The Ruby Ring

Once there was a King whose most prized possession was a ruby ring that had been in the royal family since before anyone could remember. It was passed from king to king and it was worn on special ceremonial occasions. Whenever the king put on the ring, everyone was truly dazzled by its beauty and perfection.

One day, the kingdom was celebrating a festival and the King decided to make an appearance before the people. The king asked his servants to fetch the ruby ring and they did. When they brought him the small gold box that contained the ring. The king opened the box and gasped. There on the face of the ring was a huge scratch. At first the king was furious and demanded to know which of his servants had scratched the ring. After the king was satisfied that no one knew how the scratch had got there, his anger subsided into gloom. He closed the box and sent it away and decided after all that he wouldn’t be going out.

Soon, the servants were distressed because the king had cancelled all his public appearances and refused to leave the palace. Finally, one suggested to the king that he might send out a call for the jewelers in his kingdom to try their hands at repairing the ring. So the king announced that anyone who could repair his ruby ring would receive a great reward.

The next day, hundreds of jewelers were lined up outside the palace. Each one eager to take a shot at fixing the ruby ring. However, jeweler after jeweler failed. The scratch was so deep and profound that the jewelers couldn’t get rid of it without possibly ruining the jewel further and none wanted to risk the king’s anger. After a few days of this, the king began to lose hope. One by one, the best jewelers in the land left defeated. And each time, the King lost more hope that his ring would ever be repaired. At the end of the week, there was only one person left in the line: a peasant with tattered clothes.

At first, the king’s servants thought the man a beggar and tried to run him off but the man assured the servants that he was in fact a jeweler and was looking to repair the king’s ruby ring and claim his great reward. The servants were doubtful that this rough looking serf would be able to do what the finest jewelers in the land could not but what did they have to lose? So they let the peasant jeweler with the tattered clothes into the palace.

When the jeweler entered the throne room, the king laughed. “Is the situation so hopeless that you’re bringing random people off the street?”

“No my lord,” One of the servants replied, “This is a jeweler and he has come here to fix your ruby ring and claim his great reward.”

The king looked at the peasant jeweler suspiciously. He had his doubts but what did he have to lose? So he had the gold box brought out. Once the box was opened, the peasant jeweler looked at the ring and saw the deep scratch. “It can be done easily,” he said, “I’ll just need a week of privacy to work on the ring.”

The king agreed and ordered that the jeweler should have a special room in the palace which would be guarded day and night. He also ordered that meals should be brought to the peasant for the week while he worked on the ring.

And work he did. Tirelessly for an entire week, day and night, the jeweler could be heard hammering and chiseling and sanding and polishing until finally, a week later, the peasant jeweler emerged from his room with the gold box. He and the box were immediately brought before the king. The king took the box. His hands were trembling. This was his last hope. Was it possible that this poor jeweler had accomplished what the finest jewelers in the land could not? The king opened the box and gasped.

But this time it was a good gasp. The king smiled a great big smile and said, “My ruby ring is even more beautiful than before! As a great reward you are now the King’s official jeweler and you shall live in this palace, you and your family, and be well taken care of.”

With that, the king slipped the ruby ring on his finger and everyone in the room gasped as well. The ruby truly was more beautiful than ever. The peasant jeweler with the tattered clothes had done what no other could. Instead of trying to get rid of the imperfection, he had adorned it with petals and thorns and a leaf. He had transformed that awful scratch into a beautiful rose!

As this beautiful parable shows us: when we focus on imperfection, we miss the possibilities. God in his grace finds the rose in the scratch, the beauty in the scar. How often do we look at our lives and see only the broken places? How often do we focus on the places that have been marked by tragedy? How often do we look at one another and see only what is wrong? We who walk-in the way of Jesus are called to remember the promise of the Apostle Paul to the Philippians, that He who began a good work in each of us will be faithful to complete it. That though the image of God is scarred in each of us, the master jeweler is working tirelessly around the clock to see it fully restored.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Clay Bowl


Once, on a far off mountain, there lived two hermits. They spent their days worshipping God and they each one knew nothing but Christian love for the other. There on the mountain they had only one possession: a clay bowl, which they shared. 

One day, an evil spirit entered the older of the two hermits. He approached the younger hermit and said, “I can no longer stand to be on this mountain with you! Let us divide our possessions and I will be off at once!”

“I will be sad to see you go,” said the younger hermit, “I’ve treasured our time on this mountain together and it has truly ministered to my spirit to see you each day and learn from you, but if you truly believe this is best then blessings be upon you. As for dividing our possessions… All we have is this clay bowl we share. It’s an extravagance really. I can eat out of my lap. Here. It is yours.”

The older hermit pushed the younger’s hands away. “I don’t need your charity! You insult me and scheme to make me indebted to you when I only want what is rightfully mine. Let us divide the bowl in half so I can leave and be done with your wicked manipulations.”

“Now brother, you are being unreasonable. If we were to divide this bowl, neither of us would be able to use it. What good would that do? Why don’t we cast lots for it. Then one of us will win it fairly and neither will be indebted to the other.”

The older hermit stamped his foot. “Fool! I ask only for what is rightfully mine and you would leave it up to chance. Divide it now, so I can be gone from this wretched mountain where you do nothing but pervert justice.”

The younger hermit was grieved by the older hermit’s words but quietly forgave him. “If this is what you desire then it is what I desire,” he said before dashing the clay bowl against the ground and breaking it into two equal parts. “I’m sorry I have offended you. Take what is yours.”

The older hermit grabbed his half of the bowl and said, “I will not stay for a second longer on this mountain with a coward who won’t even fight!” With that, the older hermit began his descent into the valley.  

This parable from Kahlil Gibran is a sad and humorous reminder that some people can never be made happy. There are people in the world who only want to quarrel and they cannot be pleased. It is important though, not to change our own nature to accommodate theirs. Jesus’ way of self-sacrificial love makes us vulnerable to the world but that is not weakness, it is strength. For those who seek to save their lives will lose it and whoever humbles themselves will be exalted. I once worked at a job where I was constantly criticized and it seemed I could not do right. A mentor of mine told me at the time, “all you can do is be reasonable and reasonable people will see that.” This advice has stuck with me. Jesus might say, “all you can do is be loving and loving people will see that.”  The Way of Jesus is the way of self-sacrificial love. This does not change because the person we are showing love to is difficult. Were we not difficult when Christ tried to freely give his love to us?

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The King’s Pardon


Once Frederick the Great of Prussia was touring one of his country’s largest prison facilities. Word had quickly spread among the prisoners that the king was in the building and their excitement grew at the prospect of receiving a king’s pardon. As King Frederick passed each of the cells the prisoner would call out to him pleading their case. They yelled things like, “I’m innocent!”, “I was framed”, or “Give me justice!”.

Occasionally he would stop and listen to a prisoner’s account of how he had landed in the prison despite his innocence of the crime he’d been charged with and then, unmoved, continue on. Finally, King Frederick passed one particular cell and it was completely silent. His curiosity was aroused. In the back of the cell, in a dark shadow, a man sat on a bench looking down at the floor. The king called out to him, “Sir, aren’t you going to plead your case to me as well?”

The man, paused for a moment, looked up at him, and said, “No, your highness, I’m guilty of everything they said I did. I’m right where I belong.”

King Frederick immediately turned to the guards and cried, “Free this guilty man at once, before he corrupts all the innocents!”

I’m not sure how historically grounded this anecdote is but it serves as a powerful parable about the freeing power of confession. We live in an age that teaches that guilt is unhealthy and that we need to learn to be OK with ourselves. The problem is that we cannot find true freedom if we are only in the business of guilt management. If we delude ourselves into thinking we are merely the product of our social environment or forced into our actions by a series of incidents beyond our control, we never truly come face to face with our true sinfulness and never experience the redemption and liberation that comes from God’s grace. The scripture says if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive them, but until we look the king in the eye and tell him we’re guilty as charged, we cannot receive His pardon. St. Augustine said it best: “Assume nothing; one thief was saved. Presume nothing; one thief was damned.”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

Holy Bradford


In 1550, when John Bradford was chosen to be a personal chaplain to King Edward VI, no one was surprised. As a deacon in the Church of England, he had travelled all over preaching the gospel. Even in his school days, he was so revered among his friends for his selflessness and piety that he was nicknamed, “Holy Bradford.” 

Once when he was passing by a local tavern with a friend, they heard some drunks laughing and swearing loudly. The friend was embarrassed for “Holy Bradford” to be hearing such talk. He tried to usher him along quickly but John Bradford stood in front of the tavern and prayed to God quietly saying, “Forgive me Lord, for I have a drunken head and a swearing heart.”

When they had gone a little further, they saw a hardened criminal with a sack on his head, being led in chains to his execution. Bradford’s friend looked on with disgust at the man being taken to the gallows to be publicly hanged, no doubt for some wicked and terrible crime.

“I guess he’s getting what he’s got coming,” he sneered.

But his holy friend, with a sorrowful expression on his face, pointed at the criminal and said, “But for the grace of God, there goes John Bradford!”

“There but for the grace of God go I…” has become a proverb of humility in modern times. Do we really understand that it is grace, not our moral superiority that separates us from those we may consider to be sinners far worse than ourselves? If we did, we might be far less likely to judge others. Holy Bradford seemed to realize that the sin in his own heart made him a drunkard, a curser, and a criminal. It was only the grace he received as a free gift from God that made him anything else. This central realization is at the heart of discipleship: “Freely you have received, now freely give…” God’s boundless love frees us to live lives of holiness. Were it not for the way of Jesus, we might find ourselves on a very different path.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear… 

The Unmerciful Servant


Once Jesus was asked by one of his disciples how many times the law required him to forgive his brother. “Should I forgive seven times?” he asked.

Jesus replied, “Not seven times, but seventy seven times.”

To explain this teaching, he told a parable:

The Kingdom of God is like a king who decided to settle all of his accounts. One by one, he brought his servants before him and demanded the money that they owed him. One servant was brought before him who owed him 10,000 bags of gold. The man could not pay so the king ordered that his home and all of his possessions be sold and that he and his entire family, be sold into slavery to pay the debt. The servant fell before the king, kissed his feet, and begged for mercy.

“Please, O wise and just King, show patience with me and I will pay back everything I owe you!”

The king was moved with compassion and, realizing the money was more than he could possibly pay back in a lifetime, forgave the debt.

As the servant was leaving, he spotted another fellow servant who owed him a bag of silver. He angrily grabbed the man by the throat and yelled, “Pay me back what you owe me!” His fellow servant fell down on his knees and pleaded with him.

“Give me just a little more time,” he begged, “and I’ll pay you back.”

The servant refused and took his case before the judge and had the man thrown in prison until he was able to pay the debt. This shocked all of the servants who promptly reported it to the king. This made the king absolutely furious so that he summoned the man before him and said to him, ” You wicked servant! You begged me for mercy and I forgave your great debt! Shouldn’t you have forgiven your fellow servant for the pittance he owed you?” Then he called his guards and demanded they throw the man in the dungeon and have him tortured until he payed off his entire debt.

Judaism, as well as Christianity, teaches the value of forgiveness. What was at issue for the disciple, was how many times he should forgive someone who consciously hurt him. Some rabbis taught that after three times, you were off the hook. Others taught seven. According to Jesus, we’re never off the hook for forgiveness. As this challenging parable demonstrates, forgiveness is not just a matter between you and your fellow servant, it is a matter between you and your King. When we weigh our sins against God against others sins against us, we are weighing 10,000 bags of gold against a sack of silver. This is a hard teaching but it is at the heart of what it means to be a disciple walking in the way of Jesus. When we pray, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debters”, we are entering into a contract. This contract comes with a promise of grace though. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” 

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…