Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (Matthew 7:1-12) transports me to the mental ward of Fairfax Hospital, Virginia, where a self-committed patient named Hunter Adams is visiting the room of another patient, Arthur Mendelson. Mendelson is an older gentleman who likes to put up four fingers and ask people how many they see, and when they answer four, he rants on and on about how that is not the right answer. Hunter visits Arthur, and notices that his paper coffee cup has a slow leak in the bottom. Hunter takes a Bandaid and patches the cup, and the following conversation transpires:
Hunter: The fingers. What’s the answer?
Arthur: Oh, you’re another one of those bright young fellows who always know the right answer, is that it? Welcome to real life. How many do you see?
Hunter: There are four fingers, Arthur.
Arthur: No, no, no. Look at me.
Arthur: You’re focusing on the problem. If you focus on the problem, you can’t see the solution. Never focus on the problem. Look at me! How many do you see? . . .No, look beyond the fingers. How many do you see?
Arthur: Eight. Eight. Yes! Yes! Eight’s a good answer. Yes. See what no one else sees. See what everyone else chooses not to see, out of fear and conformity and laziness. See the whole world anew each day. Ah, the truth is, you’re well on the way. If you didn’t see something here besides a crazy, bitter old man, you wouldn’t have come in the first place.
Hunter: What do you see when you look at me, Arthur?
Arthur: You fixed my cup. See you around, Patch.
Jesus, who many considered to be a prime candidate for the local mental hospital of his time, played the role of old Arthur Mendelson with his disciples in today’s passage, in trying to get them to re-focus and see something different than the norm. The norm was not so different than our norm, where we are well-trained to set our sights on the faults and follies and foibles of those around us. I suspect Jesus must have grown tired of hearing the talking heads around him bash their opponents, and was in a bit of a rant when he engaged his disciples. Why do you look at the speck of dust in your brother’s eye, when your own eyes are thick with cataracts of corruption? Never focus on the problem – look at me! Look for the solution – and you will find it! Just knock, the door will open! Listen, you all don’t play tricks with your children, scaring them with a snake when they are hungry for some fish? Don’t you see? Even you numbskulls have the decency to give your children what they need – so open your eyes – you are God’s children! Set your sights on what God has in store for you! Don’t you think God has some gifts ready to give you, if you’ll just ask, if you’ll just open your eyes and look? And then Jesus boils it all down to a simple principle for living – instead of passing judgment, practice the golden rule; treat others the way you want to be treated. That pretty much sums up everything the laws and all the prophets were trying to get us to see.
I suspect we all need a crazy old Arthur Mendelson or Patch Adams in our life on occasion, to give voice to this simple teaching of Jesus; I certainly do. I am immersed in the same culture as everyone else, trained to see only four fingers, to find the flaws in my opponents and the fallacies of their arguments. I’m glad for those occasions when I’m reminded to re-focus, to get past the fear and conformity and laziness of the prevailing discourse and to turn my eyes upon Jesus, to see the potential instead of the problem. I’m glad for those times when I am able to see eight fingers instead of four, even though it sometimes gives me the strange urge to put on a clown nose and go heal the sick.
*Daily Passages are the weekday reflections of Stan Dotson, connecting culture to biblical texts. As always, your feedback and comments are welcome. Feel free to share where the passages take you in your journey of faith.