Yertle was ruler of a little pond on the island of Sala-ma-Sond. All of the turtles at the pond had everything they needed and were quite happy. They were happy, that is, until Yertle decided that his kingdom was too small. "I am ruler of all that I see, but I don't see enough. My throne is too low down" complained Yertle.When you think too highly of yourself, you often wind up taking a big fall, don't you?
So Yertle lifted his hand and gave a command. He ordered nine turtles in the pond to stand on each other's backs so that they could become his new and higher throne. He climbed up onto the backs of the turtles and he had a wonderful view. But Yertle still wasn't satisfied. "Turtles! More turtles!" he called from his lofty throne, Yertle swelled with pride and feelings of importance as turtles from all over the pond came to climb on the stack of turtles which made up Yertle's throne.
At the very bottom of the stack was a plain and ordinary turtle named Mack. He struggled under the weight of all the turtles until finally, he decided that he had taken enough. That plain little turtle named Mack did a very plain little thing. He burped! His burp shook the throne and Yertle fell right into the mud! And now the great Yertle is King of the MUD.
In the Gospel today, Jesus tells a story about two men who went to the temple to pray. One of the men stood and prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.'
The other stood at a distance and would not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he bowed his head in sorrow, saying, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
Now, which of these two prayers do you think was pleasing to God? You are right. The prayer of mercy. Jesus said, “For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, but those who humble themselves will be exalted."
Jesus short little parable this week is his commentary on humility, on how we put down others even in our prayers to make ourselves look good, but God looks on the humble heart. (and once again turns the tables as a tax collector is honored and a Pharisee is not)
I want to take it one step further… and tell the parable using a story from the NY Times.
A correspondent reported observing this scene on enight:
While waiting for the neighborhood parking garage to open one evening, the writer saw five young men hanging out. On the trunk of their car were two large pizza boxes and five Snapple bottles. The guys were having a great time - but their horsing around was getting out of hand. The extra pizza slices were being thrown around and the empty Snapple bottles were smashed on the pavement. The observer wrote that he was getting angry at the mess and noise, but did not want take on five rather large young men alone, so he remained in his car.
That's when the clown appeared. A real clown - greasepaint, a big rubber nose, baggy clothes, big floppy shoes - the whole clown bit. He looked as if he had just stepped out of the Ringling Brothers circus tent. Apparently he was on his way to entertain at a child's birthday party.
When the clown came upon the scene, he said nothing. He walked to the trunk, picked up one of the boxes and stooped down to pick up the broken glass and pizza globs on the street. The clown then walked to the corner and deposited the mess in a trash container. The young men were dumbfounded. When he had finished, the clown walked up to the five and passed his hat. The five sheepishly dug into their pockets and gave him their change. The clown bowed and went on his way. (from The New York Times’ "Metropolitan Diary." (June 21, 2010))
As one author put it after reflecting on that story: “We are not the center of the world, that realization that we are part of a much larger "circus" than our own little "sideshow." That is the Gospel value of humility: to realize that all the blessings we have received are the result of the depth of God's love & grace and not because of anything we have done to deserve it.” (Jay Cromier)[As Halloween approaches I love wearing my jesters hat, for it reminds me that I play the fool if I take myself too seriously and am too prideful.]
May God help us to remain humble so that we don’t think more highly of ourselves than we ought too and may God be merciul. Amen.