THE FOURTH WISE MAN

In the mountains of ancient Persia, lived Artaban, whose study of the planets and the stars led him to predict the birth of the King of Kings. He sold his house and every possession and purchased a large sapphire blue as a fragment of the night sky, a flawless ruby redder than a ray of sunrise, and a lustrous pearl as pure as the peak of a snow mountain at twilight – which he intended to carry as tribute to the King. He then set out for Jerusalem where he had arranged to meet up with three other wise men, or Magi, to find the newborn.

After many weeks of difficult travel and frustrating delays, one night, he saw a man lying on the road. His haggard face, pallid skin and laboured breathing, bore the mark of the deadly fever. But, as he turned to leave, the man begged for help.

Artaban hesitated. If he lingered to minister to a dying stranger even for an hour, he could miss his three friends. But if he left now, the man would surely die. He turned to the sick man and carefully attended to him, leaving with him all that he had left of bread and wine, and his store of healing herbs.

“I have nothing to give you in return,” said the grateful man, “…only this: our prophets have decreed that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem, not in Jerusalem. May the Lord bring you in safety to that place, because you had pity upon the sick.”

When he reached the meeting place, he received only this message: “We can delay no longer. Follow us across the desert.” Artaban backtracked to Babylon, sold the sapphire, and bought a train of camels, and provisions for the journey. He arrived at Bethlehem with his remaining ruby and pearl offerings, but it was three whole days after the three other wise men had found Mary, Joseph and Jesus, and had laid gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh at the baby’s feet.

In a little cottage, he met a woman with her son, who told him Joseph had taken his wife and child and fled secretly that very night; Herod was slaying all male children, afraid the promised ‘King’ would claim his throne. As she spoke, there was uproar in the streets as Herod’s soldiers searched each home to kill any male children they found. The terrified young mother clasped her child to her. But Artaban rushed to the doorway and held out the ruby to the soldier, who snatched it eagerly. “March on!” he commanded his men, “there is no child here.”

Artaban sighed: “Now two of my gifts are gone. I have spent for man that which was meant for God. Shall I ever be worthy to see the face of the King?”

But the woman, weeping for joy, said gently: “Because you have saved the life of my little one, may the Lord bless you and keep you and give you peace.”

Arbatan wandered for 33 years in search of the little family from Bethlehem. Worn and weary, ill now, and ready to die, but still looking for the King, he had come for the last time to Jerusalem. Hearing of a great person who was to be put to death that very day, and hearing of his life and teachings, Artaban realised this was indeed his ‘King’, but as he made his way to Golgotha, hoping his priceless pearl could buy the great one’s release, he saw a troop of soldiers marching down the street, dragging a young girl in chains. “Have pity on me; save me! I am to be sold as a slave.”

The fourth wise man knew what he must do. He took the pearl from his bosom. Never had it seemed so luminous and radiant as it was now. He exchanged the girl’s freedom for the pearl. His grief at not being able to see the ‘King’ caused him to collapse, but in his half-conscious state he heard a gentle yet compelling voice: “Verily I say unto thee, inasmuch as thou hast done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, thou hast done it unto me.” His journey had ended. His treasures were accepted. The fourth Wise Man had indeed found the King.

Source | Marguerite Theophil, There Was a Fourth Wise Man
adapted from the original story by Henry Van Dyke, The Story of the Other Wise Man

PONDER AND CONSIDER

  • ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’ | Matthew 25:37-40 (The Message)
  • ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ | Matthew 25:40 (NRSV)
  • On his journey Artaban wrestles with what The Story of the Other Wise Man calls “the conflict between the expectation of faith and the impulse of love.”  Ought there be a conflict between the two?

AND GOD WEPT

There once was a hard working farmer who fell upon the greatest of gifts.

The Lord appeared to this farmer and granted him three wishes, but with the condition that whatever the Lord did for the farmer would be given double to his neighbour.

The farmer, scarcely believing his good fortune, wished for a hundred cattle. Immediately he received a hundred cattle and was overjoyed until he saw that his neighbor had two hundred. So he wished for a hundred acres of land, and again he was filled with joy until he saw that his neighbor had two hundred acres of land.

Rather than celebrating God’s goodness, the farmer could not escape feeling jealous and slighted because his neighbour had received more than he. Finally he stated his third wish: that God would strike him blind in one eye.

And God wept.

Source | This is a Jewish story as told by Allan Culpepper

PONDER AND CONSIDER

  • Jealousy can blind you, no pun intended!
  • Celebration can open your eyes and makes you see and know what you have never seen and known before.

THE PARABLE OF THE POMEGRANATE SEED

 

Once upon a time, a poor man was caught stealing and was ordered to be hanged by the king. On the way to the gallows he said to the governor, who was in charge of carrying out the execution, that he knew a wonderful secret, and that it would be a pity to allow the secret die with him. He also said that he would like to disclose the secret in front of the king. The poor man told the governor, further, that the secret would allow someone to bury the seed of a pomegranate in the ground and then make it grow and bear fruit overnight. Well the governor thought this sounded wonderful so the thief was brought before the king and all of the king’s high officers of state. Standing before these powerful men, the poor man dug a hole in the ground and said, “Here’s the secret: this seed must only be put in the ground by a person who has never stolen or taken anything which did not belong to him. I being a thief cannot do it.” 

So the thief turned to the prime minister who, frightened, said that in his younger days he had retained something that did not belong to him. Next the thief turned to the treasurer who said that while dealing with such large sums of money, he might have at one point or another entered too much or too little. Finally the thief turned to the king, who embarrassingly admitted to keeping a necklace of his father’s with out his permission. Then the thief said, “You are all mighty and powerful men who lack no material comfort, and yet you cannot plant this seed, while I who have stolen a little because I was starving am to be hanged.” The king, pleased with the shrewdness of the thief, pardoned the man.

Source |  Based on a story from a book of collected works The Exempla of the Rabbis written by various rabbis dating back to the Middle Ages. Stories like this one about the shrewd thief were popular in Jewish folklore.

 

PONDER AND CONSIDER

  • We are all prone to making mistakes and wrong decisions.  The more aware we are of our own foibles the more tolerant, understanding and forgiving we will be of others.
  • Place yourself as an active participant in the story.  Imagine yourself the thief, the governor, the prime minister, the treasurer or the King.  Where do you feel at home and where do you feel uncomfortable?  Why?