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  Volume 4 - Issue 09 SEPTEMBER 2006
 
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THE TEST

 

The King trudged through the mud and filth littering the streets of the poorest quarter of the city. His tattered shoes were old and worn and the rain seeped through his hood. He was a long way from the palace’s secret door but was enjoying his evening habitual freedom from court ceremony and the burdens of outrageous wealth. That night he was looking for someone to teach, someone who needed to understand the value of happiness.

Leaning over a windowsill, the King saw a bare room, partially lit by a candle on a table. Before it was a meager meal, consisting of a chipped mug of water and a small hunk of bread. Seated, his face golden in the candle’s light, was a man praising God and thanking Him for this great meal.

“Hello, my friend!” shouted the King, thrusting his head further into the window. “How are you?”

 

Smiling, the man looked up and replied, “Oh, I am so fortunate! A visitor, a guest has come! Please come in and share my meal with me.”


 

The King entered the tiny room, pulled up a rickety chair and seated himself opposite his host. Confident in his disguise, the King said, “You seem to be in a very joyful mood today.”

“Yes, I had a great day.”

“You’ve had a great day?” teased the King. “How can you say this, when you’re living in such disgusting surroundings with just a little piece of hard bread to eat? This is a great day for you?”

“Yes, I am a cobbler and today earned just enough money to pay the rent, all my expenses, and the remainder bought this little piece of bread. It is a great day. You see, my philosophy is, ‘Day by day, by God’s blessings, my life keeps improving.’”

“Is that so?” sneered the King.

“Yes, yes! It has always worked for me,” cried the cobbler. “It’s the source of my happiness. This is why I am praising God.”

“Thank you very much my friend,” said the King. He shared the pathetic meal with his host in silence. Later, as he trudged back to his palace, he thought that this cobbler was the perfect person to train about the value of happiness.

The next morning the King issued a new edict. The messengers and town criers scurried through the city, shouting from every corner that it was now illegal for anyone to have their shoes repaired by another person. The King was satisfied and wondered if the man would be so happy that evening.

In the seedy street he heard the man chanting even louder. The praises of God were echoing, filling the street with joyful sound. The King poked his head through the open window and saw the same scene: the man sitting there with tears in his eyes praising the grace of God, in the same bare room, with the same rough-hewn table, the same but shrinking candle, the chipped mug of water, the small piece of bread…and a wedge of cheese.

The man saw the astonished King and motioned him inside. “Oh please come in, my friend. Please share my meal with me.”

“So,” asked the King, “how are you doing?”

“Oh, I have had a wonderful day today.”

The man said, “I heard the edict of the King as I was standing in front of my shop and I wondered what to do. As you may remember, I believe that day by day, by God’s blessings, surely everything gets better. Anyway, I saw an old woman carrying a bucket of water and I offered to help her. She showed me where to take the water, thanked me and blessed me and gave me a little copper coin. I thought, “This is wonderful! I’ll just help people to carry water today.” I made more money than when I was mending shoes. This is why I am praising God, because my philosophy is true. Day by day, when one has faith in God, everything improves.”

“Oh is that so? I am very happy for you” said the King as he shared the little bread and cheese. As before, the King trudged back to the secret gate in the palace walls and the poor man went to sleep without guessing the identity of his visitor.

 

 

The following morning the King issued a new edict. The messengers and town criers scurried through the city, shouting from every corner that everybody must carry their own water.

The royal day passed with the King impatient to see how his friend was faring. That night, he slipped out, incognito, into the street. He was still a block away from the poor man’s house when he heard the praises resounding more loudly and joyfully than before. Once again the King was invited to share the meal and as he swigged a cup of wine, said, “So I see you have had a very good day today.”

“Oh yes, praise God,” the poor man replied.

“Well, correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought I heard that it was forbidden to carry water. Didn’t the King issue a new edict?”


“Yes, I heard it too. I was standing outside wondering what to do, when I saw some men carrying a big bundle of wood on their backs. I said, “Hello brothers! Where are you going?” And they replied that they were woodcutters on their way to the forest to chop wood, and then bring it back to the city. So I said, “Can I help you?” The woodcutters agreed, saying they could use someone to help carry the wood. I spent a wonderful day taking exercise and filling my lungs with fresh air in the forest, which is such a beautiful clean place to work. I came back with a stronger physical body, ruddy cheeks, and even more money than when I was carrying water and more than when I was repairing shoes. So this is why I have this splendid meal today, which I am going to share with you. You see, my friend, as I told you, day by day, everything gets better and better by God’s grace.”

The King finished the last bite of his meal, pushed aside his empty plate, and said, “Is that so? Thank you very much.”

 

He stomped back home to his palace and spent a sleepless night thinking how to make the poor man have a real taste of misery. He felt certain there was a way to get this man. Soon he constructed a wily plot. The following morning he issued a new edict stating that all woodcutters must become guards of the royal palace. There would be no exceptions. The cunning King thought that he had trapped the man now. Palace guards, unlike all the other professions the poor man had tried, were only paid at the end of the month. The day of the edict was the 15th, so the man would not have any money for two weeks. “We’ll see how he survives with his ‘day by day everything gets better’ philosophical nonsense,” mused the King.

 

The following morning was cold and the fog clung to the damp streets and wound itself around the town criers and the messengers as they spread the King’s newest edict. The poor man had reached the gates of the city and was looking forward to spending another day in the forest when he heard that he had a new job. Nevertheless, he willingly went and enrolled as one of the guards.

A new uniform, a beautiful shiny new sword and a solid pair of boots were thrust into his arms, and before long he was happily standing guard at the palace door. At the end of the evening he went to his captain and said, “I have had a wonderful day today. Thank you very much. May I now have my salary?”

“Salary? What salary?” the captain laughed. “Don’t you know we only pay at the end of the month?”

Crestfallen, the poor man managed to stammer, “Oh no, I didn’t know that.” He left the palace, walking home with his shiny sword by his side. As he walked he contemplated what he could eat while waiting for two weeks without any money. Finally, he pawned his sword to a blacksmith. The blacksmith gave him enough money to live comfortably on for two weeks.

“It would never do to be a guard without a weapon,” he muttered to himself as he formulated a plan. “I know! I’ll fashion a wooden sword that fits exactly into the sheath and if I paint the handle black, it will look like a metal sword.” The fake wooden sword looked perfect. No one would ever guess it was not the genuine article.

He hung up his uniform, and with a deep sigh of satisfaction sat down to his evening meal. Suddenly, he saw a huge pair of eyes bulging at him from the darkness of the street. His friend, the anonymous King, was looking at him. He was astonished to see the poor man’s table groaning under a fine carafe of wine, a jug of water, a huge crusty loaf of bread, and a hunk of cheese. Incredulous, he stammered, “H-h-hello my friend, you have had an excellent day, I see.”

“Yes, please come and share my meal with me. Today, by God’s grace, everything is getting and better, as you can plainly see.”

The man started relating his adventures of the day and how he had become a palace guard. “Yes, yes, look my uniform is over there.” Then he went on to innocently confess the entire story of the counterfeit sword to the King.

 

The King devised a plot to trap the man in the palace. The captain of the guard, obeying the King’s orders, marched in front of the palace driving a prisoner before him. “You there!” he barked at the poor man. “This criminal has been condemned to death by the King. The King orders you to execute him immediately. Chop off his head with your sword.”

The King smiled to himself as he saw the trap sprung. The poor man swallowed and put his hand on the handle of his useless sword, trying to avoid the eyes of the terrified convict and felt the whole palace glaring at him, waiting for his decisive stroke. Nevertheless, he took a moment to calmly assess his situation. Obviously, the wooden sword was useless to cut off a man’s head. The seconds stretched elastically as he contemplated his ghastly order. The other guards shifted nervously; the captain raised an eyebrow; the King leaned forward in his seat and a small bead of perspiration rolled down the criminal’s cheek and splashed on to the ground.

Inspiration came to the poor man. He firmly gripped the handle of the sword and shouted so that everyone could hear: “As God is my witness, if this man is guilty, let my sword cut off his head; but if this man is innocent, let my sword turn to wood!”

A gasp rippled through the crowd. The sword held high above the poor man’s head had become a plain piece of wood! Everyone fell to their knees shouting, “It’s a miracle!”

The King bowed to him from his window and mentally congratulated his unknowing disciple, “My friend, today you have completed the course.”

If you want choices in your life, train yourself to remain calm and confident and trust that God will help you and provide a solution. Every time our poor man was tested by being placed in a difficult situation, he thought calmly about it, prayed to God…and a solution always came to him that eventually improved his welfare.

 

Further, it is the role of God and spiritual mentors to give some trouble to their children, in order that they may grow in faith and confidence in themselves and in God. As Paramahamsa Yogananda once said, “Problems are a necessary ingredient in life and make it worthwhile. Meet everybody and every circumstance in the battlefield of life with the courage of a hero and the smile of a conqueror. Misery is really your best friend because it awakens your search for God.”


- Adapted from SSS Bal Vikas Monthly Magazine, June 2006

Illustrations: Ms. Vidya, Kuwait
- Heart2Heart Team


 
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Vol 4 Issue 09 - SEPTEMBER 2006
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