Do you ever wonder which animals got to go where on the ark?
Maybe it’s just me. I wonder about stuff like that. The great flood story in Genesis is a great story, but it has some interesting detail and some great opportunities to wonder about things that are missing. So I wonder about those and what we might learn from them.
It’s a little bit of midrash, the Jewish tradition of telling stories about the scriptural texts that allude to what the text is about or might explore the texts meaning from a different perspective.
For example, in Genesis, God tells Noah how to build the ark, including that it have a roof, a door in the side and “a lower, second and third decks.” So. How’d they decide who went where? I also wonder about how they all got along while they were on the ark, but lets focus on ones thing at a time.
Traditionally, steerage is the lowest part of the ship. And the cheapest. I don’t think it’s called that anymore, but the cheapest “state rooms” on a cruise ship are still lower deck and in the interior. Not that any of Noah’s cabins had a view.
But there’s a hierarchy. Worst cabins in the bottom, better ones in the top. So who went where. Did the lions get the penthouse because they’re king and queen of the beasts? What about tigers? Or bears, they’re pretty strong. Monkeys can climb, so maybe they should be up top, too. Dung beetles could definitely go in the basement.
If I were telling this story, I’d have the animals all talking to each other and working it out. But it wouldn’t be based on any artificial hierarchy or who was the most powerful. It would be more about where they felt they belonged, practicality and comfort, and the animals would be concerned for each other. The elephants and the hippos might say, hey we’re pretty heavy, it’d be good to have that weight in the bottom for ballast. The more nocturnal animals would probably want to be further down, too. I’d have the lions, very dignified, offering their spot to the sheep and taking a more cramped space. The quieter animals who sleep a lot would have their own section and the busy, noisy ones would be somewhere else, probably another deck, even. The birds would be everywhere, controlling the traffic and keeping things running smoothly, keeping a watchful eye out for anyone who needed help or even just a little attention. The dogs and cats would end up being with Noah and the family because that’s just where they belong. And none of the other animals would be envious at all.
I think we could learn something from a story like that. The disciples could have.
Mark tells the story of James and John asking Jesus if they could sit either side of him in his “glory.” Jesus, of course, says that’s not for him to say. The other disciples hear about this and are instantly envious. I don’t think that James and John thought that they were better than anyone else, they were just asking because they wanted to be with Jesus. But the other disciples see it differently. Maybe they already thought there was a hierarchy of who was called first. Or who did the best miracles or preached the best, who was the smartest or who had money, who knew the right people or was physically the strongest. You know, the kind of criteria we’d use today.
But Jesus has another way of looking at it. The greatest, says Jesus, are those who serve others with love, respect and equity. Jesus came to serve, he says, not to be served. Jesus is about serving the world around him.
That’s what the animals do in my little story. There’s no envy, there’s no hierarchy, there’s only love and care for each other. How else would you survive forty days at sea? Or thrive in a lifetime on earth?