I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.
I love nuts, and throughout the day I will go to the various bags of nuts and grab a handful. One hand goes into the bag, but it takes two hands to get the nuts out because my hand gets stuck.
This principle of how knuckles work is a well-known trick in Southern India and the Philippines on how to capture monkeys. I have seen a 1912 video on how the locals in India captured monkeys for whatever their purpose – pets, meals, to sell. They cut off the top of a Calabash, or bottle gourd, which allowed an inquisitive or hungry monkey to reach into the hole to find a piece of fruit or rice placed within. The hole was wide enough to get their hand inside, but upon grasping the contents could not be removed. No matter the screaming or jumping around, their hand was securely caught within the trap, and they themselves became captured, losing their freedom and perhaps even their life.
The solution, of course, was obvious – just let go of the desired object and pull out the hand. But the monkeys would rather be captured while clinging to their desires rather than let them go.
Does this sound familiar to anyone? Let me share a simple example where many of us have our hands stuck in a trap, by clinging to something that simply isn’t true.
The author of our Bible verse was a man named Paul. He met Jesus on the road, was blinded by a great light, and was taken to Damascus where after three days he was healed, baptized by a believer named Ananias, and converted from Judaism to the teachings of Jesus.
In those days Greek-speaking Jewish men had two names – their Hellenistic/Greek name, and their Jewish/Hebrew name. Paul was the Greek name for this man and Saul was the Hebrew name. Most of us believe, unbiblically, that Jesus changed Saul’s name to Paul. But not so. In fact, in Acts 13:9 we read: “Saul, who was also called Paul, [was] filled with the Holy Spirit.” Paul had those two names prior to and after his conversion.
Is our hand stuck in a jar? I know some of you are going to go home and review the book of Acts. But this is a small example of us listening to what others have said that was not accurate, and getting our hand stuck in that calabash.
Paul was a leader of his Jewish church and was pretty much the cat’s meow when it came to his life as a Jewish Pharisee within the prestigious tribe of Benjamin. After his conversion however, he was reviled by other Jews, beaten a few times, and even thrown into prison several times. Paul serves as an example of a tremendous fall from worldly favor to being lifted to Divine favor.
Many of us have gone through this in our lives; we may even be living through it right now – feelings of worldly loss. We’ve lost a loved one, or a job, or the ability to use our bodies like when we were young. During the Covid close downs we felt a loss of community, or the freedom to go and do what we wished.
Feelings of loss are not foreign to our earthly journey. It is how we react to these feelings that directs our lives. As Psalm34:18 shares: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
Our challenge as human beings is to keep our minds and hearts on the divine goals and release the worldly obstacles that hold us back. Many of us are walking around with our hands stuck in a calabash. We are easy to spot. We walk around bumping our trapped hand into walls and other people. We hurt ourselves and others because our minds have us trapped in false or useless activities and beliefs. We cling to anger, old hurts, insults, opinions, and we are unable to function optimally.
This loss leaves a hole, and we try to cover our pain and dysfunction with worldly solutions: alcohol, sex, drugs, eating, binge shopping, binge television watching. We reach into our worldly gourd and cling to those solutions, still unable to find peace and balance because we are stuck.
People often ask themselves, if Jesus is supposed to bring peace and joy to my life, why do I not feel those uplifting feelings? The answer is frustratingly simple: God wants us to put Him first. It is impossible to follow Christ while our hand is stuck in the world. We can’t follow Jesus and … pursue worldly temptations. We can’t give our hearts to Spirit, and to food, or alcohol. Christ promises us his abiding presence, eternal life, forgiveness, transcendent peace, truth that will free us, answered prayers, love, joy, fruitfulness in good works, spiritual rewards, a heavenly home. What other worldly replacement can give us those things?
Unlike the monkey with his hand stuck in a gourd, we have choices. We have a magnificent brain that can clearly differentiate the correct path if we attune to Christ. Christ gives us the direction, but we have to choose to move in that direction. We can pray all day long to love our neighbor, but if we cling to hatred and bigotry, we cannot follow that commandment.
We have heard the phrase, “Let go and let God,” so often that we sometimes ignore its wisdom. As humans, we need to let go of whatever we are clinging to.
Once upon a time, there was a wise Zen master. People traveled from far away to seek his help. In return, he would teach them and show them the way to enlightenment. On this particular day, a scholar came to visit the master for advice. “I have come to ask you to teach me about Zen,” the scholar said.
Soon, it became obvious that the scholar was full of his own opinions and knowledge. He interrupted the master repeatedly with his own stories and failed to listen to what the master had to say. The master calmly suggested that they should have tea.
So the master poured his guest a cup. The cup was filled, yet he kept pouring until the cup overflowed onto the table, onto the floor, and finally onto the scholar’s robes. The scholar cried “Stop! The cup is full already. Can’t you see?”
“Exactly,” the Zen master replied with a smile. “You are like this cup — so full of ideas that nothing more will fit in. Come back to me with an empty cup.”
This story reminds us that we need to stay humble, open ourselves to new ideas, and be willing to change our preconceptions. We need to release our grasp on what we desire and hold dear to us so that we can free our hand and free our minds and hearts to what Christ wants us to know.
As we get older, we run the danger of filling our cups with our experiences and knowledge and becoming obstinate, inflexible, and closed to any other opinion. It is always a good policy to say, “Thank you,” to any advice or opinion, and ask them to elaborate. We may not ever agree with them, but we can learn to understand why they think the way they do, and this opens an avenue for future discussion and sharing.
Without knowing it, our desire for control causes cause in our spiritual lives. Our plans are not God’s plans. Release them and let God work through us. Other people are not in our control, and we cannot change their behavior or thoughts. Let them go and let Christ do his work though them. Shiny achievements and recognition soon fade. Christ tells us in Matthew 6:19-21 - “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
As spiritual beings living in a physical world having a human experience, we seek to find balance as children of God between our human and divine natures. As part of this search, we need to remember that beyond any moral or worldly achievements, what is most valuable is knowing Christ and developing an intimate relationship with Spirit. Compared to Christ, anything the world can offer is rubbish, garbage, or as the original Greek word intimates, it is a pile of refuse – why you bring gloves and a plastic bag when out walking your dog.
We are instructed to release our love of worldly wealth so that we can gain heavenly treasure. We are taught to let go of our desires for earthly possessions to attract the divine abundance of love, peace, and joy. With the intention of increasing our awareness of Christ we are encouraged “not to lean on our own understanding” and reduce the ego. I pray that we realize that we are not monkeys, we are not slaves; we choose to lose it all to gain it all. I leave you with Ephesians 3:20 - “Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”