Sunday, July 24, 2016

Hallowed Names: A Sunday Rumination

     A story for you this morning.

     Long ago, in the capital city of a kingdom whose name has been lost, a horde of rag-clad beggars daily prowled the central square, pursuing prosperous-looking passers-by and importuning them for alms. As is the case even today, the greater part of those passers-by turned away their faces and hurried on, for they knew that the majority of the beggars were not truly victims of fate dependent upon the kindness of strangers, but could have lived by their own efforts. Thus did the many, who slothfully strove to live without work, pollute the square to the great detriment of the few.

     One of the few, a man named Aaron whom chance had genuinely disfavored, rather than aggressively pursuing every well dressed man who passed, stood stolidly and humbly at the edge of the square. Yet he was not neglected by those moved to give, for he made a practice of thanking his benefactors and praising the name of God for each gift. Near him chanced one of the many, a fellow named Balaun, who was ever alert for advantage. Balaun noted how Aaron’s receipts exceeded his own, though Aaron never strayed from his accustomed place. Balaun asked Aaron about his habit, learned of it, and was impressed. “Brother,” Balaun said, “one can easily see how slender are the proceeds for any mendicant in this place, for there are too many of us. We must go where there are fewer of us and more wealth at hand. Let us, therefore, go to the gates of the palace, for no one has yet dared to approach the king.” He smiled slyly. “Should he not have the opportunity to give alms?”

     Aaron was disturbed by Balaun’s suggestion. He foresaw not munificence but sorrow coming from such boldness. Yet he thought it his part to accompany Balaun, saying to himself, “Perhaps I can gentle the mood of the guards by my example, that they not drag Balaun away by his beard and put him to an ignoble ending.”

     At the right of the gates Aaron knelt and bowed his head, presenting himself in full and abject humility. Balaun stood at the left with his head thrown back and cried in a loud voice, “We petition His Majesty the King for succor.”

     The king, who by chance was strolling his grounds, heard Balaun’s outcry, stopped, and faced the gates. He saw the beggars, one standing and one kneeling, remarked to himself upon the novelty of the sight, and was moved to charity. He beckoned to a servant, who bowed low and asked of the king what he would have done.

     “Go to the kitchens,” the king said, “select two fat loaves, and bring them to the gates. Give one to each of the beggars there, tell them it is their king’s gift, and report to me on their replies.” The servant bowed again and departed to do as he’d been told.

     When Aaron received the loaf given to him, he quietly thanked the king for his gift, and said “Praised be the name of God, in whom all good things have their origins.” The servant recorded this and turned to Balaun.

     Balaun, who had watched Aaron closely, took the loaf from the servant with eager hands and cried out in a loud voice, “Forever praised be the name of our glorious king!” The servant recorded this, and the three went their separate ways.

     When they met the next day at the city square, Balaun persuaded Aaron to repeat the experiment of the day before. Aaron assented, and the two returned to the palace gates. Once again Aaron went to the right and dropped to his knees in a posture of humble supplication. Once again Balaun stood at the left with his head held high and cried out, “We petition His Majesty the King for succor.”

     The king took notice, summoned the servant of the day before, and asked him “What response did these beggars make to yesterday’s gifts?” The servant replied, “Lord, one thanked you and quietly praised God as the origin of all good things. The other shouted praise to you and your glory.”

     “Was it so?” the king said. “Then today let us follow a different path. Select two fat loaves as you did yesterday. Then go to my treasury, slit open one loaf, hollow it out and fill it with gold and silver coins. Then seal the loaf to conceal your tamperings. Give that loaf to the beggar who called out praise of my name. The other shall receive no more than he had yesterday.” The servant bowed and departed to do his king’s will.

     When the servant gave the unmodified loaf to Aaron, he did as he had done the day before: he quietly thanked the king for his gift, and said “Praised be the name of God, the progenitor of all blessings.” Balaun took the modified loaf, once again loudly praised the name of the king, and the three went their separate ways.

     As they hurried back toward the square, Balaun weighed his loaf in his hands and felt doubt. “It is not like yesterday’s loaf. There is a defect in it. Perhaps it was not baked to completion.” So when they reached the edge of the square, when Aaron momentarily set aside his loaf to adjust his garment, Balaun swiftly and cunningly exchanged the two, and hurried off before Aaron could notice and hail him back.

     Aaron took up the loaf, noted its considerable weight, and broke it open to expose the riches within. Overcome with gratitude and joy, he cried out “Blessings unlooked-for and unmerited! Thrice praised be the name of God!” He then roved the square to distribute the wealth, a little to each of the other beggars, so that all would have some share in it. Upon seeing this, a passing vineyard owner, who had need of a steward for his lands, approached Aaron and took him into his employ, and from that day Aaron begged no longer.

     The next day, when Balaun returned to the square, he saw no trace of Aaron, but departed alone to beg at the king’s gates once more. When he cried out for alms, the king was disturbed, summoned his servant, and asked, “Is that the beggar who praised my name yesterday, to whom you gave a loaf filled with riches?” The servant replied, “It is, my lord.” The king then said “To what extent did you enrich him?” The servant replied, “Lord, I chose the fattest loaf in the pantry, hollowed it almost to the crust, and poured in handful after handful of your coin until it was filled.”

     The king was deeply angered. “Avarice cannot be countenanced, especially from one who has already been the object of such beneficence.” So he summoned the captain of his guard, pointed at Balaun, and spoke a single terse command:

     “Behead him.”

     Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name.

     And may God bless and keep you all.

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