In one of the great educational tools that has every been written, the Small Catechism of Martin Luther, I searched for a Table of Rights and I could not find one. I found a table of duties, or things that I owe to others.
So we have raised several generations of children that are immersed in rights. They have a right to education and some believe that it should be free even through college. They have the right to not have to walk to school where they have the right to a breakfast and they have a right to a dinner and maybe even an evening meal. They have a right to free contraception whether their parents want them to have it or not. I don’t have the time to talk about all the rights they have including graduating even if they never learned anything.
If you think that I am overstating the case you better start looking around. In almost every major issue that I have been involved with, which I cannot discuss here because we have a “right” to privacy, those involved claimed a “right” to be happy. The fact that what made them happy made others miserable was not a part of their calculation. If the truth be known they couldn’t care less about anyone else. I can see some of you parents reading this saying that I am just a curmudgeon and reiterating how much you hate the “in my day language”, but, in my day my parents told me that there was “nothing, anywhere, that guarantees anyone happiness”. From the Word of God I learned that happiness means knowing the depth and nature of God’s love for us and our absolute inability to do anything to earn life and salvation and peace. I learned very early that God’s idea of happiness and my own are totally different. Happiness is when I despair of myself and my achievements and trust only in Christ.
The closest word we have in the New Testament for “happy” is translated as “blessed”. We have so messed up both of these words with our concept of rights that we have messed up many lives as a consequence. If you don’t believe me try this – read the Beatitudes (Matthew 5) and substitute the word “Happy” for blessed and tell me if you think it is sane. Who in their right mind wants to be poor in spirit, or meek, or hungry and thirsty for righteousness? Who in their right mind wants to mourn, or make peace? Watch what passes for entertainment and ask who wants to be pure? And who wants to be persecuted?
The beatitudes are not delineating certain “virtues” and assigning to them condign rewards; He is promising and giving to those who have nothing and need everything, that which answers their every need. He is pointing men to the present fact and the future hope of God acting for men and for their salvation. The Kingdom is there for the poor; the universal and absolute future reign of God projects into the present and beatifies the beggar even now. It is a present reality in the person of Jesus.” (Franzmann, “Follow Me” Concordia Publishing House 1982) The blessedness of which Jesus speaks goes to the beggardly poor in spirit who rely for everything from God and it goes against the grain of this world.
Their is a reason that the world has surrounded us with the notion of rights and we are going to investigate that because it has much to do with mercy and mission and, believe it or not, witness. In the meantime for you parents that think I am being mean, I am waiting for the day when your thirty something child moves into your basement because they have a right to be happy. I will rise up and called you “blessed”.