Sunday, May 20, 2007

Shouldering the Load-- a Parable

It seemed like I had been climbing up arms and legs forever. I really wasn't an acrobat at all, but to get to the top, I had to climb up and over a lot of people. And now I was standing on top of the heap of humanity. Do you know how difficult it is to stand on someone else's shoulders? I mean, its like standing on moving ground, and you are never quite sure how long you can maintain your balance. In one sense you've done all this climbing just so you can get a clearer view of things-- where you've come from, and where you may be going. It's kind of wonderful, and kind of scary. If you're afraid of heights, don't try this at home. The view up here is spectacular, and you begin to really feel like you've accomplished something all by yourself by getting to the top. That is, until you look down.

For me it was very disconcerting. I looked down and I saw all these old people. Every single one of them, and I do mean all of them, were older than me. At the very bottom of the heap was a man who was as old as Methuselah-- he had this really long white hair and more wrinkles than an elephant. I noticed that the higher up one gets on this human totem pole, the younger the people are. This seemed odd because it meant that the oldest person was carrying the most weight down there at the bottom, whereas the youngest, namely me, was shouldering nothing especially now that I was on the top. And then I saw something that almost made me fall off.

The two persons immediately below me, on whose shoulders I was standing were my parents. Most disconcerting was the fact that I was standing immediately on my mother's shoulders. She was all hunched over to bear my weight, and I could see her wrinkled brow concentrating hard to hold me up. I thought-- "this is all wrong. Shouldn't I be supporting her now that she is old. Why must we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us?"

Then it hit me. All this stuff in our world about our radical individuality is a myth. No human being ever brought herself into the world. No human being ever nursed himself from birth. No human being ever taught himself to read or write or play a musical instrument. No baby ever went out and bought his own wardrobe. I thought about myself. Most everything of what I have learned in life I have learned because of others who went before me and wrote it down, or taught me, or shared it with me. I am what I am in large part because of the efforts of others. I am not a self made man. No one is. There never has been such a person. We are indebted to, and dependent on those who have gone before us, and most particularly on those who have loved us into existence and then on into adulthood.

The wind was blowing hard in my face, and I was beginning to feel really guilty about standing on my Mom's shoulders. Didn't this hurt her? But she was smiling, which allayed some of my fears. Why had I done all this climbing up the heap of humanity? What was it all for, all this striving? Then it hit me-- look up. I remember the advice my father had given me-- when you are facing adversity look up. Look over it and beyond it. See yourself on the other side of it. But when I looked up this time, I saw what Stephen had seen just before he died-- I saw the Son of Man standing way up high beyond me. He had welcoming arms. I sort of hoped to ascend right into his presence right then. But that's not what happened.

What happened shocked me. Here came someone else clamoring up the human totem pole. They were straining hard and looking up all the time. At first they were so far down I couldn't see who it was. Then I began to recognize the face--it was an adult face but younger than mine. It was my son. Here he came. All 6 feet 1 of him. He was way bigger than me. I saw him climb up beyond my parents and then he stepped into my hand hold, and then he hoisted himself on top on my shoulders. At first the sheer weight of him was crushing. Then I shifted a bit and began to get used to the load. Then it dawned on me that I needed to get used to-- for the forseeable future.

The foreseeable future. What was that anyway? Why had I done all this climbing for all these years. And then I heard my son speak. His voice was a little distant since he was higher than me, but I could just make it out. This was no tower of Babel or babble because no one was talking, just shouldering the load above him. No one except the one now of top-- my son. And I heard him say distinctly-- "I see Jesus, much more clearly than I ever imagined I would." At that moment I realized what it was all for, all this striving, sweating, straining, climbing. It was not for me-- it was for those who came after me. I stood up taller then, standing proud. It had all been worth it. It was worth shouldering this load. The wind swept the tears from my eyes.


J. Wermuth said...

Thank you for that perspective. It really opened my eyes to how much we really do count on one another. Thank God for those in our lives that continue to lift us up. I had always been a very individualistic thinker, so it is great to see how we really do depend on the village.

The Vegas Art Guy said...

Great post. Are you back from Turkey?

Michael Gilley said...

Thank you so much for this. I just graduated from College. I needed to hear this.

Ben Witherington said...

Greetings from Istanbul the land of great food cherry juice and of course ultra great biblical sıtes-- tomorrw the cave of Abe the father of the faithful ın Haran


treasuringJesus said...

Praise God for my parents who help me see Christ better! Praise Jesus!

preacherman said...

Exellent post brother!
Jay your comment is so right.
I really enjoyed reading your blog. Looking forward to becomming a daily reader.

Terry Hamblin said...

I have just been reading PD James' "Children of Men". She paints a bleak picture of a world without children. No schools, no playgrounds, no toys; the last babies born gradually getting older until everyone left will be over-80. Without posterity life becomes pointless.

Terry Hamblin

Unknown said...

Dr. Witherington,

Just recieved your newest book "Troubled Waters"--and have very quickly skimmed every page. I am looking forward to seriously studying it. Your writing style is spot-on!

I believe in the essentiality of baptism in the name of Jesus (Acts 2:38, etc); that it is an issue is beyond me. I did notice in my skimming that you mention that the early church baptized in Jesus' name (an undeniable fact), but I don't think that you necessarily tackle the "mode" of baptism--in the name of Jesus or in the titles (Matt 28:19). What are your thoughts on the mode--immersion, and name? If I missed it in my skimming of the book, what page is teh mode addressed?

Thanks ... I realize this isn't the post for it, but ... As for all of Dr. Witherington's blog readers, I recommend that you get a copy of Troubled Waters (Baylor Press)!

Anonymous said...

Dr Witherington,

I wonder if you've seen this recent post on the website for the Society of Biblical Literature:

In his quest to discredit biblical studies, the author seems to embrace the complete opposite of the humanistic ideal of education. Any thoughts?

Duke of Earl said...

Hector asks why atheistic understandings of the Bible are rejected?

I'd suggest that it's because as members of a hostile religion, atheists can't be relied on to evaluate the evidence in an unbiased objective fashion.

kentuckyliz said...

Radical individualism is an atheist concept, the superman of Nietzsche. (sp?)

We have breathed in the air of atheist thought and taken on their ideas without realizing it--including,

"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

Of course we are bound up together in the human family--our own family and all our brothers and sisters on this earth.

If you're not sure about this point, crack open your bible and ponder on this question:

Who is my neighbor?

The top of the heap sounds too competitive and Western. Is there another image that can be used here?