Once upon a time, in the days when kings had real power, there lived a king who governed wisely and fairly, and with great love for his people.
He had three friends who served him well but caused him great sadness too.
One rode throughout the kingdom telling the king’s subjects all about him and how kind he was, and spreading the good news about what the king was doing for them, but as a result he spent very little time with the king and this made the king very sad.
The second visited the king from time to time, but only when there was a problem to be solved for which she needed the king’s help or resources. She was always welcome at court but never came without a request for help. And this made the king very sad as he would have liked simply to spend time with her and his other friends.
The third spent more time with the king, sometimes just for the pleasure of his company, but when the king threw a party for his friends – which he did often – this friend never came. He said he would like to come but had too many other things going on. Life was too busy for this friend, so he missed out on great parties and this, too, made the king very sad.
The king also had a son and daughter. They were adopted, but he loved them like his own flesh and blood. They loved to sit at his feet and listen to his stories and his wisdom. Sometimes they played together in his throne room and sometimes he played with them. Often he told them to go out and play with their other friends. “I’ll be watching you from here,” he would say, “and it will fill my heart with joy to see you having fun!”
Now and then he would send them out to do an errand for him, and they were overjoyed when this happened as they just loved to serve the one who had taken them from the poor circumstances in which they were born and adopted them into his royal household.
The king’s son and daughter also told their friends how kind and good the king was, and how much fun it was to be with him. And so it was that, over the course of time, some of these friends joined the family, too, as the king adopted them. The family grew and it was a truly happy family!
The king wished that his three friends would join his family in the same way, for he loved them very much, but they were too busy.
One day, the first friend fell from his horse and broke his leg. He was brought back to the king’s court and the king made sure he had the best medical care. The friend was frustrated as he could no longer ride through the realm carrying the good news. The king came to visit him in the room where he was recovering and the friend told the king how much he longed to get well and resume his mission. He was a bit surprised when the king said this would not be necessary. “But I thought you wanted me to do this!” he exclaimed. “Did I ask you to do it?” enquired the king. The friend had to admit that this was not clear, but it was certainly a useful thing to do and since he was able to do it he thought he should do it. After all, he owed the king everything. The king replied, “It’s you I want, not your service. I want your time and your love. I want you not only as a friend but as a son. I do give my children missions, but mostly I want them. You’re putting the cart before the horse, trying to earn my love by working for me. You have my love already; you can do nothing to earn it. Stay with me. Join my family and, rest assured, you’ll have some work to do, but I’ll give it to you for your pleasure and mine.” The first friend promised to think about this, but when he got well he left the court and rode the length and breadth of the kingdom once more.
Soon after this, the second friend came with a problem for the king to solve. She was surprised when the king complained that she only came when she wanted something. “But I pay for everything I ask for with money or service. I don’t expect help for free!” she said. “If you help me solve a problem, I pay extra taxes voluntarily. Surely that’s enough?” But the king replied as he had done to his first friend: “It’s you I want. I want you as my daughter, adopted into my family. I want your time and your love. We can have so much fun as a family … and it will be my delight to help you with your problems free of charge! In fact, give them to me and you won’t need to worry about them anymore. But first become family. Please?” The king pleaded with her but she left, promising to think about it.
A few days later, the king threw a party for his friends and family as he did every week. There were hundreds of people there and they feasted, sang and danced with great joy. But the king’s third friend was too busy with his own activities. He was in the habit of visiting the king so the next time they were together the king asked why he hadn’t come to the party. “It’s not easy,” the friend said. “I have children to take to archery practice and dance lessons, my own sports to pursue, my garden to tend… I simply don’t have time for your big parties. Isn’t it enough if we just meet together for time to time?” “It’s good,” replied the king. “And I love our times together, but you’re missing a lot by not coming and you have a great deal to contribute, which means my other friends are also missing a lot. Why don’t you move your whole family to my court, join my own family and everyone can benefit. Here, love overflows all the time. It’s a wonderful environment for a young family – and indeed people of any age. Your children can join in the royal archery training and receive instruction from the royal dance master!” As he left to get back to his duties, the third friend promised to think about it.
Time passed and a day came when it just so happened that all three of the king’s friends arrived at court at the same time. They had been thinking and found out that they’d all had similar conversations with the king. They felt he didn’t appreciate them properly and were bold enough to tell him so. They wondered why the king’s children did not come and help in the work outside the court and why it was all left up to them. (All they saw was the children sitting at the king’s feet listening to him as we have mentioned earlier. They did not know that they also went out to run errands for him, and, indeed, worked very hard when he asked them to.)
The king listened to their complaint with sadness and compassion and replied, “Ah, my friends, you are worried about many things. You rush hither and yon thinking that you will earn my favour and my love, or need to repay me for all I have done for you. But only one thing is necessary: my children have chosen to rest in my love, listen to my words, and go only when and where I send them. And this will not be taken away from them. Why not join them?”
The three friends promised to think about it.
Visiting Martha and Mary
As they went, He entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. She had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to His teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she came to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Then tell her to help me.”
Jesus answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed. And Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken from her.”