The Messiah Is One of You

Teaching can take many forms. In eastern religions like Buddhism and Taoism it often comes in story form. But story based teaching is not foreign to Christianity either, not when you stop to think about it. Indeed, Jesus was a master of the art. Here’s a story I came across through the Anabaptist Association of Australia and New Zealand:

Once a great order, as a result of waves of anti-monastic persecution in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the rise of secularism in the nineteenth, all its branch houses were lost and it had become decimated to the extent that there were only five monks left in the decaying mother house: the abbot and four others, all over seventy in age. Clearly it was a dying order.  

In the deep woods surrounding the monastery there was a hermitage. As the abbot agonised over the imminent death of his order, it occurred to him to visit the hermitage and ask if by some possible chance the hermit could offer any advice that might save the monastery.

The hermit welcomed the abbot at his hut. But when the abbot explained the purpose of his visit, the hermit could only commiserate with him: “I know how it is,” he exclaimed. “The spirit has gone out of the people. It is the same in all the nearby towns. So the old abbot and the hermit commiserated together. The time came when the abbot had to leave. They embraced each other. “It has been a wonderful thing that we should meet after all these years,” the abbot said, “but I have still failed in my purpose for coming here. Is there nothing you can tell me, no piece of advice you can give me that would help me save my dying order?” “No, I am sorry,” the hermit responded. “I have no advice to give. The only thing I can tell you is that the Messiah is one of you.”

When the abbot returned to the monastery his fellow monks gathered around him to ask, “Well what did the hermit say?” “He couldn’t help,” the abbot answered. “We just commiserated and read the scriptures together. The only thing he did say, just as I was leaving — it was something cryptic — was that the Messiah is one of us. I don’t know what he meant.”

In the days and weeks and months that followed, the old monks pondered these words and wondered whether there was any possible significance. The Messiah is one of us? Could he possibly have meant one of us monks here at the monastery? If that’s the case, which one?

Do you suppose he meant the abbot? Yes, if he meant anyone, he probably meant the Abbot. He has been our leader for more than a generation.

On the other hand, he might have meant Brother Thomas. Certainly Brother Thomas is a holy man. Everyone knows that Thomas is a man of light.

Certainly he could not have meant Brother Elred! Elred gets crotchety at times. But come to think of it, even though he is a thorn in people’s sides, when you look back on it, Elred is virtually always right. Often very right. Maybe the hermit did mean Brother Elred.

But surely not Brother Phillip. Phillip is so passive, a real nobody. But then, almost mysteriously, he has a gift for somehow always being there when you need him. He just magically appears by your side. Maybe Phillip is the Messiah.

Of course the hermit didn’t mean me. He couldn’t possibly have meant me. I’m just an ordinary person. Yet supposing he did? Suppose I am the Messiah? O God, not me. I couldn’t be that much for You, could I?

As they contemplated in this manner, the old monks began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on the off chance that one among them might be the Messiah. And on the off, off chance that each monk himself might be the Messiah, they began to treat themselves with extraordinary respect.

Because the forest in which it was situated was beautiful, it so happened that people still occasionally came to visit the monastery to picnic on its tiny lawn, to wander along some of its paths, even now and then to go into the dilapidated chapel to meditate. As they did so, without even being conscious of it, they sensed the aura of extraordinary respect that now began to surround the five old monks and seemed to radiate out from them and permeate the atmosphere of the place. There was something strangely attractive, even compelling, about it. Hardly knowing why, they began to come back to the monastery more frequently to picnic, to play, to pray. They began to bring their friends to show them this special place. And their friends brought their friends.

Then it happened that some of the younger men who came to visit the monastery started to talk more and more with the old monks. After a while one asked if he could join them. Then another. And another. So within a few years the monastery had once again become a thriving order and, thanks to the hermit’s gift, a vibrant centre of light and spirituality in the realm.

4 thoughts on “The Messiah Is One of You

  1. I read this in “Stumbling towards Enlightenment” as a Buddhist story. I’m not sure if it entirely translates. Being the Messiah has different consequences to being a great teacher.
    The central principle though that acting as if one of us is God brings its rewards, even brings God in our midst is a great one. After all “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers…”

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  2. This story reminds me of a common piece of Wiccan liturgy and the thoughts I often have about it. During Cakes and Ale, the food and drink are often passed from person to person around the circle. As one hands the cake, one says “may you never thirst”; as one passes the cup (or fills one’s neightbor’s cup, as if more often the case in public rites), one says “may you never thirst.” In both cases, the recipient responds with “Thou art God” or “Thou art Goddess” as is appropriate for the giver’s gender.
    The idea behind this ritual is to recognize the divine spark in the person handing over the divine gifts. As I participate in this rite, I often find myself wondering what it truly means to recognize my neighbor as being of the divine[1], and how that recognitions affects how I treat my neighbor.
    I would like to think that as I ponder this, I might be more inclined to develop a level respect for those around me as is described in the above story.
    [1] I think on the whole, Wiccans and Pagans find it far easier to appreciate the divine spark within ourselves rather than within our fellow human beings.

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  3. Often we speak of unconditional love, but how often have we heard that, “Respect needs to be earned!” It can seem counter-intuitive, but the extraordinary respect the Messiah demonstrated to the outcast, to the dregs of society, to the unrespectable, invites us to consider living a life of unconditional love and unconditional respect. If the Messiah does not calculate, who are we to calculate!

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