There once was a man who desired to live with God. Not far from where he lived there was a mountain, and many said the top of this mountain was the paradise where God lived.
So the man decided he was going to climb to the top of the mountain and finally achieve his goal of being with God. He started climbing early in the morning, and as the day went on he worked and worked and climbed and climbed, until finally he was near the top.
When the top of the mountain came into view, he saw a man dressed as a shepherd looking down on him with pleasant expectation.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” the shepherd said.
The man was taken aback by this statement. “I have done my best to climb as fast as I could,” he responded. “Do you know how to get to God?”
“I do,” smiled the shepherd. “Would you like my help with this last part? Many people who make this climb have a hard time finishing it when they get close to the top.”
The man eagerly agreed, and he reached up with his left hand to grasp the shepherd’s hand reaching down to assist him. However, before he began to pull himself up with the shepherd’s help, he took a large knife from his pocket and held it in his right hand. Without looking up, the man began to slowly cut off his leg.
“Forgive me,” the man said, afraid to look up, “for I know not what I do.”
“My child!” exclaimed the shepherd, “Of course you are forgiven. I only wish you would stop cutting your leg. You’re going to hurt yourself.”
The man looked up and smiled, “Thank you for such grace. I do not deserve it.”
“God does not give grace out based on who deserves it,” responded the shepherd, “but we can talk about that later. Right now, you should let go of that knife.”
The man looked back up at the shepherd and began to sing praises to God for his majesty and his faithfulness, yet with his right hand he continued to cut through skin and bone. The shepherd never broke his gaze, and his grip remained firm. He never tried to abandon or let go of the man’s hand. However, the man slowly noticed the pain in the shepherd’s eyes.
Tears began flowing down the shepherd’s cheeks, and with every motion of the knife, the man realized the shepherd could feel the blade. Yet he continued to cut away.
All through the night, the man continued to use the knife to slowly and painfully cut off his leg. As the hours passed, the same cycle occurred again and again. Cutting…forgiveness…cutting…gratefulness…cutting…praise…cutting…pain…cutting
Finally, the man cut the last thread of skin that held his leg to the rest of his body, and he watched as the leg fell all the way down the mountainside he had climbed the previous day. He looked up at the shepherd with a sigh of relief and said, “Pull me up.”
The man struggled to climb the last few feet, even with the help of the shepherd’s strong hand. The missing leg caused him to lose both balance and strength, and he relied completely on the shepherd to pull him to the top.
At last, after being wrestled to the top, the man looked upon his surroundings and realized he was sitting outside the gate of a beautiful garden. The grass was green beneath him, yet not even ten paces in front of him was a large hedge with a color so much brighter and better than green, that the grass around the man looked brown in comparison.
In the middle of the hedge, there was a bright golden gate, which had swung open at his arrival to the mountaintop. Inside the gate, he saw many sheep as well as colors of rich gold, purple, and red. He found himself blinded by the brightness that shone from the inside. The shepherd stood to the right of the gate and motioned for the man to follow him in to the beautiful paradise.
The man started to stand up to walk towards the gate, but immediately he fell back over. Somewhat dazed, the man thought he must not have been used to the altitude, so he waited a few moments and tried again. However, he experienced the same result. Over and over the man tried to stand up, but each time he continued to fall. Finally, the shepherd started to walk towards him.
“No!” the man shouted, “I can do this. You’ve done more than enough to pull me to the top. Let me walk the last ten steps on my own. After all, I know how to walk,” the man laughed, trying to cover up the shame and embarrassment that came with each failed attempt to stand up.
The man continued to try to stand, yet the harder he tried, the faster he fell. Hours went by with dozens of failures, yet the shepherd stood patiently by the gate.
“I’ve almost got it,” the man kept saying. “Just one more moment and I’ll be right there.”
Yet moments passed, and the man realized that while he had started out only a few feet from the gate, he seemed to have been taking steps backwards. The gate now seemed an insurmountable distance from where he was, and amidst the futility of his actions, the man began to weep.
“I can’t do this,” he mumbled through tears, “I never should have tried to make this journey. It’s too hard, and now I have come all this way through difficult terrain to find I can’t even walk across a small patch of grass. I am hopeless.”
The man began to look behind him to see where he could begin his descent back down the mountain, but at that moment he realized the shepherd was at his side.
“My son,” the shepherd said with a smile on his face and a tear in his eye, “let go of the knife.”
The man did not at first realize what knife the shepherd was referring to, but when he looked down at his right hand, he realized it was firmly clenched around a bloodstained knife.
“But…this is not my knife. Where has this come from? Whose blood is that?” the man said, in fear.
“The knife was put in your hand to keep you from reaching this place. You have used it to bring great harm to yourself, and the knife almost succeeded in keeping you from God,” the shepherd said.
At that moment, everything came rushing back to him. The knife, the blood, his leg. He had forgotten all of it, but now he knew what he had done. The man looked down at the ground with shame.
“Oh God, forgive me,” the man said, keeping his eyes planted firmly on the ground. “I have brought this upon myself, and there is no way that I will ever be able to join you in paradise.”
The shepherd began to laugh, which both startled the man and caused him to look up to see what had caused the laughter. “My child! There is nothing that can keep you from God, let alone a small knife. Do not give sharp things more power than they deserve. Let it go, and you will be with us in paradise today.”
The shepherd’s face, now radiant with joy gave new hope to the man’s heart, for the possibility of entering that gate had seemed to him to be long gone. He looked at the knife in his hand and was reminded of the pain the dirty and bloodstained object had caused him. “I would like to be rid of this thing,” thought the man.
“Then let go of it,” the shepherd said.
“I will,” said the man, “I will let go of this knife.” However, try as he might he could not get the blade out of his hand. There was nothing he could do to unclench his fist around the object he most hated. His knuckles grew white as he tried his best to let go, but there was no change in his grip.
“Please, you must take it from me. I cannot let it go,” the man pleaded.
“It is not up to me to decide what your hands do and do not hold,” said the shepherd firmly. “You must decide for yourself whether you will hold onto it or not. I will not force your hand.”
“My hand has given this knife too much power,” the man said, “I can only get it out of my hand if it is put in the hand of another. Will you help me?”
The shepherd smiled, “Why do you think I am here, my son? My presence is here for your assistance. Here, place the knife in my hand.”
Slowly, the man reached towards the shepherd with the knife, and with great pain his hand released its grip and the knife fell directly in the shepherd’s hand. Immediately, the man felt as if a great weight had been lifted from him, and he stood to walk to the gate. However, he found himself flat on the ground again just like every other time he had tried to walk.
“What has happened?” inquired the man, “The knife is gone, yet I still cannot walk.”
“Patience,” said the shepherd. “Your journey is not over.”
“But you said if I let go of the knife, I can come to paradise. Why then, am I still unable to walk?”
“You have forgotten about your leg,” said the shepherd softly.
Suddenly, with great horror to the man, the shepherd cut his own leg clean off with one swift stroke of the man’s knife. Then, with great care, the shepherd attached what had been his leg to the body of the man. The man looked at his new leg with astonishment, then looked up at the shepherd and realized the knife was gone
“Did that hurt you?” the man said, not masking the amazement in his voice.
“Your pain is my pain,” the shepherd said with a smile. “When you cut off your own leg, you were cutting off mine as well. I have simply been waiting for the time in which I can give you the part of me that you so desperately needed.”
“But the knife,” said the man, “where did it go?”
“It has been destroyed,” said the shepherd. “You see, every person that comes up here brings their own knife. Some have been used to cut off legs, others arms, and others heads. In order for me to heal, everyone must let go of what they hold onto most dearly and give it to me. A knife in my hand is much different than a knife in yours.”
“How is that so?” asked the man.
“When you hold a knife, it controls you and it only causes pain. When I hold a knife, I control it and it only causes pleasure. Because I felt the same pain from the knife that you felt, once you are able to surrender the knife to me, it has lost all its power. The last act of every knife is to pierce my own flesh. The one who makes these knives thinks they will hurt me, but the pain has already been shared between us. The last cut brings about healing rather than hurting, and because the knife was made for evil, it is destroyed when it is used for good.”
The man did not know what to say. He wanted to feel ashamed, yet he couldn’t. He wanted to say he was sorry, yet he knew he was already forgiven. He wanted to say thank you, yet he knew the shepherd already felt his gratitude.
“Come,” the shepherd said with his hand outstretched, “join me in paradise.”
The man reached up and took the shepherd’s hand in his, and the two walked through the gate side by side.