The parable of the donkey and the master

All stories are, in reality, a conversation between the author and the reader. What I have tried to do is to make the conversation more obvious. If there are children (of any age) near at hand it would be interesting to read it out loud and see which way the wind blows. 


This is a story about a little donkey and a farmer who owned the donkey. Now before I tell you the part of the story that is the story bit I have to tell you a few things about the man and the donkey. The story bit is in blue.

So!  A little patience please.

A donkey lived on a farm and a farm lived on a mountainside.

I know. I know.   The farm did not actually live on the mountainside but I thought it sounded like a good way to say it.

The donkey had always lived on the mountainside at least as long as he could remember.  The farmer was very old and so he sold the farm to buy a little cottage that nestled in the side of the mountain out of the wind. It was on the side where the sun shone and was very warm and comfortable. The old farmer was happy, although he missed his donkey.

But we mustn’t get too upset about that for that is how things are.

The new farmer was not a real farmer. He thought he was going to be a really great farmer, what with all his educated ways and his knowledge of how things worked and who made the world and all, but he wasn’t. Although he wasn’t a really great farmer he was a nice enough man. He didn’t beat the donkey and he fed him enough and he shut him in a stable at night to keep the cold night air out. But he really wasn’t a great farmer.     Even if he thought he was.

Now that, I believe, is about enough of an introduction. So on with the story and I thank you for being patient.

One day the time came for the farmer to take all his wheat to the market town. The market town was on the other side of the mountain. It was not a big mountain. Both of these things are quite important so I will say them again. The mountain was not very big, but the market town was on the other side of the mountain.

Now if you are good at guessing the way stories go you can have a minute to think about that while we get ready.

So the man loaded all the wheat onto a cart and strapped the cart to the donkey.

We are now ready but before we go I have something else important to say. The donkey and the man could talk to each other. I know this can’t really happen but for the sake of the story I must ask you to believe that it is true.

The shortest way from the farm to the market town was straight up the mountain – the not very big mountain – and down the other side. So they set off. But the donkey was small and the load was big and the donkey stopped.

“This is a very bad way to go,” he said.

“Why?” asked the farmer.  “Aren’t you strong enough to carry the load?”

“Yes,” said the donkey, “but the road gets steeper and narrower and I might slip and fall and all the wheat will be spilled onto the mountainside and that will be disaster.” This was quite a speech for a donkey and the man stopped.

He thought for a while and calculated how far it was over the mountain and he wondered what to do.

“We should go around the mountain,” said the donkey.

“But it is a lot farther and we must get there before too long,” said the man.

The donkey was not one to argue, even if he thought he was right so he set off again.

Up they went. While they had stopped for their discussion the donkey had not grown any bigger and the load had not become any lighter and soon the donkey stopped again.

The man became very angry and threw his hat on the ground and stormed off down the mountainside and sold his farm to another man.

I am quite sure at this point that you are just a little puzzled as to why such a strange thing should occur. Why, for example, would anyone storm off and sell their farm just because their donkey had stopped for a second time. The answer is that I, also, do not know why someone would act like that. But if it didn’t happen then the story wouldn’t happen and then where we would be? – halfway up a mountain with a donkey, a cart loaded with wheat and not much of a story at all. So if you don’t mind I’d rather get on with it, if you can just be a little more patient and a little less disbelieving.

The new farmer was a much more understanding man and asked the donkey for his opinion on the matter.

“We should go back down the mountain for a little way until we come to a path that leads us around the mountain. It is a bit longer but not so hard to travel,” said the donkey.

By the way, although this story has a meaning, I don’t plan on telling you what the meaning is. So you must pay attention if you wish to work it out for yourself.

They set off down the mountain and when they had gone only a little way the man spied a path that led off to the side.

“Turn here,” he said.

“No,” said the donkey, “this path goes around the mountain the other way. The path I meant goes around the mountain in the opposite direction.”

“Well, I have a very good map, and it clearly shows that this path is shorter and straighter than the one you would have us take,” said the man.

“Yes,” said the old donkey who was getting quite tired and just a little annoyed at this stage. “I know the map you are using.

It does show the path well but it does not show that there is a wide river with steep sides just around the bend up ahead. I have walked over this mountainside all my life and although the map shows the road to be smooth it is full of holes and ruts and bumps. And when it get very steep I get a little scared. We must go back and take the other road.”

Now it was the man’s turn to become quite tired and more than just a little angry. The map was one he had relied on all his life and no old donkey was going to tell him it was wrong.

You won’t believe what happens next. But if you have believed everything up ’til now I would ask you to be a little understanding for the sake of the story and go on believing.                Thank you.

The farmer threw his hat on the ground and stormed off down the mountainside and sold his farm to another man.

The third farmer was a great relief to the donkey.

“Dear donkey,” the third farmer said, “people tell me you are a wise and clever donkey. They also tell me you know this mountain well and you are very adept at carrying heavy loads.

So off you go and I will follow.”

I’m not sure if the donkey understood what ‘adept’ meant but it sounded fairly positive so he accepted the compliment without question.

They set off. The donkey was in very fine spirits but after a little while he stopped at the side of the path to eat some grass. It had been a long day. He had changed masters too often in one day and in spite of his good spirits he was just a little annoyed by all that had happened before.

“Why have you stopped?” said the donkey’s new master, “just when we were going along so well.”

“Because I am a little tired,” said the old donkey, “and I need a rest. I have been carting this load of wheat around for the whole day. It was first one man’s wheat and then another’s and now yours. I am going to sleep.”

At this point the new master picked up a stick and shook it in front of the donkey’s face. “Get a move on, or I’ll sell you to the first person I see.”

“And how much will you ask for me?” said the tired old donkey.

“Just as much as ever I am offered,” said the donkey’s new master in a voice that had changed a bit.

“Then you had better do as you wish,” said the donkey and he sat down and laid his head on the ground and slept.

A little time passed and the donkey heard footsteps approaching from the other side of the path.

“Do you want to sell that donkey?” said the old man who belonged to the footsteps.

“Yes I most certainly do,” was the reply. “How much will you offer me?”

“I offer you this red apple and a new map of the mountain,” said the old man.

And he unstrapped the donkey and they walked off to a little cottage that nestled in the side of the mountain. It was the side where the sun shone.

And the man who had sold the donkey sat, with a cart loaded with wheat and looked at his new map and ate his nice red apple and wondered what had gone wrong.

And that is about as much as I can tell you. Except for the meaning of the story. I could tell you the meaning but I won’t.                                                                   

  That is as it must be.


The painting at the top is by Henry Herbert La Thangue



One thought on “The parable of the donkey and the master

  1. Dear Readers of Paol Soren’s blogs. Many of you who have read this parable will have also read it as well in another location. He has told us each time that we must work out its meaning for ourself. Well I can’t do the story justice. So maybe some of you will do better than I. I am sure Paol Soren would love to read our efforts.


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