When the great library of Alexandria burned, so the story goes, one book was saved. But it was not a valuable book; and so a poor man, who could read a little, bought it for a few coppers. The book wasn't very interesting, but between its pages there was something very interesting indeed. It was a thin strip of vellum on which was written the secret of the Touchstone!
The touchstone was a small pebble that could turn any common metal into pure gold. The writing explained that it was lying among thousands and thousands of other pebbles that looked exactly like it. But the secret was this: The real stone would feel warm, while ordinary pebbles are cold. So the man sold his few belongings, bought some simple supplies, camped on the seashore, and began testing pebbles. He knew that if he picked up ordinary pebbles and threw them down again because they were cold, he might pick up the same pebble hundreds of times.
So, when he felt one that was cold, he threw it into the sea. He spent a whole day doing this but none of them was the touchstone. Yet he went on and on this way. Pick up a pebble. Cold - throw it into the sea. Pick up another. Cold –throw it into the sea. The days stretched into weeks and the weeks into months. One day -about mid-afternoon, he picked up a pebble and it was warm. But he threw it into the sea before he realized what he had done. He had formed such a strong habit of throwing each pebble into the sea that when the one he wanted came along he still threw it away.
Habits can be very positive. But they can also dull our awareness of the unexpected, the valuable or the new. In his teaching Jesus emphasised the value of each and every day and no day was wasted in the life of Jesus. Every day was spent in the mix of teaching, healing, travelling and debating. No moment was thrown away and every moment presented the opportunity of change. Water into wine; blindness into sight; sinners into the saved. Jesus saw that those the world counted worthless could be transformed and used to change others.
The question I want to ask is: ‘are we awake to see God in the ordinary, and see with God how the ordinary is sanctified – made sacred?’ It’s a transition from the taken-for-granted view of life to one where we see the miracle of the unexpected moment. To put it in concrete terms, do we really give thanks for each day – its beauty and opportunity? Do we challenge injustice and casual hatred or walk by on the other side? Do we give people written off by the world the chance to be seen in new ways?
I wonder that if a time-traveller came to visit us, and told us that a child of one of the refugees crossing the Mediterranean would come to lead and transform our world into peace and prosperity, whether our attitude to all refugees would change? Or would we continue to simply throw every pebble back into the sea, including the one which would transform our world for the better.
Being a disciple isn’t an easy option in life. Being a disciple invites God to re-shape us and be a part of change in the world. That has to begin with us. It has to start with the habits of prayer and reflection that draw us deeper into the wonder of God’s love – helping us to see the world as God does, and not simply as the world is painted by those who despair. Nothing could do more to fulfill the words of Jesus that we “do not belong to the world”. We belong – now and always – to the Kingdom of God.