Curious blessings: finding a king
Image: The Other Wise Man by Ancell Stronach
‘You know the story of the Three Wise Men of the East, and how they travelled from far away to offer their gifts at the manger-cradle in Bethlehem. But have you ever heard the story of the Other Wise Man, who also saw the star in its rising, and set out to follow it, yet did not arrive with his brethren in the presence of the young child Jesus?’
So begins the fictional story of ‘The Other Wise Man’, written by the American Author and clergyman, Henry van Dyke in 1893. If you haven’t ever read it, this lovely story in its entirety can be found here. But for today, let me share with you, something of its heart.
The other wise man’s name is Artaban and Van Dyke’s story tells us that he set out from the city of Ecbatana, among the mountains of Persia, to follow the star that he believed would lead him to the new-born King of the Jews. He had arranged to meet his three friends, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, in Borsippa, Babylonia, (a long journey in itself from his home) in order to travel together, the many miles, across the desert, to Jerusalem to find the baby.
Before setting out on his journey, Artaban had sold everything he owned to buy gifts - three jewels – a sapphire, a ruby and a pearl of great price, to give, with his love, to the baby king. Aware that his friends could not wait for too long for him to arrive, he hurriedly packed his precious gifts, jumped on his horse and rode with a sense of urgency towards their meeting place, knowing that if he was late, his friends would have to leave without him.
When he was three hours away from his friends, he saw a man lying in the road. Climbing down from his horse he could see that the man was ill, dying, almost dead...
If he stayed to look after the man, he would miss his friends. If he left the man, he would die. Artaban, reluctantly, decides to stay with the man. Offering him water, medicine, and care over many hours until the man regained his strength. Although relieved that the man was now well, Artaban is disappointed that his journey has been so delayed. He hopes that his friends might have waited for him, but on arriving at their meeting place, he finds they have gone. Devastated, he realises that he needs camels and provision to help him cross the desert to follow them, and to get these he will have to sell one of his jewels, the sapphire. This makes him incredibly sad. He had really wanted the young king to have this jewel.
The determined fourth wise man pushes through his disappointment and travels on, finally arriving in Bethlehem, only to be told by the mother of a young baby, whose house he visits, that he has missed his friends. They had left three days before he arrived. He had also missed the family they had come to see, Joseph of Nazareth, his wife, Mary and their young child, Jesus. The family, it seems, had fled in the night to Egypt, the young woman explained. Once again, he was too late.
Recognising that he had a long journey to make if he was to follow them to Egypt, he accepted the young mother’s invitation to stay for a meal. As they were eating, they became aware that they could hear screaming coming from the streets outside. “The soldiers! The soldiers of Herod! They are killing our children”, someone cries. The soldiers come to the young mother’s door, terrified she crouches in the darkest corner of her room, clutching her baby, close. Artaban goes out to face the soldiers. Tall and imposing, he stands in the doorway, with the ruby in his hand and bribes them not to enter the house. Once again, Artaban has saved a life, but once again, another of his precious gifts, for the baby king, is now gone.
For thirty-three years, Artaban searched everywhere for the King. Finally, now an old man, he comes to Jerusalem. It was Passover and the city was full of people. The atmosphere was tense. He is told that there was to be a crucifixion that day, two robbers and a man called Jesus of Nazareth were being crucified on a hill called Golgotha. Could this be the Jesus he had been searching for all these years? Had he finally found him? Artaban rushed towards the hill, maybe his pearl could buy the life of the King? Before he could get to Jesus though, he saw a group of soldiers dragging a young girl. He looked at the girl with compassion and she, managing to break away from her captors, threw herself at his feet. "My father is in debt," she cried, "and they are taking me to sell as a slave to pay the debt. Save me!" Artaban hesitated; then slowly and with sadness took the pearl of great price, from his pocket and gave it to the soldiers, buying the girl’s freedom. He now had nothing to give his King.
Suddenly, the skies turned dark. The ground began to shake, and a rooftop tile fell and hit Artaban on the head. Concussed, he sank to the ground. The young girl pillowed his head on her lap. Artaban began to speak: “I don’t think so, my Lord. When did I see you hungry and give you something to eat? Or thirsty, and give you a drink? Or naked and give you clothes? When did I see you sick, or in prison? When was it that I visited you? I have looked for you for thirty-three years, but I have never seen your face or cared for you, my King.”
Like a whisper, from very far away, a voice spoke. “Truly, I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Artaban smiled, and gently breathed a long sigh of relief. His journey had finally come to an end. The King had received his gifts all along. And he, the other wise man, had found the One he had searched his whole life for. And he was at peace.
see the face of Christ,
And may you,
that the love you
show to others,
is the greatest of gifts,
to the One,
you have pledged your life,