Debra’s mantra was, “God’s gonna love on you.” Debra was homeless as a result of a hard life battling addiction. She hung around the downtown neighborhood and the church. About once a week, she’d bring me a letter she’d written to her son who was in prison. I’d put the postage on it and make sure it got mailed. She never received any letters in return.
One day I got a call from the hospital that was several blocks from the church. The social worker wondered if I’d come in and identify a woman patient. She had been brought in a few days previously. She was found on the side of the freeway, severely beaten. She was still in a coma and the hospital had no idea who she was. She didn’t have any I.D. on her when she was found.
As I was walking down to the hospital, I racked my brain for who I hadn’t seen recently. Who hadn’t been to our lunch program? Who hadn’t signed in for the court-ordered AA and NA meetings? Who hadn’t picked up mail delivered for them at the church? I was always busy and often didn’t see “our usuals” who hung around the church during the week.
I went up to the ICU room the social worker gave me. The nurses were busy, but nodded to me as I entered. I found the woman in question. Her head was completely bandaged with a small opening for one eye. She had tubes coming from everywhere and machines making noises all around her bed. The rest of her was almost completely wrapped as well. One gnarled and bruised hand lay listless on the bed next to her.
I took her hand and introduced myself. Of course, there was no response. I had no idea who she was. I said a quiet prayer, promising to return. I went in search of her nurse and then the social worker. I told them I didn’t know who she was yet, and that I’d be back, but to call should she awaken or, God forbid, die.
There was a group of people Jesus mentioned early on in his teaching. He said they were blessed. We’ve come to know the passage of Scripture where they’re mentioned as The Beatitudes.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“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 receive 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 for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people 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 in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. ~ Matthew 5:1-12
Contrary to what we often hear in sermons on this subject, The Beatitudes are not a roadmap to your best life now. They are not a recipe for success. And if you look at the people Jesus mentions as blessed, they are not the people our society or culture thinks are blessed.
That’s precisely Jesus’ point, demonstrating once again that God regularly and relentlessly shows up just where we least expect God to be in order to give to us freely what we can neither earn nor achieve: blessedness. Jesus chooses these states or conditions – poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted – because it’s in our brokenness that we finally are likely to abandon our cultural stereotypes about blessing, often mixed up or misunderstood as happiness, wealth, power, or fame.
It’s only when we let all that go, and we meet ourselves in brokenness and vulnerability, that we are can experience God’s blessing for us. In Debra’s words, “God’s gonna love on you.”
And that’s how I discovered that the Jane Doe at the hospital was Debra. I received a call from the ICU nurse a couple of days after my visit. She asked if, “God’s gonna love” made any sense to me. Debra. The ICU patient wasn’t a Jane Doe, but Debra.