The Great Blondin

In the middle of the 1800s, the most famous tightrope walker in the world was a man called “The Great Blondin!” Blondin was famous for crossing Niagra Falls on tightrope and people came from all over the world to watch him perform the feat.

On one such occasion Blondin, known for his showmanship, called out to the crowd, “I am The Great Blondin! Who believes I can cross over Niagra Falls on this tightrope?”

The crowd was excited and called out to him, “We believe, Blondin, we believe!”

Next, Blondin pulled a handkerchief from his back pocket, tied it around his head and called out: “I am The Great Blondin! Who believes I can cross over Niagra Falls on this tightrope, while blindfolded?”

The crowd, more jazzed up than before, called out, “We believe, Blondin, we believe!”

Then Blondin whisked away a sheet and revealed a wheelbarrow standing behind him. He called out once more to the ecstatic crowd, “I am The Great Blondin! Who believes I can cross over Niagra Falls on this tightrope, blindfolded, while pushing this wheelbarrow?”

The crowd was practically roaring now! “We believe, Blondin, we believe!”

Finally, Blondin, summoned the crowd to silence and spoke once more, “I am The Great Blondin! ….. Now, who wants to get in the wheelbarrow?”

This parable, based on a true event, reminds us that it is far easier to trust God in word than to trust Him in deed. We can say we believe from the safety of the crowd but it is a completely different thing to ride in the wheelbarrow. In the gospels, Jesus says, “Whoever would be my disciple must, deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.” As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Discipleship is a risky proposition. Our safety is not guaranteed. God offers only this assurance: if we surrender ourselves and put our trust in Him, He will never let go!

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

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What is a Saint?

A father and his 5 year old daughter showed up early for mass one morning and spent some time quietly in the sanctuary. There were three beautiful stained glass windows in the chapel: one of St. Peter, one of St. Francis, and one of St. Andrew. The little girl was fascinated by the windows. “Who are these people?” She asked.

The father smiled and answered, “Those are the saints.” Not wanting to miss an opportunity to teach her about their faith he asked, “Do you know what a saint is?”

She looked up at one of the windows and saw the sunlight beaming through it, casting colorful shadows on the floor. “I think I do,” she answered, “a saint is someone the light shines through.”

So often we think of saints as being a super-class of spiritual individuals who have achieved levels of holiness we ordinary mortals could never hope to attain to. This parable reminds us that what makes one a saint is not who they are but whose they are. The test of a saint is how brightly the light of Christ shines through them. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his followers, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” These instructions are for all believers. We are all called to be people the light shines through!

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

Two Wolves

The Cherokee tell of a young boy who is brought before the council of elders for his aggressive behavior. One of the wisest of the elders takes the boy aside and shares with him this bit of wisdom:

“I am not surprised that you are so aggressive. You see, each of us has, in his own soul, two wolves. One of these wolves is good, the other evil. They are both of equal strength and are locked in a violent battle to the death!”

The young boy thinks about this for a second then asks, “If this is true, and both wolves are of equal strength, which one wins?”

The old man smiles, puts his arm around the boy, and tells him, “The wolf that wins is the wolf you feed!”

All of us face choices every day. This parable reminds us that the choices we make form the person we will become. As persons of faith, we are called to feed our best impulses and starve our worst. In the 7th chapter of Romans, Paul laments his own lack of self control: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” Paul is acutely aware of his warring impulses but also teaches that through Christ we can be victorious over our sin natures. To choose the good over the bad takes tremendous discipline. Discipline, though, is at the heart of what it means to be a disciple.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Missionary and the Cannibals

A story is told about a missionary preaching to a tribe of cannibals. Things were going fine for the first couple of weeks. They had accepted him into their camp and he felt like he was really starting to make some headway. Then one day it all changed! The missionary wasn’t really sure exactly what happened. Perhaps he had committed some social taboo or made a grave error in translation, but at any rate, he had angered the whole tribe and things took a quick turn for the worst. That night as he lay in his tent, he heard the sound of war drums and off in the distance he saw torches. So he did what any of us would do! He ran! His speed unfortunately was no match for theirs and he tripped over a vine and found himself surrounded by the angry tribe of cannibals who quickly bound him and placed him in a large pot of water over a roaring fire. Not knowing what else to do, the missionary looked up to the heavens and beseeched The Lord to intervene!

“Lord,” He prayed, “If it be your will, I pray you would make good Christians of all this heathen tribe of cannibals!”

Suddenly, in the night sky, the clouds parted, and a great shaft of light fell on each cannibal assembled there. One could hear the faint strum of angel hearts as, one by one, each cannibal knelt in the earth and made the sign of the cross. Then, each lifting their eyes to the heavens, they began praying in unison:

“Bless, O Lord, this food which we are about to eat…”

A more pc version of this humorous parable can be told with a preacher and a bear but the truth remains. Real faith in Jesus Christ fundamentally changes our nature. As scripture reminds us: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (1 Corinthians 5:17) Becoming a Christian means a radical change in our behavior and thinking. Jesus criticized religious leaders who were pious on the outside but inwardly were “ravenous wolves”. He called them “white washed tombs” and criticized their practice of washing the outside of the cup and leaving the inside full of grime. As people of faith we must constantly be challenged by these words. We are called to be more than simply cannibals who pray before we devour one another!

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

“What the Hell Are You Doing Here?”

This is a clip from the end of one of my favorite episodes of “The West Wing”. In the midst of this scene is a dramatic retelling of a modern parable. God intervenes for us in many ways. Many times He intervenes for us in ways that are startling and miraculous. Far more often, God intervenes in ways that are simple and mundane: simply sending the right person at the right time. This parable reminds us that we are foolish to ignore the help we receive through earthly means in favor of some great divine intervention. It reminds us that sometimes those earthly means are the divine intervention. Recently I was counseling someone who was worried that undergoing a particular surgery may be demonstrating a lack of faith. She worried that she might be rejecting God’s intervention by accepting a more human means of healing. I reminded her that God does demonstrate His power through fire, smoke, and parted water, but just as often He demonstrates it through a scalpel and a steady hand.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…