A Story from a Wood Carving

When will I ever learn? I scroll through Facebook daily, sometimes several times a day, and often leave a comment or a rating on posts I see, like, or dislike. Today, I saw a picture of a most striking and masterful wood carving of a warrior-type man beside a cliff. His foot was placed on a rather evil-looking creature with bat-shaped ears and an evil face, lying almost prone on the ground but with its head raised from the dirt. It occurred to me that it could be a modern St. George, but instead of a slain dragon, it was an unearthly creature that was defeated but not dead. I clicked on one of the choices but did not remember which one. The vote was based on the skill and detail of the carving rather than the story it was conveying. I wish now I had copied the image and the attribution.

It was not until I got into bed that I started really thinking more about that carving. I still saw St. George in it, but then I thought it should be Jesus defeating the foes of hell. That was when my mind started telling me a story.

I saw Jesus walking down a road alone, with only a staff. His path left the main road and wound through the hills and scrub of the surrounding desert. He sat down beside a huge boulder to rest briefly in its shade when suddenly he found he was not alone. A man stood in front of him.

“I have looked for you, brother, and here I find you,” the stranger said. “I serve a great and powerful person who has heard of you and your skill with words and deeds of power. My master has sent me to find you and bring you to him. He has a great task for you, and you will be rewarded richly.”

“I know who your master is, and I have all the worldly goods I need. I do not need rich rewards. I serve the One my heart, body, and soul loves and honors. I need no other master,” Jesus told him.

“Ah, but my master can give you the whole world and all that is in it if you simply come with me and yield to him,” the man cajoled. He knew that failure in his task would mean severe consequences when he returned to his master.

Jesus retorted, “I serve One for whom the whole world is His Kingdom. He created it in love and oversees it with that same love and care. Your master can only offer a crumbling shell.”

“Ah,” the man replied, “But my master can make you his sole heir. He can give you charge over the multitudes that look to him already and promise you success in recruiting more to his side. The earth’s treasures will be yours, and all the people of this world will look to you as their god. They will sing your praises and bow to your name. They will offer you sacrifices and bring great gifts to your temples. They will fear your wrath and worship you with great adoration. You will want for nothing, and nothing will be denied you.”

Jesus stood up. “I know who you are and who you serve. I can and will serve only the God of Heaven and Earth, Creator and Ruler of the Universe, God of love and trust. He is my Father, and I owe all that I am and have to Him. I need nothing you can offer.”

Bending over, Jesus picked up a small handful of dust. Opening his hand, he blew on the dust and dispersed it. “This represents the promises of your master. My Father offers living water and fertile fields. His children are as numerous as the stars in the sky, and the very Sun and Moon obey His commands. What does your master have that can compare?

“I cannot kill you, but I can defeat you with the Word and Power of my Father. Turn your ways toward the true God and away from the evil you and your kind wreak on the children of God. Only by doing that is your life ensured.”

The man began to collapse on the ground. His countenance changed from the human form he had assumed and became more like the skin and ears of a bat. As he writhed on the ground, he raised his head as Jesus set his foot on his back. “You are correct, you cannot kill me, and I cannot change my allegiance to my master even though he can destroy me easily. One day we will meet again in a final battle. You have defeated me this time. I  look forward to our next meeting, Jesus of Nazareth.”

At this point, the story stopped. The image of the carving began to fade, bit by bit. Still, I clung to the account my mind had created from it. Only by loving and following Jesus and obeying the commandments of God would I gain eternal life, a life that I was promised as a Child of God. 

As I, and all other Christians, approach Holy Week and the days leading up to the joyous celebration of Easter at the end, the lesson is clear. We must believe, but we also must act. It is not enough to think of eternal salvation as an individual pursuit. We have to consider all the words of God that tell us to treasure and care for the earth but also to do the same for all the people of this earth. Easter seems a good time to rededicate ourselves to our Baptismal Covenant and acknowledge that God has given us work to do. Belief is empty without it fostering action. Only then can we genuinely claim all God has promised us through Jesus. 

Next time, I hope I remember to copy what strikes me. 

Image: Satan Before the Throne of God, by William Blake (1757-1827). From The Morgan Collection. Found at Wikimedia Commons. 

Linda Ryan is an Education for Ministry mentor, an avid reader, a Baroque and Renaissance music lover, and a fumbling knitter. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter and lives with her cat, Phoebe, near Phoenix, Arizona.

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