I love parables such as Jesus used to teach his followers, and sometimes there are some modern parables that are as instructive, the following story I think is one of those.
Once upon a time an Indian Chief who was known for his kindness was walking through the forest and he came to a river. Lying on the side of the river was a rattlesnake. In those days animals could talk, so the Chief was not surprised when the snake spoke to him and said “Chief, I know you are a kind man and I desperately need a favor from you. My family is on the other side of this river and I can’t swim, I need to get to them, will you carry me across the river?”
The chief looked at the snake and said, “Mr. Snake, I am a kind man and I have sympathy for those in trouble and have many many times helped even my enemies, but you are a poison snake, and you would bite me and I would die, so no, I cannot pick you up and carry you across the river.”
The snake said to the chief, “Sir, my family will die without me, and if you will carry me on your shoulders as you wade the water, I promise on my oath that I will not bite you and I will be forever grateful to you.”
The chief thought about it for a minute and so he finally agreed to take the snake across the water. As they approached the middle of the waterway with the snake safely coiled on the chief’s head high and dry, the snake reached down and bit the chief. The chief in his death throes said to the snake “Why did you break your promise to me not to bite me? Now we will both die here in the river!”
The snake said as they sunk below the waves, “You knew what I was when you picked me up.”
I’ve heard this same story told in many different ways, from a frog convinced to let a scorpion ride on his back across the river to this one, but the moral of the story is always in the last line “You knew what I was when you picked me up.”
No matter how kind we are to someone who has a poor moral character as demonstrated by their pattern of past behaviors, we can’t expect them to change that character just because we are kind to them. Good people have bad things happen to them through no fault of their own, and even bad people have bad things happen to them through no fault of their own. That’s life. However, we must be as Jesus admonished his disciples and be “as wise as serpents and as innocent as a doves.” Jesus went on to teach that “by their fruits ye shall know them” using the analogy of fruit trees….a grape vine doesn’t produce figs and a fig tree doesn’t produce grapes. So if a person produces consistently rotten “fruit,” we should be able to observe that that person is not someone we should trust and cultivate.
Sure, none of us are perfect, and even the best fruit tree will have a rotten apple now and again, but the tree that season after season produces rotten fruit is not something that we want in our “garden” of life. Just as a farmer would cut that tree out of his orchard, so we too must prune our lives of those people who continually use and abuse us and not give them the chance to ruin our lives as well as their own.