A Parable for Your New Year’s Resolutions

sweatingWe’re only a few days into 2013, and the year is still squeaky clean. A lot of us are going strong on our New Year’s resolutions. We’re full of fresh determination to be more thrifty, organized, slim and buff.

In about a month or so, the glow will fade. You’ll realize that change is harder than you think. You’re trying to become a morning riser, but the nightowl in you refuses to change. You know you need to be more organized, but your “messie” nature is deeply ingrained.

As tough as personal habits are to change, our moral habits can be even tougher. Some of us struggle with anger, jealousy or lust, and it’s often by no fault of our own. We may come from an alcoholic or abusive family. Our hormones, our genetics, and our upbringing can stack the cards against us.

How does God look on our struggles with temptation? The rabbis told an interesting parable about this called “The Lame and the Blind Watchmen.” The sages said,

To what may this be compared? To a human king who owned a beautiful orchard which contained splendid figs. Now he appointed two watchmen, one lame and the other blind.

One day the lame man said to the blind man, “I see beautiful figs in the orchard. Put me on your shoulders so that we can pick and eat them.” So the lame man got on the shoulders of the blind man and they gathered the figs and ate them.

Some time later, the king who owned the orchard came and asked them, “Where are those beautiful figs?” The lame man replied, “Do I have feet to walk with?” The blind man replied, “Do I have eyes to see with?”

What did the owner do? He placed the lame man upon the blind man and judged them together. So the Holy One will bring the soul, replace it in the body and judge them together. (B. Talmud, Sanhedrin 91a-b)

This parable yields an elegant answer to the question of how God deals with our individual temptations. Each of the two disabled men represent part of a person. The lame man is the person’s will and the blind man is the flesh. Neither part is capable of sinning on its own — both act together in order to do anything.

cat_and_mouseWhen God looks at us, he sees us as a whole. He knows that we are a combination of factors including family history, mental make-up and religious upbringing. Both our backgrounds and our wills are working together to influence our actions. In God’s eyes, we’re responsible for what we’ve done with what we’ve been given. God knows where we’ve come from, and why certain sins are particularly difficult for us to resist.

Jesus’ parables concur with this too. He tells about servants who are given talents of silver to invest, but one received ten talents, but the others five or only one. They were judged on what they had to work with.

Knowing this still doesn’t entirely let us off the hook, however. If you realize that you have a background or personality type that draws you toward a certain sin (like an abusive background or angry streak) you should be all the more determined to avoid what you’d do impulsively. You can’t plead innocence and give up. You’re capable of overcoming your weaknesses, at least to a point.

On the other hand, the parable of the watchmen reminds us that we should be careful to not to condemn each other, because we can’t know all of a person’s struggles or life history. Two people may act similarly, but one may have triumphed over great temptations, and the other not using their many gifts. Only God knows where we’ve come from, and only God is fit to judge.


13 Responses to “A Parable for Your New Year’s Resolutions”

  1. 1
    Nancy Johnsen|January 9, 2013

    I think the best resolution is to be a closer follower of Yeshua and in the parable of the talents he encourages us to be bold, takes risks, and live the life he has given us to the fullest. I have a problem with the word, concept and everything connected to “control”. And that is what I think New Year’s Resolutions are about-trying to control something that tends to get out of control in our lives, and that’s different for each person. Thanks be to God! we can let Him be the one to take control, since he is not controlling and we can trust him to lead us in the new life he has given us. L’Chaim!!

  2. 2
    Karen Golden|January 9, 2013

    Thanks for this article. It has shifted me from thinking about self to community this January. The two men in this parable do not encourage one another to live God’s way, instead they aid the other in disobeying the king. New Year’s resolutions often focus on self. This article has me thinking of how I can help or encourage my children or friends as they seek to do what is right instead of my words or actions reflecting the action of putting them on my shoulders to pick forbidden fruit. And how does that translate into my actions as a citizen? Good food for thought. Thank You.

  3. 3
    Lois Tverberg|January 9, 2013

    Thanks for your thoughts, both of you.

    In regards to control, I don’t find it an either/or proposition. By not trying to control our impulses I don’t think that we somehow let God control them more. We just let them get control of us.

  4. 4
    Nancy Johnsen|January 9, 2013

    Thank you, Lois.
    I guess I need more help than most in
    trying to control my impulses. ie, I need
    more maturity– 🙂
    Happy New Year.

  5. 5
    Claire|January 25, 2013

    This article really got me thinking about turning away from selfishness and trying to make the New Years Resolution to give up my gifts to help others. Sometimes when New Years Resolutions come out we become selfish and try to do things that will benefit ourselves. This article got my thinking how I could do this. In school, we have a class called SOGO. It’s a class where you are partnered with certain organizations or schools in the community to go and help out for a few hours. I chose to do this class through my school because I wanted to help with those in need in some way. So far, I have enjoyed my class. It brings me struggles every day, but that is just molding me into a new person.

  6. 6
    Kyle Scholten|January 25, 2013

    This is a great article. Especially at the beginning of each year, we should look back and realize and recognize who we are and who we have become, including our faults and problems, and out of that work to be a better person. As pointed out in your article, we all have those things in us that aren’t so great. We might be jealous, or have a bit of anger that comes out to quick. Sometimes these things can be challenges that God gives us to keep us working hard at being a better person. It is no good if you get lazy at being the best person you can be. If we didn’t have problems, then there wouldn’t be any difficulty in being a follower of Christ, because it would be natural to act that way. Because we are sinful, and because we all have our faults, we need to put the work in to become better people. We can’t entirely change ourselves, but we can work hard to be a better person and be more like Christ, our rabbi. At the beginning of the year, it is a great time to realign with what we want to be, and look at the steps we need to take to get tehre from the sinful person we are.

  7. 7
    Shawn Kroll|January 25, 2013

    I rely found this article helpful in teaching me that I can overcome my past through God. And if I or my friends are struggling we can help each other through our temptations. And from this article I understand that I cannot just give up on change when it is tough. Because God does not accept giving up, he wants us to keep trying until we reach our goal. Thank you for this article it has opened my eyes to some new insight.

  8. 8
    Caitlin Zwart|January 25, 2013

    This article taught me how I can get through the hard times. Riht now I deal with a lot and it shows that God gives us trials and temptations to get over. God has plans for us. Our days were numbered before we were even born. We are sinful people and we also think a lot about our own problems and how we need to fix ourselves and make things better for ourselves. Sometimes we need to think about those around us. Even though things may be tough for us, we need to think about others as well.

  9. 9
    Maria Van Wolde|January 25, 2013

    Its kind of funny that I came across this article because I am already struggling with my new years resolution, but that is probably because it was kind of a stupid one. I don’t know why but I never really think of moral new years resolutions, maybe that is because habit resolutions are the ones I hear about more. So often I try to excuse myself from my sins that I gravitate towards because I know its something I struggle with more than others. But, even though God does know why I struggle with some sins more than others, he doesn’t excuse from it. Thank you especially for saying I should be all the more determined to avoid what I do impulsively, and that I shouldn’t plead innocence and give up. I think this is something that I really need to work on. Thank you for the prodding and the encouragement!

  10. 10
    Sarah|January 25, 2013

    Thank you for these great points on temptation. It was a good way to think about it being two separate things: the flesh and the will. It is comforting to know that there is a God that is understanding of our human nature. But, just because he is understanding it is important to be mindful of the temptations around it and make a purpose to avoid falling into those traps like you stated.

  11. 11
    Charmain|January 26, 2013

    Hi. Thank you for this wonderful article, since discovering these articles i just dont seem to get enough.
    This year i just want to thirst for His Word and not just drinking it but be imersed in it.
    Blessing to you.

  12. 12
    Nick|January 27, 2013

    This is a good article and a good reminder about how too often I can think about changing things in my life for my own personal gain, and sometimes forget about changing my own moral habits. I usually don’t think about moral changes for a new year resolution at all. Because God has blessed me so much in growing up with a Christian family and going to a Christian school, I am responsible in doing much more for Him. There are many sins which I struggle with, and this article reminds me that instead of making excuses for certain sins which can become habits, I should be more determined to overcome my sins which I struggle with, and that God doesn’t let me off the hook.

  13. 13
    Zachery|January 23, 2015

    Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wished to mention that I have really loved browsing your weblog posts.

    After all I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!

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