Monday, March 24, 2014

Gossip Rocks! : A parable

"Sticks and stones will break my bones
But words will never harm me."
                                  - Children's rhyme

Jonah emerged from the coffee shop to a bright early spring day.

He was happy for a change.

It had been a rough year following a divorce he hadn’t wanted. But he had landed in a good place with a new job. He’d worked hard to come to terms with his own failings and had done his best to make amends. He’d also worked through forgiving what had been a hard betrayal on the part of others. But he was okay and his life was moving forward.


Without warning something hard hit Jonah at the back of his neck with enough force that it knocked him forward onto the sidewalk, his cup of coffee went flying into the street.

Stunned and jumbled, Jonah slowly lifted himself up as a couple of customers came running out of the coffee shop to help him.

“Just sit up,” said one. “Don't stand just yet.”

“What happened?” Jonah asked as he rubbed his sore neck.

“This hit you,” said the other person holding out a good sized rock.

“Wha...? Where did it come from?”

Jonah and the others looked up and around. There was no one who could have thrown the rock.

“Actually,” said a man who had been walking down the sidewalk toward the coffee shop, “I know this sounds incredible, but I was looking directly at you and, well, the rock came straight at your head. It seemed to appear out of nowhere.”

No one said anything but their expressions indicated their thoughts were brimming with questions.

Jonah got to his feet with a little help from the two customers.

“Maybe you should go to the ER and let them look at that,” said the man. “You got hit pretty hard. I'd be happy to drive you.”

Jonah rubbed the back of his neck, thinking, wondering. “No, I think I’ll be okay. I need to get to work.”

Jonah looked at his watch and figured he had just enough time to get to his office a few blocks away. He'd moved into town a few months ago, just for this job, and really didn’t want to be late.

The barista who had served him brought him a fresh cup of coffee, no charge, for which he was grateful. He headed toward his office, sipping thoughtfully, the pain in his neck ebbing ever so slightly.

He had gone barely a block when Crack! another stone just missed his head and smacked the brick wall of the building next to him.

“What the…?” Jonah and a couple of women walking near him exclaimed simultaneously as they all semi-ducked and scanned up and down the street.

“Where did that come from?” asked one woman as she shaded her eyes and looked intently across the street.

“I have no idea,” said the other woman, “but it just missed this guy’s head!”

Jonah picked up his pace and became hyper-vigilant as he continued on to work. He strengthened his grip on the handle of his briefcase, prepared to use it as a shield if anymore stones were to appear.

Only moments later, out of the corner of his eye, Jonah caught a glimpse of a brief smoky flash. He instinctively raised his briefcase just in time to deflect another stone coming straight at him.

He was in a panic now as he moved at a trot down the street, looking nervously side to side and up.

Across town, Alice was having breakfast with a few other women in her small group. They got together at least once a week to read the Bible together, pray, and chat. At this moment, Alice was just beginning to share the scoop on Jonah who had recently started coming to their church. One of the other women had mentioned he seemed like a really nice guy.

Alice had known of Jonah for a few years, but had never been a close friend. In fact, she was merely an acquaintance of his now ex-wife. As far as Alice was concerned, Jonah was anything but nice, even though all she knew about him was hearsay and old, forgiven, news.

In truth, while Jonah was no saint and had made mistakes in his marriage, it was his wife who had insisted on a divorce and, oddly, remarried mere months later. Jonah had done all he could to hold the marriage together to no avail. His wife’s friends had taken her side, exaggerating Jonah’s faults and his wife’s virtues in the process. It was through these friends that Alice had picked up most of what she “knew” about Jonah.

Alice really had no clear insight into what had happened between Jonah and his wife; she had merely collected juicy bits and pieces of rumor from the fringes of random, biased, malicious misinformation. Now, this “knowledge” was just the ammunition she needed to bolster her ego.

“Oh,” Alice exclaimed, “Jonah may seem nice on the surface, but I do believe he’s much less so in reality.”

The other women were shocked and the one who had mentioned Jonah insisted Alice must be mistaken.

After taking a few bites of her breakfast, Alice threw in, “Oh no, his ex-wife told me that he often yelled at her, among other things. You know, verbally abusive.”

The other women continued to be incredulous. One told Alice that perhaps Jonah had his faults, but surely he probably had changed. Others agreed that must be the case as Jonah seemed like an okay guy. And besides, others pointed out, everyone makes mistakes.

Alice sipped her coffee, wiped her moth, and with gusto pooh-poohed their objections, letting fly a litany of Jonah’s presumed faults. “As I have it based on firsthand information, he lied about everything, had at least one affair and probably many, stole office supplies from his employer, always drove over the speed limit, and regularly cheated on their taxes. In fact, I’m sure that I saw him going into many of the bars downtown. Not to mention his proclivity for, shall we say, racy movies and such. In fact, while I don’t have any specific proof per se, I’ve heard others comment how they suspected him of far worse behavior than I care to detail here. But, if you press me, I will.”

For nearly five minutes she continued, unpressed, piling on the accusations, none true, but all stated with smug certainty. Alice loved being the center of attention.

Meanwhile, Jonah raced into his office building as more stones pelted him. He was able to dodge or deflect them with his briefcase. He sped through the lobby and got into the first available elevator. Once the doors closed he felt safer and caught his breath as the elevator ascended.

Several minutes later a co-worker noticed Jonah was not at his desk and began asking if anyone had seen Jonah. No one had.

Suddenly, from the direction of the elevator bank, a woman screamed. Everyone rushed to see what was going on. The woman who had screamed stood stricken in front of an open elevator, one hand pointing, the other muffling her sobs.

Inside the elevator was a huge pile of stones. At the base, a bruised and broken hand was exposed and blood was spreading onto the carpet.

It took workers several minutes to clear the stones under which was found the crushed body of Jonah.

Oddly, even while the stones were being cleared, from time to time, new stones popped into the elevator from out of nowhere.

Across town, as the breakfast group was winding down, Alice continued to toss out random bits of gossip about Jonah, none of it true, but all of it deadly.

She felt very satisfied with herself as she walked out of the restaurant. It was a triumphant day, she thought.

In the parking lot, just as she was unlocking her car, Crack!

Alice went down hard.

* * *

 “...he stood up and said to them, ‘Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone...” (John 8:2-12, ESV).

 “They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of...murder...They are gossips, slanderers...ruthless” (Romans 1:29-31, ESV).

 “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them....” (Luke 6:31-36, ESV).

"...with the measure you use it will be measured back to you" (Luke 6:37-42, ESV)

Have you ever been the victim of gossip? Do you believe it’s appropriate to gossip about the past failures of others? Is gossip ever a good thing? Are there things in your past or present that would ruin you if others gossiped about them in public? What are good responses to gossip? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

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