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Consider the Monkeys!


Isaiah 41: 10, 17-20; Matthew 6:26-30

Most of the “founding fathers” gathered in Philadelphia in 1776 for the Continental Congress were wealthy citizens. In some cases, extremely wealthy – and many even had slaves. But Thomas Jefferson was not a wealthy citizen. He was chronically cash-poor, which is why he jotted down his daily expenditures down to the last penny.

Thanks to those ledgers, we have learned so many interesting things about Jefferson around the crucial days leading to the historical meeting in Philadelphia early on July 4, 1776. We have learnt, for instance, that on May 7 of that year, Jefferson set out for Philadelphia in a small carriage drawn by two horses.

His first lodgings there were so unsuitable, that on May 23 he moved to Market and Seventh Streets, where he was staying when the Continental Congress entrusted him with the creation of one of the most significant documents ever written: “When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for the people to dissolve the political bands. . .”.


More than once I’ve wondered, how would I myself prepare well to write something as fundamental as the Declaration of Independence? Where would I draw inspiration from? I don’t know, but as Jefferson approached that historic moment, we read that on May 24 he paid someone named Hillegas 28 shillings “for fiddle strings.” On May 27 he spent “one and seven” for toys. On May 28 he gave 2 shillings “for a doll.” During those days he also bought a pair of boots and a hat, but evidently by the end of May he was seriously preparing to write, because on June 1st — he spent “two and six” on paper. And on that same day he apparently solved his creative crisis by doing something unbelievable he spent “one shilling for seeing a monkey.”


Wait a minute! Did you see “Seeing a monkey”? We have a revolution on our hands . . . and Thomas Jefferson is off looking at a monkey?” “Where is the delegate from Virginia whom we appointed to draft our Declaration of Independence?” “Tom? Oh, well, he took the day off to go to the zoo!”

In those days there weren’t any zoos, and there weren’t any PBS programs on nature, so every day at least in Philadelphia you could not see a monkey. But somehow Jefferson heard about someone who had a monkey, and that guy obviously charged for showing it around.


How do you explain such a constitutional “frivolity”? Now, can we describe this incident as something “frivolous?” How can we say that “seeing monkeys” is unimportant, irrelevant, or useless, let alone frivolous? In God’s own draft, monkeys have their place, don’t they? God did not instruct Noah to remove the gangway when his monkey couple was about to enter the ark before the Flood! I believe we still have many reasons to have and to watch and to appreciate monkeys.


In the first place, by looking at them we can get some insight into our own body language and behavior, can’t we? But perhaps the very best reason is sheer delight, for monkeys are part of God’s wonderful creation. God said, “Let there by monkeys.” God wanted monkeys. And they are part of God’s plan.

Thus, my friends, “consider the monkeys – not only the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. . .And think twice before asking Jesus questions like this one: “Jesus, you’ve got the whole world to save, all the accumulated stupidity and discrimination and violence and greed of the world to atone for . . . How come you waste your time and ours by asking us to consider the lilies and the birds – and even the monkeys?” “Please, Jesus, give us a break! No more lilies and sparrows, let alone monkeys!”


Jesus’s invitation to consider lilies and sparrows, and even monkeys speak volumes about Jesus’s genuine compassion for what we might consider insignificant and useless around us – lilies and birds, and even monkeys. But also, the elderly if we are young, the children if they annoy us, the “illegals” if the economy is bad, the Muslims if we are Crusaders. . . and so on. Jesus is inviting us to consider that at least in God’s blueprint for our lives, no one is so irrelevant, so useless, they cannot be a part of our own extended family in Christ.


But there is something more to Jesus’ wisdom here – in fact, Jesus, who knew the weight of the world, also knew the secret of allowing himself to be lifted by sinners and children and lilies and birds and, yes, even monkeys!

There are those moments in life, my friends, when our own mental powers and resources are no longer enough. Moments when the weight of our own day-to-day lives burden us beyond belief – and we can’t stop worrying about everything day and night, night and day.

Suddenly we find ourselves in a dead-end alley, lost all our creativity, overwhelmed by tough challenges, like drafting a “constitution” or saying “yes” to a potential spouse, or deciding to buy a house, or quitting our job for ethical reasons, of “placing” our ailing parents in a nursing home. Moments when we might need to rediscover that our growth and accomplishments no longer depends on what we are doing or can do, but rather on the possibility that God’s grace may lift us up and do it with us, together. And it is in those moments when our gracious God wants to remind us that he is still right here with us, never far away, ready to provide for us plenty of fresh water and mana the way he provides food for the sparrows and beautiful clothes for the lilies. I love the way Jesus puts this reassuring message together.

Buckeystown people — “Look at the birds –they do not plant seeds, gather a harvest and store it in barns, yet your Father in heaven takes care of them!” Buckeystown people — “Look how the wildflowers grow — they do not work or make clothes for themselves, yet not even king Solomon with all his wealth and glory had clothes as beautiful as one of these lilies.”

Thus, my friends, whenever you start worrying too much and too often about what you still don’t have or about what you may no longer have. When you can’t stop worrying about your “tomorrow,” don’t prevent monkeys from entering your imagination, let alone lilies and birds and kids, and even sinners.


Let me close with a word about an extraordinary woman of faith I got to know many years ago in Argentina. Dora had many reasons to worry every day, to live in a perpetual state of anxiety, yet she always faced her worries and anxieties with a deep sense of trust in the Lord, her whole life felt like a life without drama. Yes, she had many reasons to worry so much . . .A husband pastor who barely made a basic salary to keep their family of five running until till the next paycheck.

Imagine — three rowdy, intense, boys, and always starving, burning shoes and clothes at the speed of the light!

During twenty-five years of her married life, she also took care of both her parents. And quite often she opened her home to shelter runaway teenagers, abused women, and even “illegals.” She struggled with many physical ailments herself.

Still in her forties, one day her lovely black hair become ash color when someone called at two in the morning to let them know that two of their sons had been “disappeared” by the paramilitary police.

Dora was as much of a pastor as her husband. Stronger than her own husband, she never gave up, and whatever “free” time she found in her busy life, she spent it doing “mission” with her United Methodist Women unit and the national church. Always with a word of hope and joy in her lips. Everybody would stop by Dora’s home seeking her comforting wisdom.


One for Dora’s favorite Gospel stories was this one about lilies and sparrows – and monkeys, why not? She never stopped retelling this story — and folks would walk away with a new perspective in life, for her strong trust in a caring Lord was so contagious.

A series of strokes broke Dora’s body and mind when her husband, seriously ill himself, needed her more than ever. But she pulled herself from the ashes, like a Phoenix, and took care of her husband to the end. A few months later she felt she was ready to move on, this time to a lovely nursing home a few blocks from her apartment. Even there she continued witnessing to the God of lilies and sparrows.

And she died the way she had lived — with the blessing assurance that, in the worlds of the apostle Paul, “all things work together for good for those who love God.” (Romans 8:28)

On this Mother’s Day, I want to thank God for that extraordinary woman, Dora – Mi mother. The same woman who never stopped “preaching” to me about lilies and sparrows, and children, and illegals, and neighbors, and daisies, and teddy bears, and monkeys too.