A Parable for Our Times
George was a normal guy who set out to live a normal life after graduating from Mundane University. He moved to Regular City and went to work. He started with nothing, but he was very diligent and determined and gradually began to accumulate a few things.
At first it was only a few small things, but when he got these things he was very pleased and realized that if he worked harder he could get more things. So, he doubled his efforts and, in addition to the things that he already had, he started to get more and better things. Mary saw that George had some nice things, so she decided to take an interest in George and before long they were married.
They both worked even harder and really started to accumulate a lot of things. They decided that they needed more room to store all their things so they bought a house in Suburbs, kept working and soon had everything they needed and many extra things. Finally, George and Mary sat down together one day and looked at all their things and George said, “I’m so happy we have all these things; I don’t think there’s anything else that I could possibly want.”
Just as he said this he saw his neighbor, Mickey, go by with a new shiny thing and George realized that there were other things that he could get. The happiness he had felt a few minutes before disappeared when he realized his neighbor had more things than he had.
George and Mary worked even harder and soon he had more and better things than Mickey. Once again George was filled with contentment because of all the things that he had; until Andy walked by George’s house and stopped and said, “Look at the new thing that I just got.”
George was sad because Andy’s thing was truly special and George realized that he would probably never find any thing as nice as Andy’s. That night George couldn’t sleep, because he kept thinking about the thing that Andy had and that he wanted a thing just like it, only better. He resolved to ask Andy to share his thing with him. The next day, first thing in the morning, even before he’d had his morning coffee, George went to Andy’s house and asked him to share his wonderful thing. Andy refused. George became very angry and turned around and stormed home. Later that day, after Andy had left his home, George returned to Andy’s house, broke in through a window and stole Andy’s wonderful thing. That evening George showed Mary this wonderful thing, but he was careful not to take it out if other people could see, or else the foul truth would be discovered and he would lose this wonderful thing.
The people in the neighborhood soon became wary of each other and decided that they needed to be more careful or else someone would come and try to take their things. Everyone decided to protect themselves from having their things stolen; so each man went to work and built a strong, high wall around his house. This way they kept their things safe from their neighbors and from anyone else that might have wanted to take their things.
A short time later, Samuel moved into the neighborhood. Everyone watched from behind their walls as Samuel moved in to the small vacant house that was in the middle of the street. Everyone noticed that Samuel had only a few things, and they also noticed that he smiled all the time and seemed to whistle a lot as he walked up and down the street. He waved to all his neighbors as he passed by their houses where he could see them peering out at him from behind their walls. Every day Samuel walked down the street with his spry jaunty stride, always wearing the same white clothes, sandals on his feet and holding an elaborately carved walking stick.
One day as he walked by George’s house, George called out to him from behind his high wall. “Samuel, that’s a very fancy walking stick.”
Samuel stopped and smiled, looked down at his walking stick and said, “You have a very keen eye. This was carved by my father fifty years ago. It’s the only thing I have that was his.” Samuel saw the look of admiration on George’s face and went closer to the wall.
“I see that this walking stick impresses you. I’d like you to have it.” He held the ornately carved stick up high and George was just able to reach and pull it up and over the wall into his protected sanctuary. Samuel went on his way, smiling and whistling as he walked as George put the fancy object in a pile by the wall with some of his other things.
Everyday Samuel did the same thing, walked down the street smiling and whistling. All his neighbors began to feel uneasy and decide to get together and talk about Samuel; this troublemaker that had invaded their quiet neighborhood.
“He must have a truly great thing”, George said, “or else he wouldn’t be so happy.”
All the neighbors nodded in agreement. “We must have this great thing for ourselves” George said.
“Perhaps we should ask him to share this great thing”, Mickey said.
But George interrupted, “No, we must have this thing for ourselves.” Secretly, George decided that he would keep this great thing for only himself. All his neighbors had the exact same thought.
So they all went together, men and women and knocked on Samuel’s door. He answered it with a smile wearing the same clean white outfit he wore every day.
As soon as the door opened George said, “You seem to be happy all the time and we have all concluded that you must have a great thing that makes you feel that way.”
“Welcome to my home”, Samuel responded, “Please come inside. I have hoped for a long time that someone would come to visit. You are all correct; I do have a very great thing, perhaps the greatest thing anyone can imagine. I am happy to share it with you.”
They all went in, George in the lead with a big smile on his face. He and the others realized that they were finally going to get the thing they all had dreamed about. As soon as the door was closed and before Samuel could utter another sound the entire mob set upon Samuel and beat him mercilessly until he was dead, a bloody mass that was barely recognizable as human. Everyone went their own way, searching throughout the small home for the one great thing. All they found was a small mat and a thin blanket, one slice of bread and a bottle of wine with only a few drops left in the bottom. They searched high and low, but couldn’t find anything else.
“Perhaps he kept it with him”, somebody said and they all ran to the body and pulled off the bloody clothes. There were pockets in the thin, blood stained top which they turned inside out, but nothing was found. Same for the pants.
Truly perplexed they filed out of Samuel’s home shaking their heads. “He seemed so happy all the time”, Mickey said, “but, he didn’t have any things. I don’t think he ever had any truly great thing.”
“It was all an act”, George said. “He was trying to trick us. It’s a good thing we did this or else he would’ve come to steal our things. Yes, he definitely deserved all that he got.”
As they walked down the street, each man and woman went into their home, locking themselves behind their walls and felt the comfort that came with having so many things.
I really think the story ends at that point, but the idealist in me would like to believe that there is more. What follows is one scenario that I hope would be the final outcome of Samuel’s sacrifice and one that reveals the truly great thing he possessed.
Months passed after Samuel’s murder and George lived a happy, peaceful life; safe behind his wall, surrounded by his many things. One day, while admiring all his things he saw Samuel’s walking stick. He picked it up and studied the elaborate carvings; some sort of lettering that he didn’t understand. He wrote the symbols down and using his translator thing read the words:
“You will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And, love your neighbor as yourself.”
He decided to take a walk and carried the fancy walking stick with him. He passed from his protected fortress, down the street and walked past Andy’s house, the words that were carved into the sturdy stick resonated in his mind. As he went by, Andy called to him from behind his wall.
“Hello, George”, Andy called from the safety of his home. “It’s a lovely day for a stroll.”
George stopped, looked down at Samuel’s walking stick and remembered how Samuel used to walk down the street, past the many houses and smile and wave to all his neighbors. To honor his guilty memories of Samuel, George stopped, smiled and waved to Andy and walked up to Andy’s wall.
“It certainly is a lovely day, Andy; far too nice to stay hidden behind a wall”, George remarked. He looked again at the fancy walking stick and remembered how Samuel had treasured it, but also how he had freely given it away. He looked up at Andy and then said, “I’d like you to have this very elaborate walking stick. Perhaps it will give you some incentive to escape from behind your wall and take at least a short a walk.” He hoisted the stick up to Andy, who quickly grabbed it and put it with his other things.
Later that day, as George looked at all his things, he felt a warm feeling in his heart. He realized it wasn’t all his things that gave him this feeling, rather it was the act of giving, freely and without any expectation of something in return that gave him this feeling. He looked at all his things again and then he started to cry. He resolved at that time to give all that he possessed to Samuel’s family, to try to make some restitution for his terrible crime.
George soon learned that Samuel had no family. But, instead, he gave all that he had and more to any needy person he met. Very soon most of his things were gone, but he felt like he had more things than any person in the world and that he had found Samuel’s one great thing.