Blessed is Wednesday’s Child

Jeremiah 17:5-10 and Luke 6:17-26
© Stacey Steck

I was born on a Wednesday, and therefore cursed, some would say. Through no fault of my own, I came into the world on the one day of the week which doomed me to a bad attitude and all the consequences that come with it. Yes, the day of my birth cursed me, and no one can change that fact. Remember that old nursery rhyme?
Monday’s child is fair of face
Tuesday’s child is full of grace
Wednesday’s child is full of woe
Thursday’s child has far to go,
Friday’s child is loving and giving,
Saturday’s child works hard for a living,
And the child that is born on the Sabbath day
Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay.

You know it’s true. I’ll prove it to you. Flora, was born on a Monday, and, as all can see, is fair of face. Phares Sechler and Dot Luther were each born on a Friday and they are truly loving and giving. Paul Gaylor was born on a Saturday and he sure works hard for a living. Charles Sloop? Tuesday, and as full of grace as they come. Greg Hager? You’re out of luck and in my boat, my friend, born on a Wednesday, and full of woe. You see, it all checks out. The curse of woe on Wednesday is as inescapable as the day of my birth.

But that’s just a nursery rhyme you say. It doesn’t have any power over you. You can choose not to believe it. Maybe that’s true, but the things we are told and taught as children are awfully hard to overcome later in life. We are the inheritors of the wisdom of the ages, the culture of our communities, and the characteristics of our families, all of them mighty powerful forces that shape how we think about ourselves. We are products of legend, story, and secret, each of them putting their indelible and invisible marks on us. Without divine intervention, we will never move out of the orbit of the societal and familial bodies around which we endlessly circle. Maybe we wouldn’t want to, even if we could. Maybe there’s nothing we want more than that. Maybe it’s a little of both.

The denizens of Jesus’ corner of the world had their particular kind of cultural and familial baggage too. The words of their nursery rhymes are lost to us, but in Jesus’ words to them in Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, we can detect their echoes. Are you poor? You must have sinned. Are you hungry? You parents must have sinned. Are you weeping? It’s because you did something wrong and God is punishing you. Do people hate you and exclude you and revile you and defame you because of the God you follow? It’s because your God is weak and powerless. It’s all through the Old Testament, those rules and regulations, those traditions and those transgressions, that demonstrated to all, poor and rich alike, hungry and full alike, weeping and laughing alike, that some people are just favored by God, and the rest are on the outside looking in, cursed with woe like Wednesday’s child. Everybody knows it. It’s right there in the Bible for Pete’s sake.

And they were beat down, Jesus’ people were. It doesn’t take much to discourage someone. All you have to do is criticize them, belittle them, humiliate them, make them feel like a failure long enough. It’s easy to do, and virtually no one is immune to it, especially children. As resilient as we human beings are, if you heap enough abuse and neglect on even the strongest among us, sooner or later, we’ll crack. The human psyche is, at once, incredibly strong, and unbelievably fragile. And this proud people, who could boast in their history of David and Solomon, of Moses and Elijah, had been on the receiving end of a long period of subjugation, a long and deep occupation of their lands and their labors, and they were feeling cursed. They were getting it from both ends. The Romans making them poor, and their own tradition making them guilty. It wasn’t that many years later when the whole powder keg exploded and the residents of Judea attacked their Roman occupiers with a hatred that burned white hot. The battle didn’t go well, and they lost the rest of what they had already lost the most of: their freedom, their temple, their culture. Cursed, filled with rage, provoked to violence.

Howard Thurman, the great twentieth century mystic prophet, described the process by which deprivation turns a person toward that kind of hate. “Suppose,” he says, “Suppose you are one of five children in a family and it happened, again and again, that if there was just enough for four children in any given circumstance, you were the child who had to do without. If there was money for four pairs of shoes and five pairs were needed, it was you who did without shoes. If there were five pieces of cake on the plate, four healthy slices and one small piece, you were given the small slice. At first, when this happened, you overlooked it, because you thought that your sisters and brothers, each in his turn, would have the same experience; but they did not. Then you complained quietly to the brother who was closest to you in understanding, and he thought that you were being disloyal to your mother and father to say such a thing. In a moment of self-righteousness you spoke to your father about it. Your father put you on the carpet so severely that you decided not to mention it again, but you kept on watching. The discrimination continued.

“At night, when the lights were out and you were safely tucked away in bed, you reached down into the quiet places of your little heart and lifted out your bundle of hates and resentments growing out of the family situation, and you fingered them gently, one by one. In the darkness you muttered to yourself, ‘They can keep me from talking about it to them, but they can’t keep me from resenting it. I hate them for what they are doing to me. No one can prevent me there.’ Hatred becomes for you a source of validation for your personality. As you consider the family and their attitude toward you, your hatred gives you a sense of significance which you fling defiantly into the teeth of their estimate of you.”

Howard Thurman was, of course, describing the plight of blacks in these United States, but the process is the same for anyone when what you need thrive is denied you, when love, in all the forms the Apostle Paul described it, is withheld from you. Thurman calls people from whom love, basic dignity, and respect have been withheld, the disinherited, those whose birthright of the love of God and their fellow human beings has been denied them. They have had the inheritance of grace taken away from the them, and the inheritance of health, the inheritance of self-determination and the inheritance of faith, all of it taken away and replaced by fear, deception, and hate, most of it turned inward. They have internalized their oppression and let it become the most corrosive of all human emotions: shame. I’m not good enough. I’m not worthy. I’m cursed. I’m Wednesday’s child full of woe.

And so maybe you see why it was so powerful when Jesus said, “Blessed
are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven” because you are blessed, NOT cursed. You are not shameful. You are not bad. You are not the scum of the earth, no matter what anyone tells you. You are blessed, not cursed; favored, not rejected; sacred, not profane; consecrated, not desecrated, bequeathed, not disinherited. God has not forgotten you, even if others act that way and have forgotten you themselves.

The Bible is filled with the disinherited: not only the poor, the meek, the hungry, and the mourning of the beatitudes, but also the epileptic, the schizophrenic, and the delusional, the bleeding, the injured, and the malformed, the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner, none of them responsible for their own plight, but each one prevented from full inclusion in God’s grace and their own community by factors of birth or circumstances beyond their control. “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” asked Jesus’ own disciples about a man born blind, about whom they were sure that someone had done something wrong to account for his curse. The implication here is that God abhors imperfection, and if we aren’t perfect, we’re cursed, sinners who deserve our disinheritance. And once cursed, blessing doesn’t come easily. There were no eye surgeons back in the day to bring blessing to the man born blind. He was just out of luck, wasn’t he? And it’s so hard to get out of that mindset isn’t it? Even after Jesus opens the man’s eyes and shows the world he’s blessed, not cursed, the Pharisees can’t just rejoice at the wonder that has taken place. No, sadly, they want the “sinner” to stay in his place, to keep intact the rules and the system they know so well, and that they controlled so tightly.

Sometimes, even the most well-intentioned of us think we know how the world works, or at least how our part of the world works. And from that exalted vantage point, it’s hard to see our own imperfections, the once which would make us the disinherited from someone else’s point of view. Jesus includes some of those imperfections, doesn’t he? Woe to you who are rich, who are filled, who are laughing, who are well-thought of by those around you. But in the kingdom, it doesn’t work like we think it does. It’s all upside down. The last shall be first, The servant shall be the master. A little child shall lead them. The woes Jesus bestows on those who think they are blessed are given because they don’t really know the rules. You see, the rich and the satisfied and the well-respected aren’t that way only by accident of birth or circumstances beyond their control, but because they have not shared with those who have been excluded, because they have not heeded the command to care for the widow and the orphan and the stranger in their distress. It has been their choices that have earned them the condemnation Jesus hands out.

With a little hindsight, we can see that even those whom Jesus condemns are products of a flawed human system of sin, that they were just as trapped by the rules as those they oppressed and excluded with those rules. They are disinherited in another, equally tragic way, cut off from the fulness of human life, never knowing the blessings of letting everyone share equally in what they have, caught up in the never-ending pursuit of perfection or protection, worried and anxious about defending their birthright or the citizenship or their privilege, working night and day to avoid becoming one of those whom society views as being cursed. Being on the top of the heap is just as cursed a life as being on the bottom. The difference, Jesus says, is that those on the top can do something about their situation, while those on the bottom cannot. You can’t change the day of the week on which you were born, but you can change what you do with what you received on whatever day of the week you were born.

The beatitudes are that moment in the Gospel story that Jesus plants a sign in the world’s front yard, a sign that says, “This is a Shame-free zone,” and he invites everyone to enter in to the blessings that are found in a place like that. In the shame-free zone, no one is cursed for what they cannot control. In the shame-free zone, there’s no condemnation for those who are genuinely trying to change what they can control. In the shame-free zone, imperfections are just imperfections, not disqualifications. In the shame-free zone, you get a first chance or a second chance to experience fully the grace, mercy, and peace of Jesus Christ who doesn’t care on which day of the week you were born, but who does care that you were born, and wants the best for you. May the church truly be God’s shame-free zone in this world, and may all who enter in find the blessing they so richly deserve. Amen.