A little parable…
He was sitting on a rusty oil drum tossing sharp stones into the canal when the stranger appeared.
‘Do I know you?’ he snarled gently.
‘Don’t think so,’ said the stranger, ‘but I know you, and I know you’re in dire straits.’
‘I’m doing all right.’
‘I don’t think you are,’ said the stranger, ‘loans, job a distant memory, no real prospects… which is why I’ve been sent to cut you a deal.’
‘Yes, d’you have many plans for the future?’
‘Don’t be daft.’
‘Right. Then listen closely, did you know you can trade in some of your time?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I told you to listen closely, so do that. Let’s say you have another what – 40 years left? Well, you can bank that if you like, take say a decade and cash it in. Solve all those little money troubles for you. More than that, it’ll actually give you a little lump sum to enjoy life a bit. What do you say?’
They talked some more. Then some more after that. In the end they shook hands on five years. And in an instant he was alone again. Still sitting on the oil drum, still holding a spiky rock in one hand.
His phone growled. He glanced at the text. From the bank of all places. He went to see what the fuss was about and walked out of the branch with a smile on his face a new fat credit card in his hand. It was turning out to be a good morning, the canal seemed a distant dark memory. He put some money on a horse, not a lot, but it came in. His luck was really turning. He bought a new coat, lunch at the best restaurant he could think of, and a bottle of the finest whiskey. He spent the afternoon in the cinema.
The weeks rolled by. His loans turned to mist, his rent arrears vanished and he found a whole load of new ways to pass the time. Sometimes his horses won, sometimes not. The bank never bothered him again. Then one day, strolling near the canal he collided with a stranger. That stranger. The tall one with the grey hair and the narrowed eyes.
‘Oh it’s you!’ he said.
‘Yes, how’s it going?’
‘Great. It’s funny, I was only thinking this morning, if I had banked a little more of my future I could well… there’s this car.’
‘The red sports model?’
‘Yea, funny you should know that.’
‘What do think? Another five years?’
He almost couldn’t remember agreeing to it, but he must have because suddenly he had the funds and he was no longer walking so much or riding on buses. He saw plenty of petrol pumps though. But then he hadn’t bought the thing for consumption. Some folks started asking him if he’d won something, like the lottery. But he only laughed it off. Talked of coming into money. His ex-wife showed up after two years of nothing. He wined and dined her the once, but that was all. From time to time he went back to the canal, from time to time he bought and spent and betted and drank. Then as he sat in his favourite restaurant, the one he frequented so regularly these days, checking the upcoming races, he heard a chair scrape and looked across the table into the eyes of the stranger. They both forced a smile. The stranger pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and slid it across the table, it smeared some gravy as it came towards him. He glanced down. There was nothing on it. Just his name at the top. And a zero at the bottom.
‘I just came to say goodbye,’ the stranger said, ‘for good. It’s over. Hope you enjoyed it.’
And the stranger stood up.
‘What’s this?’ he asked, holding up the paper.
‘Your account,’ said the stranger, ‘it’s all done now. Empty. Spent. No more days.’
And the stranger walked away. He seemed to fade into a kind of mist, a cloudy curtain falling over the stranger as he went. Then his eyelids grew heavy and he thought he might go home for a nap after his big meal. He stood and sat down again. Perhaps he’d have that nap here. No one would he mind, after all, he’d spent so much on himself in this place, he practically owned it. He closed his eyes for a few seconds and never woke up again. His phone growled with a text from the bank. But he wouldn’t be answering it.
Luke 12 vv 16-21
John 10 v 10