The Elephant in the Room

John 9:1-41

   Once there was a village where all the inhabitants were blind. One day, a man passed through riding an elephant. A group of the village men cried out asking the rider to let them touch the great beast, for although they had heard about elephants, they had never been close to one. Six of them were allowed to approach the animal, each being led to touch a different part. After a time, the rider left, and the blind men hurried back to the people to share their experience. “So what is an elephant like?” the people in the crowd asked their six friends. “Oh, I know all about elephants,” boasted the man who had touched the animal’s side. “He is long and tall, built like a thick wall.”

     “Nonsense!” shouted the man who had touched the elephant’s tusk. “He is rather short, smooth, rounded, and curved. I would compare an elephant to . . . well, let’s say a sword.” A third man, who had touched the ear, chimed in. “It’s nothing like a wall or sword. An elephant is like a gigantic leaf, made of thick wool carpet – that moves when you touch it.”

     “I disagree,” said the fourth man who had handled the trunk. “An elephant is much like a large snake.” The fifth man who had touched a leg of the great beast shouted his disapproval, “It’s plain to me than none of you knows what an elephant looks like. It is round and rough and reaches toward the heavens like a tree.” The sixth man who had been placed on the elephant’s back, cried out, “Can none of you accurately describe an elephant? He is like a gigantic moving mountain.”

     To this day, the argument has not been resolved, and the people of that village still have no idea what an elephant looks like.[1]

     Jesus told the Pharisees they were like the blind teaching the blind. An elephant walking into a community of blind people is very much like God walking into a Jewish synagogue in the first century. No one before this had ever seen God. But they had stories of other people who had experienced some kind of contact with God. Every person’s experience is their truth. Unfortunately, some people think only the experience of others is truth. They ignore their own experience.

     In John 9, Jesus was speaking to men who had spent their lives studying the word of Moses. These Pharisees believed they knew what the elephant looked like. But Jesus said, “If you say that you are blind, you have no sin. But now that you say we see (we understand), your sin remains.” Five times in the Gospel of John, Jesus told the Pharisees they didn’t know God. Yes, you may have studied and memorized the stories and commands of your scriptures, but you don’t know God. God was the elephant in the room. Jesus walked in, trying to reveal the true nature of God. Yet, the people staring at him were blind to a truth that didn’t match what they had been conditioned to believe.

     Jesus came, eating and conversing with sinners. Jesus said he didn’t come to condemn the world but to save it, and to give life in its abundance. What can a person logically understand about a God who would die so you can live? It’s hard for us to call that is being all-powerful or wise. But do we really know God?

     Nothing in life stays the same. Don’t you hate that? Even your image of God may have to change over time.

     Contemplating your own experience of the elephant is important. How have you experienced God for yourself? Are you still threatened by God based on the stories of others? Has God treated you the way the people before Jesus described the Creator? Or has God treated you the way Jesus is described? Have you been comforted by the image Jesus revealed? Have you felt peace because of it? Which image would be good news for you?

     Your experience is important. Your truth is important. You know how some people laughingly suggest that dog owners tend to look like their dogs after time, we always become like our truth. Stop depending on other people to tell you what the elephant looks like. Start meeting together with God on your own time. Meditate. Begin contemplating and trusting your experience of God in your life. Consider letting the image of God in Jesus Christ transform you into the beautiful person God intended you to be…then you just might become more like the elephant in the room.


[1] Adapted from “The Blind Men and the Elephant” in Speaking in Stories by William White, p. 78 (eSermons illustration).


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