By Layton Friesen
There is an old story about a king, watching his blind servants gathering around an elephant trying to figure out what this object is. Each blind servant gets hold of one part of the elephant. One grabs the tail and thinks the elephant is a ropey thing. Another grabs the leg and claims he’s found a tree trunk. Another touches the side of the elephant and declares it’s a flat wall.
This story has become a modern-day legend often used to show how all of us only have a part of the truth. All religions are like these blind servants, we are told, holding their elephant-y body part, loudly proclaiming their view as the whole truth. The lesson we are taught is that what we think true is only a body part—a tail, but certainly not an elephant.
There are some interesting questions to ask of this story. First of all, from whose perspective is this story always told? From the perspective of the king. The king apparently has 20/20 vision. The moral of the story applies to everyone except the king; the king is able to see the whole elephant.
The same 20/20 perspective is then assumed by those who tell the story. Everyone else is a blind servant but I am the king, up on a pedestal, looking down at all these hapless blind Muslims, Hindus and Christians. Those pathetic devotees think they know the truth but I, from my throne of secular sophistication, can see how silly they all are.
But! If I say all people are blind except me, that’s kind of arrogant, don’t you think?
Christians will die for the truth that there is only one King qualified to tell this story, who is Jesus Christ, judge of all. We are not qualified to tell this story, only Jesus is.
But a second question to ask of this tale is, who is the elephant? Some vague spirituality that hovers beyond all our words, eluding our grasp? Some mysterious force I access through meditation, hiking Banff or taking LSD? No, the elephant must also be Jesus of Nazareth. He is the Alpha and the Omega.
In John 4 Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well that an hour is coming when true worshippers will worship neither at Mount Gerizim or Jerusalem. “You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we [Jews] worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.” The woman wisely says, “I know that a Messiah is coming.” Jesus replies, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”
Can you see the elephant story at the Samaritan well? Jesus is the King who sees and judges Samaritan and Jewish worship as either partial, true or false. And he is the elephant, the one both Jews and Samaritans in their own ways had been grasping for and praying to for centuries.
And, finally, to twist the tale until it almost unrecognizable, if Jesus is the king and elephant, can blind servants grasp him, even in part? In the gospel, the blind servants do not grasp the elephant, the elephant takes hold of the servants.
Jesus is taking hold of you, his beloved Bartemeaus, and by his love and power is removing the scales from your eyes. One day we shall see him as he is!
Hail the Elephant and King!