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Dumb Animal

If I asked you what animals you thought were the dumbest, you’d probably have one or two come to mind. A bit of quick googling gave me a nice list of the dumbest animals around.

One animal that is near the top of every list I found was the ostrich. Even though this bird has amazing speed (up to 43mph) and could probably outrun almost any predator, when this bird is met with any kind of threat, it pushes its head at the ground (not into the ground), closes its eyes, and thinks its invisible. This is a 7-9 foot tall bird weighing up to 320 pounds. Just because its head is a similar color to the sands of its native Africa doesn’t mean that the whole giant bird becomes invisible to the predator. Does this look invisible to you?

Another one that is near the top of every list is the panda bear. Most know it to be a dumb animal because it is going extinct and yet refuses to have sex so as to keep the species going. It turns out that this is not the only reason pandas are dumb. They also have digestive systems that are built to be carnivores just like most bears. Still, even though their digestive system is not built for an herbivore diet, pandas will only eat bamboo. Their guts do not have the bacteria necessary to break down cellulose (the building blocks of bamboo). This is why they have to eat so much bamboo to survive. They’re getting hardly any nutrients from it. Pandas end up eating nearly 30 pounds of bamboo each day, but they can only digest ~17% of what they eat. Look at that happy dumb creature.

One animal that many would probably put near the top of this list is an ox. There is even a phrase to call someone stupid that is “dumb as an ox”. And yet, it turns out that oxen really aren’t that dumb. Many who work with them compare oxen’s intelligence to that of dogs. Oxen are able to remember people and places. They are able to adapt to their environment, and they are easily trained. One oxen owner said in an interview, "In a way, they're just like kids. They'll see what they can or can't get away with. They'll test you. They'll look for ways to get out of work. They need to know you're the boss, or they'll take advantage of you."

Despite the truth about an ox’s intelligence, the phrase “dumb as an ox” is still used all the time. It surprised me to see this idea of oxen being dumb animals used in the Bible as well. Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his book “Jesus of Nazareth” about how the ox and ass were used in Isaiah “The ox knows its owner, and the ass its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people does not understand.” Isaiah is saying, look, even these dumb creatures know their master, but you people can’t figure it out.

The imagery of an ox and an ass knowing their master is continued in the nativity. Although the gospels never refer to any animals being in the manger, the scene is often depicted with ox and ass present.

Isaiah and a number of other Old Testament passages point towards the two animals being in the scene. According to Pope Benedixt XVI’s book, these animals are meant to signify “blind humanity which now, before the child, before God’s humble self-manifestation in the stable, has learned to recognize him, and in the lowliness of his birth receives the revelation that now teaches all people to see.”

That’s right. These two stereotypically dumb animals are found at the nativity in order to remind us that WE are the dumb animals. We are the ones who do not understand. Before you get offended, I’d like you to recall the gospel reading from two weeks ago. In the story of the woman at the well, about halfway through the story, the apostles arrive on the scene. The disciples are immediately confused by the scene but say nothing. Then they offer Jesus some food, and Jesus replies, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” Once again, the disciples are confused.
These are the men who have been traveling with Jesus day in and day out, his closest friends. Even they have no idea what God is saying or doing. They are confused. If even THEY are confused by the workings of God, what hope do we have? Compared to God, we really are just dumb animals. Luckily for us, God does not leave us in our ignorance. He wants us to know Him better. He wants to share His wisdom with us. It may take Him repeating Himself a few (dozen) times, but we can learn.

Way too often I feel lost and confused, asking God what to do next. I’m sure he is talking to me, just as He was with the disciples, but I still have a glazed look in my eyes because I have no idea what He is talking about.

It's times like these that even with my multiple degrees and all my worldly knowledge, I can definitely see why the Bible basically calls us all dumb animals. But I will soldier on and keep asking God to share His wisdom with me. There are moments of clarity. I pray that they come more often. I hope that you too will pray for God to give you wisdom. We could all use a little bit more.

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