The Parable of the Perfect Castle

On the borders of the empire there was a minor noble. Not that he thought of himself that way. In fact, he was lord of all he surveyed, little though that was. But what he surveyed, he liked to keep in perfect order.

He had a perfect wife, not too fat and not too thin, and perfect children—well, almost perfect—but he knew that he’d have them straightened out in good time.

His subjects, of course, were far from perfect. But what could one expect of commoners?

He lived in a castle. It had stood for more than 200 years, and housed his noble forebears. It was guarded by troops who were, being commoners, also far from perfect. The situation, though sanctified by age, was, in a word, intolerable. The noble would begin to twitch every time he thought of his imperfect castle.

So he summoned the best architect and builder he could find, and with them he called for the most experienced and capable guard commander he could find. It put a strain on the treasury, but the noble was willing to pay for perfection.

He had studied many books on castle construction and on the weapons used to destroy castles. He had also studied the best armed forces in the known world. The world he knew was not all that large, but he found the specifications for the best.

“Find the very best of my soldiers,” he told his new guard commander, “and send them out for the best training you can possibly find. I want my guard to be perfect. Spare no expense in their training and equipment.” Being the perfectionist he was, he had made a list based on what he had learned in his books so that the guard commander would know what equipment to buy and the standard to which the troops were to be trained.

“Make the walls capable of standing any conceivable sort of siege,” he told the architect and builder. “Make sure the fields of fire for the crossbowmen are perfect. Create a park our of cleared land around the castle so that enemies cannot approach unseen.”

The architect and builder found it difficult to imagine how to make the cleared area into a park and also eliminate all obstructions. But they knew the noble would hardly consider a completely undecorated area to be perfect, so they kept their silence.

Many months went by as materials were assembled, workers were hired, land was cleared, and finally portions of the old castle wall were destroyed. The noble complained to the builder about the uneven, half-built look of his castle when a wall had been torn down in preparation for replacement, but the builder pointed out that he could hardly build the perfect wall without removing the imperfect one first. Because the builder used the word “perfect,” the noble understood completely.

After another couple of months, the one new wall was nearing completion. For reasons of security, the wall was to be replaced one section at a time. (The architect pointed out that this was the perfect way to proceed. To the noble it became the only way.)

One morning, however, disaster struck. A merchant arrived in town, and in his miscellaneous (far from perfect) inventory, he had a book on castle construction and defense. The noble bought it immediately. Of course.

The book described siege engines that the noble had never even imagined, engines that would destroy his new wall in seconds. He had never even heard of the countries where such engines existed, if they existed outside of the author’s imagination. Nonetheless, how would it be possible to consider his castle perfect if he knew of siege engines that would destroy it, and even do so from a distance at which his crossbowmen would be unable to kill the crews?

So he went to the architect, the builder, and his guard commander and explained the situation to them. He was willing to be tolerant, because they were commoners, and how could one expect perfection of them?

“We will have to build these walls differently,” he said. “We need a stronger type of stone. We need better mortar. The wall must be thicker! And you, guard,” he continued, “you must have my guards trained to hit targets at greater ranges.”

The architect proposed building another layer behind or in front of the present wall. His plan was rejected because it would look like they had changed their mind in the middle of the job. Hardly the perfect appearance for a castle. The builder pointed out that the blocks of rock he wanted were harder to quarry, came from a greater distance, and were also harder to transport, resulting in months of delay.

But the noble was adamant. “And get rid of that abortion of a wall you’ve just built immediately,” he shouted, as he turned to the guard.

The guard commander pointed out that if they were going to train guards to hit targets at greater distances, they would need more time, but they would also need better crossbows.

“Find and buy me the perfect crossbow,” the noble said.

So the builder ordered new stone blocks and tore down the wall, stacking the old stone blocks neatly, as befitted the noble’s desire for perfection. The mediocre troops who were guarding the castle while their betters trained, continued to guard the castle.

In the 200 years the castle had been in place it had never even been threatened. That was because, while it was hardly perfect, it was really quite solid. Its fields of fire were blocked by new construction that had been tacked onto the old anywhere one could attach it. Nobody had cared, because the only people who ever considered attacking the castle were bandits, and they took one look at it and decided they could find their lunch money somewhere else. In the bargain, they’d get to live to buy the lunch! So they left the quite adequate castle (from their point of view) alone.

With the best guards out of town, and one wall of the castle missing completely, a band of bandits came by. Pickings were slim and they wanted a big haul. They observed for a day or so. The mediocre (or perhaps not quite adequate) guards never noticed. The bandits saw that the castle was guarded by a fraction of the usual force, and that there was a missing wall.

To them, it seemed the perfect situation. In the middle of the night (while the not-quite-adequate guards slept), the bandits stormed through the breach in the wall, entered the castle, killed the noble, and took all his stuff.

The bandits were a bit disappointed in the state of his treasury, but it was a big haul nonetheless.

Not being perfectionists, they were pretty happy with their night’s work.

Matthew 5:48, Hebrews 6:1

Perfection and Maturity in Hebrews 6:1 (Threads from Henry’s Web)

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