The Gospel According to Dr Seuss
I take as the text for my sermon today:
I do not like them in a box.
I do not like them with a fox
I do not like them in a house
I do not like them with a mouse
I do not like them here or there.
I do not like them anywhere.
I do not like green eggs and ham.
I do not like them, Sam-I-am.
I’m sure we’ve all felt like that from time to time, haven’t we? I know I have.
It’s very easy to dismiss the message of this powerful text; to say it’s confusing, it was written a long time ago, it’s not relevant to my life. But how wrong you would be!
Consider the name of the character – Sam-I-am. Who is the only person we know of who has ever been called “I am”? None other than God. So Sam-I-am clearly represents God in this parable. He is offering a plate of green eggs and ham, surely a significant choice – the ham would make the dish unacceptable under the Law. But God Himself is offering it to us, like Peter’s vision, indicating that the gift is actually the gift of grace, the freedom from the Law. So what are we to make of the green eggs? Well, the eggs represent God’s children – His chosen people, the Jews – and their green colour suggests that they’re rotten. Putting that all together, God is offering His favour and freedom from Law, after the Jews rejected His gift.
Notice that God offers His good gift with no strings attached. There are no restrictions, there is no Law. In fact, when the gift is ungratefully spurned, He persists with His offer, even suggesting ways that the gift might be made more palatable. Clearly, this is unnecessary; gratuitous, even, from the root gratia, the same as grace. Even when we reject Him, God graciously continues to extend the offer, and to find ways of making an already generous gift even more appealing!
So is there any deeper meaning to these offers? Well, I don’t believe God would leave us with just a stream of gibberish – of course there’s a meaning. If we have a look at the different offers he makes, we can see a clear message emerging.
In the first place, he asks whether we would like them here or there – we need not go anywhere different to worship God, but at the same time, we can if we wish. Then he offers them in a house, or with a mouse – these are all contrasting pairs of conditions, so here the contrast is between wealth and poverty, drawing on the proverbial poverty of a church mouse in opposition to the comfortable property ownership of much of the western world. These offers make no difference to the character’s stubborn rejection, so God continues to make the offer.
The next offer is to accept the gift in a box or with a fox. This is a difficult passage to understand, but I’m inclined to believe this relates to martyrdom. The box reference obviously refers to a coffin, and foxes are traditionally associated with slyness and cunning. You can be martyred, or if that doesn’t appeal, you can use your intelligence to avoid difficult situations. We tend to think of martyrdom as the holy course of action, but whichever you choose, God continues to offer His good gift of grace.
The next contrasting pair of offers are slightly separated into two separate questions in the text, but this is simply a rhetorical device, and there is no doubt that they’re intended as opposing positions. The new offer is to accept in a car or in a tree. You can be a petrolhead or a treehugging eco-nut – it’s all the same to God. Just to really hammer this home, He offers a third option, a sort of middle ground between the two, represented by a train – travel without the same scale of environmental damage as a car.
So far, we have seen that we can worship God wherever we are and wherever we go, we can worship Him whether we are rich or poor, brave or cowardly, wedded to the environment or destroying it. Ultimately, none of these matter to God.
Next, the offer is changed once again. Now the gift is offered in the dark or in the rain. This is open to two possible interpretations – either this refers to following God secretly or in the open, or else the contrast is between introverted and extroverted personality types and forms of worship. It’s been the subject of a good deal of academic debate, but I believe this misses the point. It isn’t either/or, but both/and. These options have two meanings, because the entire thrust of this passage is that none of it matters to God – we can all receive His gift of grace anyway.
In fact, the next passage makes a truly shocking offer – you can receive this gift on a boat or with a goat. I have no wish to scandalise, but I have to tell you that sailors are traditionally notorious for certain sexual practices. In this context, without going into too much detail, the significance of the goat is obvious. To avoid leading anyone into sin, I hope it will suffice to say that God’s grace is extended to even the vilest, most reprehensible sinners. But still, the gift is rejected.
And what happens after this repeated rejection? God urges him to try this gift, and he finds that he likes it after all, with clear echoes of Psalm 34: Taste and see that the LORD is good. Furthermore, we can see in his reaction the effect of God’s grace in our lives. He goes out of his way to vow that he will do whatever God asks of him. Having refused the gift even when he was offered so much freedom in many different ways, he now promises that if God were to ask him to relinquish that freedom, he would gladly do it:
I like green eggs and ham!
I do! I like them, Sam-I-am!
And I would eat them in a boat!
And I would eat them with a goat…
And I will eat them in the rain.
And in the dark. And on a train.
And in a car. And in a tree.
They are so good so good you see!
So I will eat them in a box.
And I will eat them with a fox.
And I will eat them in a house.
And I will eat them with a mouse.
And I will eat them here and there.
I will eat them ANYWHERE!
And isn’t this true? We refuse God’s gift, coming up with all sorts of reasons for turning it down, but once we actually experience that wonderful grace of God, it fills every part of our being and we would gladly do anything He asked of us, including things we would never even have considered before. Note the use of “would” instead of “will” in the case of the boat and the goat – these are clearly different from the others, as God would never ask or expect us to do things that are actually sinful in His name.
Maybe some of you disagree with this, but it’s all written down right here, I’m just the mouthpiece. So if you have a problem with what I’ve said, you need to take it up with God.
He who has ears, let him hear.