Although Kahlil Gibran is best known for The Prophet, some consider Jesus, the Son of Man, where various known and unknown figures describe their encounters with Jesus, to be his best work. As today’s liturgical readings include the Beatitudes, which I also mentioned in last Sunday’s post, I share Gibran’s poem “Matthew.”
“Matthew” distills much of the wisdom of the evangelist, including “The Sermon on the Mount” and “The Lord’s Prayer.” Gibran takes frames many of Jesus’s instructions as epigrammatic paradoxes, thereby getting us to see ideas we thought we knew through fresh eyes. The poem therefore feels both familiar and unfamiliar, perhaps more like The Prophet than The Book of Matthew.
This is appropriate as it is a poet’s interpretation. Gibran’s Christianity has been influenced by Maronite Christianity (the faith in which he was raised), Islam, Buddhism, and, most significantly, the Bahá’í faith, which focuses on the spiritual unity of all humankind. (The Bahai believers see all religions as expression of a single divinity.) The Middle Eastern flavor, meanwhile, reflects Gibran’s Lebanese background although his family came to the United States when he was 12.
As you read Gibran’s beatitudes, let them enter into conversation with your own spiritual beliefs. I especially enjoy his vision of nature as spiritual.
By Kahlil Gibran
One harvest day Jesus called us and His other friends to the hills. The earth was fragrant, and like the daughter of a king at her wedding-feast, she wore all her jewels. And the sky was her bridegroom.
When we reached the heights Jesus stood still in the grove of the laurels, and He said, “Rest here, quiet your mind and tune your heart, for I have much to tell you.”
Then we reclined on the grass, and the summer flowers were all about us, and Jesus sat in our midst.
And Jesus said:
“Blessed are the serene in spirit.
“Blessed are they who are not held by possessions, for they shall be free.
“Blessed are they who remember their pain, and in their pain await their joy.
“Blessed are they who hunger after truth and beauty, for their hunger shall bring bread, and their thirst cool water.
“Blessed are the kindly, for they shall be consoled by their own kindliness.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall be one with God.
“Blessed are the merciful, for mercy shall be in their portion.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for their spirit shall dwell above the battle, and they shall turn the potter’s field into a garden.
“Blessed are they who are hunted, for they shall be swift of foot and they shall be winged.
“Rejoice and be joyful, for you have found the kingdom of heaven within you. The singers of old were persecuted when they sang of that kingdom. You too shall be persecuted, and therein lies your honour, therein your reward.
“You are the salt of the earth; should the salt lose its savour wherewith shall the food of man’s heart be salted?
“You are the light of the world. Put not that light under a bushel. Let it shine rather from the summit, to those who seek the City of God.
“Think not I came to destroy the laws of the scribes and the Pharisees; for my days among you are numbered and my words are counted, and I have but hours in which to fulfill another law and reveal a new covenant.
“You have been told that you shall not kill, but I say unto you, you shall not be angry without a cause.
“You have been charged by the ancients to bring your calf and your lamb and your dove to the temple, and to slay them upon the altar, that the nostrils of God may feed upon the odor of their fat, and that you may be forgiven your failings.
“But I say unto you, would you give God that which was His own from the beginning; and would you appease Him whose throne is above the silent deep and whose arms encircle space?
“Rather, seek out your brother and be reconciled unto him ere you seek the temple; and be a loving giver unto your neighbor. For in the soul of these God has builded a temple that shall not be destroyed, and in their heart He has raised an altar that shall never perish.
“You have been told, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say unto you: Resist not evil, for resistance is food unto evil and makes it strong. And only the weak would revenge themselves. The strong of soul forgive, and it is honor in the injured to forgive.
“Only the fruitful tree is shaken or stoned for food.
“Be not heedful of the morrow, but rather gaze upon today, for sufficient for today is the miracle thereof.
“Be not over-mindful of yourself when you give but be mindful of the necessity. For every giver himself receives from the Father, and that much more abundantly.
“And give to each according to his need; for the Father gives not salt to the thirsty, nor a stone to the hungry, nor milk to the weaned.
“And give not that which is holy to dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine. For with such gifts you mock them; and they also shall mock your gift, and in their hate would fain destroy you.
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures that corrupt or that thieves may steal away. Lay up rather treasure which shall not corrupt or be stolen, and whose loveliness increases when many eyes behold it. For where your treasure is, your heart is also.
“You have been told that the murderer shall be put to the sword, that the thief shall be crucified, and the harlot stoned. But I say unto you that you are not free from wrongdoing of the murderer and the thief and the harlot, and when they are punished in the body your own spirit is darkened.
“Verily no crime is committed by one man or one woman. All crimes are committed by all. And he who pays the penalty may be breaking a link in the chain that hangs upon your own ankles. Perhaps he is paying with his sorrow the price for your passing joy.”
Thus spake Jesus, and it was in my desire to kneel down and worship Him, yet in my shyness I could not move nor speak a word.
But at last I spoke; and I said, “I would pray this moment, yet my tongue is heavy. Teach me to pray.”
And Jesus said, “When you would pray, let your longing pronounce the words. It is in my longing now to pray thus:
“Our Father in earth and heaven, sacred is Thy name.
Thy will be done with us, even as in space.
Give us of Thy bread sufficient for the day.
In Thy compassion forgive us and enlarge us to forgive one another.
Guide us towards Thee and stretch down Thy hand to us in darkness.
For Thine is the kingdom, and in Thee is our power and our fulfilment.”
And it was now evening, and Jesus walked down from the hills, and all of us followed Him. And as I followed I was repeating His prayer, and remembering all that He had said; for I knew that the words that had fallen like flakes that day must set and grow firm like crystals, and that wings that had fluttered above our heads were to beat the earth like iron hoofs.