Once there was a people that surveyed the resources of the world, and they said to each other, “How can we be sure that we will have enough in hard times? We want to survive whatever happens. Let us start collecting food, materials, and knowledge so that we are safe and secure when a crisis occurs.” So they started hoarding and hoarding, so much that other people protested and said, “Hey, you have much more than you need, while we don’t have enough to survive. Give us part of your wealth.”
But the fearful hoarders said, “No, no, no, we need to keep this in case of emergencies, in case things go bad for us too, in case our lives are threatened.”
Time passed, and then the others said, “We are dying now. Please give us food and materials and knowledge to survive. We can’t wait. We need it now.”
And then the fearful hoarders became even more fearful, because they were afraid that the poor and hungry would attack them. So they said to one another, “Let us build walls around our wealth so that no stranger can take it away from us.” And thus they started erecting walls so high that they could not see any more whether there were enemies outside or not. And as their fear increased they told each other, “Our enemies have become so numerous that they may be able to tear down our walls. Our walls are not strong enough to keep them away. We need to put bombs on top of the walls so that nobody will dare to even come close to us.”
But instead of feeling safe and secure behind their armed walls, they found themselves trapped in the prison they had built with their own fear. They even became afraid of their own bombs, wondering if they might harm themselves more than their enemy. And gradually they realized that their fear of death had brought them closer to it.
This parable is the opening to the talk, "Living in the House of Love," which was an address to the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship Breakfast during the 197th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Indianapolis, Indiana, June 1985. It can be found in The Road to Peace by Henri Nouwen (edited by John Dear; © 1998).