learning from elephants

Apparently there’s an Indian parable about four blind men who encounter an elephant. One finds the trunk and describes a very different animal to the person who finds the tail. Another finds a leg and describes a very different beast to the one who feels the elephant’s ear. The parable is supposed to tell us that different faiths are merely different ways of describing God.

Now I am NOT saying that there is no truth or good in other faiths. But the message of Jesus is, in my opinion, pretty exclusive. He is the only one whose death makes a difference to our relationship with God. He is the only one whose resurrection affirms our hope of resurrection and offers eternal life.

However that parable seems to me to be apt if applied to the gospels. What we have are four eyewitnesses who are describing the same thing but from different perspectives. Matthew, writing for a predominantly Jewish audience tells us how the Jesus narrative fulfils the Old Testament prophecies. Jesus IS the Promised One. Luke, writing for a predominantly non-Jewish reader, wants to emphasise how anyone can be a follower of Jesus. He sets out to write ‘an orderly account’. Mark is in a hurry (look how many times he writes ‘immediately’ or ‘the next day’). He writes about Jesus probably to a community under duress, to reassure them of who Jesus is and encourage them in their faith. God wins. John looks at things very differently (I think he got the trunk!). Instead of a chronological narrative John takes events from Jesus’ life and comments on them for us. Indeed my own theory is that what we have with John is a collection of his sermons. He affirms who Jesus is through his words and actions, which are ‘signs’ to lead his listeners / readers to faith.

It is assumed that Matthew and Luke had sight of Mark’s gospel when they wrote because the order of events and the events recorded are very similar to Mark, but they have added details for their readers. That may be so. I don’t have a problem with them doing that. But even if they used Mark’s structure they told the narrative in ways that were relevant and appropriate to their audience.

That’s a lesson for us all today. How can we tell the Jesus narrative in ways that are relevant to the people we encounter? On Sunday evening we will have a go at this by watching the film ‘Despicable Me’ and seeing what it reveals to us of the gospel of Jesus and how it relates to people today. If you are in Colchester on Sunday evening (6pm) you would be very welcome to join us and join in.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Another elephant-related lesson:

At the College / Minister Factory where I trained we were asked the question, “How do you eat an elephant?”

The answer: “One mouthful at a time.”

Don’t get hung up on the ethics of eating elephants or endangered species issues, the elephant is imaginary. It was intended as another parable about how you tackle big problems.


>To keep things fresh, this entry starts with lots of jokes rather than ending with one:

Q: Where do you find elephants?
A: It depends on where you lost them.

Q: Why do elephants wear blue tennis shoes?
A: Because the white ones get dirty too fast.

Q: Why do elephants live in herds?
A: To get a wholesale reduction on the blue tennis shoes.

Q: Why do elephants float on their backs?
A: So they don’t get their tennis shoes wet.

Q: How many elephants can you fit in a taxi?
A: Four. (One next to the driver and 3 in back)

Q: How many giraffes can you fit in a taxi?
A: None, it’s full of elephants.

Q: What sport do elephants play in a taxi?
A: Squash.

Q: How do you know when an elephant is visiting your house?
A: There’s a taxi outside with three elephants in it.

Q: How do you put an elephant into the refrigerator?
A: Open door, put elephant in, close door.

Q: How do you put a giraffe into refrigerator?
A: Open door, get elephant out, put giraffe in, close door.

Q: How can you tell when there’s been an elephant in your refrigerator?
A: Footprints in the butter.

Q: How can you tell when there is an elephant in your refrigerator?
A: Blue tennis shoes are left outside.

Q: How can you tell when there are two elephants in you refrigerator?
A: It’s rather hard to close the door.

Q: How can you tell when there are four elephants in your refrigerator?
A: There’s a taxi waiting outside.

Q: Why are there so many elephants running around free?
A: Your fridge is not large enough to hold them all.

I have anonymised the following true story to protect the identity of the main protagonist. A while ago a member of staff was leaving a Christian organisation (let’s call it the Baptist Onion of Little Britain for the sake of argument) to go on Maternity Leave. The tradition was that when a member of staff left the rest would gather together to give gifts, say goodbye and to offer a prayer. On this occasion the person who was leading the prayer (we’ll call him David Toffee) made a freudian slip.

The lady in question was very pregnant and in his prayer David Toffee meant to thank God for her ‘elegance’. However, what he actually thanked God for was her ‘elephants’!

Is it blasphemous to snigger in a prayer?

So why all the pachyderm references? Well, elephants are notorious for having a very long memory (so they can remember where they left their blue tennis shoes?). I find that my memory for names is poor, no matter how hard I try. It’s almost as bad as remembering where I left things.

God must have the best memory of all. Everything that has happened in time is known to him. When the Bible talks about him not remembering my sin any more when I have asked for forgiveness it is not because he forgets, it is because he actively chooses not to remember. It is as if it never existed as far as he is concerned. He no longer counts those things against me.

That’s what Jesus’ death can do for me. That’s always worth remembering.