Theodore Geisel, the man millions know simply as Dr. Seuss, was not a religious man. That doesn’t mean that his work didn’t have deeply religious themes. I’m currently working on a sermon series called “Dr. Seuss Tells the Sermon on the Mount.” It is a five-part series where I go through Jesus’ most important teaching, as found in the Gospel of Matthew, and relate the texts to different Dr. Seuss classics.
Yertle the Turtle was a king. He was the king over all he saw, but he was dissatisfied. He wanted a bigger kingdom, so he decided he needed a higher throne. From the higher throne, he would be able to see farther, and rule over more territory. To satisfy his need for a higher throne, he order a few turtles to be stacked upon each other. From atop this throne of turtles, he could expand his kingdom. Over the course of increasing his reign an insignificant turtle on the bottom of the throne named Mack asked for some relief. He was granted none. Higher and higher the turtles were stacked, and yet Yertle was never satisfied. Eyeing his vast empire, he noted he wasn’t the highest creature in the sky. Perturbed by the presence of the moon, her ordered a thousand more turtles for his thone. All the while poor Mack on the bottom of the stack was aching with a sore back. Finally, Mack cracked. Actually, he burped. And the tower of turtles came toppling down. Yertle fell into a puddle of mud, where he reigned all that he could see, which wasn’t very far.
Yertle understood the power of a kingdom. He understood only one thing that matters: more. More turtles, more land, more power. He didn’t care how he achieved more, and he paid no heed to some poor turtle named Mack.
Jesus lived in a time when the power of kingship was clear. The stack of turtles under the King was high indeed. So high that the King named Caesar called himself the son of God. All the people that gathered on that mountain understood that kind of kingdom. They understood what it felt like to be on the bottom of the stack. It was a crowd of Macks that gathered that day.
Then Jesus stood in front of the crowd and told them about another sort of Kingdom. He told them about who was blessed and who wasn’t, and it was different from anything they had known. In the Kingdom they were used to, it was easy to tell who was blessed and who wasn’t. Yertle was blesssed. Mack wasn’t. Then Jesus stood up and said “You who are poor… You who mourn… You who hunger and thirst… are blessed.”
“You, Mack. You are blessed. You who have been piled on. You with sore backs. You who are neglected, mistreated, and set aside. You are blessed. You who see that the world is broken and want to speak up. You who are left heartbroken by the pain of others. You who long to be in community. You who want to know the heart of God, and strive for something greater than the letter of the law. You are blessed.”
Jesus declared that the Kingdom of God was at hand, and in the Kingdom of God, even the burp of a lowly turtle on the bottom of the pile matters.
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2 responses to “Dr. Seuss Tells the Sermon on the Mount, Part 1: Yertle the Turtle”
Wonderful! I too see theological issues in Dr. Seuss. Thank you for writing this. Hope you will share the rest of your sermons on Dr. Seuss!
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