The Gift: a Parable for Our Time

Once upon a time lived a woman who loved to garden and care for creation. Her home was a cottage, handed down through the generations, which she had surrounded with the beauty and fragrance of flowers of every variety. While not wealthy, she was content and at peace surrounded by the splendor of creation.

One day, while digging in a far corner of her yard, she came upon a solid object in the soil. Carefully excavating it, she was surprised to discover what appeared to be a wooden chest. She lifted it from its earthen grave and set it upon the grass, beholding it for a while, pondering its origins and the reasons for its burial. The wood was weathered and worn, the brass fittings tarnished. Her hands gently stroked its surface and edges, probingly. After several moments of embracing the mystery, her fingers deftly released the latch. Lifting the lid, the sunlight reflected brilliantly off of a collection of glass bottles each filled with clear liquid. Again, as she pondered the significance of these bottles, her eyes caught sight of a yellowed envelope attached to the lid of the box. She opened the envelope. Inside was a small piece of paper on which was inscribed a simple message: “ A gift of healing.”

She pondered. She contemplated. She considered her own poor eyesight, wondering if it would help. She removed the top of one bottle, inhaled its fruity fragrance, and tipped the bottle to her lips, tasting its sweetness. Suddenly she noticed her vision blur. In panic she set down the bottle, removed her heavy-lensed glasses, and rubbed her eyes only to discover that her vision was crystal clear. Brimming with excitement, she was amazed and in awe of this “gift.” How could she best to use this remarkable gift? It took her only a moment to recall the crippled man who often inhabited a busy street corner of her town. Would it work for him as well? Hurriedly, she recapped the bottle, placed it carefully in her shoulder bag, washed her hands, and set out for town, filled with anticipatory joy.

As she neared the corner, there she saw him, huddled against a building, with a worn shawl draped over his shoulders. She approached him excitedly, pulled the bottle from her bag, along with a small cup, poured a small amount of the golden liquid into the cup and extended it to him. “Try this. It may help.” He reached out his withered and trembling hand to take the cup with a look of puzzled gratitude in his eyes. But as he did so, a figure in a black coat and hat stepped from the shadows, interposing himself between the reaching hand and the extended cup.

Facing the woman, the imposing figure said, “Excuse me. Do you have a license to distribute tonics?” “Well, no…I was hoping to help…” “Not without a license,” he retorted. She stared into his face, veiled in shadow, struggling to discern the meaning of the intrusion. But after a moment of silence that stretched into eternity, she withdrew the cup, returned the liquid to the bottle and headed home—disheartened but determined.

Weeks later, the license arrived in the mail. She quickly packed up her bottle and cup and returned to the corner. The man was there as usual. Again she poured some of the liquid into the cup and extended it to the man. As his hand reached out, the figure in the black coat and hat stepped from the shadows again. Quickly the woman produced the license to distribute tonics, but without looking at the license, the man in black demanded, “Is your tonic registered?” “No, but I have a license.” “That will not do. To be distributed the tonic must be registered.” Again, she slowly withdrew the cup, replaced the liquid, and turned for home, discouraged but resolute.

More weeks passed. The registration arrived in the mail. She placed the registration in her bag with the license and bottle of healing liquid and headed to town, her steps burdened but hopeful. Again she poured the liquid into a cup and extended it to the man. And again the figure stepped out. She pulled out the license and the registration, but he said, “Excuse me. This man is not enrolled in a healing program. He must be enrolled before he can receive your tonic.” She turned and headed for home, now disillusioned.

After many months of protocols and paperwork, the man was successfully enrolled in an appropriate program. With paperwork in hand she returned to the corner, her footsteps reflecting the apprehensive heaviness in her heart. Yet believing all was finally in order, she reached the man, pulled out the bottle, filled the cup and smiling with sad ambivalence, extended it to him once again. As his hand was haltingly extended, the figure interjected himself once again. She reached in her bag and produced the required documents. “I’m sorry, but this man has not undergone the steps required before administration of a tonic.” She stared at the figure, open-mouthed, disbelieving. All she wanted to do was share her gift. After a few moments of open-mouthed disbelief, she closed her mouth, replaced her documents and her tonic, turned and slowly returned home, dispirited, demoralized, without hope, deprived of joy.

Upon reaching home, she took the bottle out of the bag and placed it carefully back into the chest. Closing the chest, she picked it up and carried it to the backyard. Taking a shovel, she began slowly and deliberately to re-dig the hole in the corner of her backyard. With a heavy heart, she replaced the chest into the hole and slowly, sadly, shoveled dirt mixed with tears, back onto the chest. On top of the soil she then planted a single lily.

While on an errand a week later she passed sorrowfully by the corner. The man was no longer there. But lying abandoned beside the building was the worn and tattered shawl. In that moment, she realized that they both had been deprived of the benefit of her gift: he of the healing; she of the joy of giving.

We live in a world that has been richly and diversely gifted by God, a world in which receiving and giving are to reciprocally mark our lives. We were created to receive our many gifts from God’s hand, not solely for our own purposes, but in order to extend those gifts to others in love. The great reward of such giving is joy—the joy we receive in return for giving—but the act of giving also frees our hands to accept more of God’s gifts. Thus in God’s economy, the reciprocity of receiving and giving provide benefits to the recipients of His gifts and joy to the hearts, souls, and lives of those who give.

But we live in a world that is rapidly changing, a world in which it is believed that regulations are required for the protection of one against another. Giving and receiving along with sharing and caring have thus become highly regulated. But this world of overregulation has killed the joy of giving, of sharing our gifts, whatever they may be. Sadly, the process is causing many to take their gifts and leave, burying them. The result is an impoverished world, for it is a world divested of countless gifts and deprived the ensuing joy that sharing those gifts was intended to bring.

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