The scripture passage for this Sunday is Numbers 22:22-35 which is the story of Balaam and his talking donkey. I find the story of Balaam to be an interesting one and the talking donkey may be the most interesting part. But whenever I think of Balaam having a conversation with a donkey I think of two things. The first is the old TV show "Mr. Ed."
I loved watching reruns of Mr. Ed growing up but of course that was back in the days before we had cable and there weren't many mid-afternoon TV options if you weren't much of a Judge Wapner fan. It never struck me as odd to have a talking horse as a TV star and I was always amazed at how they were able to match the speaking and the movement of Mr. Ed's mouth.
The second thing that I always think of is C.S. Lewis' "The Chronicles of Narnia."
In the book "The Magician's Nephew" we have the story of two children, Digory and Polly, as they experience the creation of Narnia. It is a great book that was the sixth book of the series to be published but is the first book in chronological order. In the book we meet Digory's Uncle Andrew. Uncle Andrew is an unsympathetic man that is very selfish. Through the use of magic rings the kids, Uncle Andrew, a cabbie named Frank, his horse Strawberry and Queen Jadis end up in Narnia just as Aslan is creating the land.
Aslan gives certain animals the ability to speak:
"Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak. Be walking trees. Be talking beasts be divine waters."
It was of course the Lion's voice. The children had long felt sure that he could speak: yet it was a lovely and terrible shock when he did."*
And that was a fairly normal response to the first encounter with speaking animals by those that were "Friends of Narnia." Uncle Andrew, on the other hand, had a very different response:
And the longer and more beautiful the Lion sang, the harder Uncle Andrew tried to make himself believe that he could hear nothing but roaring. Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed. Uncle Andrew did. He soon did hear nothing but roaring in Aslan's Song. Soon he couldn't have heard anything else even if he wanted to. And when at last the Lion spoke and said, "Narnia awake," he didn't hear any words: he heard only a snarl. And when the Beasts spoke in answer, he heard only barkings, growlings, bayings, and howlings.**
Balaam's story is far different than an episode of "Mr. Ed" or even anything that happened in Narnia. It is a story of intrigue and deception. It is a story of blindness and sight. It is a story that I am really looking forward to exploring on Sunday morning.***
* C.S. Lewis, The Magician's Nephew, (New York: HarperCollins, 1983), 138-9.
** C.S. Lewis, 149-50
***Video of the sermon should be posted on Monday, November 21, 2011 or Tuesday, November 22, 2011