I give to readers the same caution that I gave to the fellowship group. This is a story. It's not an allegory. You can't focus on one character or thing and decide that it strictly represents such-and-such an idea.
People seem to listen more keenly to stories than to sermons. One member of the fellowship group told me that they had been thinking about my story all day.
Once upon a time, there was a bush. But this bush wasn’t just an ordinary bush, it was a very special bush. Because this bush produced magical seeds.
Once the seeds were planted, you never knew what it was that they might grow into. The seeds might grow into a different kind of plant, or they might even grow into an animal, a person or a thing.
Very occasionally, the seeds grew into a magical seed bush, but only something like once in a lifetime. You see, the Creator knows that there shouldn’t be too many magical seed bush in the world.
One day, one of the seeds happened upon a clearing in the middle of the forest. The seed dropped on to the grass in the clearing, and it found itself burrowing deep into the ground: first one foot, then two feet, then five feet.
The seed lay buried deep below ground level for a number of years. Sometimes she wondered whether she had died, but then she realised that if she could wonder if she was dead, she probably wasn’t!
Then, one day, something happened. The seed felt a great sharp rush and then all of a sudden, a great chest appeared. It wasn’t like a chest of drawers, but something more like a treasure chest. Before the seed knew what was happening, a copper coin appeared inside the box, then a silver coin, then a gold coin. The treasure chest was being rapidly filled with copper, silver and gold coins. Not pennies and twenty-pence pieces and gold-coloured pound coins, but real gold, real silver and real copper.
After all those many years of the seed just lying underneath the ground, all of a sudden everything started happening in a rush. No sooner was the treasure chest filled with precious coins when suddenly there was the sound of digging. The five feet of earth that had covered the magic seed and which was now covering the treasure chest was being removed. And the sound of a man’s voice could be heard: ‘Hope! Come here and look at this!?’
Then the sound of a woman’s voice could be heard. Hope joined her husband Promise and they both stared down at the treasure chest. ‘Do you think we should open it?’ Promise asked Hope. ‘How could it hurt?’ she replied. Upon opening the treasure chest and seeing all the coins, Promise and Hope gasped. They lived in a poor village and never had either one of them seen that much silver and gold in their lives.
They looked at each other and realised that their prayers had been answered. The only problem was that the chest was simply too heavy to lift, so they quickly covered it with dirt again. Then they went and sold their home, their furniture and all their other possessions in order to buy the clearing in the forest where the treasure-chest lay.
Not too long later, Promise and Hope were finally able to come back to claim their treasure. They took all the gold coins, the sliver coins and the copper coins and sold them for their national currency. Then, in a celebration of thanks to God that their prayers had been answered, they were finally able to begin doing what they had always wanted to do: they built a hospital for the people of their village, indeed, for all the region around them. They were even able to build themselves a small house in the hospital compound and they began to offer medical treatment to the people in the region.
But let’s get back to that bush that produced the magical seeds. One of the seeds left the magical bush and it got caught up in a current of air. It floated beyond the forest, and it floated beyond the hills, and it floated beyond the plains until it landed several miles out to sea.
As it hit the salt water, this particular magical seed felt itself getting heaver and heaver and denser and denser. He looked to see what was happening and he realised that he had sunk to the bottom of the sea and had turned into a grain of sand. He was swallowed up by an oyster and before you could say ‘Bob’s your uncle’, the grain of sand started being covered by the oyster’s pearl. The grain of sand chuckled to himself thinking, ‘Ah yes, this is rather like being a seed.’
The grain of sand remained inside the oyster for many, many years. And because it was a magical grain of sand, the pearl that formed around it was perfectly coloured, perfectly smooth and absolutely, perfectly round. It was also very, very big. It was the biggest, roundest, most perfectly coloured pearl you’d ever seen in your life.
And then, one day, the oyster was caught up in a fishing net and the pearl found itself in the middle of the village in the hands of Prosper, one of the most successful of the village’s traders. Prosper was contemplating his next move with some glee. The clueless fishermen had sold him the pearl for almost nothing; well, it had been a handsome sum of money, but nowhere near what his Japanese jewllerly contacts would pay for it. This pearl was Prosper’s ticket out of the village. The big break that he had been waiting for all his life.
Prosper wanted to see the world and he was almost 60 now. His children were grown and he and his wife were healthy and fit. This pearl was his big chance to leave the village, travel and settle in the capital city where he and his wife could retire in luxury. No more village life, but a villa in the city with running water, electricity and access to all the entertainments the capital could offer. That was Prosper’s dream.
All that was, of course, before the magical seed bush began to work it’s magic once again. Another seed burst forth from the bush. It didn’t float too far this time. In fact, it floated right into Prosper’s kitchen where the cook was preparing bread for the entire household.
The seed landed in a very large vat that was filled with flour, milk and oil and the seed began to levan the bread. Forgetting that she hadn’t actually put the yeast in the vat at all, but smelling the yeast and noticing that the bread dough had risen, cook began to make loaf after loaf after loaf of bread in a quantity that was much larger than usual. In fact, there was so much bread, that cook had to give it away to people in the village.
And the bread had a very unusual effect on everyone who ate it. Some people continued to live their lives as they had done before but the vast majority started acting differently: some for the better and some for the worse. The strange thing was that you couldn’t really predict how individual people would change.
One young woman who seemed mostly unobtrusive but not very confident went off to the city and became a prostitute. A teenage boy who had always seemed angry became a successful cattle rancher. A middle-aged woman who had been tearful and depressed since her children married began to work in the village hospital as a midwife, teaching new mothers how to care for their babies.
And then, of course, there was Prosper. He’d eaten the magical bread too. Rather more of it than most people since it was his bread in the first place. And he changed too.
Prosper had sold the pearl of great price for, well, a great price. But after eating the magical bread, he lost all interest in moving to the city. And truth be told, he realised that he had a pretty good life in the village with his friends, family and community. One evening, he invited Promise and Hope and their hospital staff to his house for a feast and he informed them that he was giving all his wealth to the hospital.
From that time on, the village thrived. People with no money were able to come to the hospital and get medical care. They were able to make sure that their children were healthy, they learned how to care for themselves and their families and they got medicine when they needed it. Simple medicines, but ones that meant the difference between life and death to them.
What’s more, the magical bush kept working its magic. The people who really paid attention understood that lots of little bits of good luck were being generated around the village. A word of encouragement helped someone go out and do something good that they didn’t have confidence to do before, and the village prospered. Villagers who had bad luck often seemed to be miraculously helped by other people who couldn’t possibly have known about their difficulties.
And, contrary to all expectations, the more the village grew and prospered, the more people in the village looked out for each other. No one seemed to ask the question ‘What’s in it for me?’ Everyone seemed to ask the question: ‘Do my fellow villagers have enough? Are they eating? Are they healthy? Are they happy?’
Some people put all these changes down to the day that Promise and Hope started their hospital. Other people put it all down to the day that Prosper decided to give all his wealth to help the village to prosper. Other people, the ones who understood about the bread, put it down to the day that the goodhearted people in the village actually began to understand and to act on their hearts’ desires.
But no-body ever guessed the secret of the magical seed bush. And even though the bush continued to plant opportunities that could be used for good (or for evil) amongst the villagers, it didn’t ever produce another magical seed bush.
And then one day, for no apparent reason and for no apparent motive, someone looked at the bush and announced loudly: ‘This is a mustard bush! Mustard bushes are weeds! What do we want this thing for in our village? We must burn it!’
And so, with no further ado, the bush with the magical mustard seeds was burnt.
And the Creator declared that, from that day forward, it was to be the angels who would separate the evil from the righteous.
And the village itself continued to live…………ever after.