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 Wolf of Gubbio


While St. Francis of Assisi was staying with his fellow brothers in a small town called Gubbio, a wolf began attacking animals outside of the town gate. The men of the city tried to put the wolf down but the more they attacked it, the more ferocious it became. Within weeks, the wolf had begun outright attacking humans. By the end of the month, the city was under siege. No one was allowed to leave town for fear the wolf would attack and kill them.

One evening, after his prayers, Francis went out to meet the wolf, against the townspeople’s wishes. When the wolf leapt at him, Francis made the sign of the cross and the wolf suddenly became docile. Francis spent a great deal of time preaching to the wolf, explaining to him the gospel and what it meant to be a Christian. Finally, he asked the wolf if he would like to be a Christian and the wolf put his paw in Francis’ hand.

Francis entered the city, as the wolf trotted peacefully behind. Then he announced to the crowd, “People of Gubbio, this wolf has received pardon for his sins from our Lord and now seeks our pardon as well. It is his hunger that drives him to attack you, so I beg of you to take care of him and love him as your brother in Christ.”

From that day forward, the wolf was a friend to all in Gubbio. He stood watch at the gate to protect his brothers who kept him happy and fed.

In this wonderful legend, Francis sees the good in a creature most see to be an unlovable beast and actively works to bring about peace through redemption. Sometimes violence is the simplest answer to a problem but the simplest answer is not always the best answer. It is not always possible to bring about peace but Christ does teach that peace should be our first inclination and he does promise that those who make peace will be blessed in the Kingdom of God. Disciples walking in the way of Jesus are called to look for the good in those the world despises and to be agents of healing. Sometimes that means going where others fear to go and looking the monster in the eyes.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Problem of the Dead Lion


There was a village that contained three exceptional men known for their great learning. They excelled in many of the sciences and were renown for their intellect. One day, the three learned men got together and decided they were tired on living in the village.

“The people of this village are superstitious simpletons and cannot possibly understand our learning,” said one.

“There is nothing here for us to apply our superior skills to. We have so much to offer the world and we cannot do it in this simple place,” said another.

“And there is so much to see that we have not yet seen. We should go explore and find new challenges to apply our great minds to,” said the third.

They resolved that their voyage of exploration should begin in the forest. So they set about exploring. After several hours, they happened upon the bones of a lion in the middle of the forest.

One of the learned men exclaimed, “Look! We have finally found a problem which we can apply our great learning to… Among my many studies, I have studied all the skeletal structures of all the earth’s creatures… I could easily reconstruct this lion’s skeleton!”

Another of the learned men added, “In my studies, I have studied the muscles and sinews of the earth’s creatures and have learned the art of sewing skin… If you can repair this lion’s skeleton, I can make it new muscles and skin.”

“Oh we make a great team indeed,” chimed the third, “for I have learned in my studies the art of life. If you two can repair this lion’s body, I can concoct a potion that will give it blood and breath!”

So the three learned men set to work applying their great knowledge to the problem of the dead lion. One carefully reconstructing the skeleton, another adding the muscles and skin, and the third restoring the blood and breath, until at last they had brought the lion back to life. The three learned men marveled at their accomplishment.

“Look!,” said one, “A fully restored, living breathing lion! Surely such a thing has never been done before!”

“I know!”, said another, “It is a true scientific breakthrough! Imagine the implications!”

Before the third could speak, the lion lunged at the three learned men, mauled them, and ate them for dinner.

This elegant African folktale is a great parable about the responsibility that comes with knowledge. Just because we have the power to do something does not mean it should be done. We can build machines that can destroy the earth a hundred times over… Should we? Biological engineering, singularity, and advancements in warfare, raise important ethical questions that disciples have an obligation to speak into. We are not called to be neophytes. Rather we are called to engage the great questions with integrity and conscience. It has been said religion without science has no brain and that science without religion has no heart. God requires us to love Him with both.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…