Sunday, January 23, 2011

Jesus and West Side Story

In West Side Story there is a song called 'Gee Office Krupke' which features a stanza that says:

My father is a bastard,
My ma's an S.O.B.
My grandpa's always plastered,
My grandma pushes tea.
My sister wears a mustache,
My brother wears a dress.
Goodness gracious, that's why I'm a mess!

This is a classic example of a Parallel List Lyric, two lists combined for comic effect. Father, Ma, Grandpa, Grandma, Sister, Brother - all relations, combined with a list of how they are screwed up.

Sondheim the lyricist of West Side Story is famous for this type of verbal word play and it shows throughout his works.

Incidentally when the movie version of West Side Story was released the publishers baulked at the lyrics above (and many other places in the show) so Sondheim rewrote them as:

My daddy beats my mommy,
My mommy clobbers me,
My grandpa is a commie
My Grandma pushes tea!

Which unfortunately weakens the lyric structure and doesn't seem that much 'safer' to me, but I digress.

I was reading Matt 5: 3 - 12 this afternoon and it struck me that the structure of the Beatitudes is very similar to a Parallel List Lyric.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

In the past I've found myself focusing on where in my life do I feel poor in spirit, where am I mourning, where am I meek etc. I figured if I could cultivate those characteristics in my life then I would get all the 'rewards' - the kingdom of Heaven, comfort, inherit the earth etc.

Today however, partly because I've been browsing through my notated collection of Sondheim Lyrics in the awesome book 'Finishing the Hat' I encountered the text of the Beatitudes differently.

I don't want to be poor in spirit, mourn, meek etc just to get the accompanying blessings - treating the Beatitudes as if they are some kind of written guarantee: Be 'A' and you will get 'B'. I do think that all of the 'A' statements will happen in a life that is lived honest and authentically, but I don't think we should persue the 'A' side in the hopes of gaining 'B'.

Jesus speaks these words to a hurting people - poor, living under Roman Occupation. He speaks these words of comfort to fulfill his 'mission' from the prophet Isaiah that he quotes in the synagogue in Luke 4.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

As I've sat with these 2 passages today it has me wondering what the Spirit of the Lord has anointed me for. What is my message of good news, freedom, healing, and release from oppression? What unique voice do I give to the world?

How can I offer the 'B' section of the Beatitudes? How do I live a life that extends the kingdom of God to the poor in spirit? That comforts those who mourn? That gives the earth to the meek, and fills those who hunger and thirst for righteousness? How do I show mercy to the merciful and help the pure in heart see God? How do I extend the kingdom of heaven to God's children who are peacemakers, who are persecuted?

Today instead of focusing on what I can 'get' from the Beatitudes, I'm trying to learn what I can 'give' instead.


Lorrie said...

Thanks for your thoughts. I will meditate on them as I think about the Beatitudes.

Craig Morton said...