Parables are awesome teaching tools. Hopefully, the lesson they try to teach is truth.
(Today’s blog is my contribution to the “August Synchroblog – Parables: Small Stories, Big Ideas.” After Aug. 15, there will be a list at the bottom with all the other submissions.)
Take for instance, the parable of the Ant and the Grasshopper of Aesop’s Fables fame. It’s a simple and effective way to teach the discipline of hard work, put your nose to the grindstone, prepare for the future.
This is how it goes:
One summer’s day, a grasshopper was hopping around in a field, chirping and singing to its heart’s content. An ant passed by, carrying with great effort an ear of corn he was taking to the nest. “Why not come and chat with me,” said the grasshopper, “instead of working and struggling in that way?”
“I am helping to lay up food for the winter,” said the ant, “and I recommend you to do the same.”
“Why bother about winter?” said the grasshopper, “we’ve got plenty of food at present.”
But the ant went on its way and continued its work. When the winter came the grasshopper had no food and found itself dying of hunger, while it watched the ants distributing, every day, corn and grain from the rations they had collected in the summer.
Then the grasshopper understood: It is best to prepare today for the wants of tomorrow.
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The Old Testament supports this concept with two specific verses praising the ant.
The first proverb says, “Go to the ant, you lazybones! Consider its ways and be wise. Without having any captain or officer or ruler, it prepares its food in summer, and gathers its sustenance in harvest” (Prov. 6:6-9, NRSV).
A second proverb states, “Four things on earth are small, yet they are exceedingly wise. The ants are a people without strength, yet they provide their food in summer.” (Prov. 30:24-5, NRSV)
The story of the ant and the grasshopper has been used for over four thousand years to teach the virtues of hard work and the perils of squandering your time in frivolous pursuits, like singing and dancing and having a good time.
But—is it true?
I think Jesus detected a fly in the morality of this soup.
I know that grasshoppers die after the warm weather is gone but I wasn’t sure about ants. How long do they live? So I googled it.
Did you know that the average life expectancy of an ant is 45-60 days—and the average lifespan of a grasshopper is 60-90 days?
Ants who work hard in the summer and store up food aren’t going to live long enough to enjoy it themselves.
The hard working image of the ant reinforces the worldly belief that you need to work hard now so you can enjoy life later. It’s kind of like the image religion gives us. Work hard to obey the commandments now and we will enjoy eternal life after we’re dead.
But Jesus turned the morality of the world upside down. If you look at what he said, you might get the idea that he suggested the right example to learn from was the grasshopper:
He said, “Don’t store up treasures on earth that insects and mold and rust can destroy. Store up heavenly treasure…Do not worry about tomorrow…” (Matt. 6:19-21, 25-34; Luke 12:22-31; 33-34)
Store up things like memories or good feelings of having made a difference in someone’s life that you can think about and remember.
Jesus told a story about a rich man (Luke 12:16-21) who had so much stored in his barns that he decided to tear them down and build bigger barns and when those barns were full, that’s when he’d be able to take it easy—eat, drink, and be merry. He was like the ant…always getting ready to live later. But the moral of Jesus’s parable about the rich man was that all this storing away was worthless effort because that night he would die and somebody else would enjoy the fruits of his labor.
Maybe grasshoppers live longer than most ants because grasshoppers don’t work as hard for tomorrow. Maybe they have less stress because they sing and dance and enjoy a few more things in the present day, while ants work their whole lives and someone else spends their savings.
Working hard so you can take it easy later isn’t living in the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus taught something different than what humankind had been teaching for thousands of years. He said, “The kingdom of heaven is today.”
Experience peace of mind today.
Experience joy today.
Experience love today.
Live a little instead of working so hard for the future.
These are the treasures of heaven. Storing up memories and good feelings of helping others. It can be a good life for all if we learn to become more like the grasshopper than like the ant.
Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.
Others who have posted on this topic:
Parabolic Living – Tim Nichols
Seed Parables:Sowing Seeds of the Kingdom – Carol Kunihol
Penelope and the Crutch – Glenn Hager
Changing Hearts Rather Than Minds – Liz Dyer
Parables and the Insult of Grace – Rachel
Young son, Old son, a Father on the run… – Jerry Wirtley