It was a warm evening and I watched the three men, strangers enter the town from the west. They had journeyed long and the road left its mark on their faces. This travelled company was in unconcealed need of refreshment and rest. Presently they stood outside the town’s only tavern next to a large open vat. They didn’t know it yet, but it contained vinegar.
One of the travellers picked up a ladle and dipped it into the vat and took a sip. Immediately his face turned bitter. ‘What is it that I’m tasting? It is bitter and vile.’
‘Good evening wanderers, I hope you find our hospitality to your liking.’ The man holding the ladle scowled. ‘What is the meaning of this? This tastes terrible; it reminds me of how our society has become degenerate. What we need’ he said as he replaced the spoon in its holder ‘is a proper set of rules to correct our delinquent children and their uncaring parents. Look now at the government and all its corruption. Like this vinegar, this society of ours leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.’
I felt embarrassed that an unattended vessel should cause such distress and before I could apologise a second in the company stepped forward and picked up the spoon and took a sip. He didn’t utter a word but he tightly closed his eyes and on his face was a picture of unashamed sourness. ‘This is not to your liking?’ I asked the traveller, in obvious distress. ‘All of life is dominated by suffering just like the sour tang I now have. But I know it will soon pass and perhaps I attach too much importance to its taste, perhaps I was hoping too much to slake my thirst.
The third stranger stepped forward and drank heartily from the vat and smiled. “Ah yes, vinegar. And a good one it is too.’
And so the three vinegar tasters are etched into our understanding. For bitterness arises from an immoral and fraudulent society just as much as sourness is born from personal suffering and disappointment. Sourness and bitterness come from an interfering and unappreciative mind. Life itself when understood for what it is, is sweet. And therein lies the parable of “The Vinegar Tasters”