Luke 19: 28-40 V 37 & 39 – “…the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, … Some of the Pharisees … said …, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” (NRSV)
There is an Asian tale told by Harold Courlander, titled “The Tiger’s Tail.” The story is told of a farmer who was making his way home after a long day in the field. On the way, he noticed on a section of the road, a tail that protruded between rocks at the side of the path. By the colour and the size of the tail, he identified that it belonged to a tiger. This was very concerning for him. He became nervous because if he continued on that same path, the tiger would have surely attack and kill him. He had a quick thought – he dropped his farming tools and grabbed hold of the tail, and as he did so, he could feel the tiger wrestling to get free. He was overwhelmed by the great power of the tiger, but he had to match it in order that the tiger would not break free and attack him. After a few tiring minutes of wrestling with the tiger’s tail, a holy man was walking by. He shouted to the holy man, “Help! Please help me”
The holy man replied, “What is wrong with you, why are you shouting?”
The farmer quickly explained his plight and asked the holy man to give him the knife that was at his feet. The holy man replied, “No! Thou shall not kill!”
The farmer was surprised by his response, and said, “Don’t you understand, if I let the tiger go, he will surely kill me, us?”
The holy man said, “Well that maybe so but I must follow the way of the Lord.”
The farmer was very annoyed, so he said, “Ok. Could you at least hold on to this tail so that I can find another solution?” The holy man thought and then agreed.
As they exchanged the tight grip on the tail, the holy man was suddenly jolted by the enormous power of the tiger as it sought to get free. He now felt the animal’s power and was frightened by it. He shouted, “Hurry, hurry please for this animal will surely kill me! Get your knife and kill it!”
The farmer stood still for a moment and then said, “You know, I now understand what you have said, it is not right to kill this creature of God, there must be another way.” The farmer then picked up his tools and said, “I will make my way to the community and see if there are any other wise and holy ones who could find a solution to this problem.” The farmer then left the holy man crying for help as he slowly made his way home to the village.
‘Religiosity’ is defined in the Pocket Oxford English Dictionary as, the state of being excessively religious[i]. In the above story, the holy man was being excessively pious, showing his lack of empathy and reluctance to aid the farmer in his dire need. He had to be outsmarted by the farmer and the tables turned for him to realize the gravity and urgency of the situation. I must state that I too would not encourage the killing of the tiger, but I believe the two men could have found a solution if there was a willingness to work together. One was overly religious and the other was selfish and unkind.
In this Holy Week, what we observe in the many stories of events leading up to the day of Jesus’ crucifixion, is the way in which Jesus was willing to help those in need regardless of the context or situation. He had this ability to listen, empathise, understand the problems people faced, and then sought to find the kind of solution that led to transformation. Compare Jesus’ approach with that of the holy man whose focus was only on religiosity and following the rules of piety.
In Jamaica today, we have many Christians practicing their faith like the holy man and the Pharisees did. This story of the tiger’s tail has similarities with the parable of the Good Samaritan, where there are problems that are urgent but the religious order of the day chose to ignore the plight of the people. As Christians, today, are we able to resonate with the people who are hurting in and, around our homes and communities? Are we responding in a manner that shows we are listening meaningfully and are forthright in working with others towards transformational solutions? This simple model of Jesus is what made many follow Him and praised His name despite the envious onlookers. Jesus sought to serve rather than be overly pious.
As a nation of Christians, when we follow Jesus and put to practice the things He did, we will have a much greater impact on our society. As we have learned in the Jamaican pledge, “… so that Jamaica may under God increase in beauty, fellowship and prosperity and play her part in advancing the welfare of the whole human race.”
May we all be willing to take up our cross and follow Jesus. Amen.
[i] Sara Hawker, Little Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford University Press, USA, 2006).
Contributed by Rev. Khan Honeyghan