Once upon a time, a grand king ruled a kingdom fortressed on a hill. Craggy mountains cast creeping shadows into the deep valleys surrounding. The sun slowly swept its train of light to and fro from the horizon. Freezing mountain water gushed down ancient river paths, ebbing and flowing gently during the day, but churning angrily during the night. The castle walls loomed high, protected by a moat with an oaken drawbridge that directed traffic in and out.
Rows of crops and clusters of trees sprawled across the countryside. All roads somehow connected to the main path that led to the palace. The layout looked like the blood vessels of the human body throughout the lay of the land. This may have been no coincidence. Life, in a manner of speaking, was pumped to the people from the palace, the heart of the kingdom.
The good king had a big heart for his people. His servants passed out two kinds of parcels as they journeyed from village to village. One type offered food straight from the king’s storehouses, and what marvelous treats they were! Ripe apples burst with a crunch that echoed over hill and vale; orange carrots were so vibrant that they were worth their weight in gold; sturdy potatoes so hearty they fell with solid thuds on the fire’s hearth. And of course, the meat was so rich it made one’s mouth water as juices sizzled from brushing against the curling wisps of fire smoke.
Another parcel the king sent out was still better: clothing of the loveliest caliber. Such white fabrics one could not aptly describe – the cotton and linen absorbed the sun’s embracing warmth in cooler months and ushered out the heat during scorching summer weather. They were styled simply, but the threads glinted as the fabric turned in the sunlight. They were exquisite.
As is characteristic of people who encounter many other people every day, the king’s servants observed the spectrum of reactions to the king’s generosity.
The worst were those who sourly despised the king’s goodness, complaining, “The heaping mounds of yummy foods are not heaping or yummy enough! The sensible and beautiful clothing is not sensible or beautiful enough!” One such villager was named Boetius, a scornful nobleman. His grounds spread out across great distances and yielded bountiful harvests every year. Boetius only wore the finest fabrics, and stunning jewels adorned his chubby fingers. He, and people like him, threw the packages back in the face of the messengers, spitting on the ground with distaste and slamming their doors to convey their point. Thus, their packages of foods and garments were discarded in rubbish heaps isolated on the swampy outskirts of the countryside and were forgotten.
Others took the king’s parcels and unabashedly sneered at the king’s foolishness in giving away such good things. As one huffy proud merchant named Lamont told another, “I can afford my own clothes. Who does the king think he is, passing out such things thinking we need them?” The listener’s typical response was, “Well, I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all! I mean, look at what I’m wearing. It’s imported from the kingdom over yonder, and I even got two compliments from the noblemen across the lane! Who needs this? Well, at least it can be used as rags to clean up the dogs’ mess.”
And finally, some villagers humbly accepted the gifts, giving back as best as they could. They diligently picked fruits, harvested wheat, and wove threads together. Adriel was one of these folk. However, he was not able to do much, as he had no roof over his head and no skills of which to boast. Now, Adriel was the poorest of his two other friends, Boetius and Lamont. He had no bed to call his own, but slept in tree hollows for warmth and shelter. He lived the life of a nomad.
Every year, Boetius, Lamont, and Adriel met to catch up and talk as friends do. Without fail, Boetius’ eyes would twinkle with pride and his belly would shake with merry laughter as he gestured towards his blooming gardens and woods filled with boar and deer. Without fail, Lamont would bring swaths of exotic fabrics so his friends could brush their fingertips across the delicate material. Without fail, Adriel would offer to them what he had left from the king’s parcels. Little did he know that also without fail, Boetius would “graciously” thank him for his gift and secretly hand it to Lamont to throw to wandering dogs.
One day, a drought snuck upon the land. Slowly, slowly, the strong oak trees withered. As paper naturally curls inward as it is licked by a candle’s flame, so the tree leaves shrank back onto the branches, and the slightest breath of wind snapped their stems. The river waters that once swirled so magnificently drained away, the remnant trickling into an unknown abyss. Crops began bending over from the weight of emptiness.
The people were at a loss for words and what to do. They understood two things very well. First, they knew the king was very rich and powerful. They also understood that very rich and powerful people care only about their own needs. Accordingly, anxious shopkeepers began closing their doors and their shutters, preparing for the wailing winds that heralded the winter months. They resigned themselves to starving to death.
The king did not withdraw into his estate as people assumed! In fact, he announced the finest banquet to be held in one fortnight’s time. The proclamation was sent throughout the kingdom and stirred up hope, excitement, and anger. But that was not the only surprise! To add to the buzz, the king extended his cordial invitation to every single person in his kingdom! His banquet was not a one-time deal, but would provide for its guests for the rest of their lives. “Even after the drought lifts,” the king’s messengers said, “large rooms are being prepared specially for his people to live out their lives with him!” And it was all offered free of charge! They simply had to appear before him, fit for the presence of a king.
Nobles’ jaws dropped as they heard this news from the messengers. Boetius’ eyes narrowed as he heard the news. He had gone to the king’s court so many times already; why should others have the honor that he had, being a rich man?
The downtrodden lifted their heads from the ground. The kings’ messengers would never forget seeing their eyes slowly filling with hope that promised the impossible. Some sang and danced, shouting with happiness that such a king existed, and such was their own!
The subjects panicked. Boetius exclaimed to Lamont and Adriel,” To dine in the presence of the king is no small thing! We must wear our very finest even to be admitted into the palace, else we be cast out! What are you going to wear?” Lamont and Adriel both replied, “I don’t know, what are you going to wear?” Boetius and Lamont both secretly felt they had better chances of impressing the king than Adriel. Who could blame them, when he had nothing to call his own, let alone finery to rival theirs!
And so, the race to create the finest outfit began. The problem was, all the finery had been bartered away for food! The jewels that had sparkled so brilliantly were snatched away by foreign countries, and precious silks and satins had not been seen in over a year. All that was left were plain swaths of cotton that simply would not do for the banquet!
The people sat for days, pondering what they could possibly wear! What in the kingdom was worthy, with no jewels or dyes to make their clothes unique? People thought, Seeds need to be saved for planting food, so that’s no good accessory… Food is too precious to waste… but waste! That was the answer! With the many animals that roamed this hilly kingdom, the clothing could be dyed magnificent colors of brown!
Every nobleman and woman ordered his or her servants to shovel all manure into a cavernous wooden trough. Boetius secretly hired ever more laborers to gather the most substantive waste they could find, in all shapes and colors and textures. Even with this brilliant solution, the animals themselves experienced a slight problem. They were having difficulty finding food to eat and ended up eating anything edible. So, what ended up in the trough proved to be a nauseating nightmare. Strange hues of green and rusty orange coagulated with horrid browns no one had ever seen before. T’was gloriously disgusting. Servants plunged rolls upon rolls of cotton and linen into the mixture, setting them out to dry so they could be fashioned into flamboyant outfits. Seamstresses were in full business, pinning the rotting garments onto mannequins specially designed to accentuate the aristocrats’ fit figures.
Lamont also went about the same way. He knew he didn’t have as much money to afford the monstrously large suits and pompous ball gowns the noblemen were sponsoring. So, he cunningly invented a contraption that would trail many feet behind him, giving him the grandest waste train of all the people, even besting Boetius! He spent two weeks every day dipping all his fabric in a squishy mire deep in the mountains. Hot sulfur springs roiled about, and the gaseous bubbles burst in full glory, seeping with acid-like fingers into every thread. He laid the cloths on the fir boughs he fashioned into the snake-like invention.
All of these great preparations were under way, and Adriel despaired. He had no animals to collect poop from. And anyway, he didn’t think that that would even be an appropriate way to come into a castle. There was only one day left until the king’s feast. He had no clothes of fashion or quality. His shirt and tunic were tattered and rather the worse for wear. Wandering around the trash trying to scavenge for anything suitable, Adriel hung his head. He sighed and kicked a pebble, which tumbled down a ravine. It bounced and broke down a dirt clod, revealing a tiny glint of white! He scrambled down the steep incline and gently poked at the weathered cloth. What could this be? Maybe I can buy something with it so the king won’t reject me! His eyes widened in shock, taking in the soft white clothing that was hidden by the rubbish – the garbage of the rich. This is it! I know I have nothing to merit meeting the king, but I can wear it in hopes of him letting me in! His heart jumped with excitement, as he saw the many other clothing parcels scattered throughout the field. The sun began to set, and so Adriel settled in a nearby tree hollow for the night.
The sun rose over the horizon, a rooster heralding its arrival with a startling cock-a-doodle-doo!!! Adriel rubbed his drooping eyes, grabbed the last few berries on a bush and finally donned the garments. The sunlight evoked a response from the fabric, making it shimmer with a soft luminosity that hummed with mystery and awe. I have to make sure my friends can wear these too! How amazing, what a wonderful turn of events! Won’t they be glad to see this! He grabbed as many packages as he could carry, then sprinted back to the main area of the village. Adriel scurried to the town square, where Boetius and Lamont were comparing their outfits, praising themselves on their efforts and scorning everyone else. He nearly reeled from the overpowering stench of the waste-soaked ball gowns and suits, but managed to stagger up to his friends.
“Look,” exclaimed Adriel, “I found these lovely garments that are so wonderful, won’t you take a look and change your clothes to be ready for the banquet?”
Lamont peered at the parcels, feeling them with his poop-encrusted fingertips. “My friend,” he replied, “I must tell you that my merchant skills in determining quality are unparalleled, and I also see here that my having a suit with the longest coat-tail train will surely get me into the presence of the king. Don’t you worry, old buddy, old pal. I need not your discovery.”
Adriel, stunned, stammered, “Oh…but Lamont, you must see that…well…”
“No, no, he’s right, Adriel, “Boetius boomed as he scrutinized the luxurious white garments Adriel held, “Lamont knows quality, and I know him. Look at how grand my suit looks! Absolutely covered with waste, and it’s become the latest fashion of the land, you know! Thanks but no thanks. You can wear that little old thing.”
And off they went! Boetius hired a rickety cart, a poor mule, and a servant. Lamont and Adriel clambered on, and they traversed along the well-beaten road towards the castle.
Oh, how I wish you could have seen the magnificent sights that they saw! The palace grounds were not something describable in ordinary words. A great moat surrounded the gargantuan structure. Stonewalls surrounded the palace like vigilant bodyguards protecting those inside its walls from the river.
The trio got in a long procession line headed towards the palace. The moat prevented entry. People held their breath as they slowly gathered around the edge, watching to see if the king’s promise to hold the banquet were true. Sure enough, after a few moments, the drawbridge began to lower with loud creaking noises. The murmur of excitement grew to a loud crescendo of cheers. They were saved from famine! From drought! From worry! It finally landed with a thud, and the people started streaming into the courtyard. The tantalizing aroma of foods in the hall wafted into the crowd, causing many mouths to drool and eyes to brighten with anticipation.
Boetius, Lamont, and Adriel crossed over with the crowd, their hearts beating with excitement as everyone assembled before the podium. A trumpeter heralded the arrival of the king, playing a triumphant melody that rang off the cold walls. Behold, the king! In glorious splendor he appeared. A crimson robe draped his larger-than-life form, and a flashing silver sword with an engraved golden hilt flashed with each step that he took. He walked regally towards the people, looking each and every one of them in the eye. Those who scorned him in the past shamefully turned their eyes away, uneasily feeling as though he knew what they had done. Those who loved him welcomed his gaze, and waited in eager anticipation for the welcome. Everyone held his or her breath.
“Welcome to my dwelling place! Here you have nothing to fear, nothing about which to be anxious. You will be with me, if you are my people, and only good shall be done for you! But for you to enter my abode,” the king proclaimed with another sweeping glance at the villagers, “you must be dressed properly for the honor of such a glorious event and being in my presence!”
The people stared at the person next to them, behind them, and in front of them. And the more they looked at each other, the more their hearts sank. The more they peered at the king, the more their stomachs knotted. The king’s eyes narrowed as he looked into the crowd. After all, what did he see? Myriads of people dressed in clothing coated inside and out by the worst smelling material imaginable. Many of those people were among those notorious for discarding everything he sent them, yet crediting to themselves the success of the commerce the king cultivated. The stench was unfathomably horrendous, an offense to the nose and the ears as people squelched about in the bits that flaked off their clothing.
And so, the supreme ruler in all the land stepped down from the podium and walked to one person at a time, flanked by two guards wielding spears. He commanded the soldiers to remove from his sight everyone bearing clothes unfit for a king’s banquet. Boetius was the first of his friends to be scrutinized by the king. Desperate, he cried out, “O king, have I not entered your courts many times before? We supped together once, and I used my money to give jobs to others not as fortunate. I may have spent a little more money than I should have on myself, but look at how much effort I put in creating this outfit! Is it not fit for such a wonderful feast as yours? Why, my suit and coat are the largest, greatest, and priciest in the land, with all this dung! This is what I have to offer you.”
The king looked at him and said, “Such foolishness, nobleman Boetius, is not to be expected of a person with as many opportunities as you. Does any person expect to wear such revolting apparel and expect to gain entrance into the abode of the king? What can you offer me that I do not already have? Everything you have is ultimately my own, and now you come before me with this?” The guards grabbed each of Boetius’ arms and placed him outside the castle gates.
The people whispered in horror at the reality of what they had done. Had they truly expected to compete for who had the most dung-ridden clothing and wanted to win? Surely not! And yet, more and more people were ushered outside the courtyard.
Lamont was the second of the three friends to be judged. “What we have here, Sir Lamont? What have we here,” the king asked.
“Your m-m-most excellent highness,” the merchant stammered, “I am a skilled trader and have constructed this device to help me have the longest coattail in the kingdom. I was c-c-certain it would be appreciated by someone of such high status as yourself. Would you care for it?”
The king sighed. “Lamont, I need nothing of yours or that of your people to acknowledge I rule all. Your pride and self-reliance have led you thus far, and they have led you astray. Reap the consequences of what seeds you have sown.” Eyes wild with fear, Lamont continued trying to beseech the king, but nothing could be done.
Adriel stood as the last of the three friends. The king approached him, his gaze lingering on the clothing that hung on his thin frame. He nodded his head once, asking Adriel, “And what do you have to say for yourself, Adriel?”
For a moment, Adriel could say nothing. The few remaining in the courtyard hushed to listen to what he had to say, as he and they were only a few who were not wearing clothing encrusted with manure, but rather the apparel from the parcels. Then, Adriel spoke.
“O king, I know I deserve not to be in your courts, or even to be here today. I heard of the hope and joy promised by the feast you were holding, and how you extended your invitation to each and every subject. I looked high and low for opportunities to create something of my own to give to you, but I have nothing and was nothing in the eyes of those around me. I was about to give up when I stumbled upon the parcels you sent to every person in the kingdom, and it is so much more than anything I could have done myself. I know that what you bestow to those who you love is good, and this is what you gave. I simply donned it and took it as my own, and I hope that this makes me acceptable in your sight,” Adriel finished, fiddling with the hem of his white tunic.
The king waited until Adriel looked into his eyes, and then broke into a large smile and opened his arms. “Adriel, you shall henceforth be my son, and everyone else in this place shall sons also be. You shall live the rest of your days with me, wanting for nothing. Come, let us feast!”
Those left outside the castle gates faced the drawbridge and began wailing at what they could have had but lost through their pride. They ranted to one another and to themselves, saying, “I deserved to get in! Look at how great my clothes are! How dare the king? Yes, manure isn’t the most pleasant choice, but what does the king expect? For me to wear his gift of clothing? Foolishness! Mine is so much better!” Others went on gnashing their teeth in rage, others weeping at having been so close but knowing they would never attain anything.
The sun drew its train away towards the horizon and a silent chill fell over the land. Everyone outside watched as grey wisps wove themselves into powerful rain clouds. Rain started falling gently from the heavens, pitter-pattering and slowly covering every inch of the land. A while later, blinding lighting crashed and snapped two or three times before retreating, followed by ground shaking rumbles of thunder. The rain hammered down harder on the villagers and the trees. Mountain water began gushing once again down towards the moat, pounding its way through the paths as the hours grew longer. The people huddled together, hoping for everything to go away. But it was in vain, as they watched supple saplings uprooted by the waters, floating downstream. The night drew on, and by the next morning’s light, not a single villager outside the castle was found.
During that time, and for all time, all Adriel and the others could and wanted to do was to praise the king for his lovingkindness. Remember, no subject could have forced or expected the king to do anything on their behalf. After all, why would he do so when he needed no one? But the king’s great love was shown that day and every day, in inviting the people for the feast and the promise of life. They walked into the king’s home, and lived all their days joyfully with him.
Meanings of the Names:
- Boetius = “foolish pride”
- Lamont= “Law man”
- Adriel= “followers of God”
Grace greater than our sin (third verse)
“Dark is the stain that we cannot hide
What can avail to wash it away
Look! There is flowing a crimson tide
Whiter than snow you may be today”
And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment;
And all of us wither like a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
And the loftiness of man will be humbled,
And the LORD alone will be exalted in that day.