A wise woman journeying through the mountains discovered a precious stone in a stream. The next day, she met a traveller who was hungry, so she offered to share her food. When she opened her bag, the traveller spied the stone and without threat asked the woman to give it to him. Without hesitation, she did so. The traveller then departed secure in the knowledge that he now possessed a lifetime of provision. Yet, a few days later, he returned to the wise woman and said, “I am giving back the stone in the hope that it may be exchanged for something much more precious. Give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me the stone.”
How do you react to the story? Are you thinking that it is too simplistic, or that it is a morality tale that bears little resemblance to interactions in the real world? Would you consider the woman to be naïve or impossibly void of ambition, or are you wondering if the stone was cursed and would bring only disaster in its wake? Put yourself in the place of the hungry traveller. Maybe you could sell the stone, keep the revenue but donate a little to charity or help someone in dire need. Would you disappear with the stone, delighted that fate had generously smiled upon you?
As we face these soul-searching questions, the answers extracted will reveal much about the attitudes and value systems under which we operate. What is it that enables some souls to hold so lightly onto material things and invest their resources in the welfare of others rather than in personal comforts? Sometimes an event happens in life that compels us to deeply examine our priorities and the residing place of our most precious treasure.
The wisdom of Solomon came brilliantly into focus in a dispute between two women over the parenthood of an infant son. Long before the advent of DNA testing, the king sat in judgement to deliver a verdict. “Bring a sword”, he ordered. “You may each have half of the child.” Immediately, the true mother pleaded to save the life of the infant, offering to give up her claim in order to protect his life. Solomon rewarded the mother’s instinctive reaction and returned the child to her care, she who had been prepared to part with her most precious treasure for the little one whom she loved. (1Kings 3)
Musing on our own journey of life, we can revisit the crossroads and decision points that warranted an examination of conscience. Our memories store an astonishingly diverse range of impressions, a stock of decisions made, dilemmas solved, and chapter upon chapter of the book of our stories. Sometimes we wish we had followed the higher moral calling. The record remains as witness and jury as to who we really are.
“What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?” This was the piercing question that Jesus put to his audience, having first asked it of himself. Viewing the landscapes far horizons, he faced the temptation to use the powers vested in him to possess and conquer. Instead, he turned to the way of the cross. The Apostle Paul explains it thus in Philippians ch2.
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross.”
One of our loveliest modern hymns describes this utterly selfless love.
“Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour
All for love’s sake becamest poor
Thrones for a manger didst surrender
Sapphire-paved courts for stable floor.”
Arthur Nixon, former lay pastor, had a favourite hymn that informed all his thinking.
“May the mind of Christ my Saviour live in me from day to day.”
He had found the secret of happiness.