I once read a parable about a holy man who was practicing his morning meditation under a tree whose roots stretched out over the riverbank.
During his meditation, he noticed that the river was rising, and a scorpion caught in the roots was about to drown.
He crawled out on the roots and reached down to free the scorpion, but every time he did so, the scorpion struck back at him, trying to sting him.
A man passing by stopped and said to the holy man,
“Don’t you know that’s a scorpion, and it’s in the nature of a scorpion to want to sting?”
The holy man replied, “That may well be, but it is my nature to save, and I will not let the scorpion’s desire to hurt, change my desire to help.”
I have been thinking about this parable and how it applies to this time in the life of the Church and to this time in the life of the nation and the world. More than even before, I am hearing pastors and lay persons lament about the reality that they are experiencing a lack of basic civility and kindness in their congregations. As a whole, most of us can affirm there seems to be a higher level of unrest, intolerance, and even cruelty swirling around us.
What is the reason for this? Well, I think it is simple; it is our primal instinct to fight back. Scientists often explain this with the colloquialism of the “lizard brain.” The lizard brain refers to the oldest part of the brain, the brain stem that is responsible for primitive survival instincts such as aggression and fear. When we are responding out of our “lizard brain” (or perhaps as it relates to the story above we could call it our “scorpion brain”) our basic instinct is to strike back and try to sting another. If someone lashes out, we lash back. If someone hurts us, we will seek to hurt him or her in return. Thus, things get uncivil and unkind.
Yet, the bigger question is do we have to be ruled by this primal instinct? Well, Jesus didn’t think so. Jesus believed we could work out of a higher calling. (Scientists might name this higher calling as working out of our limbic system, which is a higher brain function in which relationships, and emotional bonds are considered.) Jesus believed and taught that we could live at a higher level of response–a more Godly response, which is simply to love first.
If we are to take the teachings of Jesus seriously and seek to live them out, we are making a commitment to change our nature so that it might more fully reflect the nature of God. That commitment is to be loving, compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
Imagine how different our families, our churches, our country, our world would be if we all chose like the holy man in the parable to not allow the “scorpions” around us to change our desire to help or to be more holy, more God like.
Imagine. It would be a challenge, but certainly a challenge worth taking. Let us not allow the “scorpions” of the world to change our nature as Christ followers. May our nature be to save, to be of help, and to live out the love and mercy of God each day.