Thursday, July 03, 2008

Proverbs and fingers

“The wise man points to the moon, but the fool looks at the finger”.

That is a Chinese (?Indian) proverb of which I had never heard until this morning when I read the final section of an interview with the new Jesuit Father General, Fr. Adolfo Nicolas(

It is a beautiful saying, one that has been rattling around in my brain for much of the day. I suppose it is another way of saying that we should not judge a book by its cover.

Proverbs are amazing! They distil so much concentrated wisdom within a few words and in a way that crosses language and culture. Perhaps a Zambian variant on the one used by Fr. Nicolas would be, ‘he who has a tongue does not lose himself in a forest’. In other words, if you are unsure, ask for advice.

My mother’s favourite proverb is ‘Today is the tomorrow that you dreaded yesterday, but now that it is here, all is well.’

We probably all use proverbs far more often than we realise. They are many, varied and so appropriate to every situation in life. We probably have many favourites. One of mine is ‘A cat may look at a king’, something I generally use to persuade myself to do something that most people would think crazy and actually takes a bit of courage to accomplish. A cat is a small and unimportant animal, but there is nobody to stop it investigating passing royalty. In fact it is quite likely to saunter up and rub against a convenient leg with a contented (and noisy) purr.

…but back to the finger…

Today is the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle. How did he feel when Jesus told him to put his finger into the wounds made by the lance and the nails? Embarrassed? Scared? Did he wish he had not opened his big mouth? Was he squeamish?

Yet just think about it for one moment. At a guess, the wounds of Jesus must have been pretty messy and unattractive to any onlooker. Who would seriously want to poke about in them? Thomas probably did not want to carry out his threat. Did he try to forget, for an instant, that he had hands and try to hide them under his cloak?

Yet if Thomas had looked no further than his fingers, he would not have seen the full reality of the Resurrection. His fingers went past the wounds and into a profession of faith, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus knew what he was doing. He was pointing to the Resurrection rather than the moon. Thomas would have been a fool had he thought no further than his finger.

“The wise man points to the moon, but the fool looks at the finger”.

God bless,

Sr. Janet