There was a frog in a well, living a happy and content life. He felt like “I am the monarch of all I survey” (Poet P.B. Shelly), thinking the well was the whole world. During one monsoon season, another frog from a nearby ocean came floating and fell into this well. He narrated to the resident frog about the ocean, its vast expanse and all the creatures -big and small – that lived there. The resident frog could not believe him, until another flood, this time carrying him to his new found friend’s ocean. What a surprise! His little world changed! He became a Believer.
I read this old Indian story while in grade school. Wells in India are different. I have watched them digging a new well. It is about ten to fifteen feet in diameter. After locating a possible spring source, with an old fashioned divining technique, the workers go at it, at times digging 25 feet or more, until they reach the spring. Once done, they strengthen the well wall with bricks and stones. Water is drawn with a rope and a bucket or with a pulley. During rainy season, some wells overflow and is not uncommon to see fish, frogs and water snakes living in the well. That was then.
This story was narrated by the late Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) during his address to the delights of the delegates of Chicago Congress of International Religions, 1893. Swami V was born in Calcutta and educated at the Scottish Church College. I have visited both his historic home as well as the college. His objective was to exhort the Congress to think beyond their little world. We now call it “thinking outside the box” or “outside the well”.
A short story, but not so simple, if allowed to challenge whether we have sometimes morphed ourselves like this frog? Now before anyone picks up the first stone, I wish to take refuge, donning an apologist’s hat and reflect on some of the words or actions by the greatest story teller – Jesus.
Allow me now to indulge from story-telling to picture painting with words. Jesus noticed his contemporaries had their own boxes or wells steeped in religion. Their lives were centered around the great Temple, governed by the Chief Priest and his coterie of priests and lawyers.
During this great annual celebration, Jews from far and near came to their holy temple in Jerusalem. It was packed to capacity, not only with worshippers and pilgrims, but also with animals and birds for sacrifice, and vendors of knick-knacks, and money changers to facilitate those from foreign lands. Had these hucksters and buyers confined their trade to the nearby streets, they would be excused. One can only imagine the loud bargaining, transactions, and pandemonium in the holy temple, not to mention the desecration. They were so used to it that they could not see how far they had moved from the spirit of the holy festival, except the young carpenter, already acknowledged as a Rabbi.
Jesus first gently told the keepers of doves, the sacrifice for the poor, to take them away. Then, filled with righteous anger, kicked out the rest saying: “Make not mine Father’s house a house of merchandise”. For generations, that was the norm, like the frog in the well, until Jesus had to forcefully restore it. Surprisingly, the High Priest and his deputies and the temple Guards could neither stop, throw him out, nor even challenge him.
Why? Because they knew they were wrong and therefore weak and cowardly! Before we judge, let us check our own “beams” in our eyes”. It is not difficult for any to get so used to, say after a Sunday Service to go home, still crystallized inour own opinions with zero change. Think of that Samaritan woman that came to a well, yes following her normal routine, but returned changed to her village as an evangelist.
God bless, Danny Paul
PS: God willing, I will continue on this subject as Part II. Better still, I may even give an exotic title like “Party Spirit” or “provincial or universal” or something similar. In the meanwhile, feel free to comment and share your ideas with the readership.