There once was a very powerful king. And he had three questions. He thought that if he knew the answers to these three questions he would be the wisest and most effective ruler. He would never fail. The three questions were these:
- When is the right time?
- Who are the right people?
- What is the most important thing to do?
He then offered a huge reward to the person who could effectively answer all three questions. The answers he received for the first question; when is the right time? were all over the board. One advised saying draw up a schedule of days, months and years and stick to it. Only in this way can everything be done at the proper time. Another said pay attention to every tiny detail and do what is required. Another said it’s impossible to know the right time, hire a magician, he will know.
The answers he received for the second question were also varied. Who are the right people? Some said administrators; others said intellectuals at the university, the wealthy are the right people to know, while others said the soldiers were the most important people.
And for the third question it was no better; what’s the most important thing to do? Scientific research, making money, and improving your military skill were some of the answers he received.
The king was not satisfied with any of the answers and no one received the reward. In order to find the true answers to his questions, he decided to consult a hermit who was famous for his wisdom. The hermit never left the forest where he lived, and there at his hut he would only meet with the poor and the humble. The king therefore got rid of his expensive clothing and dressed like a common man, and getting off of his horse before reaching the hermit’s dwelling, he left his guards behind and went on alone.
The king found the hermit digging a garden in front of his hut. When he saw the king, the hermit greeted him and immediately returned to his digging. The hermit was thin and frail, and each time he put the shovel into the ground and turned a little clod of dirt, he would breath out very heavily.
The king approached him and said, “I’ve come to you, wise hermit, to ask you for the answers to three questions: 1st, How can I know which is the time I ought to pay attention to, not allowing it to slip by only to be regretted later? 2nd Who are the most essential people, those to whom I ought to give the greatest attention? And 3rd what are the most important pursuits, which ought to be undertaken first? The hermit listened, but gave no answer and continued to dig in his garden.
“You’ve exhausted yourself,” the king said. “Give me the shovel and I’ll work for a while.” “Thank you,” said the hermit. He handed him the shovel and sat down on the ground. After digging two beds, the king stopped and repeated his questions. The hermit did not answer, but got up and held out his hand for the shovel, saying, “Now you rest and I’ll work.” But the king didn’t give him the shovel and went on digging.
An hour passed, and then another; the sun had begun to sink behind the trees when the king stuck the spade into the ground and said, “I came to you, wise man, for answers to my questions. If you can give me none, please tell me so, and I’ll go home.”
“Here comes someone running,” said the hermit. “Let’s see who it is.”
The king turned around and saw a bearded man running out of the woods. The man held his hands pressed to his abdomen and blood flowed from between his fingers. He ran up to the king and fell to the ground, where he lay motionless, and weakly moaning.
The king and the hermit opened the man’s clothing, and found a large wound in his abdomen. The king washed it as well as he could and bandaged it with his own handkerchief and the hermit’s towel; but the flow of blood wouldn’t stop. Again and again the king removed the bandage soaked with warm blood, washed it, and re-bandaged the wound. When the blood at last stopped flowing, the wounded man revived and asked for water. The king brought fresh water and gave him a drink.
Meanwhile the sun had set and it got very cool. The king, with the hermit’s help, carried the wounded man into the hut and laid him on the bed. He closed his eyes and got very still. The king was so tired from his walk and the work he had done that he lay down on the floor and fell asleep. And he slept so soundly through the night that when he woke up in the morning it was some time before he realized where he was and remembered the bearded stranger lying on the bed. Who was now staring very intently at him with his eyes wide open.
“Forgive me,” said the bearded man in a faint voice, when he saw that the king was awake and looking at him. “I don’t know you and have nothing to forgive you,” replied the king.
“You don’t know me, but I know you. I’m your enemy, and I swore to take vengeance on you for killing my brother and seizing my property. I know you had come alone to see the hermit and I vowed to kill you on your way back. But when the whole day passed and you didn’t return, I left my hiding place to look for you, and that’s when I came upon your soldiers instead. They recognized me, and attacked and wounded me. I escaped from them and I should’ve bled to death if you hadn’t taken care of me. I wanted to kill you, and you have saved my life. Now if I live, and if you wish it, I will serve you as your most faithful servant. Forgive me!” The king was happy to be so easily reconciled with his enemy, and he not only forgave him but promised to return his property and send his own doctor and servants to take care of him.
The king then went outside looking for the hermit. Before leaving he wanted to ask one more time for the answers to his questions. The hermit was on his knees planting seeds in the bed that had been dug up the day before. The king approached him and said: “For the last time, wise man, I ask you to answer my questions.”
“But you’ve already been answered,” said the hermit. “How have I been answered?” asked the king.
“How? Repeated the hermit. “Had you not taken pity on my weakness yesterday and dug these beds for me, instead of turning back alone, that fellow would have assaulted you, and you would have regretted not staying with me. Therefore, the most important time was when you were digging the beds; I was the most important person; and the most important pursuit was to do good to me. And later, when that man came running to us, the most important time was when you were taking care of him, for if you had not bound up his wound, he would have died without having made peace with you; therefore he was the most important person, and what you did for him was the most important deed.
Remember then: First, there is only one important time – Now. Now is the most important time. It’s important because it is the only time we have dominion over ourselves. And second, the most important person is he with whom you are, the person in front of you, for no one can know whether or not he will ever have dealings with any other person. And third, the most important pursuit is to do good to him, since it’s for that purpose alone that man was sent into this life, to do good.”
“A man fell victim to robbers…a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn, and cared for him.”
Remember then: there is only one important time – Now. And it’s important because it is the only time we have dominion over ourselves; and second the most important person is he with whom you are, for no one can know whether or not he will ever have dealings with any other person. And third the most important pursuit it to do good to him, since it’s for that purpose alone that man was sent into this life.”
“Go and do likewise.”
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley-