An 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. About six of them were allowed to approach the animal, each being led e-phantto 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.”

     “No way!” shouted the man who had touched the elephant’s tusk. “He is stout, smooth, rounded, and curved. I would compare an elephant to . . . well, let’s say a tree limb without bark.” A third man, who had touched the ear, chimed in. “It’s nothing like a wall or tree limb. An elephant is like a gigantic leaf, made of thick wool carpet and it moves when you touch it.”

     “I disagree,” said the fourth man who had handled the trunk. “An elephant is much like a very 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. He was speaking to men who had spent their lives studying the word of Moses and the prophets. 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 – and you have to think the way we think), your sin remains.”

     God was the elephant in the room. Yet, the people staring at him were still blind to him. They admitted they were followers of Moses. The Pharisees said, “This man, Jesus, is not from God.  He doesn’t follow the Sabbath rules.”  Their vision of God was a God of commandments.

     There are many Christians today who listen to Moses more than Jesus. Moses said many good things about God. He also said God’s command is to put children to death who curse their parents. He taught ‘if you work on the Sabbath, that too is worthy of death.’

     Five times in the Gospel of John, Jesus told the Pharisees they didn’t know God. He said this to the experts in the Book. They read and studied it forward and backward (literally, since it was in Hebrew).

     “Yes, you may have the stories and commands of Moses written on scrolls, but you don’t know God. And if you don’t know God, how can you know God’s will? Is God’s will obedience to rules, or is God’s will like many of the prophets you murdered tried to explain, caring for those in need?”

     Who can be trusted if the blind are leading the blind?

     Now we have stories from people who saw Jesus face to face. All they saw was good in God, no death sentences — except for one — his own.

     For many years I accepted conflicting images of God. I tried to blend Moses’ image of God with Isaiah’s image. Then I poured in some of Paul’s, and Matthew’s, and Luke’s, and John’s, and Jame’s, etc. It tried to do that until, finally, like the parents said of their son, “He’s of age. He’s old enough to know for himself. He has his own opinion.”    

     Contemplating your own experience of the Elephant is important. How have you elephantexperienced God for yourself? Have you ever felt threatened by God? Or have you felt a healing peace? Has God treated you the way the Jews before Christ described or has God treated you the way those who saw Jesus described? Which image would be good news for you?

     If you’re over 18 years old, you’re old enough to make up your own mind about what God is like based upon your own experience. You can stop depending on other people to tell you what they think the Elephant looks like.

     There’s an Elephant in the room. Start meeting together with the Elephant on your own time, and begin trusting your own experience of God in your life. And let the image of God in Jesus Christ transform you into the beautiful person God intended for you to be.



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

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