“It is said that a good parable is like a good joke. A joke has a story that is told with points of reference and then at the end there is a punch line, something that is completely unexpected and, if you have understood the points of reference, the punch line makes you laugh. But if you miss the points of reference, the punch line is not funny at all. And when the points of reference are later explained, you may say, “Oh, I see,” but you will not laugh.
Picasso - The Three Musicians
Let me illustrate with this joke: Pablo Picasso surprised a burglar at work in his studio. The burglar got away, but Picasso told the police he could do a rough sketch of what he looked like. On the basis of his drawing, the police arrested a mother superior, a washing machine, and the Eiffel tower.
Did you laugh? If not, why not? It really is a good joke ==>
What are the points of reference in this joke? Pablo Picasso is the main point of reference and if you do not know who he is, the joke will not mean anything to you. You have to know that Pablo Picasso is a famous artist but even that is not enough. You have to know that a portrait of someone by Picasso is likely to have eyes and other body parts where they do not belong and there may be extra body parts in the picture. So a rough sketch of the burglar would not show any resemblance at all to the burglar. This leads to the punch line that on the basis of his drawing, they arrested a nun, a washing machine and a triangle shaped building. Each of these looked as much like his drawing as the burglar. The joke pokes fun at the art style of Picasso.
If you know the points of reference of a joke, you will laugh when the punch line is delivered. But if you do not know the points of reference, who Pablo Picasso is or what kind of art he made, then that has to be explained and at the end you will say, “Oh, I see,” but you will not laugh. The joke will not be funny. Your eyes though seeing did not see and your ears while hearing did not hear ..
The same is true with the parables. Because we do not live in the culture of Palestine at the time of Jesus, we sometimes miss the points of reference and they need to be explained to us. And when they are, we understand the punch line at the end and say, “Oh, I see,” but we miss the power of the parable. We do not experience the parable in the same way that Jesus’ hearers did ..”2
What is the point?
If the message is important, it is also important to understand and remember it. Humorous stories, like parables, help us to remember the point of the story. Those who work with me at the Magrath Pharmacy may have noticed that I like a good pun. In fact, I have rarely met a pun so bad that I couldn't put it to good use. The nice thing about bad puns is that they are so good. Unfortunately for those of you not with me in my head, what sometimes seems obviously hilarious to me on the inside is sometimes met with blank confused stares or polite quiet oh-that-was-supposed-to-be-funny laughs .. on the outside - from my children, grand-children or other co-workers. Arlen is clever, and by now knows how my mind works adn many of my bad jokes, and often steps in to try to explain the meaning to the others. Thanks, Arlen. Perhaps you would care to take a few moments now .. .. to explain the real meaning of this talk .. .. just kidding.
With that preamble, let me attempt my own parable.
“Once upon a time, there was a mad scientist named Dr Frankenberry .. I don't know why they called him mad, he was actually very sweet .. but regardless, one day Dr Frankenberry decided to make himself an assistant, a servant, a helper, out of the spare parts he found just lying around his farm. No Dr Frankenberry wasn't a farmer, he just happened to live on a farm, and I like saying his name .. Dr Frankberry. Anyway, he tried all kinds of ways to succeed but none of them ever seemed to work. Amazingly enough though, one day he was able to put together a living entity, using a head of lettuce, a celery heart and using potatoes for eyes and corn for ears and a large onion to smell and for tears. Don't laugh, it's true. Dr Frankenberry named his creation Mr Potatohead. Mr Potatohead was considered quite wise, since no mouth had been found for him and never was he heard to say anything unkind or unwise. It's better to be seen than to be heard anyways. Unfortunately, in the end poor 'Mr P' only lived for that one day, and despite heroic efforts and even after being put on life-support at the horse-pital, by dinnertime he was pronounced a vegetable (again). The end.”
“The divinely created human body, with its truly marvelous powers and intricate parts, acquired new meaning when the Lord spoke of eyes that were not blinded but did really see, ears that were not stopped but did truly hear, and hearts that were not hardened but did know and feel. In his teachings he referred to the foot, the nose, the face, the side, the back. [Monson Oct 1972]”
This evening when you eat your supper, think of poor Mr Potatohead and ponder the inner meaning of the celery hearts in your salad that do not know or feel, the ears of corn on your plate that cannot hear, sitting beside the gravy and mashed potatoes with eyes that cannot or will not see. Remember, you are what you eat ..
President Monson continued, saying: “Significant are those occasions when he spoke of yet another part—even the human hand. Considered by artists and sculptors the most difficult member of the human body to capture on canvas or form in clay, the hand is a wonder to behold. Neither color, size, shape, nor age distorts this miracle of creation.”
First, let us consider the hand of a child. Who among us has not praised God and marvelled at his powers when an infant is held in one’s arms. That tiny hand, so small yet so perfect, instantly becomes the topic of conversation. No one can resist placing his little finger in the clutching hand of an infant. A smile comes to the lips, a certain glow to the eyes, and one appreciates the tender feelings which prompted the poet to pen the lines: “A sweet new blossom of humanity, fresh fallen from God’s own home, to flower on earth.” (Gerald Massey.)
As the child grows, the tightly clutched hand opens in an expression of perfect trust. “Take me by the hand, Mother; then I won’t be afraid” bespeaks this confidence. The delightful song the little children sing so beautifully at once becomes a plea for patience, an invitation to teach—even an opportunity to serve:
“I have two little hands folded snugly and tight,
They are tiny and weak yet they know what is right,
During all the long hours till daylight is through,
There is plenty indeed for my two hands to do.
“Kind Father I thank thee for two little hands,
And ask thee to bless them till each understands
That children can only be happy all day
When two little hands have learned how to obey.”3
The power of Story and Song
Along with parables and interesting stories, another memory aid is song. If you already know the song, how many words would it take for you to guess the entire song title? 1 word, 2? 5 or 10? And if it is sang rather than simply spoken, how many notes would it take? Music and their corresponding messages in words and lyrics are another powerful teaching aid. Use it's power for good.
I find it interesting that we are 'directed' to sing in almost all our meetings, at commencement and at their close and sometimes in the middle as well. Why? It helps us to remember. And why is remembering important?
In our sacrament prayer, we promise to 'always remember him'. We are to remember to try to be like him. If we remember and do as he would do, he remembers us.
Pres Monson again: “Should added emphasis be required, we need but refer to that account where the disciples came unto Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? ['Hands' Monson Oct 1972]
“And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them,
And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.
But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matt. 18:1–3, 5–6.) Significant is the hand of a child.
Second, may we turn our attention to the hand of youth. This is the training period when busy hands learn to labor—and labor to learn. Honest effort and loving service become identifying features of the abundant life. Each was effectively taught the girls in the Mutual class when cookies were baked and taken by them to elderly women residing in a neighborhood rest home. The aged hand of a lonely grandmother clasped that of the thoughtful teenager. No word was spoken. Heart spoke to heart. The hand that baked the cookies was raised to wipe a tear. Such hands are clean hands. Such hearts are pure hearts.
Then comes that day when the hand of a boy takes the hand of a girl, and parents suddenly realize their children have grown. Never is the hand of a girl so delicately displayed as when there glistens on her finger a ring denoting a sacred pledge. Her step becomes quicker, her countenance brighter, and all is well with the world. Courtship has come. Marriage follows. And once again two hands are clasped, this time in a holy temple. Cares of the world are for a brief moment forgotten. Thoughts turn to eternal values. The clasped hands speak of promised hearts. Heaven is here.
Time passes. The hand of a bride becomes the hand of a mother. Ever so gently she cares for her precious child. Bathing, dressing, feeding, comforting—there is no hand like mother’s. Nor does its tender care diminish through the years.
At general and stake and at ward conference, hands are raised to sustain a prophet, a seer, and a revelator—even the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Our upraised hands were an outward expression of our inward feelings. As we raised our hands, we pledged our hearts.
Finally, may we speak of yet another hand—even the hand of the Lord. This was the hand which guided Moses, which strengthened Joshua—the hand promised to Jacob when the Lord declared: “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God; … I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” (Isa. 41:10.)
This was the determined hand which drove from the temple the money changers. This was the loving hand that blessed little children. This was the strong hand that opened deaf ears and restored vision to sightless eyes. By this hand was the leper cleansed, the lame man healed—even the dead Lazarus raised to life. With the finger of this hand there was written in the sand that message which the winds did erase but which honest hearts did retain. The hand of the carpenter. The hand of the teacher. The hand of the Christ. One called Pontius Pilate washed his hands of this man called King of the Jews. Oh foolish, spineless Pilate! Did you really believe that water could cleanse such guilt?
“I think of his hands pierced and bleeding to pay the debt!
Such mercy, such love, and devotion can I forget? …
Oh, it is wonderful that he should care for me enough to die for me!
Oh, it is wonderful, wonderful to me!”
—Hymns, no. 80
Pitied is the hand that sins. Envied is the hand that paints. Honored is the hand that builds. Appreciated is the hand that helps. Respected is the hand that serves. Adored is the hand that saves—even the hand of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Redeemer of all mankind. With that hand he knocks upon the door of our understanding.
“Behold, [he] stands at the door, and knocks: if any man hear [his] voice and open the door, [He] will come in to him. …” (Rev. 3:20.)
Let us remember and learn to have ears to hear, eyes to see, hearts that feel, and hands that do good and work to be more like Him, in the name of Jesus Christ.
- 1 'Hands' Thomas S. Monson 1972- October 1972 General Conference
- 2 timschaaf.wordpress.com/2012/10/10/how-parables-work/
- 3 The Children Sing, no. 97