Starting out in ministry, it was one of the first illustrations I can recall reading. Although I cannot recall that I have ever used it before, it remains with me. The story goes that there was a beautiful Monastery in a beautiful wooded setting but it had fallen on hard times. It had once been the home of a great Order but no one wanted to join a Monastery any more. Only five monks – the Abbot and four others remained – and they were all over 70 years old. Clearly their Order was dying. The monks were all discouraged and you could tell it in the way they treated each other.
Also close to the Monastery was a cabin a local Rabbi used for personal prayer retreats. One day, while out walking in the woods, the Abbot, contemplating the trouble his Order was in, noticed that the Rabbi happened to be at his cabin. He knocked on the door and introduced himself to the Rabbi. Graciously the Rabbi invited him in, and they began to engage one another in conversation. During the conversation , the Abbot told the Rabbi about the plight of his Order and asked him if he had any suggestions. The Rabbi looked at the Abbot and said, “I have only one thing to say – the Messiah is among you!” The conversation ended and the Abbot returned to the Monastery, even more frustrated and dejected because of the Rabbi’s less than direct answer.
Once arriving at the Monastery, the Abbot shared with the other monks about his visit with the Rabbi and they were as puzzled as the Abbot about the Rabbi’s answer. “The Messiah could not be one of us, could he?” They all looked at each other and wondered. In the days to follow, however, something began to happen. On the chance that one of them could be the Messiah, the monks began treating each other with more dignity and respect. And, on the outside chance that they may be the Messiah, each monk began acting in more loving and caring and devoted ways.
The Monastery was known throughout the community for its beautiful grounds which often led to the locals choosing an afternoon and having a picnic there. Yet, ever since the Abbot’s visit with the Rabbi, as they picnicked, the guests noticed something different about the monks that seemed to permeate the grounds themselves. They were friendlier, more devout, and more respectful. The guests liked what they saw and felt on the Monastery grounds and began coming more often, inviting friends and before long, it was not unusual to find large numbers of people taking advantage of the beautiful setting, either for picnics or simply a retreat for solitude. Lo and behold, some who visited were so attracted to the lifestyle they saw the monks now living that they decided to join the Order, and within a few years, the monastery was once again filled with devout, respectful monks.
Maybe there is a reason I have carried this illustration for so long, saving it for such a time as this. I have no clue how many more newsletter columns I will write, but I do believe that God is not through using us.
See you Sunday,