Harrell Beck

The Wisdom of Harrell Beck

The Three Wise Women


We all know the story of the Three Wise Men. We’re not sure where they came from. We don’t know where they stayed when they got there or for how long. We don’t know where they went when they left. And it wasn’t until the 6th century when they got immensely popular that the Roman Catholic Church obliged and gave us names for them. But every parish in Christendom has at least three bathrobes and so we know the story of the Three Wise Men. I invite your attention to the story of the Three Wise Women -- and I’ll ask you to handle it with great care, because each of them is my mother. Each of them appears someplace in the first or second chapters of the Gospel according to St. Luke. I devoutly hope they knew each other.

The first of these is a wonderful woman by the name of Elizabeth. Wasn’t it enough that she had a kiddo by the name of John the Baptist who left home from the time he was a child? Guess what she thought about that?  Wasn’t it enough that she had a nephew by the name of Jesus of Galilee? How much is one woman supposed to bear?  And then her husband, who had always aspired to the pulpit of the first church in Jerusalem, got it. He was so surprised he was dumb for a solid year. Tradition said my mother Elizabeth was trained in Aramaic and Hebrew and could sit among the rabbis and discuss theological questions. She was the kind of woman to whom a pregnant unmarried cousin would go to spend the first trimester of her pregnancy. Everybody needs a cousin like that. And to my mother Elizabeth was given the incredible gift (I don’t know whether it happened or not, but St. Luke didn’t think it was out of order to say it did) of saying for the first time “Ave Maria!” “Hail Mary. Full of grace.”  “Blessed art thou”, come on you Protestants! “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.”  To my mother Elizabeth was given the incredible gift of expectation. I love her.

I have a second mother. Her name is Mary. I’m a country kid and she was a country woman. And I love her almost inordinately. And I’m not even Catholic! A friend of mine who is a rabbi said that when Mary was told she was to have a child without the benefit of marriage, she might well have said, “Oy Vey! Enough is enough already!”  But she didn’t. And to that historic request my blessed mother responded, “My soul magnifies the Lord!  And my heart rejoices in God my Savior.”  My mother Mary was given the gift of obedience.

I have a third mother. If she came to join my church I’d send her around the corner to the Presbyterians. Her name was Anna. St. Luke said she’d been married for seven years, widowed for 80, then she lived in the Temple (which means she was a pest). St. Luke also says she was there when they brought Jesus to the Temple. She took one look and headed out across Jerusalem and said to the people, “What you’ve been waiting for is beginning to happen!”  To my mother Anna was given the gift of witness.

When you take those three gifts, expectation, obedience, and witness, and ball them up together, you won’t be surprised that I get almost the most beautiful four letter word in the English language. Its name is Hope. Neither will you be surprised that at the other end of the Gospel it is to women like this that the miracle of the resurrection is first made known and grasped and understood.

Hope comes to those who give themselves to a cause, a possibility greater than themselves. Hope believes that persons are ultimately valuable – and in a world like ours where hope is so often a casualty, I can’t exaggerate its importance.

You’ve got a future. You’ve got an identity. You’ve got mothers. Three of them!


Arrowhead Springs, San Bernardino, CA May, 1986