Of Gold and Good Advice

The old man sat in his simple room looking at the bag of gold. “Use it however you want,” the rich young fellow had said. “I feel I need to give it to someone, and I have no idea who. I think you may know.”

The old man was renowned for his wisdom and his kindness. He had never sought attention or fame. He lived simply. He gave away whatever he didn’t need, and he needed very little.

This is a work of fiction. All persons, places, and events are products of the author’s imagination.
Copyright © 2012
Henry E. Neufeld

And here was a bag of gold, enough to buy the entire town. At least.

He thought of a plan. He divided up the money, and then he set out to find three young men.

 

“I believe you’re about to go and seek your fortune,” said the wise, old man to the first young man. “I want to make you an offer.”

“What? Make it snappy!” said the young man.

“I have here a bag of gold. It’s quite a considerable amount of money. I will give you a choice. Either I’ll give you this bag of gold, or I will give you a wise saying that will help you as you seek your fortune.”

“Give me the gold, if you have any,” said the first young man.

So the wise, old man handed the young man a small bag of gold. The young man was delighted with his good fortune. He went on his way, richer than he had ever imagined he would be.

“I will offer you a choice,” said the wise man to the second young man. “A wise saying to help you live a full life, or this bag of gold.”

“How much gold is there?” asked the second young man. “Can I get a sample of your wise advice?”

“This bag is filled with gold coins,” said the wise, old man. “And no, you must choose between the gold and the saying. I didn’t say it would be advice.”

The second young man was a thoughtful sort, and he had heard of the famous wise man. “I can always earn money,” he said, “I’ll take the wise saying.”

“You have within you a gift that can connect you with the universe,” said the wise, old man.

“Is that all?” asked the young man. “I should have taken the gold. It wasn’t a fair test.”

“What has fairness to do with it?” asked the wise, old man. “It’s my gold. I can give it or not as I choose. Here! I’ll give you the gold as well.”

The young man went on his way, still fuming. He had the saying and he had the gold, but somehow he felt cheated.

“I will give you a choice,” said the wise, old man to the third young man. “You may either have this bag of gold, or you may have a wise saying that will help you live a full life.”

“I’ll take the wise saying,” said the third young man.

“You don’t care how much gold I’m offering you?” asked the wise, old man.

“Not really,” said the third young man. “I’m not asking for it.”

“Very well, then. Here is the saying: ‘You have within you a gift that can connect you with the universe.'”

The third young man looked thoughtful. “Thank you,” he said. Then he started on his way.

“Here,” said the wise, old man. “I have no use for this. Take the gold as well.”

 

Some years passed, and the wise, old man heard news of the young men he had encountered.

The first young man went to the nearest city. He lived well on the gold. In fact, he could have lived for many years. But within the first year he invested the gold in a trading caravan that promised enormous profit.

The caravan was lost and never heard from again. The young man ended up penniless and eventually took his own life.

The second young man was very much disturbed by the saying given him by the wise, old man. He thought and thought about it, but he couldn’t see any value in it. Wise sayings should be easy to understand and put into practice! He thought the test had been unfair, and even though he was rich beyond his wildest dreams, he was angry, resentful, and very difficult to get along with.

His belief that the world was essentially unfair, setting traps for unsuspecting young men and treating them unjustly led him into conflict with others. He eventually killed someone in a drunken rage, a person who had treated him unfairly, and he ended up in the king’s dungeon.

The third young man was delighted that he had a gift within him. He wasn’t quite sure what it meant to connect with the universe, but he set out to discover what that gift might be. Each time he discovered something that appeared to be a gift he set to work on it to see whether it would help him connect with the universe. He wanted to discover what that would be like.

Over the years he found that he had many gifts, and as he put his best effort into developing every gift he discovered, he found he could do many things. He spent the gold very carefully, living on what he earned, and using it mostly to help him in his quest as well as to help others.

He became quite popular and well liked. He didn’t try to be popular, but there were so many people he had helped or taught, or even just served well when he worked.

Many years later he was sitting in a bar listening to the talk of the men and women from the caravan route. They told the story of a wise man who had a talent for helping people with his knowledge and his money. He recognized the story. It was his. But the speaker attributed it to someone in a town he had never heard of in a country he couldn’t have placed on a map.

“… connect you with the universe.” He suddenly realized just how connected he had become.

He chose to bring his story to the wise, old man himself.

“What do you think of the results of your experiment?” he asked.

 

Now you, reader, what do you think?

The LORD’s judgments are true.
All of these are righteous!
10 They are more desirable than gold—
than tons of pure gold!— (Psalm 19:9b-10a, CEB)

After the Fire, What?

The first time that Yagac approached the shrine he was carrying a stick he had cut from a tree and sharpened.

“What do you bring for the god?” said the aged priest. Villagers said he had been at the shrine more than a hundred years. He looked it.

“I bring this spear,” said Yagac, his young voice trembling.

The priest saw a thin, or better scrawny boy who might be in his teens, though he could be taken for younger. He knew the villagers had very little to eat.

“That? That’s a stick.”

“It’s a spear. My father says that the God accepts whatever is the best you can bring. You must let me offer it.”

The priest thought a moment. It was true that he had told the villagers the god would accept their best. He had meant “only their best” but perhaps this was the best the boy could offer. It wouldn’t do to give the villagers the idea of withholding things.

“Go in, offer it, and say your prayers.”

Inside Yagac laid his spear on the altar, then prayed. “You know that the lord in the castle takes what he wants. Now he has even taken my sister. I would like you to do something about it.”

He felt very peaceful and wanted to laugh–a joyful laugh. But he didn’t do either. He put on a sober look and walked from the shrine.

“Did you receive peace?” asked the priest.

“I wasn’t praying for peace,” said Yagac. Then he walked off toward the village.

The second time Yagac came to the shrine he was carrying a knife made of flint. It was very well formed, and had a wooden handle attached to it with some twine that looked hand woven.

This time the priest just waved him in. At the same time he got an idea. Why not benefit from the repeated returns of the boy?

Inside Yagac laid his knife on the altar, then prayed. “You know that the lord in the castle takes what he wants. Now he has even taken my sister. I would like you to do something about it.”

This time the peace and joy that came over him was nearly overwhelming. He was sure there was some divine presence in the shrine. But he wasn’t satisfied. He carefully straightened his face as he walked out past the priest.

The priest stopped him. “If you come again to offer a weapon, you must bring food with it. The guards from the castle will be suspicious if they see you bringing weapons as sacrifices. Traditionally they are sacrifices to give one courage and victory in battle.”

Yagac nodded and walked away toward the village.

The third time Yagac came to the shrine he was carrying a basket with some vegetables in it. Amongst the vegetables was a very respectable hammer made of a hard rock carefully attached to a wooden handle.

This time the priest decided to make use of provisions he had made to listen to the prayers of worshipers. He had ignored the boy because he figured he was praying for some childish thing and he had no interest.

Inside Yagac laid his basket on the altar, pulled the hammer out and put it beside the basket, then prayed. “You know that the lord in the castle takes what he wants. Now he has even taken my sister. I would like you to do something about it.”

This time the feeling of peace and joy truly was overwhelming. Yagac fell on the floor laughing hysterically. Then he got up, straightened the rags he wore for clothes, wiped any smile from his face, and left.

The priest intercepted him. “You have been touched by the god. I can see it on you. You should be satisfied with what has happened. His peace and joy have come upon you.”

“I wasn’t praying for peace and joy,” said Yagac.

A bit of fear came over the priest. He liked the way things were in the village and at the shrine. While the village produced little, something came to him from everyone, and then he received a monthly payment from the castle lord for help in keeping the villagers quiet.

It wasn’t that he didn’t believe in the god, though he had never seen anything that could definitely be crediting to his activity. The peace and joy? That was a secret ingredient in the incense.

“Be very careful what you pray for, child,” he said, trying for a fatherly expression and tone. “The gods always demand much of those they aid! Be happy with his peace, lest you find the price of an answer too high.”

He didn’t say this because he thought anything might happen. He just didn’t want word of a child with such a prayer getting back to the village. He considered reporting the child to the castle guards, but he decided there was no real threat. He’d just bring trouble on himself.

The final time Yagac went to the shrine he was running. He was carrying a short sword in its scabbard. He could barely carry it and run. The priest could hear the sound of horses’ hoofs further in the distance. He moved to block the boy, but he was old and slow, and the boy ran directly into the shrine.

Yagac slammed the sword down on the altar and said, “You know that the lord in the castle takes what he wants. Now he has even taken my sister. I would like you to do something about it.”

But this time he continued. “I don’t want peace. I don’t want joy. I want revenge. I want things changed. I don’t care what it costs.”

The guards were already outside the door, and the priest turned away so as not to see the boy killed. The priest didn’t really believe anything might happen.

Suddenly the ground shook. Something emerged from the temple, but it wasn’t anything that could be recognized as Yagac. As it took steps the ground shook. Fire surrounded it. The guards fled in terror.


Yagac felt no different. He was still just Yagac just a boy. But as he returned from the castle, riding into the village on a horse he had appropriated the villagers bowed down in the street, hailing him as a conquering hero.

He was no hero! He was Yagac, who could plow the straightest furrow. Yagac, who loved his family and missed his sister. He’d found her dead in the castle. It wasn’t fair! These people wanted food. They wanted protection.

Yagac spurred his horse and rode down the trail away from the village. But even as he did it he knew he would be returning. The god demanded it.

He was also Yagac the responsible, and he would pay the price.

3Our God comes
but he doesn’t keep silent.
Fire devours before him,
A furious windstorm surrounds him. — Psalm 50:3

(See my devotional on this verse.)

Psalm 121: A Translation and Poetic Response

OK, this is playing around. The first is a translation with some freedom, but with an effort to convey just a little bit of the rhythm of the Hebrew. It needs some more work. The second is just me having some fun with rhyme and meter, a practice I can always use.

I look up to the mountains,
Where can I find help?
My help comes from Yahweh,
The maker of heaven and earth.

He won’t let your foot slip.
Your guardian won’t sleep.

Not sleeping,
Not slumbering,
Israel’s keeper.

Yahweh is your guardian.
Yahweh is your shelter.
Right there with you.

By day the sun does no harm,
Nor the moon at night.
Yahweh keeps you from all injury.
He preserves your life.

Yahweh watches when you go out or come in,
Today, and every day hereafter.


And now the response:I gaze as mountains bar my way,
With pinnacle and rock and peak.
I ask myself whose help I seek.
Whence guidance comes I can obey.

To God I look when fears assail,
From right or left, by day or night.
When arrows fly from left or right,
My shield’s my Lord he will prevail.

No matter when I fear not sleep,
My Lord protects and guards my life.
Mid toil and trial, stroke or strife,
He stays awake, my guard to keep.

If battle call the trump should sound,
He watches every step I take.
And if a misstep I should make,
He puts my foot on solid ground.

He is my guard, he’s ever near,
So never danger must I fear.