La Besace* — The Alms Bag
Fables of Jean De La Fontaine; Translated by Michael Star
One day mighty Jupiter said “Let all living things come before me to compare themselves, one with the other. Let no one be afraid to speak honestly even if they find fault. I shall ensure that no harm comes of it. Come Monkey, you are the one that should begin. Let all the others compare themselves to your beauty. Tell me, are you satisfied with yourelf?”
“Me?” He said. “Why Not! Is my body not as good as any of the others? And as for my face, there’s nothing to reproach myself for on that score. But as for my brother the bear, I have to say that I find his features rather coarse. And no artist would ever pick him as a subject for a painting”
Everyone expected the bear to reply angrily, but he didn’t. Instead he praised his own physique quite loudly. Then he went on to speak of the Elephant. He pointed out that Elephant could use a longer tail and smaller ears. In short he declared that the Elephant was quite misshapen and ugly.
The Elephant (wise beast that he was) did not retaliate. Instead, he opined as to how Madame Whale was really too fat. Madame Ant then said that she found the Mite a bit too small. It made her feel that she was a giant.
At this point Jupiter, hearing all these criticisms, angrily told them to stop. This didn’t scare the other animals who were still self-satisfied. And among the most self satisfied were the humans because that is how we are: fierce animals when it comes to criticizing others, and meek when it comes to speaking of our own faults. We forgive ourselves everything, and forgive others nothing.
The Creator made us like alms bags all in the same way: Those born long ago and those born today. Our own faults are buried in the rear pouch. The front pouch is reserved for the faults of others.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. – Matthew 7:1-5
* Besace – A Beggars Bag. A cylindrical bag with an opening in centre, forming two pouches. It was usually carried over a shoulder.