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The Parable of the Plague

[another modern-day parable]

‘We are going to Ross-on-Wye today,’ announced the master to his disciples.  It was market day in the popular, English town near Wales, and this plan did not seem all that surprising to the disciples.  When they arrived, however, the master led them to St. Mary’s churchyard.  There, in front of the Plague Cross, the master began to teach.  A small crowd began to gather, thinking that they might overhear a tour guide explain some things about the old church and the town’s history.

‘A plague of death has descended upon this land,’ began the master.  ‘It has taken the lives of thousands.  Within a few days of contracting this awful disease, people die.  They are sealed up in their houses, abandoned by fearful relatives; their deaths are painful and lonely.  Bodies are hastily dumped into a pit each night.  Lime is thrown on top, then some dirt, and the process is repeated the following day.  The plague is spread from person to person, but people do not know how.  They say that they are clean, but they are not.  The towns and villages are laid waste.’

The crowd continued to gather, enjoying the vivid description of the plague given by the master.  Then he said, ‘This plague cross commemorates the 315 people killed here in 1637.  Our fair isle has seen waves of plague since the 14th century.  Yet in our day, a plague far worse of a different kind has spread far and wide.  People do not even know that there is a plague, but more are taken by it than the plague that killed the people buried here nearly 400 years ago.  It is a plague marked by the falling numbers of persons in the Churches of England, Wales, and Scotland.  It is the plague of unbelief.  The plague in the 17th century was spread by a small flea; this plague is spread by a small doubt that God has spoken in his Word, the Holy Scriptures.  That plague was spread as fleas jumped from the dying to the living; this plague is spread by the priests and professors of those dying in the churches of Wales, Scotland, and England.  The administration of doubt has become the Eucharist of these ministers who say that God has not revealed the way of righteousness in His Word to a people walking in darkness, that God has not offered in Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross the way of reconciliation, and who teach that other faiths offer equally valid ways to God and truths by which they might live despite the Church.  They call evil good and good evil, put darkness for light and light for darkness, and put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!’

The crowd was astonished.  The master picked up a handful of dirt from the ground and threw it into the air.  ‘You say that you are clean, but you are not.  God alone can make you clean through Jesus Christ.  Repent and believe that Jesus is the only way to the Father, and you will find his forgiveness and cleansing.  If you love Him, you will obey his commandments.’  Then the master began to walk along the Wilton Road to the Wye River.  The people followed him to see what else he might do or say.

When they arrived, the master entered the river.  ‘Who will receive a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins?’ he asked.

‘But we are already baptized,’ someone said. 

‘Was it a baptism of repentance?’ 

‘We do not know.’ 

‘Can you repent and not know it?’ 

‘Perhaps someone—a parent—repented on our behalf?’ 

‘A noble hope,’ said the master, ‘but does not repentance mean that it is yours and yours alone?’ 

‘Must we not be baptized in the church?’ someone else asked. 

‘Would that it could be so,’ replied the master.  ‘But not everyone who says to Jesus, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  Only those who do the will of God the Father will enter.  But to evildoers who pretend to follow Jesus, our Lord will say on the day of judgement, “Depart from me, I never knew you.”  Thus, those who worship God will worship Him in Spirit and in truth.’

Another said, ‘Do we really need to repent rather than just accept everyone as they are, warts and all?  To speak of sin creates such disunity and intolerance.  Doesn’t love mean never having to say you are sorry?’

‘All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,’ replied the master.  ‘Our unity is found in the fact that we are all sinners, not in pretending that we have not sinned.  Our unity is found in that Christ has died for all, the just for the unjust.  And our unity is found in the good news that whoever believes in Jesus will not perish but have eternal life.’  Then he added, ‘Unless Jesus washes you, you will have no share in him.  But if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For he alone is our source of life, our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and our redeemer.’

An elderly man of 86 years asked someone to help him into the water.  With tears of repentance and joy, he said, ‘I was baptized as a baby by a priest who ran off with the secretary.  My parents went to church as everyone else, but they were not believers in Jesus Christ.  I have lived long enough to know again and again that I have sinned and need Jesus’ righteousness.  Even my own goodness, such as it is, is as filthy rags before him.  I cannot stand before a holy God and expect to be accepted except by His grace.  I come in repentance to be baptized today.’

The master welcomed him.  ‘By the confession of your sin and your profession of faith in Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,’ he said.  Then he immersed the man in the waters of the Wye.

The master said to the man and all those standing on the shore, ‘All of us who are baptized are baptized into Jesus’ death.  We are buried with him so that, as Christ our Saviour was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so too we might be raised to walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with Jesus in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.  We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.  For whoever has died is freed from sin.  But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.  We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.  The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.  So also you must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.’

No one else entered the waters of baptism that day.  ‘I tell you,’ said the master, ‘there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.  Will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?  Will he delay in helping them?  Indeed, he will grant to them justice.  And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find much faith in our fair land?’

[Note: Scripture passages have been quoted heavily in this story.  The New Revised Standard Version was used.]