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The blind men and the elephant

By Dr. Bascom Ratliff

Pastor, Parker/Beagle/Fontana United Methodist Churches

Today's story is about blindness that comes from our preconceived or biased notion of what we consider the truth. Sometimes our biases and misconstrued notions distort the truth. Worse yet, sometimes we deliberately bend the truth in order to accommodate our value system. As a result of this accommodating, misconstruing, and bias, we have a large number of Christian religious groups that deliberately exclude others from worship and leadership because of a narrow interpretation of biblical rules and laws. In short, sometimes the best of us get it wrong.

I recently read the poem, "The blind men and the elephant", written by John Godfrey Saxe. In his poem he writes about six blind men who happen upon an elephant. They each touch a different part of the elephant and describe the elephant in terms of the part they touched. For example, the man grabbing the ear describes the elephant as a fan, and the one grabbing the tusk says the elephant is a spear. Depending on the body part touched, the elephant is described as a wall, tree, snake, and rope. The author notes that all are correct in naming parts of the beast but none of them really describe the elephant.

In much the same way, I think we often interpret the Bible and God's will in a limited and narrow fashion. These interpretations lead to discord and differences in how we practice our faith and follow God's will. I have learned from attending a number of different church services, reading Scripture, and listening to religious commentaries, that I have a limited understanding of God's Word and God's will.

Case in point: I recently had a discussion with a Christian friend about building wealth. They were convinced that God wants them to be wealthy. When I asked about returning a portion of their wealth to God in the form of charitable donations or help for the needy, they were less enthusiastic. Their belief was that they had earned their wealth and that they were not obligated to share their wealth with anyone else. They felt that God had given them wealth and being good stewards meant building greater wealth.

It is very painful to see and hear the conflict and the controversy over such hot button issues as abortion, sexual diversity, gun control, voting rights, climate, and so forth. I ask myself, where is God in these controversies? I wonder what nation and communities would look like if all of us Christians were to get together and practice our faith in unison.

I sincerely believe that God wants us to take a simple approach to our faith and our relationship with him and others. Jesus said it best when he said the two greatest commandments are to love God and to love others. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments. What could be simpler? If we love someone, as God commands, are we not motivated to care for them, to provide them food and clothing, to seek their well being, and to help them as good Samaritans? Of course, Jesus instructed us to love fully and intends for us to treat others well. He makes this very clear in Matthew 25 when he informs us that when we do good to others, we also are doing good to him.

The challenge is for us to see the whole elephant, where the intent of God is that we love and care for others. When we focus on one Bible verse or one biblical instruction, we, like the blind men, often miss the full intent of God's will and desire for us. God's commandment that we love him and love others appears to be fairly simple and straightforward. However, when we interpret this commandment in such a way that we give ourselves permission to exclude or demean others, we are falling far short of God's will for us. And just maybe, when we accept that God loves the modern-day lepers in our society, we can be more compassionate, tolerant, and inclusive.


If you want to hear more about God’s wonderful promise of unfailing love and enjoy a great morning of music and worship, please come and worship with us.

We will worship at the Parker UMC during April 2023 at 10 a.m.

We will celebrate Palm Sunday and Easter at Parker UMC at 10 a.m.

We will celebrate Maundy Thursday at Beagle UMC on April 6, 2023 at 7 p.m.

We will celebrate Good Friday at Fontana UMC on April 7, 2023 at 7 p.m.

We will have an Easter Sunrise Service at Beagle UMC on April 9, 2023 at 6:30 a.m.

Dr. Bascom Ratliff (913-710-5748)

Pastor, Parker/Beagle/Fontana United Methodist Churches

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