The Dry Wood

Sometime during the 4th century a man named John renounced all of his worldly possessions and went to live among the Desert Fathers. He was quickly accepted in the community and because of his shorter stature was nicknamed by the brothers, “John the Dwarf.” When he first arrived in the desert, John's spiritual mentor was a man named Father Pambo. His new spiritual guide took a piece of dry wood, planted it, and said to him, “Water it every day with a bottle of water, until it bears fruit.” The nearest water source was 12 miles away so John had to leave in the evening and return the following morning. John did this faithfully and without complaint for three years, leaving each evening and returning each morning, until the wood came to life and bore fruit. Then St. Pambo took some of the fruit and carried it to the church, saying to the brothers, “Take and eat the fruit of obedience.”

To this day, in the Nitrian desert, in the abandoned monastery of St. John the Dwarf, you can see this tree. It is known as the “Tree of Obedience.” This parable shows us the great value of obedience. Obedience to God demands that we trust His wisdom and His timing. Obedience is faithfully doing our duty each day trusting that in the end it will make the difference. The United Methodist prayer of confession ends with the line: “forgive us we pray, free us for joyful obedience in Christ Jesus our Lord…” Joyful obedience is at the heart of what it means to answer the call of discipleship. Denying ourselves and taking up His cross. We do so in the hope and promise that one day we will sit at that heavenly banquet table and taste the sweet fruit of obedience.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

 

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Training the Donkey

There was once a very frugal man who was always looking for ways to cut costs. One day he noticed that his hired hand was feeding the donkey more than it really needed. He called the hand and told him, “We’re wasting money feeding this animal more food than it needs. If we keep this up, the donkey will grow fat, it’s productivity will go down, and we’ll lose even more money! I’m going to take over the feeding of the donkey for awhile and train it properly. I will reduce the donkey’s food supply a little each day and wean him off this excessive diet.”

So the man took over the chore of feeding the donkey and did as he said he would do, cutting back the donkey’s food supply just a little each day. This went on for a couple of months until, finally, one day the donkey died. The man said to his hand, “It’s such a shame. If that donkey hadn’t suddenly died, I think I could have trained him to eat nothing at all!”

Extremes are dangerous. This humorous Jewish parable shows us what can happen when we carry a project too far. Extremism can cause politicians to sacrifice common sense on the altar of ideological purity and it can cause religious people to take good behaviors and boundaries and create a standard no one can live up to. There can indeed be too much of a good thing. As disciples, we’re called to give our best to God. Sometimes we interpret that as pushing ourselves as far in a single direction as we possibly can but more often it means wisely navigating between extremes and setting an example of balance to others. I love what Proverbs 25:16 says: “If you have found honey, eat only enough for you, lest you have your fill of it and vomit it.” A little less colorfully put: “in all things: moderation…”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…