Thursday, March 8, 2012

How do you steal from a giant?

In the classic fairy tale “Jack and the Beanstalk”, Jack is a young lad living with his widowed mother. Their only means of income is a cow. When this cow stops giving milk Jack is sent to the market to sell it. On the way, he meets an old man who offers to give him "magic" beans in exchange for the cow. Jack takes the beans but when he arrives home with no money and no cow, his mother gets angry and throws the beans out the window, sending him to bed without supper.

As Jack sleeps, the beans grow into a gigantic beanstalk. The next day, Jack climbs it and arrives in a land high up in the sky. There he follows a road to the home of an ogre. He enters the house and asks the ogre's wife for food. She complies, but the ogre appears and senses that a human is nearby:

“Fee-fi-fo-fum,” chants the ogre, “I smell the blood of an Englishman. Be he alive, or be he dead I'll have his bones to grind my bread!”

Jack is hidden by the ogre's wife, overhears him counting his money, and bravely steals a bag of gold coins as he makes his escape down the beanstalk. Jack repeats his journey two more times, each time he is helped by the increasingly suspicious ogress and narrowly escapes with one of her husband’s treasures.

During Jack’s third venture, he wakes the ogre up from his afternoon nap and the chase is on. Jack is almost caught, but chops the beanstalk down before his pursuer reaches the ground, killing the ogre. Jack and his mother then live happily ever after with their new riches.

Jack and his mother were probably not people of faith. But his mother’s questions: “What do we need to do to get money?” and “Why doesn’t God answer my prayer?” are answered by Jesus anyway. In John 9:3, Jesus answers the question of why prayers may or may not be answered. In Luke 18, He reminds us ‘how’ the simple intricacies of prayer work and in Luke 11, He tells us ‘what’ we need to do so God might work on our behalf. If Jack and his mother were asking any questions of God, it was this third one. All three of these questions have been addressed elsewhere (see “Why do Bad things happen to Good People?”, “Miracle on Fox Street” and “We’ve Got to Pray Just to Make it Today!”). Here we will focus on the question which Jack and his mother were asking. “How do I steal from a giant?”

In short, the answer is persistence. We may conclude: “if I see the giant once, I don’t want to see him again. He freaks me out!” and persistence is the last thing on our minds. I am sure that when Jack first saw the enormous house in front of him, he wondered why he climbed the bean stock in the first place. But his need for food was so great that he was determined to press on, rather than make his way, slowly and sheepishly back to his angry mother.

But in Luke 11, Jesus tells the story of a man who goes to his friend at midnight and, like Jack, asks for bread. Here the stories change, but the lesson is the same. In Jesus’ story, the man continues to knock on the door which remains shut. The only response he hears is a voice saying “Go away!” In Jack’s situation, though I am sure he was shaking in his shoes, the words of the ogress are kind. In Luke 11, we don’t know what the persistent knocker said to those on the inside, But Jesus says: “though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, it is because of your shameless audacity that he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.” (Luke 11:8) In the same way, the only way that Jack got what he got was by pleading, persisting and stealing.

Therefore, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door (however big it is) will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:9-10)

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