The Flakes Of This World

Saturday, November 16, 1996

Mark 2:15-16 – While Jesus was having dinner at Levi's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the "sinners" and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners'?"

Our phone rang late the other evening — long after normal people would call.

"Hi, this is Ted Anderson. Is Gordon there?" Jeannette gingerly handed me the phone. I am never in a terribly good mood for late evening phone calls in bed…

Ted Anderson (not his real name) was somebody out of my past. It was 22 years ago that we last spoke. It was not that we weren't speaking. It was just that, well, we never seemed to have a need to speak since he was still in California and I was no longer working in the space sciences. I had run across him when I was working on the Apollo lunar samples 25 years ago. "He was something of a scientific 'flake' — someone totally out to lunch," a mutual acquaintance had told me.

"Yes, I suppose," I had replied. "Anybody who claims to have discovered chlorophyll in outer space has got to be something out of this world. Everybody who knows anything knows that chlorophyll exists only on earth — as a component of living plants and nothing else. How could there possibly be chlorophyll in interstellar dust a zillion kilometers from the earth or anywhere else — where there is no life? He must have been looking in the wrong end of his telescope!"

Jesus Christ was a "flake" in his world, too. You just can't go around associating with the scum of the earth — with tax collectors, military types, politicians or Samaritans! You can't build credibility that way. You can't earn research grants doing that sort of thing. What you need to do is to adhere to the conventional wisdom of the day: that life exists only on the earth, that there are good people, and, well, all those others who just don't fit in, eh?

Ted got only a few minor research grants over those 25 years as a theoretical astronomer, but he hung in there. He didn't get a Nobel prize, either, but he had his students. When his unified theory of how things do fit together in the interstellar cosmos finally makes its way into print in a few years, he will still be ignored by most of his contemporaries. Maybe he is just a scientific flake.

It took decades for Jesus' people to get Jesus recognized, and hundreds of years for him to become the orthodoxy of the day. Ted is no Jesus, although he, too, is Jewish.

Prayer: Gracious God of the universe, help us to see what we need to see; help us to understand what we need to understand; help up to appreciate those we need to appreciate. Amen.

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Gordon Hodgson

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