Over the past few years I have become familiar with the Apocrypha, writings outside of the Bible which include the sayings and actions of Jesus. Right now I am rereading The Lost Sayings of Jesus: Teachings from Ancient Christian, Jewish, Gnostic and Islamic Sources. I came across a story about an encounter Jesus had with an old man. Jesus, in the story reminds me of the God of Job who allowed bad things to happen to him just to make a point. I didn’t like that portrayal of God in Job and I don’t like it here, either, but the story says a lot about hope that led me to reflect on the value of hope. This is from an Islamic source, Al-Ghazali, Revival of the Religious Sciences, an eleventh-and twelfth-century work. For the most part, the Islamic literature about Jesus are from the Sufis in which Jesus is an ascetic, as they are, an attractive character, humble and eager to learn.
It is said that Jesus once sat down by an old man who was digging the earth with a spade. Jesus said, “O Lord God, take away his hope,” and the old man put down his spade and lay down. After an hour had passed, Jesus said, “O Lord God, restore hope to him,” and he arose, and set about his task. And when Jesus asked him concerning what had transpired he said, “While I was at work my soul said to me, ‘How much longer shall you labor, now that you are an old man?’ So I cast aside my spade and lay down. Then it said to me, ‘By God, you must live out that which is left to you.’ So, I arose and took up my spade once more.
I read the story to Bernie this morning and we talked about the poor and the accusation that they are lazy moochers off of society. I know there are a few that fit this description, but most are hard working people who work to put food on their children’s table, not like those of us who work so we can take a nice vacation each year or buy the latest electronic devices. The story helped us appreciate the importance of hope to those who have little. If faith is believing in things unseen, hope is believing in something one can imagine. The man in the story hoped, I think, that if he kept working his spade, eventually the mountain would be moved. The poor need to know that if they keep working, their lives will get better for them and their families. Some believe that it is an American fact that if the poor would only work hard enough, they will be able to pull themselves out of poverty. I myself don’t believe that is necessarily the case. I guess my own hope is waning. I suppose that it is in the seemingly hopeless cases that hope is most needed.