(…continued) Leo Tolstoy wrote Martin the Cobbler in 1885. In 1895 English author Henry Van Dyke wrote The Story of the Other Wise Man with the same objective in mind. Artaban is the name van Dyke gives to his fictional character, a fourth Wise Man, who was planning to go with his three friends on the long journey to see the newborn king in Bethlehem.
Artaban sold all his possessions to get enough money to pay for the journey, and, to buy three precious jewels which were to be his gift to the child. But Artaban has nothing but trouble on his journey. Right from the start he is constantly getting interrupted by people who desperately need help. On his way to meet the other three Wise Men, he comes across a man beaten and bleeding by the side of the road. Artaban stops to care for him and take him home, and misses the departure. He then gets to Bethlehem too late to see the baby Jesus, but he uses some more of his money to help a poor mother save the life of her child. Then, for the next 33 years, Artaban wanders all over looking for Jesus. After many adventures, he finally arrives in Jerusalem, but it was just after Jesus was crucified. Disappointed, Artaban begins the long journey home. He has barely enough money left for the trip, and then sees a slave being terribly mistreated by his master. Artaban has pity on the poor slave. He uses the rest of his money to buy the slave and grant him his freedom. Artaban is then all out of money. Even the jewels that were meant to be his gift for Jesus were sold to cover the expenses of helping so many others along the way.
In one last misfortune, Artaban has an accident and receives injuries that would prove fatal. As he lay dying, he heard a voice saying to him, “Artaban, you are dying, and so you will soon see me. I am Jesus your Lord, for whom you have been searching. Come and inherit the kingdom prepared for you. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Artaban replied, “But Lord, if you know I have been searching for you, you also must know that I never found you. So when could have I fed you, or clothed you, or given you something to drink, or invited you in?”
Jesus replied to him, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for the least of these my children, you did it for me.” Artaban then breathed his last, finally at peace, knowing that all of his gifts were, after all, given to his Lord.
There, in the conclusion, we see where the idea for all the stories came from. The internet story writer might have seen the movie The Fourth Wise Man, which was based on the story by Van Dyke, who may have been inspired Tolstoy, who got it from the parable of Jesus in Matthew 25:31-46. In this parable there is a powerful image of all the people who ever lived on earth, all standing before the throne of God to face his judgment. To one group, Jesus says, “Come into my kingdom,” and to the other group, he says, “Depart from me forever.” Both groups hear those words that Henry van Dyke had Jesus say to Artaban, “For I was hungry, and you did (or did not) feed me; I was thirsty, and you did (or did not) give me something to drink (and so forth),” adding “Whatever you did for the least of these my brethren, you did it for me.”
These other stories put flesh and blood on the concept that Jesus put forth in the parable. When you help the poor and needy, Jesus said, you are helping him. This was one of Mother Teresa’s favorite passages. In her old age, Mother Teresa became famous, flying all over the world, meeting presidents, kings, and many other important people. But even then, she still spent most of her time doing what she had done throughout her life, picking up the sick and the dying and the orphans from the streets of Calcutta, India, and caring for them. When asked how she was able to go on year after year with such difficult and unpleasant work, she would always say, “In every person I pick up, I see the face of Jesus; so in my work, I get to see Jesus every day.” She always had in mind this parable from Matthew 25, even though, in her words, Jesus visits her in ‘such distressing disguises.’
An interviewer once said to her, “I wouldn’t do what you do for a million dollars.” Mother Teresa replied, “Neither would I. I do it for Jesus.”
We do not see people dying in the streets, as in Calcutta; nor do we have the opportunity to buy slaves their freedom, like Artaban in the story; and where I live, I am never approached by beggars in the street, like Ruth was in the story of the letter. But with our offerings to the church’s mission work, to organizations like the Salvation Army, or to anyone we know who is in need, we are given the same opportunities. We must take care that we give wisely and do not do more harm than good. But there is a world of need and many good options for responsible sharing.
Matthew 25:34-40 — (Jesus said), “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
Thou art never weary, O Lord, of doing us good.
Let us never be weary of doing Thee service. Amen.
–John Wesley (1703-1791)