I draw a distinction between a “story” and a “parable.” Stories should tell the tale, but it’s up to the reader to decipher any (or unintended) meaning. The author seldom explains the story.
A parable, on the other hand, tells a tale, certainly, but one that deserves (if not begs) an explanation—in some ways, the explanation itself is a part of the tale. In the Bible, for example, Jesus told parables, and their significance, their power, grew not just from the telling, but from the explanation and application.
Parables also have one particular meaning, while stories can live and breath meaning, changing with each reader, or with each reading.
There once was a very rich man. He was so rich, he could have owned many cars, but instead he chose to drive a Ford. He was so rich, he could have owned many computers, but instead he chose an Apple Macintosh. He was so rich, he could have owned many homes—even some in Beverly Hills—but instead he chose to live in East LA.
Because this man was rich, many people in his neighborhood knew him. And also because the man was rich, many people from outside of his neighborhood knew him too. Often, his doorbell would ring, and there on his threshold would stand someone who had come to ask for a donation.
Sometimes when the bell rang, it was a neighbor who had fallen into misfortune. The man would smile, embrace his neighbor, and place a generous sum into their hand.
Sometimes when the bell rang, it was a charity representing the starving children of Tijuana. The man would again smile, embrace the charity worker, and write a generous check.
Sometimes when the bell rang, it was a Jehovah’s Witness. Were he like many of us, the man’s first instinct would have been to promptly kick them in the butt and shove them back out onto the street. But instead, he once more smiled and embraced the Jehovah’s Witness as any other guest upon his threshold.
One evening, when his doorbell was particularly quiet, this man decided to take a stroll. He headed off, idling along wherever the road wound; amongst the quaint homes of his neighborhood, past the threadbare trees lining the park, along walls painted with an array of colorful graffiti tags (remember, this was East LA).
Every once in a while, a car passed, thumping out the latest rage in rap hit, and he soon found himself whistling one of these catchy tunes to himself.
Lost in the tune, he came suddenly upon a homeless bum lying in the midst of the sidewalk. The bum wore a tattered sweater and ripped pants. He had shoes, but they didn’t even match. And oh! The smell! I can’t even describe that to you here because it would ruin your Thanksgiving dinner.
Well, this unfortunate soul lying on the street saw the man and knew him. Certainly, the bum said to himself. This is the rich man who lives on the lane. Surely he can help me, for he has money at his disposal. But instead of reaching out his hand, the bum was overcome by a sudden bout of shame and hid his face.
The man stood over this tattered figure. He reached down and touched the bum’s cheek, but the bum shrank away from him even further. The man’s eyes clouded slightly and he cracked a weak smile. Forgetting the tune he once whistled, the man slowly turned and walked back to his home.
Upon hearing the man retreat beyond the corner, the bum opened his eyes and sat up. There at his feet lay a crisp $100.00 dollar bill.
The bum grabbed the money and made a beeline for the nearest 7/11. Like all bums, this one’s first thought was to go blow the money on vodka. What a bum!
But, before he entered the store, he remembered the compassion of the man’s touch. This inspired him, and the bum decided then and there to turn his life around. The bum promptly bummed two dimes off an old lady (pay phones don’t take hundreds). “Well.” the lady replied. “You ain’t gonna spend this on alcohol?” The bum shook his head and stuck the money into the slot of the nearest telephone.
His broker answered and the bum said, “Hundred dollars. Invest it all in that company with the nerdy looking CEO. Microsoft!”
Since this was, as it turns out, the late-1980s, it took only a short while before the stock skyrocketed. Yes, good can come of evil after all—especially when you’re working the stock market—and the bum found himself very well off indeed.
Back in East LA the years passed slowly. The generous man kept to life much as usual—taking evening strolls, whistling rap tunes, answering his door.
One day in particular, his doorbell rang, and there stood a finely dressed gentleman in a three piece suit. Uh oh, the man thought. Jehovah’s Witness. But before he could do anything, his guest spoke.
“You’re the rich man, aren’t you?” his guest asked.
“What can I do for you?” the man responded automatically, so accustomed to being asked for things.
“It is not what you can do for me,” answered his guest. “But what you have already done.”
“What have I done for you?” the man asked in surprise.
“You’ve given me a second chance at life. Why, with your generous gift, I was able to invest the money and pull myself out of my poverty. I no longer wallow in the grime and gutters, but I walk along crowded sidewalks with my head held high. I have you to thank for that.”
Suddenly, the man recognized his guest. It was the old bum who’d been lying in the street. The man replied, “What I gave you, you did not ask for. I gave it simply because I saw you there and loved you. I would have given it to anyone in your position.”
“All the more reason to come and thank you,” his guest said.
“But I am rich,” replied the man. “I have many gifts to give. I don’t expect anything in return.”
“Good,” his guest said with a nod. “Because I don’t have anything to offer in return—whatever I have, you gave to me. All I wanted to do was come and thank you.”
The man stared as his guest reached out and took him into an embrace. It was the same gesture the man had so often offered to those at his door, yet this was the first time someone had offered it back.
Tears filled the man’s eyes as his guest, a lowly bum off the street, held him in the most satisfying embrace he had ever received.
The Rich Man is God, while the Poor Man is you or me. God has given us everything we have. He created us. He gave us life (and life again). He gave us love. He gave us talents to do things. All we have springs from what He’s given us.
What can we give God back to show our grattitude? What can we return to Him that he hasn’t given us already? There is only one thing. Our thanks. Our thanks is the only gift we can give to God that he hasn’t given us in the first place.
This parable was written by M. Stanley Bubien and is shared from the following website: http://www.storybytes.com/view-stories/1996/parable-thanks.html
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