Archive for November, 2014

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Flawed

3 November, 2014

My former brother-in-law worked for a factory that produces porcelain figures. High-end, gorgeous creatures sold for a prices between one hundred fifty and four thousand dollars. Every Herend figurine is individually inspected for the smallest chip, hairline crack, or misprint in its pattern. Each item sold is flawless. And each one is flawless because the ones that were less than perfect, the ones that had flaws, were locked away. These figures can never be released because their very existence would devalue the ones that are sold.

There was a prophet named Elisha and he had an assistant, a man with a good heart and a desire to serve Elisha and God. We do not know his name, but we know that when Elisha was meeting with the other prophets at Gilgal, he worked to serve them stew.[1] He went out to search for herbs to use in the stew and also found a vine and he “gathered from it a lapful of wild gourds” (II Kings 4:39, NRSV) Taking them back to camp, he cut them up and put them in with the stew. Upon tasting the stew, these wise prophets cried out, “O, man of God, there is death in the pot!” (II Kings 4:40, NRSV). They refused to eat it, until Elisha added a little flour to it and then it was fine. Elisha gets credit for his quick thinking and for saving not just the stew, but also the dramatic prophets, too. The name of the servant is unrecorded. He goes down in Biblical history as the guy who made the worst pot of stew. The narrative says nothing about his faithfulness, about his willingness to serve. He’s just the “death in the pot!” guy. He was flawed, imperfect. The text locks his name away, because knowing it means you care about him and the reader cannot care about him and what this experience was for him, because that would detract attention from Elisha’s amazing trick with the flour. After all, isn’t that the story that matters? Lock the flawed away so the flawless can shine.

There was a young man, Eutychus, sitting by an open window and listening to a sermon given by Paul.[2] Paul was delivering a long winded message; Paul “talked on and on” (Acts 20:9 NIV) or “still longer” (NRSV). Paul spoke so long, Eutychus fell asleep then fell out the window and broke his neck. He was dead. The text is very clear on this point. “He fell to the ground three floors below and was picked up dead” (NRSV). Then Paul hugged the dead Eutychus to him and said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” Then he went upstairs to break bread, eat, and continue talking until dawn. Then he left. What happened to Eutychus? Did he suffer paralysis or other injuries? Did anyone call a healer or physician? Did he eat with them? The text does not say. Eutychus was flawed; he fell asleep while the Apostle was preaching, and to say more about this flawed person would detract from the greatness of the Apostle. Lock the flawed away so they do not devalue the flawless.

Why does no one ever speak of Paul’s sermon, which was lengthy and dull enough to cause a young man to fall asleep and fall out of a three story building to his death? Why is it not good news to hear Paul had some flaws? He gave long, boring sermons. He had epilepsy; “a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated” (II Corinthians 12:7b, NRSV). Notice how this flaw is played down; it is not a physical flaw in Paul but a “messenger of Satan.” Notice how sermons provide an image of Paul that is strong and confident, a man who spoke with power and rebuked with fire in his eyes. Yet, the oldest image of Paul[3] (from the fourth century CE) shows him to be a gaunt, thin faced man with large eyes, and a bald head. The description given to us in “The Acts of Paul and Thecla” is that of a man who is “short, bald, bow-legged, with meeting eyebrows, hooked nose.”[4] Why is this Paul not described in sermons or spoken about with pride from the pastor’s pulpit? Heroes cannot be flawed; it would detract from the greatness, the awe, and undercut and devalue the man. Lock the flaws away so they do not sully what should be flawless.

What would the un-named servant tell us about devotion to a cause or faith in the midst of mistakes? What would Eutychus tell us about knowing our limits? What would Paul say about being teased or mocked (as he surely was) for how we are born or what we look like? What would the flawed figurines teach us about the beauty of imperfection, if they were not locked away?

[1]  “2 Kings 4:38-41 NRSV;NIV – Elisha Purifies the Pot of Stew …” 2014. 3 Nov. 2014 <https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Kings+4%3A38-41&version=NRSV;NIV>

[2]  “Acts 20:9-11 NRSV – A young man named Eutychus, who …” 2014. 3 Nov. 2014 <https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts+20%3A9-11&version=NRSV>

[3] “‘Oldest’ image of St Paul discovered – Telegraph.” 2009. 3 Nov. 2014 <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/vaticancityandholysee/5675461/Oldest-image-of-St-Paul-discovered.html>

[4] “The Epistles of Paul – Bible Hub.” 2014. 3 Nov. 2014 <http://biblehub.com/library/drummond/introduction_to_the_new_testament/the_epistles_of_paul.htm>

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