A farmer grew a crop on the land he had cleared, and saved a portion of the harvest to plant the next year. He set the seeds aside in a sack and made preparation for the winter.
Over the winter, the farmer’s younger son discovered that a family of mice lived in the shed where the sack of seed was stored. The son found that the mice were quite entertaining, and he believed them his pets after a time because they were almost unafraid of him. He brought them crumbs from the family meals and spent many hours playing in the shed and watching the little rodents scurry and play.
His sister discovered her brother’s little friends, and promptly told their mother about the mice. The boy’s mother sternly instructed him to stop feeding food to the mice, and watched him carefully to ensure he did not take scraps or crumbs from the table to feed them. Dejected, the boy promised he wouldn’t feed them anymore. Days went by before the boy was able to sneak away to the shed unnoticed. He feared the worst, but was happy to discover his small friends were still alive. He tried to keep his word, but hated to see the little faces looking up at him. After some debate, he noticed the bag of seed nearby. The mice were small, and would be fed by less than a pinch of seed.
When spring arrived, the farmer prepared his equipment and entered the shed, ready to plant. He noticed the bag of seed was considerably lighter and looked inside. More than half of the seed was gone, yet the bag had no holes. Confused, the farmer planted his crop and mentioned it to his wife over dinner that night. Her eyes fell on her son, and the farmer noticed a long look of guilt on the boy’s face. The boy had kept his word, he protested to his mother,”You never said anything about seed.”
The farmer acted in anger to the confession and made the boy admit he had known better. He prepared to exterminate the mice thriving in his shed, even though the boy begged his father not to. His son anxiously promised to work hard to pay for the seed he had taken. The farmer relented after some consideration, deciding this was a better lesson. He intended to be lenient after the boy had done a few weeks of hard work; but let that slip into a month, then two. A few mishaps on the farm were enough to justify the need for using his son as a hired hand to keep the finances under control. It became habit to remind his son of the wrong he had done.
The boy knew his family would have a smaller crop that year, and that he was expected to keep his promise. His father demanded long hours of work and he had little time for fun or friends. He was tempted to go back on his word and just give up more than once. His father was unrelenting, always expecting the work of a man from a boy. Over the months that followed, the boy no longer complained and dutifully completed his tasks without a word. Unfortunately, being so young meant he never did the job as well as his father expected. Ever critical, the farmer failed to notice that his son had withdrawn from him.
Years later, the boy had become a man with a few children. He was a successful businessman, partly because he kept his word and stuck to it. He was a hard worker who rarely had time to visit his parents. Although he was a loving father, he had moments where he could be very hard on his children. They were expected to be honest and faced deep consequences if they made a misstatement or fell back on a promise.
One day he brought some work home; and was called away to take a phone call. While he was away, his youngest daughter spilled liquid on the papers he had been working on. Frustrated, he demanded the child pay for her mistake and days of work he would lose. On the second day of household chores and washing cars, the man overheard his daughter crying over a bucket of soapy water. As he looked at her he realized that he had become his father. There was no value in continuing the unjust punishment or expecting a full repayment.
—————Thoughts that motivated this story—————
This story came from reflection on the inability to pay for a wrong while regretting it. Just as children can never be on equal footing with their parent while young, so it is with us and a perfect creator.
And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.
In Matthew 3:6 the crowds who came out to meet John the Baptist did something rather unusual for at least the Jews among them. They didn’t get ceremonially washed, they didn’t bring an offering they could hold to cover their sins, they came and were baptized. As I understand it, baptism was not done by John alone; the Greek philosophers also performed this ritual for people who followed their philosophy. It had a social significance because it was done in a public setting. So the folks who were baptized by John were agreeing that there was a need to repent and they confessed that.
I assume that God had become less than powerful or relevant in the lives of those that John baptized. They probably believed that if they ‘checked the box’ by DOING something, God’s wrath would be satisfied for their sins. They may also have justified their position as ‘at least I’m not as bad as another’. Does any of this sound familiar? Today we do the same thing, we may not pay to have an animal slaughtered, or bring the first wheat harvested from a field; but it is in our nature to justify our actions or even try to redeem them with good deeds. Fooling yourself can only go so far. Do we really believe we are smarter than the creator of the universe? Perhaps by repenting we are no different than the children in the story above, only able to make a token effort.
A comparison of guilt to another is a cyclical argument. If I am guilty of one sin, that’s enough. Just three weeks ago my son was baptized, and thrilled to admit to the world he was and is a sinner, and had a savior. As he was so young I was skeptical, and in fact kept him from doing it for a full two years, but he kept asking. He was so excited he bounced up and down in the water (which of course made everyone laugh). When John baptized those who recognized a need for change, he was preparing the way. It wasn’t condemnation without an answer; it was condemnation filled with hope. That message is the same today, it calls out to each not to fix yourself, but to surrender and ask for mercy. If a young child can do that, so must I – and not just on special occasions.