It has been my observation that one of the primary ways which Jesus Christ used to mentor his flock involved the use of the parable. Gowler (2002) tells us that, "… A parable is a succinct story, in prose or verse that illustrates a lesson. It differs from a fable in that fables use animals, plants, inanimate objects, and forces of nature as characters, while parables generally feature human characters." It is a type of analogy which is used to make a point.
There are those who suggest that parables are best used with spiritual concepts. Others suggest that they are best used to make a single point. It is with these two thoughts in mind that I want to share a story with you today. It is based upon many observations which I have made over the past few decades. While I have done some serious research on the concepts in this commentary, I want you to know that this work is merely a sharing of my personal observations on life. Thus begins the Parable of the Wise, Old Fireman.
There once was a veteran member of a local fire department. That fine man had been a member for more than 40 years. He had been to most of his department's major fires, serious incidents, and disasters during his long and honorable career. He had a tremendous memory and loved to share stories of his years on the department.
Basically he had seen and done it all. However, he did not rest upon his laurels. He was always the first one to sign up for the latest courses at the local fire academy. While many of his generation kept to themselves, this fellow liked to hang out with the younger people in his organization. He said that working with young people kept him young.
This veteran fireman loved nothing more than to share what he knew with the younger troops. He loved nothing better than to take the younger members under his wing so that he could share his knowledge with them. However, he never forced his attention and knowledge on any one. He would offer his hand in friendship to the new members and then work from the relationships that developed. He truly enjoyed what he was doing. Life was really good.
Then there came a day when his knowledge was challenged. There was a certain young fellow who became the fire chief. This young fellow never really liked the "old-timer" and all of his meaningless stories. This young fellow made it clear that he knew it all and needed no one else telling him how to run the show. What he failed to understand was the critical role that the veteran was playing in his interactions with the younger folks.
The long-time member was serving as a mentor. This veteran was sharing a form of critical information that people in the academic world call tacit knowledge. It is a form of knowledge that is difficult to transfer from one person to another by means of writing it down or verbalizing it. It is the sort of basic "how-to" stuff which can only been learned over time and through constant practice.
This young chief was not aware of the fact that the fire service is a demanding, ever-changing field. However, it is one where the new tasks and ways of doing business are built upon the firm foundation of things we have been doing for a long time now. He seemed not to understand (or care) that there is always something new coming around the corner at you. Whether it involves the latest tools or technology, there is plenty for each of us to learn. It is also a place where the basic skills must be continually reinforced. You cannot stretch a hoseliner once, or raise and place a ladder once and consider yourself an expert.
But here was this 20-something person, all puffed up with his own importance, quickly proceeding to run his fire department into the ground. One, by one people began to stop coming around the fire station. Attendance at drills was sparse and the number of people responding to fires was on a downward spiral. Some days, the calls were handed off to surrounding mutual aid units.