“When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are, anything your heart desires will come to you.”
February of 1940 saw people all over the world discover the power of wishing on a star for the first time. It saw the desires of an impoverished elderly man who longed only for one thing in the entire world. A child. Though the wood carver has dozens of clocks and music boxes that he’s designed, though he has the company of his cat Figaro and his Goldfish, Cleo, he finds himself drawn to a marionette that he has created and named simply Pinocchio. As the day draws to a close, as Geppetto and his animal friends find themselves snuggling into their beds, the wood worker spots something outside his window that draws an excited shout from him. A bright blue star in the sky! Without hesitation he moves to the window, drops to his knees, folds his hands in front of him, and begins to whisper feverishly: “Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight…I wish my little Pinocchio might be a real boy.”
What a strange request? What a strange impossible thing it seems to wish for, that a puppet made of wood and strings might be brought to life! But as the night darkens, as Geppetto falls into peaceful sleep, the room glows brighter and brighter with blue light. The wishing star has become none other than the Blue Fairy, who has heard Geppetto’s request and seen the joy he brings to everyone around him. She intends to grant his request, but perhaps not in the way that he thinks.
Pinocchio lives. He moves, he walks, he talks! But alas…he is still made of wood. He has inherited from his loving father an important trait: hope. For Pinocchio too has the desire that someday he will be a real boy! A wish that is not impossible.
“To make Geppetto’s wish come true, will be entirely up to you,” the Blue Fairy explains to the puppet. “Prove yourself brave, truthful, and unselfish and some day you will be a real boy.”
The desire, the wish is there, the opportunity is ripe for the taking…but only should Pinocchio choose to pursue it.
Most people know the tale of Disney’s Pinocchio, even if they have never seen the film. I like the tale of Pinocchio; it’s difficult not to fall in love with a wooden puppet who wants so badly to be human but just can’t seem to get it right.
Pinocchio is a smorgasbord of theological thought, filled with heavy themes like sin, forgiveness, lies, deceit, and addiction. What is it to live? What is it not to live? But there is one other theme that is far kinder and far gentler: sometimes the things we long for most are within our reach if only we have the courage to reach out and take them.
Both Geppetto and Pinocchio long for Pinocchio to be a real boy more than anything and it is clear from the first wish that it is possible, but it won’t happen on its own. Pinocchio must work to make it true. He must grand his own wish. Now where have I heard a tale like that before?
When you pray does God grant you the thing you want most, or does God grant to you the opportunity to have what you want? I was in a theology class at Montreat College when I first heard that theory. At the time it seemed like a silly conundrum. When you pray for bravery does God make you bravery? Or does god grant you the opportunity to be brave. Likewise, when you pray for compassion, for kindness, for help does God give these things to you? Or does he give you an opportunity to exercise compassion, to be kind, to accept help? Silly as it may seem, when I think of this question I can’t help but think of Pinocchio and his wish. And when I read this passage in Matthew, I can’t help but think of this question.
Jesus has a message to give, and important message! There is much to be done. But the more he travels, the more he gives of himself the more he heals the people, the workload only seems to double. One miracle leads to the demand for two. Soon families are following after Jesus, the disabled, the sad, the hurting, and rejected those who can’t remember the last time they felt like “real people”. Jesus is an answer to their prayers. They know he can make them fully human again and Jesus…Jesus sees like no one else sees. When he looks at the people he sees not just puppets of flesh and bone, but lost sheep. He sees hopefulness in their eyes buried under years, decades, of despair and hurt. He sees their desire to be complete.
And he sees himself. The Christ. God made flesh. One man. His message is good and hopeful, his hands can heal, his words can cast out demons. But how is one man ever to answer all the prayers? How is he ever to turn all the puppets back into real beings? The task set before him seems too great.
And so, with a heavy heart he gathers his Disciple’s together, he casts his gaze to the sky and makes a wish; for what is a prayer but a wish, a hope that someone is listening, a desire for an answer, a longing that what we want is what God wants as well, and will be provided.
“Holy God, so much to do. There are so many ears to reach and so few people to carry the message. The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. Send me more. Send me laborers to help with this harvest, send me messengers to help carry the news.”
Silence greets the men at their finished prayer, a silence pregnant with anticipation and hopefulness. When the Disciples open their eyes they see each other. But Jesus sees more. He sees sturdy, healthy legs. He sees mouths with voices ready to speak. He sees cracked and calloused hands ready to work. He doesn’t see twelve disciples. Jesus sees twelve laborers, twelve answers to prayer.
“Go out, leave the challenging cases for me, but go out and tell the people the messages I bring. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast the demons out! Take nothing for these gifts; give them freely as they have been given to you. Find the puppets. Make them real once more.
Answers to prayers can sometimes be right in front of us. I don’t want to say “always” right in front of us, because I do believe there are many ways God answers prayers but this is certainly one of them. Jesus asked for help, the Disciples did not magically appear. God knew the request, the need before it was made and put the answer in place before it was necessary. Jesus had only to make the request, trust that it would be fulfilled, and God gave him the power to grant it.
Jesus had many wishes for his people while on Earth. He wished that they might be fed, cared for, that they would have homes and people to love them. He wished that they would know their shepherd so that they would never feel like strays, never feel like just bodies of flesh, bones, and blood, but precious children.
God has made it so that we are the answers to the prayers we pray each Sunday, the very prayers that Jesus taught us to pray. We need only act on it.
So go, find the puppets, all those longing to be real once more. Help them to be brave, truthful, and unselfish, help them to be real. And watch as God’s dream for our world comes true.