The Lettuce

A young monk was in the kitchen washing heads of lettuce for the next meal when one of the elders approached him and asked about morning services.

“Brother, did you pay attention to the homily, this morning?” the elder monk asked.

“Oh yes,” replied the young monk, “I found it to be very uplifting. It was just what I needed this morning. It really ministered to my soul.”

The elder monk could hear in the younger monk’s answer that he was being somewhat vague so he pressed him.

“Brother, do you recall what the homily was about?” 

Embarrassed, the younger monk replied, “I’m afraid I don’t remember what the homily was about but it really did minister to me.”

“How could the homily possibly have ministered to you,” asked the elder, “if you can’t even remember what it was about?”

“Well,” said the younger monk, “It’s like this lettuce. The water flows through it and cleanses it, but it does not remain in the leaves.”

I can remember only and handful of sermons from my childhood. I remember fewer Sunday School and Youth Group lessons. This does not mean that those lessons and sermons were useless. Quite the contrary. I am a youth pastor today because of all the time that my church invested in instructing me and developing my understanding of the faith. The individual lessons just flowed through me like water. I think it’s important for disciples to remember that our words and actions have a powerful impact on those around us. It’s also important to have humility and realize that we have little control over what individual words and actions will be remembered long after. We must trust that what we are doing matters even when it doesn’t appear to remain in the leaves.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

Heaven and Hell

A monk was deep in his prayers when an angel appeared to him and offered to reveal to him any of the divine mysteries. The monk said to the Angel, “show me Heaven and Hell.”

Suddenly, the monk and the Angel were in a large banquet hall. There was a large table filled with every good food you could imagine. There was succulent turkey, fresh from the oven, hot bread and butter, any side you could want, and delicious cakes for dessert. All the guests looked pale and sickly. The monk noticed that they were chained to their chairs and that they each had large metal rods shackled to their arms. Unable to leave their chairs or bend their elbows, the monk watched in horror as the guests at the banquet could not feed themselves any of this delicious food. They’d pick it up and drop it over and over and cry out in hunger, powerless to get any of the food to their mouths.

“This,” said the Angel, grimly, “is Hell.”

“I cannot bear to watch their suffering any longer,” said the monk, “please show me Heaven.”

Just as suddenly, the monk and the Angel were in a differen banquet hall. There was also a large table filled with every good food you could imagine and all the guests here too were chained to their chairs and they each had large metal rods shackled to their arms. But these guests were not crying out in anguish. To the contrary, they were singing and laughing. They were not pale and sickly like the guests in the room before. These people were happy, healthy, and content. The monk watched closely and suddenly realized the difference between the two rooms. In this room, each guest was picking up food and feeding it to his neighbor.

I love this old parable and I can’t help but think about it every time I take communion. In the Gospels, Jesus set aside his right to exclude people from his table and was criticized for the company he kept. This parable reminds us that it is our humility and our service that makes Heaven out of Hell. In the early Church, our self sacrificing love was indeed our defining characteristic and one of the chief ways we patterned our lives after Christ. The same Christ whose outstretched arms are marvelously depicted in the words of the old hymn: “Come Ye sinners poor and needy, weak and wounded, sick and sore/ Jesus, ready, stands to save you, full of pity, love, and power…” Disciples walking in the way of Jesus are called to practice this same grace and hospitality.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Question…

There was once a monk who was famous for speaking only in questions. Anytime someone would come to him needing advice, he would pray deeply then give them a question to meditate on. One particular day, a Priest came to him and said, “I am here on retreat and I was wondering if you could give me a question to meditate on while I am here.”

The monk prayed very deeply for a moment then whispered, “What do they need?”

The priest though about this for a second and said, “that is indeed a very good question to ponder but I was hoping for a question having less to do with my vocation as a priest and more to do with my own personal spiritual quest for truth…”

The monk prayed very deeply for a moment then whispered, “What do they really need?”

What do they really need? As a person in ministry, this parable really resonates with me. Sometimes there is a difference between the lesson or message we long to give and what the people need to hear. All of us, as disciples, are called to minister to the needs of others. We cannot easily separate our interior life from our exterior acts of service. They are deeply intertwined. We certainly need to find times to retreat from the world and recharge and reconnect with God. Sabbath is commanded of us. However, that time is spent so that we can come back ready to meet the needs of others. When Jesus asked Peter three times “Do you love me?” After Peter said, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you!” Jesus replied, “feed my sheep.”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…