Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Monk and the Strawberry

I first heard this parable many years ago, and I was drawn to it in recent weeks. You may know it. There once was a monk who was out picking fruit in the morning to bring back to the monastery for breakfast. As he was grabbing an apple, he heard a snapping sound behind him – someone or something was approaching. He turned his head slowly and saw a tiger coming into the clearing. He didn’t know whether the tiger had seen him or not so he carefully and quietly began to back up and out of the clearing. The tiger detected his movement and turned in his direction. Soon the monk was running and the tiger was chasing. The monk ran until he had to stop – he had run to the edge of a cliff. He thought that the tiger would end up having him for breakfast. As the monk looked over the side, he saw a vine leading down the wall of the cliff face and began to climb down as he held on to that vine. He figured that he would head down to the ground far below and would be safe from the chasing tiger. But as he went down, the monk looked down as well and saw a second tiger waiting to pounce on him if he went all of the way down. So he stopped. He couldn’t go up, he couldn’t go down – each way would lead to death. As he wondered how long he might be able to hang on to that vine, a small mouse poked his head out of a hole a few feet above the monk’s head and began to nibble and gnaw at the vine. The monk looked around hoping he might find something else to hold onto. As he looked, he saw another vine just within his reach – a strawberry vine. He knew it wouldn’t hold his weight, but it did hold the weight of a succulent strawberry. The monk reached over, grabbed the strawberry, and put it into his mouth. It was the best strawberry he had ever tasted. As I recall, the first time I heard this story it ended right there. It was literally a cliffhanger much as the parables of Jesus often end with all a lot of questions unanswered. But I read a longer version of the story this week which picked up where the other ended and also provided “the moral of the story.” It went something like this: Refreshed by the strawberry, the monk kept searching and found a tiny ledge which would serve as a foothold. He maneuvered to it and managed to put both feet on it just as the vine was nibbled through and fell away. He was able to remain there safely for a long time. After a while, both the tiger above him and the tiger below him grew bored and went away looking for their meal elsewhere. The monk carefully climbed down and made his way back to the monastery where he shared his harrowing tale. The monk said, “I learned something important today. Too often I spend time worrying about things from the past that have already happened – like the tiger above. Or I worry about other things that might happen someday – the tiger below. And I also allow daily concerns to nibble and gnaw away at me. If I stay focused on those things, I won’t take the time to notice and to savor the wonderful strawberries that come my way.” Jesus made the same point many years ago when he said:”Do not worry about your life, what you will eat and drink or what you will wear. Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be given to you. Do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” We all have tigers in our lives, don’t we? And we also have gnawing fears and concerns. Don’t spend so much time on those things that you miss the strawberries. Where will you find your strawberry today? Jim