The Respectful Golfer

There were two golfers out on the course for their 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 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…

The Hands

Once in a small village in Germany, during the 15th century, there were two brothers. Both loved to draw and paint and when both were older they wanted to study to become artists. The brothers knew their parents wouldn’t be able to afford to send them to art school so they reached an arrangement. The younger brother agreed to work while the older brother went to school. Then when the older brother graduated an artist, he would work while the younger brother went to school. So it was that Albrecht Dürer went to art school for 5 years while his younger brother worked tirelessly in the mines to pay for his education.

When Albrecht returned home from his studies, everyone in the house greeted him warmly and was excited to see what great art he would produce. But he said, “No, I have made a promise. I will work until my brother has gone through school.” Just then, Albrecht noticed his brother crying.

“What’s wrong?”, he asked, “Are you not excited to begin your studies?”

Albrecht’s younger brother held up his hands. They were swollen and crooked from years of hard manual labor. “Brother,” he said, “I have worked my fingers to the bone so you could study art under the great masters. So much so that my hands are bent and arthritic. They can no longer hold a paint brush or a pencil without shaking. You will have to make great art for the both us.”

Albrecht Dürer would certainly go on to make great art, but the piece he is perhaps the most famous for is a drawing he did of his brother’s hands: swollen and bent, held palm to palm in a posture of worship. He titled it “hands” but to the world, they are known as “the praying hands.”

There’s an old Irish blessing that says, “May you bear the wounds of love…” In the case of Albrecht Dürer’s brother, those wounds were physical… literal marks of self-sacrificial love. What follower of Jesus can hear this story and not think of Jesus’ own scarred hands? True love is an act of self-sacrifice. In ways great and small, we deny our own desires and ambitions to make room for the desires and ambitions of those we love. To be a disciple is to walk in the way of self-sacrificial love after the example of Christ who emptied himself and took on the very nature of a servant. When we do this, we bear upon our selves the wounds of love and discover the blessing and healing that does from being marked by grace.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

Putting the World Back Together

Once a father was wanting to entertain his little girl on a rainy afternoon so he pulled a magazine out of a basket and flipped to a page with a giant map of the world. He carefully cut the map into tiny little squares. Then he gave his daughter the pieces and said, “I’ve made you a puzzle of the world. See if you can put it back together again.”

The father smiled and left the room figuring this would keep the little girl entertained for a good long while. So imagine his shock when he came back in the room a couple minutes later to find the puzzle assembled perfectly on the table.

“How on earth did you do that so quickly?” the father asked, amazed.

“Oh it was easy,” the girl said, smiling. “on the tip side was a picture of a man. If you put the man back together then the world is put back with him.”

“If you put the man back together then the world is put back with him…” Great words of wisdom from a little girl. Wisdom that can be found in all the great faiths. Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself and radically insisted that any person you encounter in need is your neighbor. Rabbis through the ages have affirmed this basic truth in the Jewish faith. Rabbi Hillel famously insisted that the entire Torah is summed up in the phrase, “Whatever you would not like done to you, do not do to your neighbor.” There is a verse in the Quran that says, “Whoever saves one man’s life, it is as if he has saved the entire world.” As universal as this wisdom is; it is also universally ignored. There are zealots in every major religion who would seek to fix the world by tearing apart the man in front of them. But that is always the opposite of God’s plan. Those who follow in the way of Jesus should recognize the supreme irony that rather than tear down others, God himself in Jesus Christ, consented to let himself be torn apart so the world may be healed. In light of such grace, the disciples of the crucified ought to be the first in line to help a neighbor in need.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

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 us small enough to inhabit a word?

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Divorce Party

Once there was a happily married man and woman who lived in a small village. For years they prayed to God to provide them a child and, try as they might, it never happened for them. This made the man very sad. So sad, that he went one day to the Rabbi and asked for a certificate of divorce so that he could marry a woman who would be able to bear him children.

The Rabbi was a wise man and he knew that this request, if granted, would only lead to further unhappiness but custom dictated that the man’s request shouldn’t be denied. The Rabbi thought for a second and then said, “I will grant you your request but under one condition. You and your wife have spent 10 years together and that is something to be celebrated. Please, go celebrate your divorce as you would a wedding. Throw a party in honor of the time you two have spent together and the next day, I will grant you your certificate of divorce.”

The man actually thought this sounded like a wonderful idea so he set to work at once making the preparations. He invited all of their friends and family, got the finest wine, and the best food then, a few nights later, the celebration was had!

It was a splendid party. There was music and lively company, and the man’s wife was as beautiful as he had ever seen her in a brand new gown. Towards the end of the evening, the man, full of wine, was so favorably disposed that he announced to the woman in front of everybody, “My darling wife of ten years, though we part I do not want you to think I am not still fond of you. Ask for anything in this home and it shall be yours. Choose whichever of my possessions is most precious to you and take it home with you to your father’s house!”

The man’s wife smiled and accepted the offer. That was the last thing the man clearly remembered before passing out. When he awoke, he was lying in a strange bed. Startled, he ran down the stairs and there at a table sat his wife and her parents eating breakfast.

The man suddenly recognized where he was. Confused, he asked, “Did I get so drunk last night that I staggered to your former home?”

The man’s wife laughed. “No dear, last night at the party you invited me to take home the thing in the house that was most precious to me. So I had your friends carry you and put you in my bed.”

Suddenly the man came to his senses and realized how deep his wife’s love was for him and he could feel his own love deepening for her in his heart. He resolved not to go see the Rabbi for the certificate of divorce after all. And it was just as well because the Rabbi wasn’t really expecting him.

It’s been said that marriage is a union between two forgivers. In any relationship, we can make rash decisions and it is a true loving partner that reminds us of what is really precious. Love is based on honoring and cherishing the other person no matter whether they can provide you with what you think will make you happy or not. For those who walk in the way of Jesus, there may be another message in this parable as well. It is people, not goals, that are precious. The mission of the Church should never reduce beloved children of God to mere means to meet an end. We are called to focus our love and attention to human beings regardless of their imperfections or what they can or cannot provide, simply because they are made in the image of God. In life as in marriage, the secret to happiness is forgiveness and grace

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Ruby Ring

Once there was a King whose most prized possession was a ruby ring that had been in the royal family since before anyone could remember. It was passed from king to king and it was worn on special ceremonial occasions. Whenever the king put on the ring, everyone was truly dazzled by its beauty and perfection.

One day, the kingdom was celebrating a festival and the King decided to make an appearance before the people. The king asked his servants to fetch the ruby ring and they did. When they brought him the small gold box that contained the ring. The king opened the box and gasped. There on the face of the ring was a huge scratch. At first the king was furious and demanded to know which of his servants had scratched the ring. After the king was satisfied that no one knew how the scratch had got there, his anger subsided into gloom. He closed the box and sent it away and decided after all that he wouldn’t be going out.

Soon, the servants were distressed because the king had cancelled all his public appearances and refused to leave the palace. Finally, one suggested to the king that he might send out a call for the jewelers in his kingdom to try their hands at repairing the ring. So the king announced that anyone who could repair his ruby ring would receive a great reward.

The next day, hundreds of jewelers were lined up outside the palace. Each one eager to take a shot at fixing the ruby ring. However, jeweler after jeweler failed. The scratch was so deep and profound that the jewelers couldn’t get rid of it without possibly ruining the jewel further and none wanted to risk the king’s anger. After a few days of this, the king began to lose hope. One by one, the best jewelers in the land left defeated. And each time, the King lost more hope that his ring would ever be repaired. At the end of the week, there was only one person left in the line: a peasant with tattered clothes.

At first, the king’s servants thought the man a beggar and tried to run him off but the man assured the servants that he was in fact a jeweler and was looking to repair the king’s ruby ring and claim his great reward. The servants were doubtful that this rough looking serf would be able to do what the finest jewelers in the land could not but what did they have to lose? So they let the peasant jeweler with the tattered clothes into the palace.

When the jeweler entered the throne room, the king laughed. “Is the situation so hopeless that you’re bringing random people off the street?”

“No my lord,” One of the servants replied, “This is a jeweler and he has come here to fix your ruby ring and claim his great reward.”

The king looked at the peasant jeweler suspiciously. He had his doubts but what did he have to lose? So he had the gold box brought out. Once the box was opened, the peasant jeweler looked at the ring and saw the deep scratch. “It can be done easily,” he said, “I’ll just need a week of privacy to work on the ring.”

The king agreed and ordered that the jeweler should have a special room in the palace which would be guarded day and night. He also ordered that meals should be brought to the peasant for the week while he worked on the ring.

And work he did. Tirelessly for an entire week, day and night, the jeweler could be heard hammering and chiseling and sanding and polishing until finally, a week later, the peasant jeweler emerged from his room with the gold box. He and the box were immediately brought before the king. The king took the box. His hands were trembling. This was his last hope. Was it possible that this poor jeweler had accomplished what the finest jewelers in the land could not? The king opened the box and gasped.

But this time it was a good gasp. The king smiled a great big smile and said, “My ruby ring is even more beautiful than before! As a great reward you are now the King’s official jeweler and you shall live in this palace, you and your family, and be well taken care of.”

With that, the king slipped the ruby ring on his finger and everyone in the room gasped as well. The ruby truly was more beautiful than ever. The peasant jeweler with the tattered clothes had done what no other could. Instead of trying to get rid of the imperfection, he had adorned it with petals and thorns and a leaf. He had transformed that awful scratch into a beautiful rose!

As this beautiful parable shows us: when we focus on imperfection, we miss the possibilities. God in his grace finds the rose in the scratch, the beauty in the scar. How often do we look at our lives and see only the broken places? How often do we focus on the places that have been marked by tragedy? How often do we look at one another and see only what is wrong? We who walk-in the way of Jesus are called to remember the promise of the Apostle Paul to the Philippians, that He who began a good work in each of us will be faithful to complete it. That though the image of God is scarred in each of us, the master jeweler is working tirelessly around the clock to see it fully restored.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Sapphire Tablets

When Moses was on top of Mount Sinai, God spoke to him saying, “I am going to give you ten commandments etched on two tablets but you must first bring to me the two tablets.” Then God showed Moses the two sapphire stones the law would be written on and commanded Moses to bring them into his presence. Moses tried to lift the two stones and found that they were much too heavy for a single man to lift. After struggling with the stones, Moses finally gave up and said, “I am sorry. These tablets are much too heavy for one man to lift.”

God answered, “I wanted you to see this for yourself so that you would know the miracle I am about to perform. The words I am about to etch into these tablets have such power that they will lift the tablets for you.”

So God approached the tablets, his glory obscured by the cloud, and he began to etch in the sapphire tablets the words, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me…” And each Hebrew word, as it was written by God’s own hand, blazed with holy fire, then glowed deep red. And each letter etched into the stone tablet took on a life of its own and sang a psalm of thanksgiving to the Creator.When God finished writing the commandments on the stone tablets. Moses picked them up and they were light as pillows. It was then that he realized the power that the words had given to the heavy stone.

As Moses came down the mountain with the two tablets in his arms, he heard the sound of laughter and drunken singing. As he came closer to the camp he could see the Hebrews had fashioned for themselves a giant golden calf and that they were worshipping it and engaging in all manner of perversion. When the glowing red letters on the tablets saw the revelry and apostasy, they were truly disgusted and they fled the stone tablets and flew to the top of Mount Sinai back to their divine source.

Suddenly, in the sight of all the people, the tablets once again became too heavy for Moses to carry and he dropped them on the ground where they smashed into a thousand pieces.

This midrashic tale was written in part to explain why Moses smashed the stone tablets when he came down from Mount Sinai and saw the Hebrews worshiping a molten image. The original story in Exodus 32 sure makes it seem like Moses smashes the tablets in anger but the ancient rabbis couldn’t fathom that a great man like Moses would behave in such a reckless way. They came up with many explanations but this creative story is far and away my favorite. More important than getting Moses off the hook, this midrash teaches us something profound. God’s word has power! It can lift even the heaviest burden but it cannot abide sin. God’s Word, even when etched in stone is living and dynamic. Those who walk in the way of Jesus are reminded by this parable of the Word who put on flesh and dwelt among us and lightens the burden of the law for us in bright red letters. Why would we bow to something manmade when we could follow the living Word back to the divine source of all things?

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…