The Caravan Story

July 8, 2021 –

I’m sitting at my desk thinking about a story I heard fifty-years ago about optimism.

One night a small caravan of people was crossing a desert. The night was unusually dark; it was a quarter-moon. Suddenly, about midnight, a voice spoke out of the heavens, commanding the travelers to stop and dismount. 

Once on the ground, the “voice” instructed the travelers to pick up rocks and place them in their saddlebags. If they followed this instruction in the morning, they would be both glad and sad when the sun came up. Doing as told, they remounted their camels. 

At the first sign of light, the travelers dismounted and carefully opened their saddlebags. They gladly discovered the rocks they had picked up during the night had turned into gold inside the bags. But the gladness was short-lived because they realized they should have picked up more rocks.

The Old Testament contains a story that parallels this “glad and sad” principle. The story is one of God’s four miracles through the prophet Elisha, as told in the fourth chapter of Second Kings.

“A widow of one prophet, faced with a debt and a merciless creditor, appeals to Elisha for help. He commanded her, ‘Go and borrow empty containers from everyone—from all your neighbors. Do not get just a few.’ Then go in, shut the door behind you and your sons, and pour oil into all these containers. Set the full ones to one side.

After shutting the door behind her and her sons, they kept bringing her containers, and she kept pouring. When they were full, she said to her son, ‘Bring me another container.’ But he replied, ‘There aren’t anymore.’ Then the oil stopped.” (2 Kings 4:3, 4, 6, HCSB). 

The oil flowed while there was a jar to fill, and it ceased to flow only when the widow ran out of vessels. God limited the quantity of the oil solely to the extent that she had empty containers available. She had collected a few vessels— a few “rocks.” 

When God asks you, “What can I do for you?” and you answer, “Your servant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil.” Heed the words of St. Paul, “He who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully” (2 Cor. 9:6).