My youngest daughter asked me to read some fairy tales to her this evening. She found a book entitled, “The World’s Best Fairy Tales” that was published in the late 1960’s. As I began reading aloud, my oldest daughter found her way into the room, too. The first tale was called “The Golden-Headed Fish.” It became clear to me that many parts of the story sounded very familiar. Then I realized that the Book of Tobit in the Bible seemed to share certain themes with this fairy tale: an elderly person suffering from blindness, a fish that could help cure this, a servant who had amazing abilities to help, and even a beautiful, young lady whose husbands had all died on their wedding night. Although the Book of Tobit was written in the 2nd Century B.C., the Golden-Headed Fish is an Armenian fairy tale that was translated into English then published in the late 1800’s. The date of origin seems to be unknown.
The next tale was the well-known “Hansel and Gretel.” Both girls knew this story but had forgotten certain parts of it. As I read to them the beginning part of the story where the father is worrying because he cannot provide their daily bread, I said to them both, “Well, I guess he didn’t have a very strong faith in God.” My youngest said, “Mom, they don’t seem to believe in God in a lot of these fairy tales.”
Both of my girls had read more recent, revised versions of Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales from the library. In this 1960’s version, the step-mother was wanting to abandon the children. The new version didn’t show this ugly side of human nature. As we moved through the story, and we arrived at the section where Hansel and Gretel are alone deep in the forest by themselves at night, Hansel said to Gretel that they should rely on God. This also struck my daughters’ ears. “Mom, they never mention God in the new version at all. Hansel and Gretel never even say anything like that.”
Well, why do I find this surprising? To sum up: the most recent revisionist fairy tales present a milk toast version that is politically correct and has not only made human nature remarkably unspoiled, but it has also nixed the idea of needing to rely on God for anything. And we wonder why our children and our world have troubles? You will have to wait for my future post when I tell you what they have done to “The Little Red Hen.”
I am embarrassed to admit how many times I have read the story of the Temptation of Jesus in Matthew Chapter 4 but never even realized what exactly Jesus was doing here. All along, I thought that Jesus was outwitting the Devil! I was so focused on how Jesus could not be trapped by Satan and his empty promises, that I assumed that Jesus was just a better debater. I fundamentally overlooked the most important part of this Gospel and it has affected me terribly in life.
Let me start at the beginning:
- Jesus is “led by the Spirit.” That explains my first mistake. I have lived my life basically leading myself–my goals, my dreams, my life. Really, I did not leave a whole lot of room for the Spirit to even visit, let alone lead me anywhere. I wasn’t open to this or aware of the need for it as a young person.
- “To be tempted by the Devil.” Okay, so this should have taught me that in reality there are going to be temptations in life that are brought on by the devil. I live in a time when most people no longer believe or teach that Satan is real. And don’t even mention “sin” because according to those same people, sin no longer exists either. (P.S. I now know that these are both big lies!)
- “He fasted for forty days and forty nights.” I think about the self-mastery necessary to fast for this long, and realize that Jesus knew that he must cleanse himself first before facing “other.”
- “And afterwards he was hungry.” Do you want to know who you really are? Let yourself get really hungry–do not eat for an entire day or two while still maintaining your usual work load. By the end of the day, review how you have acted towards those around you. How kind were your words? Did you help others before helping yourself? Could you maintain your peace? When I am hungry, I feel my inner toddler coming out and it is not pretty at all. I can only imagine if I had to face Satan after 40 days of fasting. Would I have the inner fortitude to survive?
- “The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” He said in reply, “It is written: ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.’” A-Ha! Eureka! This is the passage that blew my mind and our good Pope Francis was the one who broke it open for me. Jesus was NOT, I repeat, NOT arguing with the Devil. He was quoting God! He turned to verses from the Jewish Scriptures (Old Testament for Christians) and quoted God to the Devil. In fact, every single reply that Jesus makes is from the Scriptures.
Now, maybe you are reading this and wondering why I am so excited about this Eureka moment. I think it is because I have lately been seeing very clearly just how duped we are by Satan and his empty promises. People that I know and love are trapped by their ignorance of Satan and his lies and cannot even see it. I was becoming a bit depressed or despairing because I could not figure out how God could expect us to battle such a strong enemy with our limited human capacities. I mean, really? Human versus Angel is not a very difficult contest! That’s when I realized what a gift the Word of God is for us. We already have the answers we need to combat Satan, if we are willing to spend time turning to God’s Word and his Church in our times of temptation. If Jesus Christ, Son of God, would not directly engage with Satan, then neither will I. As for me, I will let Christ’s example teach me how to fight this enemy!
I would not say I am a risk-taker, but I did choose to throw myself off a 7-story building when I was in high school. It took a lot of courage to do it and here’s why: I was being held only by a rope and spotted by others down on the ground. Of course, I had been rappelling over a few smaller cliffs and had trained to get to this point.
Standing on the ledge of a 7-story building can change your perspective. I wondered if I would really go through with this. I remember the feeling of backing up to the edge of the ledge and realizing that I just had to go for it. Talk about understanding the meaning of trust! I had to trust that I had reliable equipment, knowledgeable instructors and attentive spotters.
At this point, many people would choose to walk away, but not me! There was an added dilemma to this whole ordeal. We were working from a building that the fire department uses for practice on high-rise fires which meant that there were no windows. The building was just a concrete structure with giant holes shaped like rectangles for the windows. I remember my instructor saying, “Just be careful not to swing sideways because you don’t want to swing into an open window hole. That would be bad.” As he is saying this, I am immediately thinking of all the variables that could make that happen, like wind, my trembling hands, and lack of experience. It took a lot of courage, but in the end, I jumped. I followed all the rules that I had learned to safely rappel. When I got to the bottom, I was ready to go again.
This is how it is to trust God’s will for us. Often, we must jump without knowing with certainty how things will land. Isn’t that the definition of faith? Such a simple word, but so hard to put into practice. God will give us the grace we need in those moments, just like I had the equipment and people to help me jump. God has also given us some very wise instruction in His Word (also known as the Bible). God has considered all the variables and knows how to help those work for our good. And when we land safely, we are so happy to know that we have true faith and we are ready to go further, higher, deeper, wider for our good God. And maybe even bring some others along to try it, too!