"And what would you like for your bedtime story, my little niece?"
This question was put to a small blue eyed girl of 6 years by her aunt, who had come over to, "spend the evening", (as the impish little darling put it), so that her parents could go out.
"I should like 'The Beatitudes', please, dear Auntie," she requested demurely, smoothing the lace on her coverlet with a small white hand. Edna turned, silk skirts rustling, and examined the ornate bookshelf.
"I do not see a book by any such name, Jeanice..."
"Oh! The Bible isn't on the bookshelf, Auntie, it's on my dresser," replied Jeanice, folding her hands daintily in her lap.
"Oh!" repeated her aunt, with a look of confusion. She picked up the Bible and sat down uncertainly in the chair beside Jeanice's bed.
"Surely you know what the Beatitudes are, Auntie?" queried Jeanice, as Edna flipped through the pages with a bewildered air.
"Oh! I suppose it's just been so long I'm sure I've quite forgotten where exactly it is," she fluttered.
"Matthew 5, Auntie," chirped the girl, laying her head on a ruffled pillow and closing her eyes.
"Dear me," was all her aunt said, and for a few minutes the rustling of pages was all that could be heard. Finally she cleared her throat uncomfortably,
"Here it is... Ahem. 'Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him'-are you sure that's quite right, dear?"
Jeanice opened her eyes and patted her aunt's arm, "Oh, yes, Auntie, do keep going!"
"'And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: "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.'"
She paused and glanced at her small niece. She had closed her eyes again and was mouthing the words along with her. Edna shook her head and continued reading, "'"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive 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. "Blessed are you when others 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 they persecuted the prophets who were before you. "You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.'"
She stopped. Jeanice was asleep, a little smile on her face. Gently laying the Bible back on the dresser, she turned out the light and crept downstairs.
"Perhaps my sister isn't so silly in her 'religious notions' as I've imagined," she reflected thoughtfully, "That is a beautiful passage!"
Some miles away, though not too very many miles away, another child was going to bed. Ivan's home was very different than Jeanice's: there were no frills anywhere to be found here. The ornate carvings in nearly all the grand furniture of Jeanice's mansion were sharply contrasted by the rickety table and rough straight-backed chairs. There was an appalling lack of a bookshelf in Ivan's house, which admittedly was more of a room in proportion.
"Ivan, you know better than to go and read your scripture that you've memorized right before you say it to me!"
The 7 year old jumped guiltily at the sound of his mother's chiding voice and snapped the old Bible shut. He turned slowly around and saw 12 year old Irek smirking behind her.
He thinks he's so much better than me! he fumed as his mother, Hope took the Bible from him with a smile.
"I-I'm sorry, Mama, it's just that I always forget it-no matter how hard I try!"
Just 'cause Irek's got a better memory than me is no reason for him to tell Mama that he saw me lookin'-'cause I'm sure that's what he did!
"I know it's hard, Ivan, just try to not look next time, okay?"
Ivan nodded meekly and went to get ready for bed, inwardly seething. It just wasn't fair. Irek was better than him at EVERYTHING. And it wouldn't have been so bad, except he was always rubbing it in!
Once Ivan and Irek had climbed into their cot, Hope laid her sewing down in her chair and went to sit at the end of their bed.
"You want to go first, Ivan?" she asked cheerily, opening the Bible.
She always said that, and though sometimes he desperately wanted to say "no, I wouldn't like to go at all" he knew that it wasn't really a question. But he didn't know which would be more humiliating: going before perfect Irek, or just listening to perfect Irek and seeing his smug look of satisfaction that you couldn't say anything so well as he could. It seemed-
"Oh! Yes, Mama."
He sat up and she smiled her pretty smile at him. it's no wonder Papa married my Mama, he thought a little wistfully, he always did love to make her smile. his heart warmed as he remembered promising his dear Papa to love Mama as much as he always had, and to always try to make her smile.
He was jolted rudely back to reality by Irek's snicker, which was quickly hidden within a cough. Hope looked up from the Bible and frowned at him.
"Please try to be quiet while your brother recites, Irek," she scolded in her soft voice. He nodded sheepishly and she turned back to the Bible.
Ivan took a deep breath and closed his eyes.
"Matthew, um, five...uh, two-no, three, through... oh! The Beatitudes, Mama, ok? I forget the reference."
She nodded, a twinkle in her eye.
He took another breath and began,
"'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted'...ummm...oh! 'Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.... "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be...uh, fed?"
"Oh yeah, 'for they shall be satisfied. 'Blessed are the merciful, for...for...others will be merciful to them?"
Hope gave her little merry laugh that didn't make you feel bad, even though you had made a mistake, and replied, "Actually it's, 'for they shall receive mercy' but it means the same thing."
"Oh, right, I remember now. Ummm, let's see... 'Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God...Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God...and Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,'" he finished in one breath, his eyes popping open.
Hope reached over and hugged him tight.
"That was beautiful," she said, "you remembered so well!"
"It wasn't so hard," he replied, feeling like his heart might burst with happiness, "lists are easier to remember, mama, and," he went on hurriedly, eager to clear himself of any and all offenses, "I didn't look and very much of it in the Bible, I just couldn't remember how it started so I just read: 'Blessed are the poor in spirit' and I remembered."
She smiled again and gave him a kiss.
"I don't think any of that whole passage is true," Irek said suddenly, "leastways, not most of it."
"Why, what do you mean, Irek?" Hope asked in surprise.
"Well, I'd say we're most of those things, and I don't think we've been blessed with any of those things!"
Hope shook her head, "I don't quite understand, Irek. How so?"
"Well, we're poor enough-where's the kingdom of heaven we're s'posed to inherit? We've mourned plenty-where was the comfortin'? I'd say we're pretty meek-so aren't we supposed to inherit the earth? We hunger and thirst for righteousness, least you do enough hungerin' and thirstin' for all of us, mama, but do we ever have enough to eat?! We're merciful, but I heard that conversation you had with the landlord, mama, people sure ain't merciful back!"
Ivan felt his little bubble of happiness deflating swiftly. His brother was becoming more animated,
"We're plenty pure in heart-we read the Bible all the time-but I've never seen God! And aren't we s'posed to be called sons of God since you're always tryin' to be a peacemaker? Seems to me we're always bein' bullied just 'cause we don't fight back-so again: where's the kingdom of heaven?! Ain't somethin' good s'posed to happen to us- 'stead of just bad?!!"
Worn out by his spirited recital, his hardened front finally crumbled. Irek flopped down on his pillow and wept hot, angry tears.
"Oh, my Irek!" with tears in her own eyes, Hope moved over and pulled her weeping son into her arms. In spite of himself, Irek threw his arms around her neck and buried his face in her shoulder.
"My sweet boy, I didn't know you felt all of this so keenly! You should have told me!" Hope murmured to him, stroking his hair tenderly.
Suddenly filled with pity for his brother, and remorse that he'd never noticed how hard he strove to be the man of the family, instead just hating him for being better, Ivan scooted over next to Hope and patted Irek's back. When his sobs quieted, Hope said softly, "Sometimes I like to imagine that the eight beatitudes are eight girls, all with dreams and hopes, and all with different trials and victories, coming to know Jesus better through them. And, realizing that their rewards will come, but not necessarily when they think they will or want them to. My sweet boys, we are so blessed to have each other, and if we're faithful to our beautiful savior, being content with what we have and rejoicing in everything, we will be blessed!"