Today’s Bible Reading – Matthew 25 and Genesis 49 & 50
I Love stories, don’t you?
Here’s a story by CS Lewis found in the book: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader as retold by Jennifer Neyhart:
“Eustace is a character you kind of just want to punch in the face until his transformation experience with Aslan. He was arrogant, self-centered, and all around annoying to Edmund and Lucy.
On one of the islands the crew lands on, Eustace finds a dragon’s lair and is very greedy for the treasure. He puts on a gold bracelet and falls asleep, and when he wakes up, he has been turned into a dragon. Lewis writes, “Sleeping on a dragon’s hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself.” Eustace had fleeting thoughts of relief at being the biggest thing around, but he quickly realizes he is cut off from his friends, and all of humanity, and he feels a weight of loneliness and desperately wants to change.
That night, Aslan comes to Eustace and leads him to a large well “like a very big round bath with marble steps going down into it.” Eustace describes the scene to Edmund after the fact. He says the water was so clear and he thought if he could get in there and bathe it would ease the pain in his leg (from the gold bracelet he had put on when he was human). But Aslan told him he had to undress first. And doesn’t God ask this of us? As Lewis wrote in Letters to Malcolm: “We must lay before him [God] what is in us; not what ought to be in us.”
Eustace found that no matter how many layers of dragon skins he managed to peel off of himself, he was still a dragon.
“Then the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.
“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab off a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.”
“Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off … And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again…” – C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
This scene always grabs my heart. It reminds me that I cannot fix myself. It paints a beautiful picture of baptism and transformation to new life. It humbles me as I put myself in Eustace’s place. And even long after our initial baptism we have the ongoing challenge of surrendering to God’s work in our lives which can be painful at times, even when it’s a good pain.
And I like Lewis’s note of narration at the end of this scene as well:
“It would be nice, and fairly nearly true, to say that “from that time forth Eustace was a different boy.” To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days when he could be very tiresome. But most of those I shall not notice. The cure had begun.”
End of Story.
Stories have a way of capturing our attention and keeping our interest. In a really good story like the undragoning of Eustace we might discover after reading it that it stays with us, that it somehow changes the way we see the world or the way that we are in the world.
Jesus was a master storyteller. Throughout the Gospels we hear him telling stories, and amazing stories they were as they somehow manage to transcend time and place and language and cultural barriers.
In Matthew 25 Jesus tells three stories. One story is about bridesmaids and oil, one is about masters and servants and bags of gold, and one is about sheep and goats. Jesus told these stories just a few days before he was to be arrested, tried, condemned and nailed to a Roman cross and publicly executed.
If you’ve ever been around someone who knew that they were going to die soon, you know that near the end of life people usually want to focus on those things which are most important. They want to say “ I love you” to people they care about. They want to say “ I’m sorry” to the people they have hurt or they want to say “I forgive you” to the people who have hurt them. Since Jesus is running out of time and opportunities to preach and teach before his arrest you can imagine that what he has to say is very important to him. This is Jesus saying “I love you” to people he cared deeply about.
I encourage you to read and reflect on those stories in Matthew 25.
Why is he talking about weddings and bridesmaids and having enough oil and the danger of missing out on the wedding banquet? What does he want us to do or not do?
Why is he talking about a rich landowner going away on a long trip and leaving behind something valuable and asking his trusted workers to manage his valuable gold well? What does he want us to do or not do?
Why is he talking about sheep and goats and why is he praising and rewarding some for the good things they do to help others (and him) and condemning and punishing others for the good things that they fail to do to help others (and him)? What does he want us to do or not do?
Spend some time thinking about each story. Imagine yourself there in the story. What’s it like to be a bridesmaid who wasn’t ready and missed out on your friend’s wedding? What’s it like to be a worker who gets praised and rewarded for working hard when the master returns? What’s it like to be called a goat (not The G.O.A.T. –a.k.a. Michael Jordan or Drew Brees) but a goat who failed to care for the sick, the hungry, the prisoners and the naked and gets turned away by Jesus?
Listen to Jesus’ stories and allow them to teach you whatever Jesus wants you to learn.
-Pastor Jeff Fletcher