Sunday, February 17, 2019

If You're Happy & You Know It...

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Video: YouTube Sesame Street

My dear friends, can you complete this sentence? If you’re happy and you know it…

That’s right!

If you’re happy and you know it… clap your hands!
If you’re happy and you know it, and you really want to show it,
if you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands!

I think many of us are familiar with the delightful song from which these words are taken, right? Perhaps we have even sung it before. But have these words ever led you to ask yourself a question? The song says, If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands! Is it possible to be happy and NOT to know it? Is it possible not even to know what it means to be happy or sad? To think that I’m sad when I’m happy? And to think that I’m happy when I’m actually sad? What do you think? Could you to be sad or happy and not know it?

Much as it may surprise us, when we carefully consider our readings today, it becomes clear that the answer is yes. Yes, it is possible to be happy, or sad, and not to know it. Why else does Jesus take the trouble to tell the people, gathered around him in the gospel, happy are you… and alas for you… Why does the Lord have to say this, if not because we don’t really know the difference between true happiness and sadness?

Of course, this sounds very strange to me, who so often thinks of happiness and sadness as being only a matter of feelings. When I feel happy, I laugh. When I feel sad, I cry. So how can it be possible for me not to know the difference? But Jesus is not talking about feelings alone. As scripture scholars tell us, the Greek word that is translated happy, actually means something closer to blessed or favoured by God. In the gospel, Jesus is teaching his disciples, and me, what it looks like to be blessed, and what it looks like to be cursed.

Even so, if I am honest with myself, what the Lord says remains shocking and difficult to understand. Especially because I so often desire and strive to be comfortable and popular. I take great pains to make myself liked, if not in person, then surely on social media. And don’t I belong to a parish, whose carpark is transformed every weekend, into a large showroom for luxury automobiles? How can I bring myself to understand, let alone to accept, that it is the poor and the hungry, the weeping and the rejected who are blessed? While it is the rich and the satisfied, the laughing and the popular who are cursed? 

Thankfully, the first reading helps me by describing blessing and curse in terms of a contrast between two different spiritual locations, two places where I may situate my heart: the wilderness and the waterside. I am cursed when I turn my heart away from God. When I choose to trust in worldly affairs and approaches to life. When this happens, I fail to recognise God’s presence. I take my blessings for granted, feeling as though I am somehow entitled to them, that they are mine by right, instead of being gifts from a caring God. As a result, I end up banishing my heart to a dry and desperate existence in the wilderness.

In contrast, I am blessed when I learn to place my life in the hands of the Lord, to put my trust in God. To do this is to learn to recognise and to draw from the ever-flowing stream of God’s loving action in my life. When this happens, my heart becomes like a tree planted by the waterside. It bears fruit, even when external conditions are bad. Not only am I blessed, but I know that I am blessed. And so, I am able to rejoice, even if I may not feel like it. If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands!

So whether I am blessed or cursed depends not so much on how I feel, or how favourable are the external conditions of my life. Rather, it depends on where I place my heart, where I decide to put my trust. In God, or in myself. Which is why it is more blessed to be poor than to be rich. For am I not more likely to turn to God when every other door has been shut in my face? When every other road has led me to a dead end? When all other sources of support have finally run dry? When I find myself poor and weak, weeping and rejected? In contrast, am I not far less likely to remember God, when I’m rich and popular, when my mouth is filled with food and laughter?

But how then to ensure that my heart never gets banished to the wilderness, but remains always firmly planted by the waterside? How to gradually let go of my craving for earthly riches, my yearning for worldly popularity, so as to cling to God alone? Isn’t this far easier said than done?

Yes, it this. But God has not left me to do this on my own. God has given me, given us, a Way. The psalm calls it the law of the Lord. Happy indeed is the man… whose delight is the law of the Lord and who ponders his law day and night. To trust in God is to live according to God’s law, God’s Word. And, for us Christians, God’s law is to be found not only on the pages of Scripture. For we believe that the Word has already become flesh. So that to follow God’s law is really to live as Jesus did.

It is to believe in the Resurrection of Christ that Paul preaches in the second reading. And to let that belief give me courage to lay down my life for others, just as Christ laid down his life for me. It is to allow myself to imitate Christ who, though he was rich, chose to become poor, so that by his poverty others might become rich (cf 2 Cor 8:9).

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands! 

These words may be easy to sing, but they are not so easy to live. For it is possible to be happy and not to know it. It is possible to even mistake sadness for happiness, a curse for a blessing. Which is why we need to keep pondering the Word of God, present not only here at this Mass, but also out there in the world. To ponder the face of the Crucified and Risen One, so as to follow faithfully and courageously in his footsteps.

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands! 

Sisters and brothers, what must we do to continue clapping our hands in the sight of God and of the world today?

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