Wisdom for a Price
Sabbath Day Sermon, Saturday 12 June 2004
There was once a prosperous merchant and he had an only son whom he was anxious to make his business partner. But first he must gauge the business acumen of the lad. So he bought him 10 talents' worth of goods one day, and said to him: "If you can sell these goods at a handsome profit, I shall make you my business partner."
The son eagerly accepted the challenge for there was nothing he coveted more than to become a partner in his father's going concern. So he packed his goods bright and early the following day, and journeyed forth to sell them in the neighbouring towns and villages. He was very blessed, and in less time than he had anticipated he was able to sell them at 100% profit.
Delighted with his success he made ready to return home and receive his father's warm appraisal. But with 20 talents safely tucked away in his money belt, he felt he could take time off for a day's pleasure.
Accordingly, he indulged in a lazy morning in bed, and after a protracted breakfast in one of the town's principal cafés, he took a leisurely stroll through the streets and alleyways, and stopped to look at all the shops.
By early afternoon he came to the marketplace where a great crowd attracted his attention. And, curious to know what was happening, the young man pushed his way to the centre of the crowd, and there he saw a wizened old man squatting on a strip of matting, and offering to sell wise sayings at 10 talents each.
"Ten talents for a wise saying?" cried the young man incredulously. "And what can a man achieve in life with a mere wise saying?"
"You never can tell," said the wizened old man. "Life is full of surprises, and a wise word spoken at the right time could well be a lifesaver."
These words greatly impressed the young man. He sat aside, and after mulling them over for a while, he decided to buy one wise saying. So he counted 10 talents out of his money belt and asked the old man to sell him a wise saying.
The old man looked at him long and keenly, and then said, "Repeat after me: 'Take to your heart the beloved who loves you, though he be a monkey'."
The young man repeated the words after him, then he repeated them over and over to himself, but failed to find how they could possibly benefit him in any way in life.
"Is that all you could sell me?" he expostulated. "Whatever am I to do with words of love and the beloved? You could at least have sold me something which would help reduce any obstacles or difficulties I am likely to come up against in life."
"If love and the beloved are in your heart, any obstacles or difficulties you are likely to come up against in life would be considerably reduced, if not altogether removed," was the dispassionate reply.
But these words of wisdom failed to satisfy the young man who now bitterly regretted his rashness in paying out such a large sum of money for something so abstract as a wise saying. What could he now do to recover his loss?
"In business," his father had once said to him, "if you lose on one deal, do not panic. Try, rather, to recover your loss by attempting another deal."
Having thus reflected, the young man now felt entirely justified in risking another 10 talents in the hope that he might thus be able to recover the 10 talents he had just lost. So he counted out of his money belt his second 10 talents and asked the old man to sell him another wise saying.
Again the old man looked at him long and keenly. Then he said, "Repeat after me: 'Do not betray him who trusts you, though you be a betrayer'."
The young man repeated the words after him, then he repeated them slowly over to himself, but once again he failed to see what benefit he could derive from them. However, having now lost all his money, there was nothing more he could do about it.
So, sad and dejected, he left the marketplace, and since he couldn't possibly now think of returning home and facing his father empty-handed, he decided to stay where he was and look for work.
The day was fast drawing to a close, and anxious to find himself shelter before darkness set in, the young man walked through the streets of the town and knocked at every door he came to, offering his services in return for a night's shelter. But he had no success.
Finally he came to a mill. And the miller, an ailing old man who was in fact looking for a young lad to help him with the heavy work at the mill, was only too glad to give him shelter for the night in return for his services the next day.
But, thought the miller to himself, would the lad still be alive the next day? So far, every young man he had taken on and left to spend a night at the mill, had been found dead the next morning. And the cause of death continued to be a mystery. Would this young man then fare any better than his predecessors? The miller had grave doubts.
Nonetheless he took him in, and without telling him anything about the fate of those who had preceded him, he gave him a loaf of bread and shook out a couple of empty flour sacks for him to sleep on. Then he locked up the mill and left him.
The young man ate the bread and stretched himself out on the empty flour sacks, but he found it hard to get to sleep. Towards midnight he heard some stealthy movement in the mill, and got up to investigate. He then came face-to-face with a huge man who held a young woman in each of his hands. One woman was fair and beautiful, the other was dark and ugly.
"Now young man," said the giant without any preliminaries, "these two women are my wives. Which of the two do you think I should love the best?"
The young man was in a dilemma. "If I say, 'the beautiful one,' he thought to himself, 'the giant will take offense at my having passed over his ugly wife. And if I say, 'the ugly one', he may object to my not approving of his taste in women. What do I do?'"
Suddenly the first wise saying that he had bought earlier in the day flashed through his mind. "Take to your heart the beloved who loves you, though he be a monkey," he said aloud to the giant.
"Wisely spoken," said the giant, "and with these words you have saved your life; for, had you said, 'the beautiful one,' or 'the ugly one', I would have killed you as I have killed all those before you who had made that foolish mistake." With that he disappeared.
Early next morning the old miller came to open his mill, and great was his surprise and relief to find the young man still alive. But how had he managed to escape the fate of all those who had preceded him?
Warily, he began asking him questions: Did he sleep well? Did he see or hear anything? Had anything untoward happened during the night?
But, for some curious reason, the young man refrained from telling the miller about the appearance of the giant, and what took place between them. He simply assured him that he had slept well, that he did not see or hear anything, and that nothing untoward had happened during the night.
The miller was very thankful, but his curiosity remained unsatisfied. However, as he needed help badly, he readily offered to keep the young man on if he wished to continue working for him.
The young man in turn, penniless and destitute as he now was, and not wishing to go back home before he had made good his father's loss, eagerly accepted the offer.
In the days that followed, he worked hard and conscientiously, and little by little, the miller came to depend on him more and more. Before long, he not only put him in full control of the mill, but he also lodged him in his own home, and having no progeny of his own, treated him like a son. And so the seasons followed one after the other, and all was serene.
Then, one day, the miller decided to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy City and offered to take his wife with him. But the wife declined the offer on the plea that the journey would be too arduous for her. The miller, on reflection, thought that it would too. So he left her behind, after warmly entrusting her to the care of the young man, and set forth on his journey., content and secure in his mind that both his business and his wife were in trustworthy hands.
Now the miller's wife was young and beautiful. And it was not because the journey to the Holy City would have proved to arduous for her that she had declined to accompany her husband, but it was because she secretly had an eye on the young man, and was determined to have him during her husband's absence.
No sooner was the coast clear therefore, that she started deploying all her wiles and charms to seduce the young man. But the young man had no designs on his employer's wife, and politely and firmly, rebuffed all her advances.
This only served to incense the lady even more. So she doubled and redoubled her manoeuvres, but all to no avail.
Finally, one night, when she had decked herself out in a most tantalizing manner, she surprised the young man in his bedroom and begged him to take her.
The temptation was great, for no man is an angel. And the devil who hovers in the background ever ready to bring about the final downfall in such circumstances, whispered hotly into his ear: "Take her ... don't be a fool ... her husband is far away ... he'll never know ... he trusts you ..."
In a flash, the second wise saying he had bought months earlier, shot through the young man's mind: "Do not betray him who trusts you, though you be a betrayer."
Without a moment's hesitation he sprang out of bed and carried the lady bodily out of his bedroom. And, from then on, to safeguard against any such future incursions, he kept his bedroom door locked day and night.
For this great humiliation the lady never forgave him, and secretly swore to have her revenge. So, as soon as her husband returned from the Holy City, she accused the young man of having attempted to seduce her, and insisted that he be dismissed altogether from the mill.
The miller was greatly grieved to hear this, for he had placed implicit faith and trust in this young man. At the same time, he had to admit that the young man had proved, all along, to be absolutely worthy of his trust. But, in the face of his wife's emphatic accusations, he had no other choice than to dismiss him. And he told him so.
Now the young man who had grown to be very fond of the old miller, and held him in the same regard as he would a parent, couldn't possibly think of leaving him under the impression that he had betrayed his trust. He, therefore, told him the whole story, starting from the time he had left his father's home to sell his 10 talents' worth of goods, to the time he had bought the two wise sayings in the marketplace, and on to the appearance of the giant and what took place between them that first night he had spent in the mill.
The miller, who had never ceased to puzzle over the enigma as to how this young man could have escaped the fate of all those who had preceded him, readily believed him. For now he finally understood how they came to die.
So he took back the young man to whom he now signed over the full possession of the mill, and sent his wife packing back to her father's home - a sadly divorced and humiliated woman.
There was a time, when I was a young man, that I thought the sayings of the Bible was useless, boring, stuffy old writings that had no relevance to the modern world. I read it through the first time when I was about 11 years old and didn't understand a word of it, as it was the old King James Version that I then possessed, and there were few modern versions readily available at the time. When I saw the hypocrisy and sometimes cruelty and lovelessness of many of those who claimed to believe in it, I was put off by it all the more. Moreover, I could not see how it could have any practical use in my life at the time. On all counts I was wrong, and I was unwise to judge a truth on the basis of those who abused it.
The story I have told you today is from Egypt several centuries ago. The religious background is not so important as the fact that it teaches some very salient truths. No doubt you noticed in the story of the miller a similar one to that of Joseph in Egypt. When we are young, and discovering the lure and illusion of carnal delight, we are apt to dismiss wisdom as something that has no relevance to us. The young man was only interested in business and in avoiding the disgrace of failure. Life, however, is much bigger than such considerations, and whilst we certainly need to earn a living, surviving in a competitive world and indulging the pleasures of physical appetites are not the chief reason we are here. In fact, they are merely vehicles to a greater purpose.
There are, of course, dozens of Bible stories that make this point, which I shall not relate here. The story of the young man and the miller remind us that the needs of tomorrow are as important - if not more important - as the needs of today. Yes, we do have to be concerned about earning our daily bread. Yes, we do need a roof over our heads, clothes on our bodies, and food in our bellies. But a person who prepares only for these things is not wise. There is always the future to consider. And even more importantly, there is the future beyond this life.
I was brought up to consider the future by saving money whenever I could because you never know what problems life will bring to you. There is no life that does not have difficulties, disappointments, and at times, sorrows. Being equipped for these is very important. A person who prepares for the future by, for example, saving wisely, is to be commended. I know that my little financial reserves have been lifesavers more than once.
What, then, would you say of such a sensible person who makes no provision for the next life? Yah'shua (Jesus) taught that this was even more important than the concerns if this one, when He said:
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matt.6:19-21, NKJV).
He then related a story to illustrate His point:
"'Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.' Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: 'The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, 'What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?' So he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.' ' But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?' So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God" (Luke 12:15-21, NKJV).
Whether you are young or old, now is the time to start investing in the future - not that which is just your physical life, but your spiritual life too. For what will you say when you pass into the next one having made no investment in it? It is never too late to open your heavenly bank account. If you have never done so, then I invite you to accept Yah'shua (Jesus) as your Lord and Saviour, make a public confession, and live a joyful and victorious life in Him - one that stretches into the eternities, and one which allows you to bring eternity to earth in the here-and-now. Then, like the young man who sacrificed his wealth for two wise sayings, you will have a real consecrated future ahead of you. Amen.
Helen Mitchnik, Egyptian and Sudanese Folk-tales, OUP, 1978
This page was created on 10 June 2004
Last updated on 10 June 2004
Copyright © 1987-2007 NCCG - All Rights Reserved