Once there was a king who had to go to war in a faraway country.
Not knowing when he would return, he left his wife, the queen, to preside over his kingdom and raise their infant son. To help her, he left deputies and counselors to carry on the business of governing his kingdom, and servants to keep up the day-to-day business of his household.
Then he went away, and he was gone far longer than anyone had anticipated. As the years went by, his son grew to young manhood. His people went on with their lives. But he was gone so long, most of the people in his kingdom gave up hope that he would ever return. Many of them were so young when he left, they didn’t remember him. Many of the others simply dismissed him from their minds.
No word came from him, no news. By and large, the king was given up for lost.
Eventually ambitious men began to flock to the king’s city, installing themselves in his palace, and finally paying court to his queen, who was by then assumed to be a widow. Each of these men desired to replace him; but the only way any of them could become king was to marry the queen. And the queen was faithful. No matter how much time went by, the queen refused to give up hope that her rightful husband would return.
The ambitious men grew more ambitious, and bolder in their aspirations. They pressured the queen to choose one of them as her new husband. They corrupted the servants of the household, using them to spy on the queen. The king’s deputies, now old men, lost their power to protect the queen. The few servants who remained loyal found themselves increasingly excluded from affairs, mocked and bullied, even threatened. Because the king’s son was by now grown almost to full manhood, the ambitious men hatched a plot to murder him. The young man refused to believe his father was dead. Only his mother, the faithful queen, shared that belief with him. But it was getting harder and harder for her to put off the men who demanded her hand in marriage.
And then the king came home—but no one knew it. He came alone, disguised as a miserable beggar.
For a time, he maintained that disguise and used that time to assess the situation. He carefully discovered which of his servants was still loyal, and revealed himself to only two of them: an old woman who was his childhood nurse, and a swineherd. These two servants were despised and ignored by all the others.
The day came, finally, when the strangers forced the queen’s hand. Against her will, she proposed a contest, the winner to marry her and become king. The contest would be held inside the palace. The king, still in disguise, secretly revealed himself to his son; but it was still too dangerous for him to reveal himself to the queen.
On the day of the contest, each and every one of the strangers failed to win the prize. They laughed when the ragged beggar asked for a chance to compete. They threw things at him. But it appealed to their sense of humor to let the beggar have a go at the prize.
And they stopped laughing when he won the contest.
Now the king revealed himself to all. His loyal servants sealed off the palace, and with the help of his son, the king slaughtered all the interlopers. Not one escaped. He then put to death the disloyal servants and cleansed the room in which he’d won his battle. Only then did he reclaim his faithful queen, his kingdom, and his house: and he and his family had peace forever after.
Some of you will have recognized this story as “The Odyssey,” by Homer. But it could just as easily have come from the Bible, from the Book of Revelation. I believe Homer, although he was a pagan Greek who lived centuries before Christ’s birth, could not have told this story unless he’d been prompted by God’s Holy Spirit.
The faithful queen is the Church, the true Church consisting of all Christ’s people. The wicked suitors and the corrupted servants are the unbelieving world.
Our King, Jesus Christ, shall come again someday. Let Him find us true and faithful when He does. Better to be a lowly swineherd, or a disregarded old woman, waiting faithfully for His return, than to be held high in favor by His enemies.
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