A woman who lives near the church likes to walk her dogs in the Rockwood State Forest. One day her two Labs disappeared into the brush and a minute later one of them came flying through the air, collapsing in a whining heap on the trail. He had encountered a mother bear and her two cubs in the blackberry bramble and she was not happy to make his acquaintance. The dog survived after all the puncture wounds in his neck healed. Truly he was well shaken and stirred.
This story reminded me of the old saying I used to hear a lot as a youngster: “It is easier to catch bees with honey than with vinegar.” It is hard to know where it comes from, but it makes a lot of sense.
Of course, it is also possible to snare bears with honey and we all know how to be tough on people we meet when necessary. Personally, I prefer honey when I have the choice.
This spring some youths broke some of our picnic tables. When one of them was apprehended by the police, he was forced to pay damages. Later in August I saw a different group of teenage boys using our brand new tables. When they saw me coming they regarded me with suspicion but I greeted them cheerfully, “Say, how is it going? This shady spot is a good place to be on a hot day, isn’t it?” “Yes,” they replied cautiously, “we really like to hang here. We live near by and this is our favorite place. But we heard that you had some trouble.” “Right, some kids broke our tables. But you know what? You are really are welcome to use our yard. It is a good thing that you get a chance to enjoy it. But is there any chance you could help us keep the area picked up?” “We would be glad to that,” they quickly answered. “Do you think you could have a trash can put out here?” “No problem. See you later.”
A couple of weeks later I saw them again and hollered from the sidewalk, “Is that garbage pail out there yet?” “Yes it is,” they answered, “and we putting papers in it right now. Thanks a lot. Have a good day!”
How do you as elders treat members and strangers generally? With sweet or sour? With suspicion or open affirmation? Do you approach others with the compassion of Christ or consider everyone guilty until proven innocent? 1 Peter 5:2-3 reminds elders to tend the flock in their charge, not through domination but by being examples. In Galatians 6:10 Paul urges his readers not to grow weary in doing good to all people, especially to the household of faith. What will it be in your church, vinegar or honey?
EARL S. JOHNSON Jr. is the pastor of First Church in Johnstown, N.Y. and adjunct professor of religious Studies at Siena College.