The Pinocchio Problem

Romans 12:1-18

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Matthew 25:14-30

14″For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'”



In 1881 the Italian author, Carlo Collodi starting writing a novel for children about an animated puppet named Pinocchio. He wrote it in serial fashion and part of the story was in the newspaper each week.
It was very popular. Pinocchio, the puppet come to life was a rascal without a conscience and at the end of chapter 15 in the original serialized version, dies a gruesome death, hanged for his innumerable faults. Collodi wrote the book as a fun book, but with a warning.

However the book was so popular that the editor of the newspaper suggested that he write more and have a happier ending, so Collodi went on to write chapters 16-36 where the Fairy with the Turquoise Hair rescues Pinocchio and eventually transforms him into a real boy.

According to Wikipedia it is the most widely read book in the world after the bible, being adapted in some 260 languages throughout the world.

I am not familiar with the book. I am familiar with the Disney movie version of the story with makes Pinocchio more likable, more naïve than bad, and more of a morality tale about the benefits of hard work.
But it is viewed as one of the greatest animated films ever made, and was the first animated film to win an Oscar.

Disney’s message may have been “work hard and good things will happen,” but Collodi’s was more of a social commentary on what he saw going on in his world and his culture, that of adults who were increasingly like Pinocchio without conscience, not growing up, and being a bunch of rascals.

And I thought of that as I was looking as the gospel text today, a text I have preached about many times.

It is the story of the talents. A man goes on a trip and he entrusts three servants with talents, five, two and one respectively.
A talent is a unit of measure and a talent of gold is estimated today to be worth something in the order of a million dollars…
So the listeners to Jesus’ story knew that the kind of money that was being entrusted to the servants was worth more than several lifetimes of income of the average worker. A huge amount of money.

Of course we know that Jesus is not really talking about money.
And one interpretation is to think that we have talents and abilities and if we do not use them we will lose them.

In fact that interpretation became so popular that the word “talent,” which originally was a measure of weight and value thousands of years ago, started to be used to apply to someone’s particular ability.

Most scholars agree that parables were not or are not stories with one right answer or interpretation but are kind of like ploughs that churn up the mind and till the mind and make you think and go deeper and therefore there can be layers of understanding and different meanings from one parable.

In a previous sermon I suggested that the first two servants followed the ways of the world with investment and money and power and control; and Jesus himself was the third servant who refused to buy into the ways of the world with power and control and the world of interest and making money on the backs of the poor, and so was rejected and put upon the cross.

But today I suggest something different. What if what the Lord were offering to us today, something so valuable it was worth lifetimes of income; and that something was a conscience… or what we in the church might call a soul or spirit.

And two people put their conscience, their inner being to work, and they grow up and mature and take responsibility.
They learn it isn’t all about them, nor all about self-gratification. They learn tolerance and respect for all people. They have a wider, inclusive view of the world and understand that there are no perfect people including themselves. They balance self-discipline with self-expression, work with play, freedom with boundaries, and me-time and family time. They understand the arts and metaphor and mystery as a way to access their deeper selves. They have a deep and abiding faith in love and forgiveness, and understand that every life is precious and has value. They know about hurt and pain and that so much conflict is the result of unresolved pain. They have accessed their own pain and sin and continue to work on healing and forgiveness for themselves and others.

But one person is a Pinocchio. It is all about what he wants and feels. His mottos are “I’ll try anything once.” And “nobody tells me what to do.” He doesn’t tolerate authority above him or have compassion for those lower on the socio-economic scale. There is no longing for the good, or deep understanding of evil. There is no past to emulate, no future to strive toward. There is no self-discipline, no boundaries, no laws that mean anything except what he wants to do.
Pain is avoided, hurt swept under the rug with pleasure or alcohol, or food, or entertainment, or sex or something that feels good.
If someone gets in the way you run them over if you are bigger or more powerful, or you manipulate them if you are less powerful.

In short this is an adult who continually lives as an adolescent in a me-world.

And the consequences are dire, not just for that person but for the whole human race. There will be darkness and gnashing of teeth,

A world run by adolescents who are more concerned about looking good to peers that what is right, or good, or loving or mature or safe.
There is no interior judge, no moral compass, no tradition of culture or religion that acts as a glue to hold the person together.

Robert Bly, poet, storyteller, lecturer workshop leader and author wrote a book entitled “the Sibling Society” which argued that when the sixties in essence threw out
the Indo-European, Islamic, Hebraic Impulse control system and sought freedom from repression and totalitarianism in religion, culture, politics and morality, the negative consequence was that they threw out the baby with the bathwater.
The baby of maturity and conscience and inner judge was thrown out with the bathwater of repression, control shaming and punishment.

He argues that we live in a world run by children and adolescents.
He cites as an example the movie Mrs. Doubtfire, in which the father played by Robin Williams in the beginning is so permissive that he trashes the house in a party for his kids without even telling his wife he is having a party in her house.
The wife, played by Sally Fields is the one stands alone for values of restraint and sensibility. And most of us who watched the movie thought the wife was the bad one.

It’s a Pinocchio World with lots of Pinocchios who have no sense of what is best for others or even for themselves.

And believe me I preach this not because I am all grown up and you aren’t but because I know those Pinocchio impulses all too well.
Our society feeds us it all the time. You can do whatever you want to do. Just do it. You can buy whatever you want now with a credit card. You are valued if you look good, feel good, spend money, have things, are entertaining.
Every day it seem there is another story of someone usually with money and power taking advantage of someone else, especially taking advantage sexually of young women or men.
Stories of takers in a me world… Where are their consciences, their developed spirits?
Instead we have story after story of another Pinocchio who is a lost boy or has turned into an ass, or maybe more accurately is a lost soul.

Maybe the truth is, in a scientific world we have lost the ability to develop and nurture our souls our spirits.

Maybe the truth is that the church as an institution has neglected the inner part of the human, and is more concerned about looking good than it is about helping people grow and mature and developing their inner being.

Who knows?

Louise Penny a Canadian novelist recently wrote a mystery book entitled “Glass Houses.”
It is number 13 in a series of books about Inspector Armand Gamache who solves murders.

What was intriguing was that in this book a strange figure appears at the beginning of the book dressed in black with a mask and nobody knows who it is. It appears in the little village of Three Pines in Quebec near the border of the United States.

And the figure just stops and stares all day standing in the middle of village green.

Eventually after some research they come to find out that it is a Cobrador.
In Spain a Cobrador is someone who dresses up, usually in a formal black suit, often with a top hat and briefcase, and then follows someone around day or night and just stands there not saying or doing anything, but pointing out to the whole world that this person has not paid a debt.
They never ask the person to pay the debt. They just stand there as a conscience.
And believe it or not it is remarkably effective. One company claims they are 80% effective in recovering debt.

So a Cobrador, a conscience, appears at the beginning of the novel except nobody know who the Cobrador is there for, or what the sin is that someone commits.
If you read the novel you will find out.
But that theme is deepened in the novel when the reader finds out that Gamache is prepared to perjure himself when he is being cross-examined, because he believes he needs to do so for a bigger and larger cause.
The writer has him quote Mahatma Gandhi who said one time: “There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supersedes all other courts.”

And the reader is plunged into this inner debate. Is our conscience higher than the courts of our land?

And here we have the exact opposite of Pinocchio. Pinocchio basically has no conscience, no moral compass, while the author causes Gamache to lie because the fictional Gamache’s moral and ethical compass is so high it supersedes all other courts.

If a Cobrador came to church today and looked at you, would you be full of shame? Would your conscience kick in and bring to mind your faults and your debts and I don’t just mean your financial ones.

I think it would for me, a bit any way.

And maybe that isn’t all bad. It would mean that at least I have a conscience.

It seems to me that Christ himself was the one who had a fully developed mature conscience. He stood up to unfair practices and challenged the ruling of religious leaders, He took scriptures and said that he had something new to say.
For instance
You have heard it said, “Love your friends and hate your enemies. But now I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

He touched the people who were considered unclean, he welcomed strangers and foreigners and women and children.
He said that cleanliness and uncleanliness was more about one’s heart and inner person, than external rules of who or what was touched.
He healed on the Sabbath and didn’t fast and stood up for the poor.
He challenged social convention, culture and church law because he said it was more important to love one another.

And today I want you to think of the Lord as handing out something more beautiful, more expensive, more valuable than all the tea in China and that is a soul or a spirit which contains your conscience.

Don’t bury in the ground. Cultivate it’s beauty with music, arts, with stories and metaphors.
Teach it with study and books and discussions and schooling
Nurture it with prayer and worship and interaction with the divine.
Enlarge it with interacting with those who are different and engaging people and ideas without your comfort zone.
Discipline it with a commitment to truth and to boundaries and to non-violence.
Soften it with compassion and forgiveness towards yourself and others.
Engage it by thinking about what it means to be a soul or spirit or to have a conscience.
Love it by loving yourself and others and loving God.
Know it by pursuing the inner journey, and examining yourself.

You know Collodi finished Pinocchio and in the end Pinocchio becomes a real boy. The turquoise (or blue fairy) transforms him.
It is a fairy tale ending but maybe it is a gospel ending too in its own way.

You too can learn from your misadventures and your soul or spirit which is wounded or broken or sinful or a bit like Pinocchio can be healed and transformed by your interaction with divine love.
You can die to the Pinocchio in you and be born again to be like Christ.
Well done good and faithful soul, enter into that joy of being like the Christ. Amen.