The Bible in a Year – 26 October

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

26 October. Matthew chapters 5-7

These chapters comprise the “Sermon on the Mount”, the fullest account we have of the direct teaching of Jesus about how to live a holy and fulfilled life.  It is presented as a single set of teachings, although it may actually be a summary of his teachings on many occasions. Any one of the short passages among them would be the basis for a sermon.  Indeed, a couple of years ago I wrote a series of Lent reflections for my London parish just on the Beatitudes (the first eleven verses of chapter 5). So I will revisit the introduction I gave then.

The opening verse of the “sermon” tells us “When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them.” That gives us the correct order of things.  First Jesus was present (and people knew it), secondly his disciples made time to come to him, and thirdly he spoke, and they learnt from him.   Learning from Jesus requires these three things us of us: to believe in him, to come to where he is (whether that is in a church meeting, or in our own quiet times at home) and to be ready to listen and learn.  And that means having the humility of the true scholar, of knowing that we have much to learn. In the words of an old hymn –

Come to my heart, O Thou wonderful love, come and abide,
Lifting my life, till it rises above envy and falsehood and pride,
Seeking to be: lowly and humble, a learner of Thee.
Robert Walmsley (1831-1905)

Before we go any further, we need to be clear what we mean by being “blessed”. The word “beatitude” comes from the Latin word for it (beatus).  The original Greek word is “makarios”.  Some modern versions of the Bible translate the word as “happy” but that can sound rather shallow – a feeling of happiness can be easily caused by all sorts of small things in life, and just as easily shattered when bad things happen.

The happiness that Jesus promises is something much more profound, and has little to do with the pleasures of life.  The sort of happiness we are looking at here is not the contentment of having all the material things we need, but the satisfaction of knowing that we are living God’s way and building right relationships with other people.  Turning away from the sort of behaviour that harms oneself or others, and living in a way that builds community.  Being at peace with God because we know we have put things right in some way.

The Bible in a Year – 31 July

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this, and also my introduction to the Proverbs.

31 July. Proverbs chapters 16-18

We continue with three more chapters of Solomon’s brief sayings.  I am going to focus on a few that tie in with the book I am reading at present.


“Those who are attentive to a matter will prosper, and happy are those who trust in the Lord. “ (16:20); “A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones. “ (17:22) “The human spirit will endure sickness; but a broken spirit—who can bear?” (18:14). These all address the problem of human happiness.  The book I am reading is “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind “by Yuval Noah Harari.  Towards the end, he considers whether human progress and civilisation have made people happier.


By looking at happiness as a relative concept (experience relative to expectation) rather than something absolute, he concludes that it is not.  On that view, the people of Solomon’s time, most of whom lived what we would now call a deprived existence (unheated homes, untreated water, no sewerage, high infant mortality, and the ever-present threat of war) would actually be no less ‘happy’ than an ordinary worker living in Britain today. That is because, if his understanding of psychology is correct, each person is genetically predisposed to be either happy (the “cheerful heart”), unhappy (the “broken or downcast spirit”), or somewhere in between.   Temporary circumstances such as a birth or marriage on the one hand, or illness or bereavement on the other, may make a short term difference, but after a while we revert to our default level. Fortunately I am one of the happy ones.


These proverbs seem to be saying something similar, with one difference.  Harari, although of Jewish background, takes an agnostic and utilitarian view of religion, seeing religious beliefs as myths that help people get through life and form communities, rather than representing any real truth. But for those who do believe, happiness is associated not just with a genetic predisposition but with “trust in the Lord”. To believe that there is an ultimate power who created you, loves you and guides you through good and bad times – that is more than even a “cheerful heart” can bring