if need be, for a great cause. “It was all one great and glorious picnic,” one college boy of twenty wrote to his mother when the armistice was signed and he looked back on three months spent in leading his company, almost without cessation, against shock and shell, in the face of machine gun fire and the more deadly peril of poisoned gas. Perhaps the greatest tragedy in human life is never to have felt and responded to the call to suffer on behalf of a great cause. Jesus worked and taught and gave his life that he might deliver men from this tragedy and give them this exquisite happiness of life. “Supremely happy are you when you are reviled, persecuted, and falsely maligned because of your loyalty to me” was said first to his early followers and they knew it was true; but it contains an eternal principle which our old, easy-going world was fast forgetting before it was aroused by the strenuous demands of the new age. If the ideals for which our finest youth have so generously given their lives are to be preserved, even greater and more universal loyalty and sacrifice are now demanded.
In his quiet way Jesus established new standards of value, although he was ready to test them all in the scales of individual happiness. Instead of wealth and possessions, personal honours, prestige and power, he set as goals for which to strive, open-mindedness, modesty, a yearning for absolute truth, justice, uprightness, the merciful spirit, purity of heart, creative power, and a worthy cause for which to strive and sacrifice. “Strive for these,” he declared, “and you will attain them and as a glorious by-product you will also win happiness that is both satisfying and abiding! The proof of the truth of these teachings is found in the laboratory of life.
What types of business would you call creative in the sense of the seventh beatitude and what are not? In choosing an occupation how far should one seek that which is creative? What are some of the modern causes for which men can win happiness through persecution?
V. Community happiness and prosperity.
In any community organised on the plans laid down by Jesus we should find the citizens in close personal touch one with the other, each attempting to render what constructive service he can in order to promote the public welfare. Blessed is the community that has a receptive spirit and is eager to avail itself of the practical experience wrought out in other communities. The results may be gained through agents sent to study the work being done in other progressive communities or through specialists.
The normal organisation for the promotion of any public enterprise is first by voluntary groups who meet to plan and discuss, then under the influence of a group or of several groups, the community either in a voluntary public meeting or in its official public capacity takes up its specific problems and works them out in the light of knowledge won through careful study and investigation.
Following the example of the great community organiser, one s thought naturally turns first in any community to the saving of lives and the promotion of the physical welfare. The citizens organise to secure good sanitation, a pure water supply, a safe system of drainage, and whatever improvements are necessary to prevent infections of any kind that promote disease. Hospitals are built in accord with the plans that insure the best care for the physically and mentally ill.
Next, careful attention is given to living and working conditions. The whole community is interested in since proper arrangements are made for housing all classes in such a way that comfort, good morals, and enjoyment are provided for each and every individual.
In any democratic country, such as the United Kingdom, and even more in the coming democracy of God, care should be taken that the ordinary citizen is trained in such a manner that not only is his own welfare advanced but also the safety and welfare of the whole community. This means, of course, school systems of the best type. Perhaps on no other public enterprise at the present time, even in the United Kingdom where public education is so often discussed, is there manifested so great a spirit of unwillingness to spend money as on schools in order to secure the best teaching. Whilst it may be true that a very large proportion of our local authority and central government budgets are devoted to education —Education spending is the second-largest element of public service spending in the UK behind health, representing about £99 billion in 2020–21—, every scholar preoccupied with the branch of knowledge knows that far too small a proportion of that budget has been devoted to the pay of teachers. Certainly if the principle of Jesus is true that minds and hearts are developed and changed by personal influence and patient instruction, there could be no greater mistake. Buildings are of trivial importance when compared with the individual guidance of the teacher, and yet in many instances a community is willing to pay those into whose charge the children of that community are placed for their intellectual and moral instruction, far less than it pays the men who build our homes and make our roads and railroads. It should not be unexpected, therefore, that these communities are unsuccessful in obtaining the happiness which comes only when citizens are trained to be open-minded, eager to know and do that which is right, be pure in both mind and heart and be prepared to do beneficial and constructive labour.
Education must include, of course, not merely the ordinary accomplishments of the arts of reading, writing, and arithmetic, but should also include the development of the artistic spirit through the establishment of art galleries, proper training in environmental and wildlife studies, the building of parks, the orientation of architecture within our cities and especially the training in morals in the broadest and best sense of that word. How much this can cause happiness and success, and whether it will be promoted and supported by governmental means or by the voluntary coalition of citizens, is irrelevant. The methods by which these ends should be anchored naturally varies in each distinct community. In some areas the government will need to take the lead, whilst in others voluntary organisation. The one thing that is most essential is that the individual members of that community through collective counsel and widespread action secure the results, and that not a few but the many experience the happiness of doing this vital constructive work.
Is there a danger of weakening the morale of a community by offering its citizens education, art, and entertainment free of charge?
What effect would free travel on roads and railways supported by taxation have upon the welfare of that community? Can a community maintain happiness to a large degree without well-being, or well-being without happiness? In what ways can each member of a community be enabled and influenced to provide their own special contribution to the well-being and happiness of the whole?
VI. Nationwide happiness and prosperity.
The same principles that apply within smaller communities applies in the wider field of a nation’s activities. The methods, however, must vary. Within smaller communities, through village and town meetings and/or the voluntary action of groups of individuals, common action can be secured. Within the broader field of a nation the work must be fulfilled through representatives. These representatives should be chosen with especial reference to the attainment of the ends desired.
The field of activity of a nation is also quite different from that of a local community. Fundamental and most importantly must be the protection of the people as a whole against any forms of foreign aggression. The direction of army and navy services are necessary, and the control and management of diplomatic relations with other countries must be in the hands of the national government.
In order that the health of the citizens can be protected, the national government must establish rules and institutions for enforcing quarantine regulations against contagious diseases being brought in from abroad. Similar regulations must prevent the importation of diseases that affect both animals and plants. In order to be certain of a proper food supply and to assure the development of essential industries, it often becomes necessary, that regulations regarding the imports and exports of goods of various types are formulated and administered. Likewise the protection of ethics and morals in order to develop citizenship of the highest calibre, the representatives of the nation must provide a regulated immigration system and must, through such regulations, prevent the bringing in of people whose teachings and influence are detrimental to that nation.
More certain than preventive measures of protection against other nations, necessary as these are at times, are the positive constructive policies that should be established to promote within all communities a more intimate knowledge of foreign peoples and governments and the cultivation of international goodwill. This is a task worthy of the best efforts of a nations highly accomplished diplomats and its broad-minded citizens.
Its not possible, especially in our current stage of human comprehension and mentality regarding the relations that exist among the various nations, that the highest results are attained, yet outstanding developments have already been achieved within certain fields. Today in several countries we find affiliated coalitions for labor legislation. There are international university societies that seek to bring together the scholars of different countries socially when they are abroad. The Council of Europe on education has a fundamental influence on the capabilities and potentials of individuals and communities to achieve development as well as social and economic success. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is a multilateral institution which works for “stability, peace and democracy.” While its work is focused mainly upon Europe, its members include countries from North America and Asia as well as Europe. The organisation divides its work into four areas or “dimensions”:
- Politico-military dimension: including arms control, border management and countering terrorism.
- Economic and environmental dimension: including economic growth, good governance and cooperation on environmental issues to avoid conflict.
- Human dimension: including observing elections, and support for democratisation and human rights.
- Cross-dimensional: including cyber security, education and combatting human trafficking.
The Global Campus of Human Rights and its exchange professorships foster academic cooperation and exchange, and therefore enrich the academic curricula and our common understanding of human rights and the associated global challenges. The GCHR and numerous visiting committees among nations all lead strongly in the same direction. Even more promising in many ways are the activities of our great mission boards, of the Young Men’s and Young Women’s Christian Associations, and other religious bodies in this international field. Whilst the World Council of Churches (WCC) —a worldwide Christian inter-church organisation— is a community of churches on the way to visible unity in one faith and one eucharistic fellowship, expressed in worship and in common life in Christ. It seeks to advance towards this unity, as Jesus prayed for his followers, so that they may “all be one … so that the world may believe.” (John 17:21). As yet, I must confess, only a promising beginning has been made. With the right motives, however, on the part of the citizens, with the proper desire to promote public welfare not merely at home but also abroad, much can be achieved in order to improve the present human conditions. The way to happiness for human society as well as for the individual lies down the plain tracks that were marked out by Jesus Christ. Open-mindedness, aspiration, self-effacement, moderation and a passion to know and do that which is right, consideration for others, freedom from bigotry and prejudice —racialism, anti-Semitism, chauvinism, sexism, ageism, heterosexism, classism to name just a few—, and from immorality; always serving to positively build and improve and have a willingness to undergo personal suffering for causes that are righteous are not just global but also individual virtues that one should adopt. What can be done within our schools to cultivate a friendly interest towards foreign peoples? Peoples that are different from the norm. What are the results and consequences of our foreign missions upon international politics? What dangers must be identified and avoided when our ambassadors, diplomats, emissary and legates attend to foreign mission work? What can be done in order to develop Christian compassion and plans for unified work globally that will promote both the permanent happiness and well-being of the human race and for mending our planet?
Subjects for Further Study.
- How would you define happiness, and is it a worthy goal for which to strive? Distinguish clearly the meanings of happiness, joy, enjoyment, pleasure, fun, contentment —health and happiness—.
- What would have been the effect on Jesus personal happiness if He had surrendered Himself to the impulses revealed within the exegetical narrative of His temptation? In what sense was His life on earth extraordinarily happy, and what were the main sources of His happiness?
- In what ways does modern science, especially the successes of sociology, criminology, and psycho-analysis, tend to promote compassion and leniency toward wrongdoers?
- Why do the sins of social immorality —where people resort to immoral behaviour to explain and justify their socially amoral behaviour in life— so completely blunt the religious and moral sense of those who commit them?
- What sources of happiness does the pioneer in social work Dr. Richard Clarke Cabot (†1939) suggest in his volume, What Men Live By? — Work, Play, Love, Worship; and what sources would you add? (Cabot’s What Men Live By? Can be downloaded free of charge from https://archive.org/details/whatmenlivebyw00cabo/page/n5/mode/2up)
- Analyse the influences which (a) tend to destroy your individual happiness, and (b) tend to promote your happiness. Make a similar analysis of the community in which you live. Make a similar analysis of the present global situation.
- How far are mere misunderstandings sources of misunderstandings, conflict and unhappiness among individuals, communities, and nations?