Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The Emperor's New Clothes

Gospel of the Day- Matthew 20:17-28 
Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, and on the way he took the Twelve to one side and said to them, ‘Now we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man is about to be handed over to the chief priests and scribes. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the pagans to be mocked and scourged and crucified; and on the third day he will rise again.’

Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came with her sons to make a request of him, and bowed low; and he said to her, ‘What is it you want?’ She said to him, ‘Promise that these two sons of mine may sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your kingdom.’ ‘You do not know what you are asking’ Jesus answered. ‘Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?’ They replied, ‘We can.’ ‘Very well,’ he said ‘you shall drink my cup, but as for seats at my right hand and my left, these are not mine to grant; they belong to those to whom they have been allotted by my Father.’

When the other ten heard this they were indignant with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that among the pagans the rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’
Francis - Assisi

I read this and thought of St Francis, standing in the town square naked as the day that he was born, proclaiming he had nothing except what his heavenly Father would give him.
And then I thought of this....

The Emperor's new clothes...As the laughter built to a crescendo, the Emperor tore a cloak from one of his guards, wrapped it around himself and ran off into the dark shadows of the palace.
The little boy followed after him, noting the twists and turns of corridors and stairs until he came to the door of the Emperor’s own rooms. He pushed the door ajar and entered. Adjusting to the light and shadows of shuttered windows and candlelight he moved through the space relying as much on his outreached hands and sharp ears to find his way towards the sound of sobbing.

The Emperor sat against the wall under one of the shaded windows, still wrapped in the rough, brown cloak; his head in hands. The boy sat crosslegged on the floor on the other side of the window and waited patiently.

The Emperor sighed, looked up and saw the boy; and spat words of accusation ‘Are you happy, boy; come to gloat about how you brought the mighty emperor to his knees?’

The boy spoke gently ‘What did you think you were wearing? What did they tell you?’
‘That it was the most magical of robes; that it was unique; made only for the powerful of men; only the cleverest of men; only the most royal of men. That everyone would bow down before me - I would become known as the greatest emperor that ever lived,’ he sighed again,’ the greatest fool that ever lived.’

‘What did it cost?’ the boy asked ‘All the money in the palace coffers’ the emperor admitted, under his breath ‘ the money for the food stores for the winter; for the care of the orphans; for the medicines in the hospitals; for the shelters for the homeless; all the money that was meant to take care of my people – so that people would wave and bow and cheer at me. Even if the magical clothes had been real, how could I have thought it was worth it, I have brought suffering on my people and shame on myself.’ he pulled the cloak tighter. ‘I will never leave these rooms again.’

‘That might not be so bad’ the boy remarked ‘ your people will go cold and starve whilst you sit here in luxury feeling sorry for yourself. ‘

The emperor lowered his eyes remembering when once he imagined himself a good and generous leader, loved by his people. How his ambition had led him astray. He glanced around his rooms; even in the half light he saw the sparkling gold and velvet finery of his surroundings; things bought on a whim, out of boredom, for fashion and for show; things that he never looked at once he had them; things that really didn’t matter; things that knew nothing about love. His eyes widened.

‘I will call the housemaster and he can collect all these together, go to the other cities and sell them. We will use the money to buy the winter grain, the medicines and everything we need.’ He paused, ‘and meanwhile I will go into the city – I have no right to expect the people to accept an apology but perhaps they will accept my hands; my labour; my time. Perhaps I can help to repair the damage my ambition has caused.’ The Emperor’s hand brushed over the coarse wool of the guard’s cloak. ‘Perhaps, as their servant – I may earn the right to be emperor again. '


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