The Rabbi's Gift
A Modernized Version
In the 16th century, there was a very successful parish somewhere in Europe. The parish had many pious monks of its own, and had established Abbeys at several places. Located in a luxuriant, beautiful forest was its main Abbey where monks served God with prayers and meditation.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, the parish started to bear the brunt of anti-religious and anti-missionary movements. The rise of secularism in the 19th century further diminished the allure of the parish, and ushered in the era of its decline. By the mid-19th century, the parish's monks had almost all died off as though in concert with the Abbey's decline.
All that remained was the main Abbey, alone in the beautiful forest, in which resided just five monks, all of whom were over 70, and all of whom had "one foot in the grave."
Few expected the Abbey to survive for long.
In the depths of the beautiful forest was a cabin, where a Rabbi, who lived most of his life in town, would go for a few days' seclusion every now and again.
The full-fledged monks seemed to possess a kind of intuition. They could sense the Rabbi's presence in the forest whenever he was on his way and they would pass the word among themselves" "The Rabbi is coming. He has arrived."
Once, when the monks were circulating word of the Rabbi's imminent visit, the Abbot -- an old man worried about the Abbey's prospects - had a flash of inspiration.
"Why not visit the Rabbi at his cabin? Perhaps he can give me some advice on how to save the abbey from decline?", he thought to himself.
Upon his arrival at the cabin, the Abbot was greeted warmly by the Rabbi. When he stated the intention of his visit, the Rabbi showed nothing but compassion.
Though the Rabbi empathized with the Abbot, he offered no suggestions as to how to make the situation better.
"I see what is going on now," the Rabbi said. "People nowadays have no spiritual yearnings, no religious faith. The same is true with my town where almost nobody goes to temple."
The old Rabbi and the old Abbot seemed to bond with each other, and read several chapters of the Bible together. After that, they engaged in quiet but enthusiastic discussions of abstruse issues, as if they were sorry not to have met each other many years ago.
As night closed in, the old Abbot had to leave and he gave the Rabbi a farewell hug.
Then the Abbot said, "Great! It is wonderful that we have met."
"It is a pity that I have not fulfilled the aim of my visit, though. Do you really not have any advice for me to save the declining parish?" he said.
"No, I am sorry," the Rabbi replied, "I have no advice for you, but I can tell you one thing - one of you in the Abbey is the Messiah."
Upon the Abbot's return to the abbey, his eagerly waiting colleagues closed in around him, hurriedly asking," What did the Rabbi say?"
"He could not give us a hand," the Abbot answered, "He and I only cried and read the Bible together. When I was leaving, he told me one thing -- it sounded strange and mysterious, and I don't know what it means. He said that one of you is the Messiah."
During the days, weeks and months that followed, the old monks reflected on those words. "Do the Rabbi's words `One of you is the Messiah' carry any other connotations?", they asked themselves.
Does the "you" refer to us? If it does, then who is the Messiah? they asked themselves.
Is he the Abbot? Maybe. He has led the parish for over 20 years. But Father Thomas is likely to be the Messiah as well. As everyone knows, he is a saint-like man. Or maybe Father Eliot is the Messiah. He tends to behave awkwardly and sometimes says words that hurt people's feelings; but on closer examination, his words always turn out to be reasonable, they said among themselves.
Of course, Philip is not the Messiah, is he? More strange yet is that he is a man of miracles. Whenever someone is in need or in trouble, Philip will show up. Perhaps he is the Messiah. Certainly, the Messiah that the Rabbi talked about cannot be me as I am just an ordinary person. But what if it does turn out to be me? What a surprise if I am the Messiah! Oh! My God! It cannot be me. I couldn't bear that! Am I capable of shouldering the burden of being the Messiah?
Such were the thought processes of the monks over the ensuing days.
Each of the old monks at the Abbey was engrossed in reflection. For all their brooding over the Rabbi's words, however, there was no answer. But, having engaged in reflection, they started to treat one another with greater respect every day.
As one of them was likely to be the Messiah, how could they fail to hold him in regard? Each began to treat himself with more self-respect as it dawned upon each individual that they themselves could turn out to be the Messiah. How could he fail to respect himself? How could he trivialize the Messiah?
The forest in which the main Abbey was located was charming. Once in a while, people came to picnic outdoors in the Abbey grounds, enjoy a stroll in the garden or occupy themselves in meditation in a decaying church.
The visitors also came to sense the atmosphere of mutual respect exuded by the five old monks. The aura seemed to envelop the whole Abbey, making it a place of mystery and allure.
Then, for no particularly apparent reason, the Abbey became more and more popular - more so than ever - for picnics and prayers. People brought friends to this special spot, and their friends invited their own friends.
One day, some youngsters who paid a visit to the Abbey struck up a conversation with the old monks. The two sides continued to talk with one another and the more they talked, the more profound and interesting became their discussions. Before long, one of the youngsters filed an application to join the parish, and soon, so did increasing numbers of others. After a couple of years, the parish seemed to have blossomed from decay into a spiritual centre for neighboring areas.
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revised March 31, 2004
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