"Thine is the kingdom." (Matt. 6:13.) The proud king Robert of Sicily, brother of one of the popes, appareled in magnificent attire, was listening on St. John's Eve to the priests as they chanted the Magnificat. He caught at one particular phrase which the priests were chanting in Latin, and asked the clerk what it meant. When the clerk told him the words were these: "He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree" (Luke 1:52), King Robert muttered scornfully, " 'Tis well that such seditious words are sung only by priests and in the Latin tongue; for let it be known that there is no power can push me from my throne." With that he leaned back and fell asleep.
When he awoke, it was already night and he was alone in the empty church. When he succeeded in having the door of the cathedral opened, he rushed through the night to the banqueting room of his palace, but there on the dias sat another king, wearing his robes, his crown, his signet ring. It was an angel, although a hidden angel whom none recognized. When Robert claimed his throne, saying that he was the rightful king, the king on the throne, or the angel, told him that he was but the king's jester and commanded him to wear the jester's bells and cape, and to lead an ape through the streets.
So the years passed with the ex-king performing the wretched office of a jester. But one day during Holy Week the angel-king summoned the jester-king before him, and said, "Art thou the king?" Whereupon the penitent Robert confessed his sins and acknowledged that the angel was the king. With that the angel vanished. When the court attendants appeared, they found Robert appareled again in splendor as in days of old, but kneeling on the floor near his throne, absorbed in private prayer.
So the legend, enshrined in noble verse by Longfellow, taught the great truth that God is the only King, that he putteth down the mighty from their seats, and exalteth them of low degree.
There is no city like Damascus, which is the oldest of cities built by man. There, as everywhere in the Near East associated with great events in the birth of Christianity, one is oppressed and depressed by the dominance of a fierce anti-Christian religion, for Damascus today is one of the sacred places of the Moslem world. What was once the great church of St. John the Baptist has now for centuries been a Mohammedan mosque. Standing in the shadow of the dome of the tomb of Saladin, the great Moslem conqueror, one can hear the muezzins call the faithful to prayer from the minarets of the mosque that once resounded with hymns of praise to Christ. Reflecting upon that, and hearing that strange music, one's faith needs to be strong. On one side of mosque, where evidently there was an entrance to the ancient church, there are still to be seen, unobliterated by the Mohammedans, some words carved into the stone. Climbing up to read them, one finds these words—and takes new hope and courage for the future of Christ's kingdom—"Thy Kingdom, O Christ, is an everlasting Kingdom!"
In a famous tale, "The Necklace," Maupassant tells of a beautiful young French woman who, because she had no dowry, married an ordinary government clerk. Ofttimes she lamented the fact that with her charms and her personality she was barred from the great social world. But one day her husband brought home with great joy an invitation asking him and his wife to be guests at a reception of one of the high departments of the French government. But to his surprise his wife showed no elation. "How can I go?" she said. "I have no dress to wear." He asked her how much a proper dress would cost. She answered, "About 500 francs." He winced a little at that, but having laid aside 400 francs with which to purchase a rifle so that he could shoot on holidays, he said he would get her a dress. The day before the reception the dress came, and she tried it on. It was most becoming—a fine framework to display her beauty. But she said, "I cannot wear the dress without any ornament." He suggested flowers, but that idea was dismissed. Then he said, "Why don't you ask Jeanne to lend you some of her jewels?" Jeanne was an aristocratic school friend of Mathilde. She said "Yes, that is the thing, the very thing." Off she went to the home of her friend, who gladly opened to her all her treasures. She tried one piece of jewelry after another, and finally came upon a beautiful necklace. Holding it up against her breast, she looked into the mirror with great delight. When her friend said she might take it she flung herself on her neck with kisses of joy, and then hurried off to her home.
On the great night of the reception she appeared in her beautiful gown, with the handsome necklace flashing on her neck and bosom. Wherever she moved the eyes of men and women followed her with admiration. Everyone craved the privilege of a dance with her. After the reception they walked part of the way home, and then found a dilapidated cab which carried them to their apartment. The husband was half undressed and his wife was standing in front of the mirror starting to undress when she gave a cry of horror. The husband asked what the trouble was. She answered, "The necklace! The necklace is gone!" They searched through the apartment and down the stairway. The husband went off and walked over the route which they had taken on their way home. But at seven in the morning he returned, but with no necklace.
At the dictation of her husband Mathilde sat down and wrote a note to her friend saying that she had broken the clasp on the necklace and sent it to the jewelers to be repaired. Then they set out to find another like it. At length in a shop on the Palais Royale they found one which closely resembled the lost necklace. They could have it for 36,000 francs. The husband received a bequest of 18,000 francs; then by borrowing 500 francs here and 100 there, and 50 somewhere else, he managed to get together the 36,000 francs. The necklace was put in the original box and returned to the friend who had lent it. Then began the terrible task of making good the debt, for they had signed away their life for years to come. They dismissed their servants and took a cheap garret apartment under the roof in a poor quarter of the city. The husband slaved at night when his work in the office by day was over, copying manuscripts and doing odd jobs. Mathilde did her own marketing, scrubbed her own floors, grew stout and red in the face, talked loudly like the women about her. But sometimes when her husband was away she would sit by the window and think of that wonderful night of her triumph when she wore the beautiful necklace.
Ten years passed, and the debt was paid. One day Mathilde was walking along the bank of the Seine when she saw a beautiful young woman coming along with a child in a carriage. Recognizing her as her friend of old days, she stopped and greeted her. The woman looked upon her with surprise, and said with some haughtiness, "I am afraid you have a mistake."
"No," the other replied, "I am your old friend Mathilde."
"O Mathilde," she exclaimed, "how you have changed."
Then Mathilde told her of her struggles. "You remember the necklace you lent me?"
"Yes, what of it?"
"It was lost."
"But how was it lost, you returned it to me?"
"No, it was another that I returned, one just like it, for which we paid 36,000 francs."
The woman looked at her in astonishment and in pity, and then said, "Do you mean to say you paid 36,000 francs for that necklace you brought back? The one that I lent you was paste, and worth, at the most, 500 francs!"
The prophet asked, "Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labors for that which satisfieth not?" (Isa. 55:2). For the paste diamonds and pearls of this world men seek far and wide, and spend all they have; but they pass by in contempt the pearl of great price, which is the Kingdom of God. "Seek ye first die kingdom of God." (Matt. 6:33.)