Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
What is Happiness Anyway?
Happiness is what we all want, right?
But there are a couple pesky little questions we have to answer: what is happiness anyway? And what do we have to have in order to obtain it?
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus has an answer:
"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed 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, for surely your reward is great in heaven." (6:20-22)
We call this the Beatitudes (check out Matthew's longer version in Matthew 5:3-11). Strictly speaking, a beatitude is any statement that begins with the words "blessed are" or "blessed is." But wait! There's more! The Greek word for "blessed" may also be translated as "happy." So replace "happy" for "blessed" and get yourself a fresh reading of these little ditties.
So let's recap. For Jesus, happiness consists of
- and of course, people calling you names.
Well that kind of stinks.
But Jesus does give us a reason: God is the one who's erasing these negativities, which will give way to God's kingdom, full bellies, laughter, and one big heavenly payday.
That means that for Luke's Jesus, happiness is possible even in the direst circumstances because it's rooted in the fact that God acts on behalf of those who are afflicted. It's entirely what we may call an "other-powered" happiness—not sure modern day psychologists would be too psyched about that.
Beatitudes are actually pretty common in both Jewish and Greco-Roman literature. Happiness may consist of pleasure for Epicurean philosophers, life in accordance with nature for Stoics, the wisdom of God for Jews, or knowledge of Dionysus or Orpheus for initiates of their mysteries. That means that the definition that Jesus gives in 6:20-22 is just one option among many for people living in the Greco-Roman world.
In Luke alone, there are tons of 'em: 1:45; 7:23; 10:23; 11:27, 28; 12:37, 38, 43; 14:14, 15; 23:29. In one case, a woman exclaims to Jesus, "Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!" (11:27). Jesus doesn't like this statement and corrects her, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it" (11:28). Touché. Looks like Luke is not entirely bereft of the "self-power" side of the happiness-concept.