Then Jesus 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.” – Matthew 5:2-5 (NRSV)
A few weeks ago, a friend arrived to church carrying not one but two buttermilk pies. Caramel brown on top, custardy yellow underneath, and each slice as deep as the pan it came in. I had two that night. Still warm from the oven, creamy and sweet.
Curious about this recipe I’d never heard of, I did a search and found that buttermilk pie (along with mock apple, vinegar, and sugar cream) belongs to a historical category called “desperation pies.”
The oxymoron made me laugh. In my book, you can’t get much further from “desperation” than “pie.” I would’ve been unsurprised to learn there was a type of foodstuff called “desperation porridge” or to find hot dogs on a list of “desperation meat.”
But pie? How desperate can one be when pie is involved? Or who meets real desperation with something as extravagant as pie?
Jesus, for one. That maker of oxymorons. “Blessed poor… Blessed mourners… Blessed meek… Blessed peacemakers.” It must have made the crowd laugh when he said it. The “working poor,” they’d heard. At best, the “deserving poor.” Often much worse.
But “blessed?” Just putting the two words together started to change their meaning, to suggest new possibilities, to point toward a different world where that phrase could make sense. Or a different version of this world.
One less desperate than this one. And more sweet. A world they were ready to inherit.
Phrasemaker, show us the way to the world where your words make sense.
Vince Amlin is co-pastor of Bethany UCC, Chicago, and co-planter of Gilead Church Chicago, forming now.