Saturday, October 10, 2009

Hackberry Tree Parable

Wealth, No Camel, A Squirrel, and A Raptor

There was a little bit of drama in the hackberry tree in our yard this week. Thinking about the lectionary readings for tomorrow, I started seeing this drama in terms of the Gospel story (Mark 10: 17-31) about the rich man who wants to know what he needs to do in order to inherit eternal life. The answer Jesus gives, which shocks the man and makes him grieve, was “Sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Then Jesus goes on to tell the disciples something that’s as daunting for us middle-class Americans as it would have been for this rich man: it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. No camels showed up in my yard this week, but a couple of less exotic creatures did. Given the appearance of these two acting out a little parable in keeping with this week's Gospel reading, it wouldn’t have completely surprised me to see a camel come sauntering down the street.

I was out on our side porch at lunchtime on Friday – back before winter came blowing into Nebraska -- and heard a ruckus up in the hackberry tree. I thought a squirrel had broken a small branch, which happens sometimes (since they sometimes gnaw on the branches as they sit on them), and looked up to see the underside of a big bird of prey – some sort of raptor with white feathers on its breast, which was the part of the bird I could see -- who was crashing down through the branches. The falling raptor dropped a squirrel -- splat -- on our driveway. As soon as the bird let go of the squirrel, it was able to get itself straightened out and it soared up and flew away. It all happened so fast that I couldn’t see the bird well enough to identify it. Whatever it was, this squirrel must have been fighting enough to interfere with the bird’s ability to fly off with it.

The squirrel ran really fast to the tree and ran way up to where there’s a nest. Lots of other squirrels appeared and chattered their alarm, but above the sound of that I heard what I can only describe as squirrel sobs from up in the nest, a softer, very rhythmic form of squirrel chatter. After the others quieted down, clusters of these squirrel sobs continued off and on for several minutes. The poor little thing was terrified, and possibly hurt.

Birds of prey most often succeed in hunting the weakest animals, the most vulnerable. The squirrel this one chose wasn’t as weak as it appeared evidently, and gave the bird a great deal of trouble. What’s interesting in light of the Gospel story is that it wasn’t just in letting go of something that the bird was able to fly freely again, but in letting go of the smaller, weaker creature on which it was preying. This little drama as it relates to the Gospel lesson wasn’t only about the raptor and its need to let go of a difficult weight, but about the squirrel and its desire to survive. The Gospel story isn’t only about us and our need to be detached from things that get in the way of discipleship; it’s also about those who have less power, wealth, and strength but about whom Christ cares very much. We aren’t truly free of the things that weigh us down until we join Christ in caring for and about the poor and vulnerable. It isn’t enough to go off and take a vow of poverty and simplify our lives; true discipleship involves noticing and caring for people who have to worry more about not having enough than about having too much.

Part of good environmental stewardship is considering the people who are most affected by pollution and climate change, letting go of our environmentally harmful practices so that others can have life.

The Asia-Pacific region has had earthquakes, a deadly tsunami, and typhoons in recent weeks. This week in particular, while we are thinking about whether we can make an internal, spiritual shift to detach ourselves from our possessions and follow Christ, many people in the Philippines lost everything as mud rumbled down hillsides onto villages below. Climate scientists don’t know with certainty if the number and intensity of typhoons in recent years is a result of climate change, but they do expect that as climate change accelerates, we will see more and more storms of this sort in this part of the world.

If the stories from the Asia-Pacific region in recent weeks have touched your heart, consider making a donation to Episcopal Relief and Development. Click here for their most recent press release about responding to the multiple natural disasters in the Asia-Pacific region.

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