The Parable of the Wealthy Artist
ON ONE OCCASION, as Joshua was talking to a crowd that had gathered around him, a woman spoke up and bluntly asked him what he thought of the Church. Calm and unruffled, Joshua replied, "The kingdom of God is like a man who had great wealth and power. He controlled vast territories and whole populations throughout the world. His wealth was beyond measure and, indeed, seemed without limit. He was, however, not concerned with power, or even with his wealth. His joy was in creating living masterpieces of art and sculpture. But in spite of his great possessions, he was alone, and had no one with whom to share his joy. Disguising himself as an ordinary person, he sought out those with whom he could share his life. Dressed in plain clothes and living in a simple manner, he began his search. He approached those who appeared intelligent and wise in the things of the world. "Certainly these men and women will be friends with whom I can share my life," he said to himself, and he approached them.
"What does he want of us?" they asked themselves. They were suspicious and looked down on him as a person of no value or use to themselves, so they shunned him. Others he met were highly intelligent persons of science and possessed knowledge of many things. However, he soon found that they were enchanted with their own intelligence and saw no reason to allow this simple man into their lives. He would be a nuisance and could contribute nothing to their circle of learned colleagues. They too shunned him. Others were persons of great importance and had many friends in high places. He approached them, thinking they would, without doubt, appreciate his friendship, but they were ashamed even to be seen with him. They too shunned him.
"Discouraged by the shallow vision of all these intelligent people, the rich man decided to look among ordinary people. They were kind and friendly toward him and welcomed him into their friendship. Taking him into their homes, they shared with him their meager possessions and their simple food, and allowed him into their lives, without any question or concern about his status. However, even among these good people, some soon tired of him, and found excuses to avoid him. But to those who opened their hearts and allowed him to share in their friendship, he revealed his true identity and shared with them his life and the awesome world in which he lived. When the others saw what had happened, they were beside themselves with grief that with all their smug intelligence they had failed to perceive the greatness hidden beneath the stranger's simple manner. What they had searched for all their lives was nothing compared with the riches and the glory and power the rich man shared so freely with all those simple people. And that is the way it will be with those who, when the Savior comes knocking, see in him nothing of value, and so turn him away, and continue to walk in darkness."
The Parable of the Pilgrims' Guide
ON ANOTHER DAY as Joshua was standing on the shore of a great lake, he remarked to the small crowd that was with him, "The kingdom of heaven is like adventurers who wanted to cross a great sea. On the shore was a guide charged by his captain with the responsibility of directing pilgrims to their destination. He knew well the destination and the safest way to arrive there. After giving pilgrims careful instructions he warned them that the voyage was long and dangerous, and without proper guidance, they could become lost along the way. But they should not be afraid because the gentle breeze along the course would take them safely through dangerous waters and carry them to their destination. One man said to himself, 'I am strong and wise. I know the waters better than he. I can find my own way. Why should I trust a breeze to guide me? And, besides, I do not like the guide. I will follow my own directions.' So he, and others like him, took off in a boat of their own design. But after many days of toiling against adverse winds, and with no one to guide them, they became confused and exhausted, and gave up. There were others who followed after them. Most of them met with the same fate.
"Another group listened to the guide. They considered his words but were reluctant to follow his advice. 'We are afraid of the water. We cannot swim and, besides, it is too far for us to row. Why should we follow the guide's directions? We will walk around the sea.' So, they began walking. After many months, they became weary and exhausted and could no longer endure the hardship. Realizing it was impossible for them to reach their destination on their own strength, they too gave up.
"There were still others on the shore who listened to the guide and took his advice. They knew they could not row across such an impossible expanse of water without guidance and without support. They also realized that they could not survive the impossible walk around the sea. They decided to follow the guide's directions. Moored on the shore was a large sailboat, which the guide used on his own trips. He told the group they were welcome to use it. They were delighted.
"As they were about to leave, they asked others if they would like to come with them, as there was still room.
" 'No,' they replied, 'we will go on our own. We are all going to the same place. It makes no difference how we get there. We will meet you on the other side.'
"So, freeing the boat from its moorings, the group set sail and carefully followed the guide's directions, always letting themselves be guided by the gentle breeze in difficult times. Though the voyage was not easy, they never lost heart as they were gently guided through calm and difficult times.
"Finally they arrived at their destination. The most breathtaking vision unfolded before their eyes. It was a kingdom of magnificent splendor. As they emerged from the boat, they were greeted by the inhabitants, who were thrilled to see them. Immediately, a celebration was arranged at which they were formally welcomed. After many days, they looked for the others who left when they did, but they had not yet arrived."
"Would you explain the parable to us?" Joshua's friend Pat asked him.
"Yes," Joshua told him. "The great sea is the span of a person's life on earth. The destination is the kingdom of heaven after death. The captain is the Savior. The guide is the apostles Jesus left to teach his people. Those who rejected their guidance and decided to walk to their destination are those who knowingly reject the teachers Jesus sent and choose instead to follow their own lights. They soon become weary and confused and eventually lose their way. Those who disliked the guide and his instructions and followed a manual of their own are those who have rejected the guides whom the Savior has given them and, building boats of their own, follow guides of their own making. The sailboat is the Church, ever guided by the gentle breeze of the Holy Spirit, and in its understanding of God's Word, it will always be available to carry people safely to the kingdom of heaven."
Parables of the Kingdom
OR AGAIN, the path to the kingdom of heaven is like a majestic oceanliner carrying passengers to a faraway land. Many of the officers on the ship were good people. A few, however, were dishonorable. There were also on the ship righteous passengers who were offended by the behavior of the dishonorable crewmen and decided they would no longer travel with them. One night, when all were asleep, they unhitched the lifeboats and quietly slipped them into the ocean. Abandoning the ship, they attempted to make the long and treacherous voyage on their own. After drifting aimlessly for many days without provisions, some were fortunate to be rescued.
Or again, the kingdom of heaven is like a group of people lost in a jungle. For days and weeks they fought their way through heavy brush and impossible conditions, always fearful of poisonous snakes and wild animals. On the verge of despair, they one day encountered a wise man. They knew neither where he came from nor where he was going. Approaching him, they inquired if he could point for them the way to safety. The wise man thought and thought for the longest time, continually looking over the desperate group. He thought of telling the whole group the way out, but decided against it, realizing that if he told them all, each would understand his message in a different way, and they would end up arguing and fighting and perhaps killing one another. So the wise man decided to pick one person who was wise and concerned for the group, and shared with him alone the directions out of the jungle. Then, the wise man left to continue on his way in the opposite direction. For a while the group was happy to follow the leader whom the wise man had appointed, but as time passed, some became disgruntled and decided that they would rather find their own way through the jungle. So, they parted ways. Farther along the path, a few more decided they would follow their own lights. They also left and went their own way. Those who remained loyal to the leader ultimately found their way to safety, while the others wandered aimlessly through the jungle.
The Parable of the Unworthy Shepherd
ONE SUNDAY MORNING, in a small mountain village, Joshua and his friends were talking in front of church after services. Clergy were standing nearby listening to the conversation. Pat told Joshua of a friend who was deeply hurt because her pastor had told her she was not a good woman, that she was a sinner.
Joshua then told them a parable. "A woman had three little children. The man with whom she lived cared nothing for her and rarely came home. The woman asked her pastor to baptize her baby. He refused, saying she was not a good woman because she did not obey all the laws of the Church. Whenever she went to church, she begged the pastor to baptize her baby. He always refused, insisting that she first marry the man with whom she was living. This she could not do because she strongly believed the man no longer loved her, but she was afraid to leave him out of concern for the children. The woman appealed to the pastor's superiors. They refused to consider her request. The woman was devastated. A short time later, the pastor died. The chief mourner was a woman to whom the pastor had been secretly married for many years, even though he had another wife and several children. A short time later the mother also died. To which one, do you think, would God show more compassion?"
One of the ministers hearing the parable blushed with shame and anger, because he knew the parable was directed at him, but could say nothing without betraying himself.
The Parable of the Terrorist and the Unwed Mother
ONE DAY, in a country where civil strife had been raging for centuries, a group of clergy approached Joshua, in an attempt to trap him. "Sir, we know you speak your mind whether people agree with you or not, and we admire your honesty. Should clergy approve of patriots who struggle to free their country?" Joshua, seeing their hypocrisy, proposed the following story for their consideration.
"There lived in a town a terrorist who murdered and raped innocent people under the guise of fighting to free his country. Every month the man went to church and received Communion. The priest said nothing. There were terrorists in other churches who did the same. Their priests said nothing. Nor did the bishop. In the same town, there lived a woman who had been divorced and remarried without the Church's blessing. Her husband was not of her faith and refused to submit to a church he did not believe in. The woman, however, was a good woman and had a deep love for her religion and brought up her children to be faithful to God and their religion. When she went to church, however, the priest refused to give her Communion. She was, he told her, not a good woman and was living in sin. There were many in the church who were not troubled by the priest giving Communion to the terrorist, and who praised him for his loyalty to the Church's laws in refusing the woman Communion. There were others, however, who were horrified at the priest's callousness, and thought him a hypocrite, more dedicated to Church law than to God's law of love and mercy. Eventually, they all died and went before God. I ask you, from your own knowledge of Jesus' actions in the Gospels, what do you think would be God's judgment on each of them?"
"It is very difficult to say how God would judge," they replied.
"That is because you judge by evil bias and not by God's standards," Joshua answered.
"But is not patriotism a virtue in God's eyes?" they persisted.
"When it is an expression of love of neighbor, it is patriotism, yes. When it inspires hatred of one's neighbor and murder of innocent people, it is an evil despicable in God's eyes. Your own blindness condemns you." Joshua's interrogators walked away, furious at his answer.
Excerpted from The Parables of Joshua by Joseph Girzone. Copyright © 2002 by Joseph Girzone. Excerpted by permission of Image, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.