Buridan’s Ass is a paradox named after Jean Buridan, a French Philosopher of the 14th century. Buridan creates a humorous (though not for the donkey) and hypothetical situation wherein a hungry donkey finds itself equidistant between two bales of hay. Used to going to the bale closest, or the only bale, the donkey freezes in indecision and starves.
At The Deanery, we have an equivalent dilemma known as “Georgie’s Sticks”. When Georgie, our dog, has one stick she is as happy as a…well…as a dog with a stick! She is animated and very focused, giving total attention to the stick and the potential stick thrower.
Trouble emerges when she has two sticks in proximity. Now she is anxious and frenetic, darting between one stick and the other. Having secured one stick she frets that Annie (our other dog who has never quite got the whole “stick “thing) will take the other. Georgie becomes more frenzied, wearing herself out without enjoyment or contentment.
What of this? It is obvious to us and I hope to you, that Georgie is happier and more content with one stick. She is not distracted, anxious, diverted, unable to settle or enjoy what is in front of her.
Turns out we are not much different. We need simpler lives, less cluttered and more attuned and attentive. We need to strive for the one thing necessary, and not spend our lives climbing the ladder, only to find it was leaning against the wrong wall. Less is more. We seek possessions only to find too often that they possess us. A rich young ruler with good intentions came to seek answers from Jesus, who pointed him to the “the one thing necessary.” In this light Jesus’ telling him to give his possessions away to the poor is not so harsh as kind. Jesus is trying to help him part with the second stick, the second bale of hay.
To return to Georgie, when she has her one stick; she is all focus between the stick at her paws and me (thrower of said stick). She is attentive to my every movement and command; alert, ready, poised and off without hesitation whenever and wherever the stick is thrown. This is the ADVENT way, the heart of discipleship as we shall see in the coming weeks; readiness and attentiveness.
Today’s Gospel provides a twist much as the rich young ruler felt at the end of his encounter with Jesus. This attentiveness is not just a comforting idea or esoteric exercise, but a radical reordering of community and society. When we look up attentively with undivided hearts, we might see Jesus but Matthew 25 suggests that we should be ready to see him in the face of the sick and dying, hungry and dispossessed, the homeless and prisoners, and all who are excluded and suffering. “What you do for the least of these you do for me”, says Jesus. He does not say “if you find this difficult, try to imagine it is me…”He says “you do it to me.”
If only, we say, if only Jesus was here now. He is, he is all around us.
We often pray that God will be with us, and indeed the incarnation we soon celebrate is about God coming to us where we are. “The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood” (Message translation). It is also true that we need be where he is, and if he is with the broken, hurting and excluded then that is our neighbourhood too. When I wonder where Jesus is, or why he seems so far away, I might do well to check my postcode. I might this Advent start looking for where he is, and like religious before, be a little shocked and challenged by where I find him.