The guys bet him ten dollars he couldn’t come up with a short story only six words long. Hemingway took that bet, pulled out a napkin, and wrote the following story on it:
For sale, baby shoes, never worn.
Hemingway understood the power of words, even just a few words, which was actually the essence of his style. They should have made the bet with one of the great Russian novelists, actually. There’s certainly a story, and one that touches you, in those six words.
But you could do it too. You could give me six words—six different words—telling your story. What would they be?
There has been a terrible accident.
I’m leaving. The marriage is over.
Your position is no longer needed.
I just want to be friends.
The cancer isn’t responding to treatment.
You are not able to conceive.
Here’s a rose off the casket.
You’ve gone from dreaming to mourning. But if things were different? What if you could reverse the equation, wake up from a nightmare to a dream? What if your mourning could lead to a blessing?
Jesus turns another one inside out and upside down. In the midst of loss and deep disappointment, when it feels like we are coming to the end of ourselves, he turns the page and shows us a new story of hope and redemption.
As he continues that sermon, preached on the mountain near the Sea of Galilee, Jesus shows us another way life looks different through his kingdom lens. He suggests that in God’s kingdom, the item with the hefty price tag is now marked way down, and the cheap giveaway is now extremely valuable. The billionaire is henceforth a bum. The homeless guy is king.
Let’s look at a little more context for this sermon in Matthew 5–7. Matthew lets us know that a huge crowd is there to hear Jesus preach. The word for crowd really means “a large group of unidentified people.” Over my years as a public speaker, I’ve learned something about large groups of unidentified people: they are tightly packed with stories of heartache and shattered dreams. To gather people is to gather sad stories, and this would be true even at a convention of department-store Santas.
I am especially aware of this when I stand to preach at my home church. Though not purposefully, my eyes fall on the people I know—people who’ve had life wake them up from their dreams. Over to the left are the parents whose daughter is battling cancer; toward the back is the widow who dreads going home to a lonely house after church. And on the right, the young man who just left rehab for the third time.
Sometimes I see a couple separated by half the auditorium. And I know the story of that space too. I know a few stories here and there, but Jesus knows them all.
I wonder if Jesus scanned his crowd up on the mountain and saw countless sad narratives, shoulder to shoulder. We don’t know what he was thinking, but we’re taken aback by what he was saying—and the crowd must have been too. He opens with the Beatitudes, a list of reverses that changes the retail price of everything. Blessings: everything you know about them is wrong.
We’ve considered the first beatitude: “Blessed are the poor.” Yeah, right! Good one, Jesus! Who feels more blessed in life than folks with plenty of nothing? Eyes would roll. This rabbi has got to be kidding. And then he throws out the next one and ups the ante.
Blessed are …
What will it be? Based on how this world works, in your experience, how would you complete his sentence? Blessed are:
Those whose wildest dreams come true.
Those who get the best jobs.
Those who marry supermodels.
Here’s how Jesus finishes it:
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matt. 5:4)
Kyle Idleman, The End of Me: Where Real Life in the Upside-down Ways of Jesus Begins (Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2015).
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