And the second is like, namely this: thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
One of the more controversial statements in our theology is that we are born into evils of every kind.
By some this has been interpreted in a way that really differs very little from the doctrine of
original sin, leaving us with the hopeless conviction that everything good about us is the Lord's and
that everything wrong with us is our own fault. Others find it running counter to their strong sense
of the beauty of babies. I'd like this morning to tell you a story, a fable, that may put this in a
somewhat different light.
We'll set the story once upon a contemporary time, in a country not far away. We'll suppose a happy
and healthy young couple, who, as the story begins, had just had their first child. Like his parents,
he was happy and healthy. They named him Richard, after his grandfather, who was a family favorite.
Little Richard did just fine. Before you realized it, he was rolling over, then crawling, then pulling
himself up, and he was just a little past eleven months when he took his first step. His parents
didn't brag about him too much, but secretly they knew that they had quite a remarkable child.
Of course they watched him constantly. They didn't want to miss anything. He might learn something new
any minute, and that very first time would never come again. That is why they were so quick to notice
that every once in a while, he would bump into something as though he hadn't even noticed that it was
The first time it happened was when a neighboring couple came over with their own little one. Their
child had a red wooden truck, and Richard's parents were a little worried that he would be unhappy if
he couldn't have it. At first they were relieved that he didn't pay any attention to it at all, but
when he tripped over it they were startled. He wasn't a clumsy child, and he looked so surprised.
"He was probably just a little tired, or perhaps more excited that we realized. it really was the
first time we've had company in the house for him to play with." And sure enough, the next time the
same company came, with the same red wooden truck, Richard didn't trip over it at all. In fact, he
gave it a little wider berth than he needed to, which set his parents wondering again.
The first time they took him to church and left him with the baby sitter, they were as anxious as any
new parents. After church, they barely shook hands with the minister before they hurried to find out
how things had gone. "Oh, he was just fine," said the sitter. "He's a very special fellow. I wish all
the children were as careful as he is--he's very mature for his age."
Now you need to remember that Richard was a first child, and that parents have a tendency to take
everything very seriously the first time around. Richard's parents started noticing every little
thing, and they became more and more puzzled. Sometimes Richard seemed quite heedless, and sometimes
he seemed unnecessarily cautious.
When it was time for his checkup, they both went to the doctor, and tried to explain what they were
worried about. The doctor checked Richard's eyes very carefully, and there was nothing wrong at all.
His coordination was fine, too, and they left the doctor feeling much better. "Children are
different," the doctor told them. "I wouldn't worry. He probably just gets wrapped up in his own
thoughts sometimes, and often that's a sign of unusual intelligence. He seems to remember the things
that have given him trouble, and then to be extra careful after that. When he does have one of his
surprises, just be reassuring, and I'm sure this will level itself out."
So Richard's parents got into the habit of reassuring him, just warning him now and again to pay
attention, and that seemed to be all that was needed. It helped particularly when they were in
unfamiliar surroundings. With just a little guidance, Richard would adjust very quickly.
So it came as a real surprise, after Richard started school, when his teacher said there might be
something that needed attention. It wasn't serious enough for a special call--she just mentioned it at
the regular parents' conference. It seemed to be the same old pattern, and it was strange that such a
bright boy could apparently fail to notice some very obvious things. The girl next to him had dropped
her crayon, and Richard had stepped on it. That sort of thing happened often enough, but Richard
didn't even seem to realize what he had done.
That brought back all the old anxieties, and the very next day Richard's parents made an appointment
with the doctor. Again, Richard turned out to be as healthy as he could be, but with the teacher
expressing concern, and not just a couple of first-time parents, the doctor thought there might
actually be some sort of problem. He recommended a very wise lady psychologist, to see whether perhaps
Richard himself was preoccupied with something he couldn't tell his parents about.
Richard took to her immediately, and so did his parents. After her first session, she said that he was
a particularly bright and thoughtful boy. She didn't think there were any serious problems, but there
were one or two things she didn't understand, and she would like to keep seeing him for a little
while. In the meantime, as far as she could tell Richard's parents were being very good parents, and
the best thing would be not to overreact, but to keep right on with the care and guidance Richard was
After a couple of months of visits, the psychologist said she wanted to talk to the parents. "Richard
has been doing drawings for me," she said, "and I think I've discovered what the problem is. Whenever
I ask him to draw something of his, like his house, or his toys, or his parents, he reaches for the
magic markers and does very nice and lively drawings. But when I ask him to draw someone else's house
or toys or parents, he just takes a pencil, and draws outlines. Once I asked him to draw a picture of
my desk, and he said he couldn't."
"I don't think there's anything deliberate about this. When I asked him why the picture of his house
looked different from the picture of his friend's house, he said it was because his friend's house
looked skinny, just like the picture. It seems to be the way he sees. Everything that is his looks
colorful and three-dimensional. Things that don't belong to him either look like outlines, or don't
look like anything at all."
"It would be a real handicap if he weren't so bright, but he has learned to cope with it remarkably
well. If I tell him that his friend's ball is blue, then he doesn't forget it. I described my desk to
him by comparing it to his play table at home, and then he did a pretty good drawing of it."
"You need to remember that there is nothing intentional about this. He is really a very considerate
fellow for his age--much more so than a lot of the children I see. You are very fortunate in that
respect. You will just have to do a lot of interpreting for him in new situations, and you can be very
sure that he will learn quickly, and have a normal life."
Richard's parents were good parents, and they quickly got used to talking to Richard about all sorts
of new things. It worked, too. Richard did well in school, and did well socially. He went to college,
and got a very good job with an insurance company. There was another new employee, Linda, and they
started sharing their experiences as the newcomers to the office. And then one morning, Richard's eyes
widened. "Linda," he said, "that dress is the most incredible shade of yellow I have ever seen."
We are all Richards, and because we are all Richards, that's what we regard as normal. We live in a
world full of feeling and thinking people, but the only feelings and thoughts that are in full color
and three dimensions for us are our own. We learn about others' indirectly, sometimes picking up
clues, sometimes having to be told. But if we persist, we can learn to love, and love, as our theology
tells us, is "feeling the joy of another as joy in oneself."
Only when that happens do we begin to see the world as it is. Until that time, our perception is as
handicapped as Richard's. There is nothing malicious about this, and we may hesitate to call it
"evil." But what else should we call it, when it is the source of all our inhumanity to each other?
If we ourselves felt the pain and grief we cause others, we would be immediately humane. If we
ourselves did feel the joy of others as joy in ourselves, we would be drawn to share everything that
gives us delight. What else shall we call it but evil, when it gives us such a distorted picture of
the world we live in?
There is a little more to it than that. Infants are responsive to the moods of those around them, and
sometimes that sensitivity comes to the fore. Babies may be wet and hungry and happy just because of
the happiness of those around them, and they may be dry and fed and miserable because of the tension
or anger in the room. The capability to perceive truly is there, and it can be developed. But it does
seem that we are born Richards, born with a vivid and overpowering sensitivity to everything that is
ours, and only dimly aware of what is others', born into evils of every kind.
Our theology has a great deal to say about dealing with this situation. It assures us that we have the
ability to love, and that through self-examination, repentance, and reformation of life, through
acting "as if," that ability will grow.
In the meantime, we might do well to be extra cautious. We might do well to move through life aware
that there is a great deal that we do not see, that as a matter of simple fact we do not see most of
the world. We might look and listen more intently, and give more weight to the little clues we do
notice. And we can do so knowing that this is a temporary expedient, that if we persist, the Lord will
surely bring us to see the world more truly as it is--in fact to love our neighbor as ourselves.Amen.