This beautiful poem by Rumi illustrates what I see as a central message of Jesus. In my own words, Jesus’ ministry can be summed up with, “Hey, you guys and gals, you got it all wrong! You are taking for real that which is only temporary.” This was most clearly emphasized when he said in Matthew 6, “ Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. Earlier Plato had noted the same phenomena with his myth a man being chained in a cave in which he could only see the shadows of the world that was going on behind him outside the cave’s opening. He naturally took the shadows to be the real thing. I think it was C. S. Lewis who described this as “the sin of misplaced concreteness,” taking the ephemeral to be the real. Here, Rumi presents the notion with customary eloquence:
Thirst is angry with water. Hunger bitter
with bread.The cave wants nothing to do
with the sun. This is dumb, the self-
defeating way we’ve been. A gold mine
is calling us into its temple. Instead,
we bend and keep picking up rocks
from the ground. Every thing has a shine like gold,
but we should turn to the source!
The origin is what we truly are. I add a little
vinegar to the honey I give. The bite of scolding
makes ecstasy more familiar. But
look, fish, you’re already in the ocean:
just swimming there makes you friends
with glory. What are these grudges about?
You are Benjamin. Joseph has put a gold cup
in your grain sack and accused you of being
a thief. Now he draws you aside and says,
“You are my brother. I am a prayer. You’re
the amen.” We move in eternal regions, yet
worry about property here. This is the prayer
of each: You are the source of my life.
You separate essence from mud. You honor
my soul. You bring rivers from the
mountain springs. You brighten my eyes.
The wine you offer takes me out of myself
into the self we share. Doing that is religion.