When David completed the Book of Psalms he was uplifted with satisfaction. He said to God, “Does there exist any creature which You created anywhere in the entire universe which sings songs and praises which surpass mine?” At that moment a frog passed and said, “David, do not be uplifted with pride, for I sing songs and praises which surpass yours!… Not only that, but I also perform a mitzvah [an ascetic obedience]. On the seashore there is a creature which draws its sustenance from the sea. When that creature is hungry it takes me and eats me. That is my ascetic obedience.” … The song of the frog is: “Blessed be the name of the glory of His Kingdom forever and ever.”
A Rabbinic parable from Perek Shira
I found this gem of a story in the new book, The Grace of Incorruption, by Donald Sheehan (I strongly recommend it for wonderful spiritual reading). Many rabbinic stories sound remarkably like the stories from the Desert Fathers. Apparently, living with a Tradition, a primarily Biblical Tradition, can make for frequent sameness. Some thoughts on the frog:
The mitzvah of the frog is a wonderful example of grace and good works – rightly understood. A mitzvah is a good work, a fulfilling of a commandment. This is true in the Christian faith as well – any deed done in joyful fulfillment of the commandments of Christ could be called a mitzvah. And the mitzvah of the frog is like the great mitzvah of Christ – a voluntary self-offering. This is the very nature and character of Eucharistic existence.
In many ways, the difference between faith and works (negatively defined) comes down to the difference between a Eucharistic action and a non-Eucharistic action. Anything that can be done with grateful thanksgiving becomes a point of communion with God. All that He gives to us is given in utterly free generosity. There is no demand from God that we owe Him anything. He does not make us into His debtors.
The person who gives no thanks receives the same as the person who gives thanks in all things. God causes His rain to fall on the “just and the unjust.” There are, of course, many among the “just” who resent God’s generosity. It seems to us that God could control the world much better if the actions of the evil were punished immediately and clearly and actions of the good rewarded just as quickly. But such is not the way of God. Neither should it be the way of anyone who professes faith in Christ.
There are some things that we have to do that are very difficult – and distinctly unpleasant. “Grateful thanksgiving” by no means excludes such things. However, they bring us to the paradox of the Cross, for we are told that Christ “went to the Cross for the joy that was set before Him” (Heb. 12:2). Thanksgiving is perhaps the measure of all things – the surest manifestation of the Holy Spirit in our lives.