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…

The Rooster Prince


A very wealthy King had a young Prince who was to be heir to his entire Kingdom. The prince would wear fine robes and attend elaborate feasts where he would sit at the head of the table and discuss the great issues of the day with esteemed guests from all around the world. Everyone looked to the Prince for inspiration and leadership. 

One day, no one is really sure why, the Prince suddenly decided that he was a rooster. He stripped down to all but a loin cloth and squatted beneath the table pecking at scraps like the rest of the roosters, clucking and crowing as roosters do. At first, everybody thought this was a joke, but it soon became clear that the Prince had indeed convinced himself that he was a rooster.

This went on for weeks and the Prince didn’t snap out of it. He remained beneath the table in his loincloth, behaving like a rooster. The King was greatly disturbed and didn’t know what to do. He secretly had the best doctors in the Kingdom brought to the castle to try and restore the Prince to his former self. One by one, they did their best. Some tried to convince him logically that he was not a rooster with well reasoned arguments but the Prince would just look at them, turn his head sideways and cluck. Others tried to scare his sense back into him. Some even tried feeding him elaborate concoctions but none of it worked. The Prince still believed that he was not a Prince, but a rooster. Finally, the King brought in the local Rabbi.  

“Rabbi, please, I beg you,” said the King, “Restore my son to what he once was.”

The Rabbi looked at the Prince squatting under the table pecking at the scraps and said, “I believe I can do this but you’ll have to give me a week.”

The King agreed and the Rabbi set to work. He stripped to all but a loin cloth and got under the table and squatted. He pecked on the scraps and clucked and crowed like a rooster just like the Prince. The Prince immediately warmed to his fellow rooster.

 After two days of this, the Rabbi said to the Prince, “You know, we can still be roosters if we eat good food from plates. There’s no reason we must peck at these scraps.” 

The Prince shrugged and agreed with an approving, “BUCK BUCK,” so the King ordered the servants to put all the finest foods from the top of the table underneath the the table and for the next two days, the Prince and the Rabbi squatted under the table in nothing but their loincloths, clucking and crowing, while eating the finest foods with a knife and a fork.

After these two more days were up, the Rabbi said to the Prince, “You know we can still be roosters if we talk to one another. There’s no reason we must cluck and crow.”

The Prince looked at the Rabbi and said, “Sure. That makes sense.” So for the next two days, the Prince and the Rabbi squatted under the table in nothing but their loincloths, talking with one another, while eating the finest foods with a knife and a fork. 

Finally, on the sixth day, the Rabbi said to the Prince, “You know, we can still be roosters if we wear clothes and sit at the table. There’s no reason we must squat beneath the table in nothing but our loincloths.”

The Prince agreed to this and for the rest of the day, they sat at the table in their robes, talking with one another, while eating the finest foods imaginable with a knife and a fork. On the seventh day, the Rabbi bid farewell to his fellow rooster and the King thanked him from the bottom of his heart. For the rest of his days, the Prince did all the things a Prince (and later, a King) was supposed to do. He was a source of inspiration and leadership to the entire Kingdom and no one knew his secret: that deep down, no matter how he acted on the outside, he was still a rooster.

There is a profound truth at work in this engaging Jewish parable. We cannot bring true healing unless we are willing to get on people’s level. The meaning of the word “compassion” is to “suffer with.” Compassion means getting in the trenches with people and experiencing the world from their perspective. As disciples walking in the way of Jesus, we’re called to approach our neighbors the way he did. According to pastor and speaker, Ryan Leak, only 8% of Jesus’ miracles were performed in the synagogue. Jesus met people where they were at. He ate with them, drank with them, laughed with them, all the while offering steps towards healing and forgiving. When we come alongside people and help them take tiny steps toward wholeness, we are doing the sacred work of discipleship.  The way of Jesus is the way of suffering with others and bringing them through that suffering into new life. The Gospel is all just lofty talk if we are not willing, like Jesus washing his disciple’s feet and the Rabbi ministering to the Rooster Prince, to strip down to our loincloth, get on our knees, and serve.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…


Not Waving but Drowning

NOT WAVING BUT DROWNING

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

Stevie Smith

According to Thoreau, “Most men live lives of quiet desperation.” I don’t know if this is true, but I do know too many people in my own life who appear happy on the outside but on the inside are violently struggling to keep their head above the water. We all have been shocked at marriages that looked perfectly happy seemingly fall apart over night, suddenly discovered that a friend or neighbor had a drug problem that they had managed to conceal for years, or been saddened to hear of the sudden suicide of someone everyone described as “always happy.” In all these cases, we look back and ask: How did we miss this? All the signs were there. How did we not know? The truth is that we see people every day without truly seeing them. Far too many people feel alone in their suffering because their pleas for help go unrecognized. They are not waving but drowning. As disciples walking in the way of Jesus, we are called to be sources of healing and forgiveness- vessels of compassion. We cannot do this if we do not take the time to see the struggles of others. We cannot rescue the hurt and lost if we simply wave back at them on our way to something else.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

There’s Nothing to be Afraid Of


Solomon Rosenberg tells this story from his time in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. He, his wife, his two sons, and his mother were all arrested and relocated to a labor camp. The rules were simple: As long as you could do your work, you were permitted to live. When you became too weak to do your work, then you were exterminated. The conditions were harsh and inhumane. The prisoners were given little to eat and the weak among them began to waste away until the inevitable day when they could no longer work and they were taken to the gas chambers.

Rosenberg watched his mother and father being marched off to their deaths when they became too weak. He knew that his youngest son, David, would be next because David had always been a frail child. Every evening when Rosenberg came back into the barracks after his hours of labor, he would search for the faces of his family. When he found them, they would huddle together, embrace one another, and thank God for another day of life. But each day, David looked just a little bit more frail and Solomon always feared the next day would be the day he was taken away.

One day Rosenberg came back and couldn’t find his family. He stormed through the barracks in a panic until he finally discovered his oldest son, Joshua, in a corner, huddled and weeping. 

“Josh,” he said, “tell me it’s not true.” 

Joshua looked up and said, “It is true, Poppa. Today David was not strong enough to do his work, so they came for him.”

“But where is your mother?” asked Mr. Rosenberg, “She is still strong enough to work!”

“Oh Poppa,” he exclaimed. “When they came for David, he was afraid and he was crying. Momma said, ‘There is nothing to be afraid of, David,’ and she pulled him close and held him. Then she took his hand and went with him so he wouldn’t have to be alone.”

Human beings are capable of unspeakable cruelty. But as this true story from one of the darkest times in human history shows us: we are also capable of unspeakable love. I always struggle with sharing holocaust stories. Part of me feels as though they are not my stories to tell. In some sense, sharing any parable from a faith not my own could be seen as an act of cultural appropriation but, at the same time, I truly believe stories are meant to be told. I believe Mr. Rosenberg meant for the story of his son and his wife’s sacrifice to be told as well. The meaning of the word compassion is to “suffer with.” This is what a mother cannot help but do for her own children and what both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament claim is true of God. We cannot break the dark and brutal cycle of history until we learn to see others sufferings as our own. The way of self-sacrificial love calls us to take one another by the hand and refuse to let them face the dark alone. When we do this we, ourselves, are candles shining in the night. 

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

Heaven and Hell


A monk was deep in his prayers when an angel appeared to him and offered to reveal to him any of the divine mysteries. The monk said to the Angel, “show me Heaven and Hell.”

Suddenly, the monk and the Angel were in a large banquet hall. There was a large table filled with every good food you could imagine. There was succulent turkey, fresh from the oven, hot bread and butter, any side you could want, and delicious cakes for dessert. All the guests looked pale and sickly. The monk noticed that they were chained to their chairs and that they each had large metal rods shackled to their arms. Unable to leave their chairs or bend their elbows, the monk watched in horror as the guests at the banquet could not feed themselves any of this delicious food. They’d pick it up and drop it over and over and cry out in hunger, powerless to get any of the food to their mouths.

“This,” said the Angel, grimly, “is Hell.”

“I cannot bear to watch their suffering any longer,” said the monk, “please show me Heaven.”

Just as suddenly, the monk and the Angel were in a differen banquet hall. There was also a large table filled with every good food you could imagine and all the guests here too were chained to their chairs and they each had large metal rods shackled to their arms. But these guests were not crying out in anguish. To the contrary, they were singing and laughing. They were not pale and sickly like the guests in the room before. These people were happy, healthy, and content. The monk watched closely and suddenly realized the difference between the two rooms. In this room, each guest was picking up food and feeding it to his neighbor.

I love this old parable and I can’t help but think about it every time I take communion. In the Gospels, Jesus set aside his right to exclude people from his table and was criticized for the company he kept. This parable reminds us that it is our humility and our service that makes Heaven out of Hell. In the early Church, our self sacrificing love was indeed our defining characteristic and one of the chief ways we patterned our lives after Christ. The same Christ whose outstretched arms are marvelously depicted in the words of the old hymn: “Come Ye sinners poor and needy, weak and wounded, sick and sore/ Jesus, ready, stands to save you, full of pity, love, and power…” Disciples walking in the way of Jesus are called to practice this same grace and hospitality.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

Elijah’s Cup


The Rabbi Bel Shem Tov joyfully celebrated Passover every year with his disciples. They faithfully observed the Seder tradition of leaving a cup for the prophet Elijah at the table and opening the door for him towards the end of the meal. One year, when it came close to time for the Passover celebrations, one of the Rabbi’s disciples came to him and lamented:

“Every year, we celebrate Pesach together and every year we leave a cup for Elijah and every year we open the door for him towards the end of the meal. Yet, year after year, he fails to show. Why does the ancient prophet spurn us so?” 

Rabbi gave this question some thought before responding. 

“Let me tell you what you must do,” he said, “On the first night of Passover, pack up a cart with food, wine, matzos, and gifts for children. Go to the next village over. There is a small house in the poorest part of town with a green painted bench outside. Go into this home and celebrate Passover with the family inside. Elijah is sure to show up there.”

When the time came, the disciple did as the Rabbi had instructed. He showed up to the house with his cart. He was greeted warmly and invited inside. The kids loved their gifts and they all celebrated together. The disciple had a marvelous time that night but the prophet Elijah never showed up, even when they opened the door for him. His cup remained at its place untouched. The disciple came home dejected.

“I thought for sure Elijah would show up,” the Rabbi said, “He must have been delayed or you must have been late and missed him. I’m sure if you go even earlier next year, you will see him.”

The disciple awaited with anticipation all year until the holiday finally came back around. Then he did as he was instructed the year before. He loaded a cart with food, wine, matzos, and gifts for the kids, and he went to the instructed house, even earlier than the previous year. As he was wheeling his cart past the green painted bench to the door of the small house, he over heard a conversation. 

“What are we going to do?” the wife was asking her husband, “We don’t have anything to celebrate with this year. No food. No gifts. Nothing.”

“Do not worry,” he reassured her, “Don’t you remember how last year we had nothing to celebrate with and the prophet Elijah himself showed up with everything we needed for the meal? God provided for us last year and He will provide again this year.”

The disciple wiped several tears from his eyes, smiled, and walked through the door to take his place at the table and drink from his cup.

It is traditionally believed that Elijah will show up to mark the beginning of the Messianic age, bringing redemption to the people of Israel. For this reason, the Elijah Cup is always present at a Passover Seder as a symbol of hope and expectation. “Be the change you want to see.” is the central message of this beautiful Hasidic parable. Each of us can bring a little redemption to this Earth by showing kindness to those in need. May we who walk in the way of Jesus show warmth and hospitality to our brothers and sisters who celebrate Passover this week. Our traditions this week are very different but we are similarly brought to a table in the name of love. We similarly wait for a promise to be fulfilled. Let us not forget that in the meantime we can be instruments of redemption by showing kindness to our neighbors.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

When Night is Over…


A Rabbi once asked his disciples, “How do you know when night is over and dawn has come?”

“Night is over and dawn has come,” said one of the disciples, “when there is enough light that you can look out on a hillside, see an animal, and distinguish whether it is a sheep or a dog.”

“No,” said the Rabbi.

Another of the disciples decided to give the answer a try. “Night is over and dawn has come,” he said, “when there is enough light that you can look out into the yard, see a tree, and distinguish whether it is a fig tree or an olive tree.”

“No,” said the Rabbi again.

So the disciples asked the Rabbi to tell them the answer to the question. The Rabbi smiled and said,  “When you have enough light within you that you can look at a stranger and see a brother, then the night is finally over and dawn has come.”

“Sorrow may last for a night,” declares the Psalmist, “but joy comes in the morning.” What will that morning look like? How will we know it is upon us? This parable teaches us the simple truth that when we begin to see the world through the eyes of grace and compassion, morning is near. We see each other as through a glass darkly. We despise the faults in others that we excuse in ourselves. We do our best to not even see a stranger in need. But When we finally learn to see the image of God in others, we are walking in the light of Jesus. Night is finally behind us and dawn has come.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…