It is interesting what you can find on the internet and what you can be led to. This last week I learned about the tree-climbing goats of Morocco via the internet. (This sounds random and it is, but trust me, there is a point.)
I was on the internet and on my screen appeared a link to an upcoming show about goats that climb trees. Curious person that I am, I clicked the link and I was taken to a page showing a number of pictures of trees with goats amidst their branches. At first I thought that these photos must be doctored and cannot be real but there was a further link to Youtube videos showing these goats climbing up the trees, moving around and balancing on the limbs and then scampering down off the trees. The story is that there is a certain type of berry or fruit that these trees produce that the goats crave and over time they have adapted and have developed the ability to climb these trees in order to get at the fruit. But, the image of these goats perched in trees is kind of surreal – two very ordinary things (goats and trees) brought together in a totally unexpected way that makes one do a double take and even question ones perception.
The parables of our Lord operate in a similar way I believe. Our Lord takes common, everyday realities that we are all familiar with but then puts a spin on them that leaves one doing a mental double take and re-evaluating our perceptions. Similar to seeing goats perched in a tree. Take for example this Sunday’s parable (Mt. 20:1-16). We can easily imagine the landowner and the laborers. We understand what work is and what it means to give someone a fair wage for a day’s work. But then there is this “spin” at the end. Those laborers who worked only one hour get paid the same amount as those who put in a full day’s work. And we are left with the response of the landowner, “Are you envious because I am generous?”
In regards to parables we need to realize that approaching a parable like a math problem to be figured out is like attending a symphony and choosing to focus so intently on the words in the program that you totally miss the music. Parables are not meant to be “solved” but to be entered into and lived in and as we do this we are brought to greater awareness and perception.
As I have sat with this parable this last week I have been led to realize that probably about ninety-five percent of the life of faith and discipleship is just about showing up – whether it be at the start of the day or the end of the day. If we just “show up” then God will do the rest – whether it is making the decision to go to church, to get involved in that service project, to take time daily for prayer and Scripture reflection, to make the decision to be available and attentive to our family and neighbor. If we just “show up” like the laborers in the market-place then God will do the rest. But it is important to note that showing up is not just a physical thing but must truly occur within ourselves. It is the decision to be truly present to the other.
It can be said that really everything that we do as Church – from worship to sacraments and liturgy, to service and care for others, to the reality of community, to private prayer and devotion – is about showing up for the encounter with Christ. If we just “show up” then God will do the rest.
“Are you envious because I am generous?” asks our Lord.
When it comes to the parables, it is all about the goats in the tree.