Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Seven at one blow

There is a famous children’s story about a tailor who was working in his shop one day. It was a hot day and the flies were a nuisance. They kept landing on him as he tried to sew. Eventually the tailor became so irritated by the flies, he picked up an old rag and swotted them as they crawled across the table.

When the tailor looked at the table, he saw that, with one swipe of his rag, he had killed seven flies. He was immensely proud of his achievement. To kill seven flies at once: that was something really wonderful!

In fact, the tailor was so proud of his achievement that he made himself a special belt. On it he embroidered the letters “Seven at one blow”.

I don’t remember all the details of the story, but I do recall that the tailor boasted to everyone that he had killed seven with one blow. He just ‘forgot’ to tell his audience that he was talking about killing flies. I also remember that the tailor gave up his business, just so that he could travel around boasting of his success. Even he forgot that he had only killed seven flies.

Gradually the tailor’s reputation as a fighter spread throughout the countryside. Never before had he commanded so much respect. However, the day came when some dangerous robbers threatened his village. People came looking for the tailor. They demanded that he protect them from the robbers. They insisted that he go to fight them.

The tailor was terrified. After all, he had only killed seven flies. He’d never fought another human being in his life. He had to compare the consequences of telling the villagers that he had lied to them with the danger of meeting the robbers and of being killed by them. In the end, the villagers were told the truth and the tailor was disgraced.

The story shows that it is very silly to lie about one’s abilities and achievements. ‘Pride comes before a fall’. Sooner or later the truth is discovered and the liar is disgraced.

It is also wrong to tell the truth only because one is afraid of being found out or to tell the truth only in order to escape punishment. That is childish. The adult, mature way to be truthful is to be honest purely and simply because it is the right thing to do. That is living with integrity. That is living with courage. Someone who tells the truth simply because they fear punishment is a coward. A really honest person is truthful and lives with the consequences of their honesty. Such a person might have to suffer for their integrity but so did Jesus.

The story of the tailor also shows how silly it is to be vain. Someone who is proud only makes himself or herself look ridiculous. Jesus calls us to be humble. Jesus calls us to be truthful. Would we prefer to be as silly as the tailor in the story?

Lord, sometimes it is difficult to be completely honest. It is difficult to be humble. It is pleasant to feel important. But, Lord, if I make myself out to be important, I am not following your example. You made yourself humble for my sake. Help
me to remember that, in my life, you must increase and I must decrease in importance.