The Respectful Golfer

There were two golfers out on the course for there usual Saturday morning game. They were out on the sixth hole when they noticed, at a distance, a funeral procession slowly making its way down the highway. The older of the two, when he saw the procession, stopped, removed his hat, and bowed his head reverently for a full minute until all the cars had passed.

The younger golfer was surprised and humbled by the gesture. Later, as they sat in the golf cart, making their way to the 7th hole, he told the older golfer, “You know, that was really respectful what you did back there. Most people would have kept playing. That really touched me.”

The older golfer said, “Well, I was married to her for 42 years. I figured it was the least I could do.”

Whenever I tell that joke, there are some men who get knowing looks from their wives. We all know that golfer. Often we are that golfer. The things we say we prioritize and the things our lives show we prioritize are often very different. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples, “Where your treasure lies, there your heart lies also.” What do you spend your time and money doing? The answer to that question reveals what you treasure. God speaks through the prophet Hosea (6:6), “I desire mercy mercy not sacrifice and acknowledgement of God not burnt offerings.” God wants us to show that we treasure Him through the way we live our lives and not through respectful gestures on the sixth hole.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

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Inhabiting a Word

Once the Rabbi Eliezer was teaching his disciples how they should read scripture. “If a man really wants to understand a word in scripture,” he said, “he has to enter into it with his whole being.”

This confused the disciples so that one of them asked, “Teacher, is it not impossible for a grown man to enter into a small word?”

The Rabbi Eliezer smiled and his voice grew quiet. “I did not speak about men who think they are bigger than words.”

According to the ninth chapter of Proverbs, “The fear of The Lord is the beginning of wisdom…” “Fear of The Lord” is a phrase in the Hebrew Scriptures that means something like “humility before God.” The way of wisdom begins with the acknowledgement that God is greater than we are and that his word is greater than we are. Rabbi Eliezer, in this wonderful little story from the Babylonian Talmud, is reminding his students that they must search scripture in a posture of humility. They must be willing to not see themselves as the consumers but the consumed. Liberals and conservatives, allegorists and literalists, are all guilty of bending and contorting scripture to fit their own desires and agendas rather than bending their desires and agendas to fit scripture. When we come to scripture with preconceived notions and search out those verses that agree with us, then we see ourselves as giants towering over the book. How foolish. Do we not know that God made man small enough to fit inside one tiny word?

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

Dying of Thirst

When Spanish ships first started sailing to the Americas, there were many new challenges associated with the long voyage. One particularly challenging ordeal was an area known as the doldrums. The area, about 30 degrees on each side of the equator, is one of the most still areas in the Atlantic Ocean. A ship could hit this spot and go days, even weeks, without a breeze. Ships that did this were in real danger of exhausting their food and water supply. There is a record of one such ship being so depleted of water after a month in the doldrums that by the time they approached the Americas many of the shipmates were dying of thirst. They didn’t know their latitude so they had no idea how much longer their journey would last until they happened on a Peruvian boat. When the Peruvians saw their sickly condition, they called out, “Can we help you?”

“Water!”, they called out, “We need water!”

“Lower your buckets!”, the Peruvians replied.

Every good sailor knew not to drink sea water. The salt is dangerous and can kill you. “No!”, they called back, “We need fresh water!”

Again, the Peruvians called out, “Lower your buckets”

Unbeknownst to the Spanish sailors, for the last week of their journey they had been sailing where the mouth of the Amazon river empties into the Atlantic Ocean. This is the source of 20% of earth’s runoff water. It flows into the ocean with such force that for hundreds of miles in every direction, the water is fresh. The sailors had been dying of thirst in a sea of drinkable water.

“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water,” Jesus tells the Samaritan woman in the 4th chapter of John. Jesus compares himself to “living water.” A lot of times we miss what he’s telling her because we’ve spiritualized the term “living water.” Living water was an idiom used to describe spring water or river water as opposed to pool water or well water. Living water is continuously flowing and so is an inexhaustible supply. Living water does not have to be stored or rationed. It flows freely. As disciples we are anchored at the foot of an inexhaustible supply of fresh life giving water. We have no excuse to be dying of thirst.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Prince and The Monster

Once there was a young Prince schooled in all the ways of war. He was taught martial arts by a great ninja master, he was taught to shoot arrows by an expert marksman, to use the lance by a brave soldier, and he was taught to wield his sword by a mighty Samurai.

There came a time when the Prince’s kingdom was under attack by a monster with impenetrable skin. The prince rode out to meet the monster. First he shot his arrows at the monster with the precision of a great marksman. Those arrows which landed on his hide, near his vitals simply bounced off. Even the arrow which landed on his eye rolled off. The monster roared and advanced on the Prince, snorting smoke and drooling.

The Prince, still on his horse, charged the monster with his lance which splintered into a thousand pieces on the monster’s skin as if it had been made of bamboo. The monster, with a mighty thrash of his tail, threw the Prince off his horse, and the Prince used his martial arts training to land without breaking a bone. Before the Prince could unsheath his sword, the monster grabbed him and raised him to his mouth about to eat him with his sharp jagged teeth.

“I would not do that if I were you!”, shouted the Prince.

“The fool speaks!” The monster sneered, cruelly, “I have beaten you, no weapon can penetrate my skin! Now do you wish to bargain for your life?”

“No,” replied the prince, “I wish to bargain for yours! I was trained by an enlightened monk in the art of internal warfare. If you let me into your body, I shall have the opportunity to strike you with my sword where you are weakest and your skin will not be able to protect you!”

Startled by the Prince’s confidence, the monster dropped him and ran away. Many days later the monster approached the Prince, bowed to him, and asked to be taught the art of internal warfare.”

This Buddhist parable at first seems like a simple story about “seeing a problem from another angle” but like all great parables, the more you chew on it, the more insight it yields. Evil must be fought from within not without. With wisdom and cunning, the Prince humbles the belligerent monster. The irony of course being that he does succeed at a kind of internal warfare that changes the monster’s outlook. In his letters to the Ephesians, Paul reminds fellow followers that their war is not against flesh and blood but against principalities, powers of darkness. We must remember that the impenetrable hide of evil cannot be pierced with the weapons of war but must be fought internally. Thomas Merton once said that before we can overthrow the dictator across the ocean, we must dethrone the dictator in our own hearts. That may be as good a place as any to begin our internal warfare.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

Fresh Fish Sold Here Daily

“Fresh Fish Sold Here Daily” read the fish merchant's sign. He had just painted it, hung it above his window, and he was beaming at the sign with pride when a neighbor passed by.

“Why does the sign say 'daily'”, the neighbor asked, “Surely no one thinks you mean to be open once a week selling fish?”

The merchant thought about this for a second and said, “That makes perfect sense!” So he took the sign down and painted over the part that read “Daily” so that the sign now just read, “Fresh Fish Sold Here.”

He was admiring his edit when another neighbor passed.

“Here?”, the neighbor asked, “Where else would you be selling the fish but in your shop?”

After thinking about this, the merchant said, “That makes perfect sense!” So he took down the sign and changed it to read “Fresh Fish Sold.”

No sooner had he hung the freshly painted sign when a passing neighbor remarked, “'Sold?' How silly! Surely you weren't planning on giving the fish away for free!”

Of course this made perfect sense so the merchant took his sign down yet again and made the correction. It now read “Fresh Fish!”

He was merely holding it in his hand getting ready to hang it when another passerby chuckled, “'Fresh?' I should certainly hope so! Surely no one thinks you plan on selling rotten fish.”

“That makes perfect sense!” The merchant thought so, yet again, he took the sign into his shop and removed the unnecessary word. Now the sign simply read neatly and concisely, “Fish.” There it hung in big bold letters. The perfect picture of simplicity.

“We know it's fish! We can smell it all the way down the road!” The neighbor remarked as he passed by.

The merchant thought about this for a second. “That makes perfect sense!” So he set to work on his final edit. So he hung a sign in the store window that read, ” .”

The sign hung in the window for a week and the merchant didn't receive a single customer. “That sign might be bad for business,” the merchant thought to himself, “but at least it makes perfect sense!”

All advice must be received with discernment and just because something “makes sense” doesn't mean it's the right thing to do. This humorous Jewish story reminds us that it is a fool who follows the advice of every passerby and takes every critique to heart. An inward sense of your own purpose can help you sift the good advice from the bad. “What am I setting about to accomplish and for whom? Does this counsel help me achieve what I am called to do?” This story can also have a deeper meaning for followers of Christ. As disciples we can be tempted to edit from the gospel things we think the people don't need to hear or what we assume they already know. But if our communication neglects the essentials, then we're just a fancy sign with no words.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…