When we were making a list of shows to use in The Beatitudes of Broadway, and someone suggested “Cinderella,” I thought it was a great idea. Mostly that was because it was the one story I actually knew. At the risk of having my gay card recalled, I’ll admit this would be a lot easier if, every fall, I could just talk about college football.
Then I started looking at this story I thought I knew. Did you know there’s a version that may date back 600 years before Jesus? The earliest written version, from 24 BCE, is about a Greek slave girl named Rhodopis who ended up in Egypt. One day, when she was bathing by the river, an eagle snatched one of her sandals and carried it away, only to drop it later in the lap of the king. He searched high and low until he found the owner and made her his queen.
One of the most popular early European versions of Cinderella was written in French in 1697 by Charles Perrault. His additions to the story, included the pumpkin, a fairy godmother, and glass slippers. In 1812 the Brothers Grimm published their version of the story in which white doves delivered the needed clothes to Cinderella so she can go off to the ball and be rescued from the unfair persecution she suffers in every version of the story.
According to Wikipedia, this story has been adapted at least 21 times for operas and ballets, seven times for theatrical productions, and 48 times for television or film. It has been told 19 times in song and translated into 55 languages.
One of the most powerful retellings came in the 1997 TV movie produced for Walt Disney Studios by Whitney Houston in which she plays the Fairy Godmother. At last we got to see that princes and princesses don’t have to be blond-haired and blue-eyed … and that some fairy godmothers really can sing!
This story has been repeated in so many different forms, times, and languages, because children of all ages have needed to believe that someone, somewhere will one day recognize that there is a princess or a prince hiding under their cinder-covered faces and magically rescue them so they can become who they were always meant to be.
Jesus recognized that this was true about children of his day, too, and repeatedly took them in his arms and loved them. In yesterday’s Gospel lesson, Jesus said that those who welcomed one of these little ones welcomed him. It was his attempt to protect the vulnerable precocious children … including the one in you.
Rev. Michael Piazza