A Parable of Adding and Subtracting

bnfgnhfgI walked into the Eastside Elementary school for my first grade visitation hours with a sense of excitement. Three and a half years of schooling and all that stood in my way of graduation was my practicum of observing first grade math each week. Boy was I ready to be done and have my own class! The thought of it all was truly thrilling. I walked to Miss Brenda’s class and slipped in the door as she was teaching the little ones about how caterpillars became butterflies. She made eye contact and smiled as she carried on. She was a joyful lady whose heart was to teach children.

“Okay children, get your Math folder and sit down on the math rug.” All the children obliged and then I noticed him. An old man was already sitting on the math rug, specifically the number four. Miss Brenda made eye contact and could tell my concern. She lovingly rolled her eyes and took out her lesson. The man barely had any hair on his head and wore a nice two piece suit. How he could sit Indian style on the rug at his age amazed me.

“Okay class, what is one plus one?” All the children eagerly threw their hands up and squirmed with exciting anticipation until finally one child blurted out the answer. “SEVEN! The answer is seven. Its gotta be.” The old man quickly butted in and said, “The answer is two. C’mon kid. The answer is two.” Miss Brenda gently corrected the man telling him not to talk until he was recognized by her and then she moved on to the next question. The man did not seem to have any mental handicaps but was just rather enjoying himself. His eyes stayed on Miss Brenda and her every move. He was just waiting for the next problem.

“What is two minus one?” asked Miss Brenda. The elderly gentleman quickly shot his hand up saying, “me…me…me. Call on me. I know the answer!” Miss Brenda called on the student next to the man which did not make him happy but he was so enthusiastic about math he waited for the next one. The teacher said, “Okay, this one is hard. What is three plus two?” Before anyone could answer, the man jumped up exclaiming, “FIVE! FIVE! The answer is five!” Miss Brenda acknowledged the man and then humbly moved on. This went on for the remainder of the lesson.

The teacher told the students to grab their lunch boxes and line up at the door. As they walked out, I asked Miss Brenda if I could speak with the gentleman. She said, “Of course! Lou is a good man. He really loves mathematics.” Taken aback by her lack of concern, I casually strolled over to the man who was packing up his bag.

frw3f3“Hello sir. How are you?” I asked. “I’m doing great. There’s nothing like the thrill of subtraction and addition, right? Every time I do it, I feel like I come alive. I remember the first time I learned how to do it. It was the greatest day of my life. From then on, I viewed the world differently. Everything changed. It was as if I saw order and numbers everywhere!” I appreciated the man’s joy in math but I was bothered. “Sir, can I ask you something?” I hesitantly said. “Sure. Whatever you want” he replied.

“Why are you in a first grade math class answering addition and subtraction problems? I agree mathematics is great but…umm…shouldn’t you be doing other types of problems by now?” I sheepishly remarked.

The man looked at me very tenderly and answered, “There’s no need for me to learn all that other stuff. After subtraction and addition, it just gets more difficult and then there are all sorts of people saying different things. Everyone agrees on addition and subtraction. There’s no debate. This is enough. This satisfies me.” I took it all in and awkwardly said, “But sir, you’re obviously older than all these children. You should be at a different level by now. Just as the world opened up for you when you learned addition and subtraction, it can open up for you when you learn calculus, geometry, and all the rest. There’s more to learn and enjoy. There’s more to math than just adding and subtracting.” He butted in saying, “Son, I know your types. I’ve been around for a while. All that really matters is the basics. Everything outside of that is important but just not that important. Leave me be. Will I see you here tomorrow for math time?” he asked. “Yes sir. I’ll be back each day for the next eight weeks.” “Wonderful! It only gets better and better because we eventually begin adding and subtracting numbers as high as twenty.” I grabbed my things, gave a smile, and walked down the hall. The man joyfully went the opposite way with pep in his step as he strolled out the door.

bible_0_0What does this parable mean? What’s the point? There’s nothing wrong with having the faith of a five year old if you’re five years old. But if you’re fifty, something is off. In the book of Hebrews chapter five, the writer discusses Jesus’ role as the great high priest. He desired to write more fully on the topic but laments in verses 11-14,

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

There is a sense in which we all have to begin our Christian lives drinking milk just as babies begin their lives on milk. Yet we are meant to grow up and mature like a child who becomes a young man and then a man. We grow up in our knowledge of God. We don’t remain babies or children forever. Paul said, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.”

erwferfBeliever, are you content with last year’s devotions? Are you fine with that truth you learned two weeks ago that sustained you for a while but doesn’t nearly excite you as it once did? Are you satisfied with a little when there’s more of Jesus to adore, revere, and love? There’s more of Jesus to see and know. Jesus Christ is adorable and affectionate, beautiful and bright, brilliant and bountiful, delightful and delicious, delectable and dazzling, elegant and exciting, fascinating and fruitful, glorious and grand, gracious and good, happy and holy, healthy and whole, joyful and jubilant, lovely and luscious, majestic and marvelous, opulent and overwhelming, radiant and resplendent, splendid and sublime, sweet and savoring, tender and tasteful, euphoric and unified! Why be content with a quick glance when you could gaze upon him longer in his Word?

There are deeper wells of joy and delight to be found in loving God. Why don’t you love him more? You simply don’t know him. Why do you not know him better? You’re simply satisfied with where you’re at. Faith moves us forward. John Piper noted,

When you have faith in Jesus, you’re satisfied in the glorious deity of Christ. You’re satisfied in the humble, sinless, virgin-birth humanity of Jesus. You’re satisfied by the universe-creating, miracle working power of Jesus. You’re satisfied in the covenant-keeping, law-fulfilling righteousness performing perfection providing obedience of Jesus. You’re satisfied by the wrath-bearing, justice satisfying, sin-atoning, death of Jesus. You’re satisfied by the death-defeating, devil-destroying, heaven opening, resurrection of Jesus. And you’re satisfied by the Sovereign, interceding, ever-present, never leaving us alone triumphant reign of Jesus at His Father’s right hand.

If you’re not satisfied in these realities, let me invite you to move forward in your affectionate pursuit of Jesus. Act. Move. Drink. Gaze. Read. Study. Behold. Enjoy. Glorify. Refuse memories of yesterday’s meal and enjoy the five-course serving of Jesus today.


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