The following story is a reflection on the differing versions of what we know as the Beatitudes. Matthew, Luke and Thomas tell them differently for the are speaking to unique audiences. This story speaks to the Word of God as it is experienced.
Ron was preoccupied as he drove home. Shock was probably the more apt description. Joe, his partner of 20 years, was dying and Ron had requested family leave to care for him. Ron had never told his boss about Joe, but he trusted that God would work it out. He had prayed about this decision and knew it was the right one. Yesterday he turned in the request and expected this morning to get the approval. But when he entered the bosss office her expression was well, frightening. "Your kind" she had said. "Your kind . destroying our families " He didnt hear any of her other words, he didnt really know if the request was granted or denied. It was her expression and those two words, "your kind", that kept replaying over and over again as he tried to drive.
Serena was quietly weeping as she drove. Her meticulously manicured fingernails gripped the steering wheel of her Porsche as if it were a life-vest. She was late for an appointment with her masseuse, but he would wait. Everyone waited for Serena, and eagerly did her bidding, everyone except the one she loved. She had married the love of her life and together they had ridden the roller coaster of life. She wasn't unaware of his, well, indiscretions but nothing prepared her for his brisk announcement three days ago. He was moving out . and Serena's tears knew no end.
Theodore pushed his cart down the crowded sidewalk. Theodore's cart held his world and also served as a walker for his arthritic body. His eyes were focused on the ground because sometimes near the coffee shop people would discard bags with half eaten muffins. These coffee drinkers seemed to have so much money, so much food, that they would buy these most delicious pastries and then eat just half! And Theodore loved muffins. Actually Theodore loved most any food that wasn't green and fuzzy around the edges. After years on the streets Theodore had eaten his share of mold, but he'd take someone's half eaten discarded muffin over moldy free food any day.
But there was nothing on the ground today. Theodore looked carefully around the wastebasket, disappointed. Theodore had pride and didnt like to actually reach in the wastebasket, at least not when the crowds were still around. He looked up cautiously and saw a woman shove a half eaten Danish back in the bag and - yes! - she was going to toss it. Theodore's eyes watched as the bag flew past the basket and landed just beyond it in the street. Theodore lunged. Well, as much as an old man with arthritis can lunge. Actually he lumbered toward the discarded bag, tripped over the curb, and fell head long onto the street.
Just as Theodore fell into the street, Ron's car was approaching. Preoccupied, Ron's reflexes were slow and he veered into the oncoming lane to avoid hitting the fallen man. Of course the oncoming lane was already filled with Serena's Porsche and the crash was as inevitable as the intersection of their lives. The next hour was filled with sirens and reports and the three strangers sitting on the curb together, in their silent and separate worlds. Officer Mac was the first to arrive and saw the irony of these three very disparate lives. What a strange world, he thought. And how connected we become.
As Officer Mac asked questions a child silently pushed through the crowd of on lookers. She was a beautiful child, the kind that people stop to watch, with wide and innocent eyes that filled her face and long dark curls. She couldnt have been more than three, but she walked up to Theodore, Ron and Serena with steady purpose. In the childs hand were several slips of paper, like clean white invitations. She handed one invitation to each.
Officer Mac was captivated by the child. He watched the child watch Serena. Then he peered over his notebook at the paper that Serena was holding. It was blank, blank except that in the bottom right hand corner it read: "The Word of God of the People of God." Office Mac was confused. Riveted on the child, he watched as she handed similar looking cards to Ron and then to Theodore. All of them apparently blank save the imprimatur "The Word of God for the People of God" in the bottom right corner. Mac had seen a lot of strange things in his years on the beat, but this child this child was different.
Theodore didn't see too well anymore and his glasses were long since lost. So he looked skeptically at the paper in his hands. He never did see the inscription on the bottom right corner that Officer Mac saw, but as he stared at the paper one word after another appeared and soon he was reading. It was a if the paper held a message written just for him, as if the paper knew the torment of his life and offered a balm.
Jesus lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:
"Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
"Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied.
"Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh.
"Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
"But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation.
"Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger.
"Woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
"Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.
The Gospel According to Luke, Chapter 6
"Amen and amen," sighed Theodore. Tears filled his old eyes as he folded his paper gently and tucked it inside his shirt.
The small paper in Serenas hands quivered. She gazed down at the beautiful script that filled the page and she pondered the thoughtfulness of the child. She read the words on her card again and again, struck by the final verse:
Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor, for yours is the Kingdom of Heaven."
Jesus said, "Blessed are they who have been persecuted within themselves. It is they who have truly come to know the Father. Blessed are the hungry, for the belly of him who desires will be filled."
Jesus said, "If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you."
The Gospel According to Thomas.
Serenas tears, paused in the shock of the accident, began to flow again. Tears of grief mingled with the balm of healing, tears that are mildewy sweet like the smell of new rain.
Ron was on his phone already, talking with his partner in hushed tones. He didnt even realize that he had wadded his piece into ball. The child stared at Rons hands until he looked up into her eyes. Shamed by the ball in his hands, Ron carefully unfolded it, smoothing out the wrinkles. As he touched the paper words appeared. Words were he had thought it had been blank. Words that captivated Ron:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Oh, yes," prayed Ron as he kept reading. "Yes."
"Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 5
If Officer Mac could have seen what each of them were reading, he would have been even more perplexed. Three very different versions of apparently the same message.
Blessed are the poor
Blessed are they that mourn
Blessed are they that are persecuted
But for each the message is tailored, focused, as if somehow the little child knew the private hell in which each resided, from which each needed release.
But Officer Mac couldn't see the writing.
When Officer Mac got home late that night he was still musing about the three strangers and the strange child with the blank pieces of paper. The day had been a long one and this interlude had been both inspiring and exhausting. There were some days that stood out from the others and this was one of those inexplicable ones. As he stood at his dresser emptying his pockets he discovered a small piece of white paper tucked in beside his keys and coins, a paper not unlike the one that the child had given to Serena, Ron and Theodore. And at first glance Mac thought that it was blank like the others but as he gazed absently at the paper he saw words emerge.
Blessed are they that mourn for they will be comforted.
As it was said in days of old,
1For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
2a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
7a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
The Gospel according to the ancient wisdom of Ecclesiastes
Officer Mac sat down on his bed and cried. It was the first time that he had cried since Maria died, the night his heart had broken. He cried now for the first time, but it wouldnt be the last. He cried for Theodore and Ron and Serena. He cried for those in pain he saw every day, day and day out, on the beat. But as the tears flowed he cried finally for his Maria, his three year old daughter with innocent eyes and long curly hair. He cried in joy for the precious years of her life, he cried in anguish for the senseless act of violence that ended her life too soon. He cried knowing that the time for mourning was now, knowing that the rightness of this time. He cried most of all for the strange and certain knowledge that the word of God unseen is the most powerful word of all.
The Word of God for the People of God
is as private and personal as it is public and shared.
The meaning moves to meet each new situation,
the Word not held by human paper.