From the Catechetical Office
Why would God become a human being? That is a great mystery of love. Perhaps a parable – a story about ordinary, everyday reality that points to a greater truth – will help us understand why. Read this story about a little boy named Juan.
Juan was a boy about six years old. His family was poor, so Juan had few toys. Many times he went out into the alley behind the apartment buildings to bounce a ball off the brick walls or to pick through the garbage to find something to play with.
One day when Juan was scavenging, he found a glass bowl covered with grime. Because he had so few things, Juan saw a beauty in that bowl that we would probably miss. He was very excited. He took his discovery gently in his hands and walked to the apartment his family lived in and began to clean the bowl. When he was finished, Juan was delighted because he discovered that his bowl was perfect. No scratch or chip marred its beauty. Juan gingerly carried the bowl to the kitchen table, sat down, and admired the bowl.
After a short time, however, the thrill of discovery began to wear off, and Juan started to get bored. Then he had an idea. He would decorate his bowl. So Juan went down to the street and picked up a handful of shiny pebbles and pieces of wire and sticks. He took what he had collected back to his apartment, sat down again by his bowl, and set to work. Juan placed the pebbles on the bottom of the bowl and pretended they formed a roadway. Next he placed the wire and sticks among the pebbles and pretended they were bushes and trees. Then Juan had another idea. He got an old tin can, cut it in half lengthwise, placed it over the roadway, and pretended it was a tunnel. When Juan was finished, he looked upon his bowl with great pride – it was beautiful! Juan was happy again.
Soon, the wonder and charm of the bowl began to fade for Juan, and he began to lose that special thrill he had felt. Finally, Juan realised what he was missing; he had no one with whom to share his bowl, no one to enjoy what he had created. So Juan went to his mother. “Mama”, he said, “can I buy a goldfish to put in my bowl?” Juan’s mother thought for a long time, knowing they had very little money. When she looked into Juan’s eyes, however, she did what all mothers tend to do. She said, “All right” and gave him five dollars.
Juan’s ran to the store on the corner. He bought a beautiful goldfish, ran back to his apartment, filled his new bowl with water, and gently dropped the fish into it. Then Juan began to talk to his fish: “Swim along the roadway, fish. That’s why I put it there – to make you happy.” The fish merely swam around and around in the bowl, unaware of Juan’s handiwork. “Hey, why don’t you swim among the trees I made for you? That’s why I put them there – to make you happy.” The fish just kept swimming in circles, ignorant of Juan’s pleas. Finally Juan became so frustrated that he began to pound on the side of the bowl, demanding that his fish swim through the tunnel. Again no response. The fish kept swimming around and around.
Juan ran to his mother in tears. “Mama, why doesn’t my fish listen to me? I keep telling him what’s going to make him happy, but he won’t do what I say. Why?”
Juan’s mother was very wise. Gently she took Juan on her lap and said: ‘”Juan, the trouble is that you and the fish speak different languages. He doesn’t understand what you’re trying to tell him. The only way he could understand would be if you could become a fish, jump into the bowl, and swim along the roadway, among the trees, and through the tunnel. Then maybe the fish would watch you, see how you live in the bowl, and follow you.”
So Juan spent a lot of time wishing he could be a fish.
Let’s take another look at the story of Juan and see what truth it tells us about God and God’s relationship with us.
God’s longing to reach us
We live in this great goldfish bowl that we call the world. God created it and decorated it beautifully. But God and Juan both realised something was missing. God, like Juan, wanted to share this creation. Out of that great longing to share, God created people. God’s wish was that we would live together with God, sharing the wonders of Creation in harmony and love. With this gift, God was sharing not just the world, but God’s own self. We call this great gift grace – God’s life and love poured out to us.
Even though God reached out to share life and love with human beings, humans did not always accept that love. They insisted on having things their own way. Human beings seemed unable to understand the love that God was trying to offer them.
God tried to get through to the people by acting in wondrous ways in their history, freeing them from slavery in Egypt. And when the people sinned, God sent great prophets – people who remind us of Juan pounding on the side of the bowl in frustration as he tries to get the fish to follow his commands. In a similar way the prophets called the people back to an awareness of God’s grace. Like the fish in the story, the people could not or would not understand what God was trying to say. So they kept wandering around, ignoring the great life that God was holding out to them.
Juan, through his mother’s wise words, was given a great dream, the dream of becoming a fish so he could show his little fish how to enjoy the wonders of his bowl. God had a similar longing – to reach people intimately by becoming one with them. Juan could only dream his dream. But Christians believe that God’s longing became reality, for God became human in Jesus.
God took on humanity in Jesus in order to walk the roadways, among the trees, and through the tunnels of life just as we do, so that we might look at Jesus, see how he lived, and then follow his living model of life in God.
Taken from Understanding Catholic Christianity – Thomas Zanzig and Barbara Allaire