As we approach the summer we may well be looking to pack a novel, (or two) or even the kindle or some other e-book appliance into our suitcase. Of course whether we actually go on holiday or not is another story and not just one you'll read about in a book. Nevertheless more reading material is purchased over the summer months than at any other time – which can only be a good thing.
I don't think many of us would pack religious literature (I can't say I do) but the parables of Jesus have been called the greatest short stories in the world.
Like many Rabbis, or teachers, Jesus’ preferred form of teaching was telling stories or parables. They were simple and earthy and easily understood (well maybe once they were explained) and I can never imagine they will ever lose their moral appeal. Some of you will have your own favourite Jesus story – one of mine is the parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30). A few weeks ago I discovered a modern translation of this ancient story in a book by W Somerset Maughan, called the Verger.
To make this short story even shorter, it’s about a verger (church officer/beadle) of a fictional prestigious London church called St Peter’s. A new vicar arrives at this church and soon discovers that the verger can’t read or write. The cleric decides that such an important church as St Peter’s should not have a verger who can neither read nor write so the poor verger finds himself unemployed. There's a moral there before you even begin to read the story.
Deeply disappointed, he leaves the church and heads off home but on his way he decides he would like a cigarette. He walks down a street and discovers that there is no tobacconist (remember this was written in the 1950’s). He walks the length of the street and still can’t find a tobacconist. He thinks to himself that it might be a good thing to rent an empty shop and open a little newsagents come tobacconists. He does this and his business becomes a roaring success. Over the years he opens a chain of shops throughout London. One day while he is paying his week’s takings to the Bank he is told that the manager would like to see him. The manager is keen to encourage him to invest his vast Bank account in Gilt Edged Securities and offers him some documents to read. The ex-verger blushes and explains that he will have to take the documents home to his wife as he himself can neither read nor write. The manager is astonished and blurts out: ‘What! You can’t read or write and yet you own a chain of shops throughout London! Where would you be today if you were able to read and write?’
‘Oh sir,’ said the man, ‘that’s easy to answer – I would be the verger at St Peter’s.’
What I like about this story is that like the parables of Jesus the sting is in the tail. It was the apparent disaster of losing his comfortable and secure job that spurred the verger on to open his first shop. What seemed like a terrible failure and the end of a career was actually an opportunity and not a dead-end. So often in life when we meet with barriers or disappointments we may well think that that is the end of the world; but perhaps it’s an opportunity to do something new. There, begins a tale . . .