Beautiful Young Women


There was a priest of a certain parish who had a habit of stopping to talk to beautiful young women. He would approach them in the streets and strike up conversations with them. Sometimes he would even visit them in their homes. Some of the members of the parish began to be concerned by this behavior and worried that it was reflecting badly on them. Finally, they alerted the bishop who decided it was his duty to correct the priest. 

One afternoon the bishop paid a visit to the priest in his home. After some polite talk, the bishop finally addressed the issue he had come to discuss. 

“I don’t know how else to say this,” the bishop began, “but I’ve heard some troubling reports that you may have become lax in your vows.”

“I’m not sure to what you’re referring,” said the priest, somewhat taken aback.

“Well, I’ve heard reports that you’ve been consorting with beautiful young women, and it has given the appearance of impropriety. I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to stop this behavior for the good of yourself and the good of your parish. A man of the cloth must be beyond reproach.”

The priest bowed his head and said, “Of course I will respect your wishes, your Excellence, but if I may: I thought it far better to talk to beautiful young women while thinking of God than to talk to God while thinking of  beautiful young women.”

The Bible is clear that those of us who are leaders in the church are held to a higher standard. This is appropriate and just. But as this humorous parable reminds us, the perception isn’t always the reality. As God tells Samuel, “The LORD does not see what people see; they judge the outward appearance but He judges the heart.” Jesus was critical of religious leaders who focused on shining and polishing the outside of the cup while the inside was full of dirt and grime. He often risked the reputation of a drunk and a glutton to spend time with disreputable people who he wanted to show love and grace to. Disciples are called to follow this example. The heart we present to God is far more important than the appearance we present to the world. 

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Body

The human body doesn’t consist of just one part. It has many parts. If the foot suddenly said, “Because I’m not a hand, I’m not part of the body anymore.” That wouldn’t change a thing. The foot would still be part of the body. If the ear spoke up and said, “Because I’m not an eye, I’m not part of this body,” it would still go on being part of the body. If the whole body were one giant eyeball, how would it hear anything? If the whole body was just a big ear, how would it smell? 

God, in His wisdom, designed each part of the body for a purpose and put each part in its proper place. If the body was made up of just one part, it wouldn’t be a body. The eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” Neither can the head say to the feet, “I’ll get along just fine without you!” Quite the opposite. It seems the most important body parts are also the most vulnerable and the parts which we think of as being less respectable, we take great care to clothe with respect. What’s more, the more respectable members of our body go about naked. God designed the body this way so it can take care of itself. The strong parts protect the weak parts and the respectable parts cover the not so respectable parts. This brings harmony to the human body and each part cares for the other. If one part suffers, every part suffers. If one part is honored, the whole body rejoices.

The church is the body of Christ and each person is one of the parts. Though we have many different gifts and purposes, we are all united by our love for Christ and our love for one another.

The Apostle Paul had a gift for the use of parable. His letters, written in the 1st century, to newly formed Christian churches, contain some of the most vivid illustrations in the entire Christian tradition. The fruits of the spirit, the armor of God, running to win the prize… these are all metaphors that shape our thinking to this day. Perhaps Paul’s most memorable parable is “the body of Christ.” It’s a startling image when you think about it. Paul is rejecting the notion that unity is found in uniformity. Writing to a church torn apart by divisions, he is reminding them that it is their diversity which makes them strong. We often lose sight of this when we prize certain kinds of talent over others and make vices of the weaknesses that are not our own. No single one of us can be Christ in the world by ourselves. It is only when each part works together that He is made present.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Cliff


A man was traveling along a treacherous  mountain path when a tiger suddenly leapt from the bushes. He was so startled that he lost his footing and began to tumble down the side of a steep cliff. As luck would have it, a climber had left some rope fastened to a tree at the top and the the man was able to grab hold of it halfway down the cliff. Looking up, he saw the tiger waiting for him at the top,  gnawing on the rope. Looking down, the man saw jagged rocks sticking out of a violent river. The man realized his situation was hopeless until he looked forward and saw, growing out of the side of the mountain, fresh strawberries. They were juicy and ripe so he reached out and grabbed them.  They were the sweetest strawberries the man had tasted in his entire life. 

This Buddhist parable demonstrates the importance of living in the moment. We cannot change our past and our future, this side of the veil, is certain. But if we pay attention to the moments we are in, there is so much beauty and wonder to be had. Buddhist call this “mindfulness.” When the Apostle Paul famously instructed the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing,” I doubt he meant that they should spend their entire lives on their knees speaking to God (though, there are way worse ways to spend a life). I think Paul was telling us that we need to be constantly mindful of God’s presence throughout the day. We spend so much time distracted by guilt and worry that we often miss what God is doing right here and now. In the last months of his life, musician, Warren Zevon, knew he was going to die soon of his terminal cancer. When David Letterman asked what he had learned from the experience that he wanted to pass on, he simply said, “Enjoy every sandwich.” May we not be so preoccupied with our circumstances that we forget to see and appreciate the blessings God has in store for us every day. It would be a shame to miss all those wonderful strawberries.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…


The Chameleons on the Ark


Of course there were chameleons on the ark. There was every kind of animal on the ark and Noah was in charge of feeding them all. This was much harder than you’d think! Some animals ate plants, some nuts, some berries, and of course some animals ate other animals. Some ate during the day and some ate during the night. Some ate one large meal; some ate many tiny meals and Noah was in charge of figuring this all out. One particular animal that vexed him were the chameleons. Try as he might, Noah could not figure out what the chameleons ate.

The first day, he left them grass to eat and he came by the next day and the grass was still there. So he left berries but the following day the berries were untouched. The third day, he left flies and they were left alone on the fourth. This went on for awhile and Noah became more worried and frustrated as the chameleons became smaller and paler. He would say to the chameleons, “How I wish you would just tell me what you want to eat!” but each day, the chameleons continued to deteriorate in silence.

Finally, around day 15, Noah was passing by the chameleons’ cage with a pomegranate. As he stood there pitying the marvelous and mysterious creatures who would likely not survive the flood, he began to cut his pomegranate. As he cut into the center of the fruit, a worm hopped out and fell into the cage. One of the chameleons immediately seized the worm with their tongue and ate it. Surprised and relieved, Noah sent his sons to fetch some worms to restore the chameleons to health.

Later when the flood was over and Noah was watching all the animals file out of the ark, he spotted the two healthy chameleons and felt a great sense of relief that he was no longer responsible for their care.

This old Jewish midrash demonstrates the truth that God is a much better provider than we are. As human beings, we are often quick to criticize God’s management of the world but we don’t stop to think about all the intricacies and minute details that go into creation. This parable also speaks to our tendency to try and solve our problems without God. Noah worried himself with the fate of the chameleon and took their burden fully upon himself without praying for a solution. Surely the God who was in the midst of saving all of creation from the waters of the flood could be trusted to provide worms for two small chameleons. 

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

Majority Rules…


Rabbi Eliezer was famous for his extraordinary powers of persuasion. One day, he was arguing his theological position in front of a group of 10 sages. After Rabbi Eliezer had finished making what he had felt was a logically airtight argument, complete with many eloquent rhetorical flourishes and an overall sense of Holiness, he was satisfied the sages would agree with him. He had shown a mastery of scripture, appealed to all the great Rabbinical traditions, and had brought in the world’s great philosophers to bolster his case. All that was left was for the sages to vote. Eliezer was shocked when, after the vote, all ten sages rejected his position.

“I’m sorry Eliezer, it is 10 to 1. Majority rules and your position has been rejected.”

Rabbi Eliezer was dumbfounded that his great logic and rhetoric had not changed any minds, but he resolved to use more powerful means of persuasion. He said, “If I am correct, let this fig tree uproot itself and move to the other side of the yard.”

No sooner had the rabbi said this than the fig tree miraculously uprooted itself and moved to the other side of the yard. However, the sages were unmoved.

“No proof can be found in a fig tree,” they said.

“Fine…,” said Rabbi Eliezer, “If I am correct, let this stream we are standing by flow backward!”

No sooner had the Rabbi said this than the stream that they were all standing by began to flow in the other direction. However, the sages were still unpersuaded.

“No proof can be found in a stream,” they said.

Undeterred, Rabbi Eliezer bellowed in a commanding voice, “If my argument is correct, let God, Himself, say so…”

Suddenly, the clouds parted and a great shaft of light fell on the rabbi and the ten sages, and a voice, ancient and eternal, sounding like thunder and many rushing waters said, “My servant Eliezer is correct, listen to him!”

“Alright, Eliezer,” said the sages, “Now it’s 10 to 2…”

This humorous Jewish parable illustrates a profound truth: some people will never ever change their minds. Many times we expend a great deal of time and energy trying to win over people who are just not going to be won over. Disciples are of course called to share their faith and try to persuade others to trust in God but sadly some people will never be moved no matter what you say or do. In these cases we must pray that God will do in their hearts what we cannot, and then move on. Jesus, himself, could not convince his critics that his vision of God’s Kingdom was the right one. He was often frustrated with those who were hard hearted and stiff necked. Jesus focused on offering love and healing and sharing the good news with those whose hearts were opened to it. May the way of Jesus be our way as well.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Lettuce


A young monk was in the kitchen washing heads of lettuce for the next meal when one of the elders approached him and asked about morning services.

“Brother, did you pay attention to the homily, this morning?” the elder monk asked.

“Oh yes,” replied the young monk, “I found it to be very uplifting. It was just what I needed this morning. It really ministered to my soul.”

The elder monk could hear in the younger monk’s answer that he was being somewhat vague so he pressed him.

“Brother, do you recall what the homily was about?” 

Embarrassed, the younger monk replied, “I’m afraid I don’t remember what the homily was about but it really did minister to me.”

“How could the homily possibly have ministered to you,” asked the elder, “if you can’t even remember what it was about?”

“Well,” said the younger monk, “It’s like this lettuce. The water flows through it and cleanses it, but it does not remain in the leaves.”

I can remember only and handful of sermons from my childhood. I remember fewer Sunday School and Youth Group lessons. This does not mean that those lessons and sermons were useless. Quite the contrary. I am a youth pastor today because of all the time that my church invested in instructing me and developing my understanding of the faith. The individual lessons just flowed through me like water. I think it’s important for disciples to remember that our words and actions have a powerful impact on those around us. It’s also important to have humility and realize that we have little control over what individual words and actions will be remembered long after. We must trust that what we are doing matters even when it doesn’t appear to remain in the leaves.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

Two Mango Trees


A father, wishing to test his two sons, put each in charge of caring for a mango tree. At the outset, both trees were of equal health and stature. The more foolish of the two boys noticed that leaves were beginning to fall off his tree and the flowers were blossoming at the ends of the branches. So he took a ladder each day and spent hours watering every single leaf. Despite all his hard work, the tree continued to die. The wiser of the two boys simply watered the roots of his tree each day and the tree flourished and produced sweet fruit.

This parable from the Hindu tradition, at first, seems to be about that old maxim: “work smart, not hard.” It reminds us that a lot of effort spent on the wrong things is, in the end, useless. Look deeper, and you’ll find a profound spiritual truth about that part of us that is inward and hidden (the roots) and that part of us that is outward and obvious (the leaves). It is care for our inward spirit and not our outward body that leads to true health. The disciple is called to be a good tree that bears good fruit. We cannot do so if we are only attending to our external problems and ignoring their spiritual roots.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…