A man wakes up in an unfamiliar field. Sniffing the air, he detects something burning, only to realize that the “fog” obscuring the sun above him is in actuality a thick cloud of smoke. Rising to his feet, he confirms the entire field is encompassed by a wildfire, which is quickly drawing nearer to himself. There is a section of grass that has not burned straight ahead of him. Peering into the distance, he sees that it is a path leading to a large body of water. Luckily, there is a dock with a boat at the water’s edge. The captain of the boat is untying the ropes from the dock while frantically beckoning the man in the field toward himself.
The man in the field feels a gust of wind and sees the fire surging closer to him. Looking back at the spot where he was reclining, the man notices a boulder buried mostly in the ground. However, there is a peculiar small hole cut into the boulder. Peering into the opening, the man sees a sparkling jewel the size of a grapefruit located about an arms-length deep inside the hole. Quickly looking toward the ship, he confirms that the captain is still motioning him to join him.
Losing no time, the man plunges his arm into the hole, which is just big enough for him to reach inside. He grasps the jewel firmly and pulls away. But his hand will not fit through the opening while holding the jewel; his fist is too big. He strains with all of his might, tearing his flesh against the rock, but he cannot remove both the jewel and his hand.
The fire is now only several meters away. The heat from it begins to burn the man. He cries out in pain and frustration while running his fingers over the various facets of the jewel, imagining the luxury in which he could live if only he could retrieve this treasure! At this point, the captain has finished untying the boat and has pushed away a tiny bit from the dock while calling out to the man to abandon his treasure to save his life.
The above short story has not been brought to completion because I am still alive. The man is each one of us, the treasure is our passionate attachments to fleshly desires and the things of this world. The unburned path to the dock is the Way of the commandments of Christ that lead to salvation, but cannot alone save us. The boat represents the Church, Paradise, and union with God, which are all truly the same thing.
We cannot bring our passions with us into heavenly places: we must relinquish them to follow the Way of Christ into the ark of salvation. They promise an extraordinary life on this burning island, but in truth these passions result in death. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” When our treasure is in earthen things, egotism, cares of this world, or sensual delights of life, then our heart will remain buried in the earth. This is not to say that we must reach a completely passionless state in order to be saved, but we must be working toward that.
The Way of Christ is the Way of love, for God is love. Therefore, the commandments of Christ lead to salvation. However, if we place our entire hope of salvation in following the commandments and trying to be a “good, loving” person without the end goal of communing with God, then it is as if we have sat down on the path leading to the dock, thinking we will be perfectly safe there. The commandments of God are the Way to life, but not the destination. God alone is our place of salvation.
The captain of the boat is a metaphor for both our guardian angel and our God-given conscience, both of which direct us on the path of life. The fire is the end of my life and the coming judgment.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” John 14:6
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Matthew 6:19-21
Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:62