Life can be miserable for three reasons: guilts from the past, worries about the future, and anxieties about the present. On the other hand, life can be a great joy to live once these three problems are solved. I have a favorite fable that depicts life precisely.
I have shared this story with you several times, but I am telling it again because the truth must be told and reviewed frequently, or we forget and get sidetracked. I myself get sidetracked if I don’t reconsider these course-correcting parables. Each time I tell this story, I get something new out of it. Here it is:
A man is taking a walk in the wilderness. Suddenly he hears some sneaky footsteps behind him, so he turns around expecting to see a fellow stroller, but it turns out to be a fierce tiger trying to sneak up on him. So, he runs for his life, but soon, he reaches the edge of a cliff, leaving him no more room to run.
He turns around to face the tiger. Like a house cat, the tiger stops chasing when its prey stops running. Then, it tries to position itself to pounce on the man. Suddenly, he sees a vine dangling down the edge of the cliff. Without wasting any time, he quickly grabs the vine and slides down the cliff.
When he reaches the middle of the cliff, he looks down to make sure it’s safe to keep sliding down. To his disappointment, he sees several crocodiles on the riverbank with their jaw wide open, waiting to eat him for lunch. Now he is stuck in the middle of the cliff.
He looks up and sees the tiger still roaming up there, trying to find a way to catch him. He looks down and sees the hungry crocodiles waiting for their lunch. He looks up again, and shockingly, he discovers two mice—a black and a white—gnawing on the vine right below the tiger.
His anxiety shoots to the roof when he realizes that the vine he is hanging on will break sooner or later. He tries to shoo the mice away, but they stop and stare at him for a moment and go back to gnawing. Then he tries to reach for something nearby that he may throw at the mice, but he sees nothing except a big red juicy sun-ripen strawberry in his arms reach.
He loves strawberries and knows that one must be incredibly delicious. Still, he can’t enjoy the strawberry because he is preoccupied with the tiger on the top, the crocodiles below, and the mice gnawing on his lifeline. Helplessly, he looks up at the tiger, down at the crocodiles, and then the mice.
After a long period of hanging in there and looking up and down, he decides to close his eyes, stretch out his arm, unplug the strawberry, and savor it as if nothing is happening. (End of the story.)
That is one of the most famous ancient fables that depicts life. Once, a young lady asked me after I told this story, “What happened to that man after eating the strawberry?” That’s a good question we will answer today, but let’s look at the allegory first.
The vine represents our lifeline. We all slide on our lifeline from our past down to our future or gave. We are heading to the grave from birth, and we fear what lies beyond this life.
The tiger represents our guilt from our past. Many people live their lives haunted by their skeletons in the closet, and that’s why they can’t enjoy life to the fullest.
Some people live with fear for the future. The crocodiles down the line represent the uncertain future. The current pandemic has made us even more insecure about what’s to come next. Fear or worry about the future can cripple our ability to enjoy life to the fullest.
The third common killer of joy is the present anxiety. The mice represent the annoyances that raise our concerns. The black and white mice represent day and night. They stress you out during the day and keep you awake at night. They also represent the time that doesn’t wait for us. Day and night gnaw on our lifeline like clockwork, but no one can stop it.
As a result, we can’t enjoy the juicy strawberry, which represents the gift from God for us to savor.
Some people may deny they have a tiger of their past, crocodiles of their future, or mice of the present. Like the man in the story, some religions teach you to numb your mind by clearing your thoughts and savor the strawberry in denial of the existence of guilt, fear, and anxiety. Denial doesn’t make things disappear, but it will still kill your joy from the inside.
We must solve these common human problems to enjoy life to the fullest. The good news is, in today’s scripture lesson, Jesus reveals the secrets to getting rid of the tiger, the crocodiles, and the mice. With these secrets, you will be able to enjoy life to the fullest. So, let’s begin!
[Hi! In case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone—the Lightkeeper. You are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you, and you are satisfied in God.]
Today is the Ascension Sunday, and the scripture lesson is from the Gospel according to Luke 24:44-53. [Listen to the Word of the Lord.]
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God. (Lk 24:44–53).
[This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!]
That’s the end of the Gospel of Luke. What’s interesting is that it ends with the disciples in great joy. It says,
“And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.” (Luke 24:52-53).
It’s a happy ending! The question is, what gave them such great joy? Jesus left them, and they should have been upset because they wouldn’t see him anymore until who knows when. Luke tries to tell us that they had great joy because the most crippling life problems were solved.
In other words, they no longer had the tiger, the crocodiles, and the pesky mice in their lives so that they could enjoy life to the fullest. Now, let’s see how Jesus taught them with his last words the secret to the great joy.
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:44).
After the resurrection, Jesus spent time with the disciples explaining that everything they saw was not a freak accident but laid out in the scriptures. Jesus had taught them before, but they didn’t understand. Most importantly, the scripture is written about him, not about some philosophy. Jesus previously told the religious leaders,
“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me.” (John 5:39 NIV).
A lot of people read the scripture as a sacred text to find the secrets of life or philosophy of human wisdom, but Jesus said you couldn’t understand the scripture unless you read it with him as the reference point. You cannot find eternal life in the scriptures if you set him aside because they are to testify about him.
Eternal life comes through him, not through the scriptures. So, we must put on the lens of Jesus to understand the scriptures. Then he said,
Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures. (Luke 24:45a).
At a glance, it might sound like he magically opened their minds to understand the scriptures. Based on Jesus’ teachings as a whole, this verse means that their mind’s eyes were opened once they interpreted the scripture with Jesus in reference. Putting on Jesus as the reading glasses, everything becomes clear.
In fact, not only the Bible but also all other prophetic scriptures around the world becomes clear when you read through the lens of Jesus. Of course, the Old Testament Bible is what the disciples had learned and had access to, and it has the precise prophecy of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection.
“Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (Luke 24:46-47).
He suffered for our sins. Using the allegory, we can say that he fed himself to the tiger on our behalf, so we don’t have to fear the tiger anymore. Our past guilt is taken care of, so we can enjoy life without being haunted by our guilts.
Then he rose from the dead on the third day, proving what he previously said was true, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live.” (John 11:25). How could he promise us the resurrection if he didn’t rise from the dead? Now, he did, so we have confidence. The crocodiles we fear have been removed.
Not only is the past forgiven, but also the future is taken care of. The fact that he was lifted up to heaven reveals life doesn’t end here and now, but there’s something better beyond death.
There’s a story of a lady on her deathbed. She told her family to place a fork in her hand when they placed her in her casket after she died. She said, “If people ask why I want to be buried with a fork in my hand, tell them this story:
“I went to a banquet one day, and, after a delicious meal, the waiter came to take my plate away and said, ‘Mam, please keep the fork.’ Then I knew the best is yet to come. He meant there was a delicious dessert coming up. In the same way, I believe the best is yet to come after I leave this world.”
When your future is not a bunch of crocodiles trying to eat you but a table of delicious desserts waiting for you, you can enjoy life to the fullest. Then Jesus said,
“You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:48).
Jesus gives the disciples an assignment to be the witness of what he had done and to proclaim the repentance and forgiveness of sins. When you have a higher purpose, your chronic anxiety goes away. The two black and white mice do not bother you anymore because you have a divine dream to realize.
There are two types of anxiety: good anxiety and chronic anxiety. Good anxiety comes from excitement and expectation to see our dreams come true. Chronic anxiety is harmful to us. Jesus knows we are anxious to fulfill our divine dream, and we might feel that’s beyond our ability. That’s why he promises to give us the power from above.
“And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49).
The power from on high is another term for the Holy Spirit to help us do more remarkable things above and beyond human ability.
Now we understand why these formerly fear-stricken disciples returned to Jerusalem with great joy. They now realize that their sins are forgiven by the atoning death of Jesus Christ, their future is certain by the resurrection of the Lord, and the present has meaningful works and a divine dream to fulfill. They can savor the strawberry without worrying about the past, present, and future.
How about you? Are you savoring the strawberry with your eyes close in denial of the tiger, crocodiles, and the mice? Jesus doesn’t want us to close our eyes in denial but open our minds to see the truth clearly. Our minds are open when we see the world through him.
To see the world clearly, we need to accept him as our Lord and Savior, who took care of our past, present, and future. Then you can enjoy your life to the fullest when you let him tame your tiger, confine your crocodiles, and muzzle your mice. Jesus said,
“I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest.” (John 10:10b CEB).
So, let’s enjoy life to the fullest by receiving him as your Lord and Savior and take his assignment to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins so that the entire world can share this joy of living to the fullest. Let’s enjoy the sweet and savory strawberry in full-fledged freedom given to us by the risen Christ.
That’s it for today. I hope you find this message illuminating as much as I enjoy receiving it from the Head Office. Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader, and harvest the fruit of profound happiness.