Growing up in Georgia offered serendipitous surprises in childhood.
From time to time, my family visited a ramshackle restaurant, whose outside brick walls were painted forest green with a big red and white Coca Cola sign, and whose main menu was pork barbeque. Barbeque sandwiches, barbeque platters, barbeque ribs, both half and whole rack. Makes my mouth water just thinking about it.
But the thing I liked most about that eatery was just outside the building where they kept a wire cage that was home to a small monkey. I spent hours around that cage, gazing, poking my fingers through the wire, and wishing I could take that monkey home and keep it for my own personal pet. Needless to say, this notion did not sit well with the grown-ups. So, much to my eight-year-old chagrin, it never happened. Had it actually occurred, maybe I would enjoy monkeys more today.
Or, maybe not.
Now monkeys are, after all, members of that category of beings identified as “All creatures great and small.” They are part of nature and part of God’s creation. As such, they are to be valued. Some value them more than others. More, no doubt, than me.
But what does this have to do with anything of value? What the heck do monkeys have to tell us about ourselves? About God?
If a monkey could talk to humans about God, what do you suppose he might say?
* * *
“You guys really suck!”
“You know, we’re a lot like you humans. We can use tools. We have feelings and we care about one another. We can learn things about the world in which we live. Amazingly, all you guys can do stuff like that, too!”
“But that’s where the similarity ends. Even though you can do some of the things we can do, there is no way that we are related. You guys are more related to an epileptic hyena than you are to us. For example, can you imagine any self-respecting monkey belching oil all over the Gulf of Mexico? You think monkeys invented that rap and hip-hop stuff? We can’t believe that the dudes who do that stuff actually call themselves “artists.” Sheesh! You guys are like hyenas because you scavenge. You scavenge off each other. Look at the pariahs on Wall Street. Your greed is beyond belief.
Look at what you call Congress! They poop all over the floor on those hallowed halls and then throw it at each other. Does that not tell you something?
You want it all. You make no distinction between what is rotten and what is good. Or, you get mixed up as to which is which. We would never do that. We care about one another. We share. We give. You guys don’t. At least enough of you don’t to make life miserable for the others of your kind.
So how is it that you humans were created in the Image of God and we weren’t?”
Still a Gorilla
He's got arms like legs, he's got hands on his feet.
He's got a nose like a doughnut, got a tendency to overeat.
He don't use tools or weapons, he don't eat meat.
He likes to stick to the bushes, tends to avoid the street.
Now most of y'all gave seen a gorilla in a cage at the local zoo.
He mostly sits around contemplating all the things that he'd prefer to do.
He dreams about the world outside from behind those bars of steel,
and no one seems to understand about the heartache the man can feel.
The people stop and stare but nobody seems to care.
It don't seem right somehow, it just don't seem fair. He's still a gorilla.
* * *
Good question -- especially from a monkey. Does the thought ever cross your mind that when you look at yourself in a mirror, that maybe God is looking back at you? Ok, probably not. But there is one thing you need to do. Before you face a mirror, you need to make sure you didn’t just get out of bed. I mean, comb your hair and brush your teeth before you do this.
Or, maybe you do look a little like God? After all, you look a little like Jesus, right? You got a head, a torso, two arms, two eyes, nose, mouth? Jesus had all that stuff. I wonder how long Jesus has looked like that? Genesis tells us that God “walked” in the garden of Eden in the cool of the day. Probably had to have two legs to do that. Spirits don’t need to “walk.” When he appeared to Abraham, he looked like a man. Same for Jacob and others. Remember the guy in Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace? Heated seven times hotter than it should have been? Maybe your physical appearance has rationale behind it. Maybe that’s at least part of what the Scriptures meant when it tells us that you were made in the Image of God. No other creature looks like you. Nobody has your fingerprint, or eye retina. Nobody has ever confused (jokes aside) a monkey with a human. No other creature looks like Jesus, who probably looked that way before he was born in a manger. And if we are to believe the first chapter of Acts, he looks that way now and when he comes again, he will still look that way. “That way,” being like you and like me.
Now when you look in the mirror and think, “Hey you know, maybe I do look a little like God.” Kind of rattles you a little bit, doesn’t it? What does such a thing really mean? At the very least it means you have some potential. At the very least it means that there is a reason you are alive. At the very least it means your birth and life on this earth is no accident, that like Jesus, you arrived at just the right time in human history to do whatever it is that God intended for you – that could not have been done by anyone else except you.
At the very least it means that you’re no monkey and you need to live up to what you look like.
Man does not live on bread alone. Bread is necessary, but in order to sustain true life, mankind must live on every word that comes from the mouth of God. – Jesus (Mt. 4:4)
"They sit at the bar
And put bread in my jar
And say, “Man what are you doing here?”
The lyrics occur in Billy Joel’s ballad about a man who plays the piano in a piano bar. In this song, Joel sings of sadness, loneliness and broken dreams of being a star. Apparently the patrons think he should be. Of course, we all know what happened.
The “jar” of which he sings, is a jar sitting on the piano, put there on purpose to collect tips. The patrons who like the piano man’s music, drop bills, or “bread” in the jar. It is from this “bread,” and the small stipend the bar provides, that paid his bills.
The bread we eat is no metaphor. In this life we couldn’t live if we didn’t eat. I love cornbread, or even better “cracklin’ bread.” If you don’t know what that is, you ain’t from the South.
It is worthy of note that Jesus became hungry AFTER his resurrection. He ate earthly food in the upper room just to prove he was real. Then he prepared a fish breakfast for himself and the disciples. In my research for “The Justus Scrolls,” I discovered that the dominant fish species in the Sea of Galilee is none other than Talapia!
Not sure I could have handled that. Ever had a fish breakfast? Several years ago, a friend, my son and I went on a week-long canoeing trip on the Aubinadong river in the wilderness of Canada. We caught 105 trout that week. We had fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner each day. Nothing in the world like fresh trout.
But this hardly the point Jesus was making in his dialogue with Satan. The bread in his jar concerned life here and now. It concerned absolute life, life that cannot be diminished, life that will never end. Not by broken dreams. Not by hunger. Not by anything.
That kind of life comes only from the Word of God. Note the capitalization. The “Word of God,” is not only the Bible; in fact it is not even primarily the Bible. The Word of God is Jesus, himself. He, and he alone has shown us the Father. He, and he alone, gives true life.
Feast your heart on Jesus, and true life, absolute, irreducible, eternal life – is yours.
Bread in your jar.
DECEMBER 26, 2018
For you created my inmost being.
You knit me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
This psalm tells us that before the first day of life, all our days were ordained by God, and recorded in his “Book.” In terms of our relationship with God, none of us were Bhuddists, Shintoists, Muslim, Catholic , Protestant or Atheist. No Democrats. No Republicans. No liberals. No conservatives. We were all the same. We were all equal. In this pristine state, we were born into this life; each of us with divine purpose and rationale.
God has given to each and every human born on this planet, the gift of life. None of us are the result of accident, creatures of random sperm journeys colliding with random egg. There is as much rationale to human life as there is equilibrium to the universe, as much rationale to individual human life, as there was to the life and purpose of Jesus himself.
None of us are meritorious enough to spend eternity with him. How is it then, that of those he allows life, some of us are chosen and others are not? “You have not chosen me,” said Jesus, “but I have chosen you.” All of us are evil beyond the reaches of self-redemption. How is it then, that of those who at varying levels are evil, are chosen for an eternity of unimaginable glory, and others, at the same, or greater or lesser evil, are not? Whether greater or lesser, we are still evil, are we not?
It can only be that those of us who are chosen are those of us who wish to be.
For every human who, throughout his or her pilgrimage on this planet, reaches out to our God of Love, to desire him, to understand him, to receive him, to that person God reveals himself, and he is chosen out from among those who do not seek him.
The redemptive force of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, King of kings, and Lord of lords, Messiah and Savior of the world, has made this possible. His life, his teachings, the miracles and events that surrounded him, that terrible black day in human history, and the glorious joy of Sunday morning, are all of these the Light that illuminates our minds and redeems our souls. There are no dark corners of the human soul immune to its penetration.
However thick and supposedly impenetrable the walls we build around ourselves, or confused and misguided we may be, if it so be that a door is opened in that wall, if there be found in it the slightest crack, if there be a doubt or insecurity that causes one to open himself to God, then he is doomed. He will be redeemed! He is chosen! The Light will make it so and resistance is utterly, completely and exhaustively, futile. One, despite himself, is drawn to the Light as if he were a moth and is thereby, consumed – in unspeakable joy.-- PDM