The Pope, the Rabbi, and the Golden Phone

When the Pope invited the Chief Rabbi to Rome, the latter was impressed by the golden telephone on the pontiff’s desk. 

“What’s that for?” he asked.

“It’s my direct line to God,” said the Pope.

 “May I use it?”


When the rabbi had completed his call, the Pope mentioned that there was a high long distance cost. “But for you, Rabbi, I’ll gladly waive the charge.” 

When the Chief Rabbi invited the Pope to Jerusalem, the latter in turn was impressed by the golden telephone on the rabbi’s desk. Asking if he could place a call, the rabbi consented, and upon completion the Pope asked how much the charge would be.

“Oh, nothing at all,” replied the rabbi. “It was just a local call.” 

In the faith of ancient Israel, God was local. He lived in heaven, but He also lived on earth, in the temple in Jerusalem. 

But in the Christian faith, too, God is local. He lives in heaven, but He also lives in everyone who believes in Christ. In Jesus God came to earth. He is a down-to-earth God. 

Yet this down-to-earthness may sometimes be a more vibrant reality to Jews than to Christians. When religion is over-spiritualized,  we run up a big long distance bill, when in fact we do not even have to reach across our desk to lift the receiver of the golden phone. As Moses taught:

“What I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it” (Dt 30:11-14). 

In his book Mystical Passion: Spirituality for a Bored Society, William McNamara writes: “Ordinarily the best contemplative activities are those where contemplation is least emphasized. For instance, self-conscious, highly structured ‘houses of prayer’ are less conducive to contemplation than smelling a flower, baking an apple pie, or sweeping the floor. The higher experiences of the spiritual life are most desirable. But they are most likely to occur if we are at home with and are enjoying the daily things that fill our lives. They provide the only foundation we’ve got for sky-high peak experiences. If there’s no foundation, there’s nothing. How can we relish the higher things of God if we cannot enjoy some simple little thing like a boat ride, a hot tub, a good kiss, a belly laugh, walking in the rain, lying in the sun—anything that comes along as a gift from God. The inner truth of these good things is always accessible. Once the spiritual significance of such ordinary earthly acts dawns on us, we can skip the yoga and koans, the mantras and novenas.” 

(Photo by Karen Mason)

Next Post:  The Burning Bush: Something Much Bigger

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