On Christ the King Sunday, we celebrate our King, Jesus, who wasn’t a typical monarch. Jesus is a King such as the world has never known. Remembering Jesus’ rule as King, I’d like to share a story I adapted from William White’s book, Stories for the Journey. It’s titled, “The Tinker King.”
There once was a king who disliked the ceremony and trappings of his office. He reluctantly wore a crown and was uncomfortable when forced to sit on the throne. It began the day of his coronation when they brought him a magnificent ermine robe. “Where did this robe come from?” asked the young king.
The courtier replied, “It came from the royal merchant.”
“Where did the robe come from?” the king repeated.
“It came from Persia,” the baffled courtier replied.
“Where did this robe come from?” the king persisted.
Finally, the courtier blurted, “Majesty, this robe comes from the skins of small animals whom the hunters trap!”
Sadly, the king touched the robe and said, “How can I wear such cruelty for a robe?”
Another time a prince bought a pearl of immense value to the king as a gift. “Receive this pearl as a sign of my homage,” he said to the king.
“Why is this pearl so valuable?” the young king asked.
“Because of its perfect, moonlike shape,” replied the prince.
But the king persisted until the flustered prince confessed, “This pearl is so valuable because 16 male slaves drowned while trying to retrieve it from the ocean floor.”
Sadly, the king refused the gift saying, “How can I wear such cruelty for a jewel?”
Though he disliked the trappings of his office, he replaced them only with confusion. He canceled the Christmas feast when he discovered that the food was taken as a tax from the peasants, but he couldn’t think of another way to celebrate. He took no steps to change the customs of the kingdom; he was only saddened by them. People said he was too sensitive and gentle to be a king. One day, he simply walked away from the palace and never returned.
Quickly a cohort of cruel knights replaced the gentle king. They increased the taxes and reveled in the splendor of royalty. As taxes rose, service deteriorated. Roads and bridges were no longer repaired and sanitary conditions crew worse.
Meanwhile, the gentle king became a tinker and traveled about the country sharpening knives and fixing pots. Most of his work was done in the kitchens of the peasants. They loved the little man who listened with his eyes and asked questions with his heart. The tinker and the people learned from each other.
He learned that the people were unhappy. The taxes the knights imposed created a terrible burden and their inept rule made life difficult.
The people learned from the tinker that everything is connected to everything else and that whenever anything dies a little, we all die a lot.
What the people didn’t learn from the tinker was his true identity. Although he looked like the former king, no one was certain. Often he would be asked, “Are you a king?” He normally responded by asking them, “Do I look like a king?”
The people became more and more upset with the cruel knights. Their heavy taxes created a terrific burden on the peasants. They asked the tinker what they should do.
Looking up from the knife he was sharpening the tinker said quietly, “The knights have not always ruled this kingdom. One day they will be removed.” “How can we fight men with great swords,” a woman cried, “when all we have are farming tools?”
The tinker stood and faced the crowd. He spoke powerfully and clearly. “When the time comes, you will not use swords. All that will be needed will be stout poles. Begin now to collect them.”
Again, they asked, “Are you the king?” but the tinker did not reply.
A few days later the tinker was working on his cart at the side of the road near the castle. Hearing hoofbeats he looked up to see a knight riding a giant stallion directly at him.
“What are you doing, you old fool?” the knight bellowed.
“I don’t believe we have met,” the tinker replied.
“I am one of the ruling knights,” the man shouted, giving the tinker a kick that sent him rolling in the dirt. Seeing the whet wheel on his cart, he asked, “Are you a tinker?”
“I am,” the old man said, picking himself up.
“Then you are coming with me,” the knight said triumphantly. He tied a rope around the tinker and basically dragged him into the royal courtyard. He called to the other knights to bring all their swords and axes for the tinker to sharpen. He worked for three long days hunched over his wheel sharpening the weapons of the cruel rulers. Every blade was put to his wheel, and when he finished they were so sharp they could cut fine paper. The tinker was shoved through the gate by the knights who jeered, “We have only spared your life so you can sharpen our weapons another day!”
Quickly the tinker moved across the plain and up to a nearby village. He called the people together with a shout. He gave clear directions, “The time has come. Gather at dawn tomorrow on the plain outside the palace. Bring your stout poles.”
The people assembled before sunrise near the castle of the cruel knights. Each carried a stout pole or a farming tool. In front of them, standing on his cart, was the tinker.
When the great wooden doors of the castle opened, the crowd of knights appeared with their swords and armor glistening in the morning sunlight. As they began to move, fear seized the crowd.
“Stand tall, my people,” cried the tinker.
“But we are about to die!” they shouted.
“No,” the tinker insisted, “you are about to live. Do not strike these men, these cruel knights. They are your poorest sons. Only stop their swords with your sticks.”
Trusting the tinker, they stood firm. The knights roared with laughter at the sight of the peasants facing them with mere wood. The first knight went straight for the tinker and slashed his sword as if to cut through the branch and kill him. As the sword slashed into the branch, instantly, remarkably, the metal withered and collapsed. The tinker, in sharpening the knights’ weapons to such fine edges, had ground away their substance on his wheel. The swords were sharp to the touch, but when they met the wood they withered like tissue.
One by one the knights were disarmed. Without a single death, without a single injury, the battle was over.
As the people gathered around the tinker one of the older peasants asked him, “Once and for all answer the question we have all asked, are you a king?”
The tinker stepped forward and said with a strong, clear voice, “I am.”
Immediately they shouted, “Crown the tinker! Crown the tinker!”
Holding up his hands for quiet, the tinker said, “I am not a king who will rule over you. I have come not to be served, but to serve. I have come to help you choose leaders who love justice and who live humbly and simply. Remember, the greatest among you must be servant of all.”
Then he simply slipped away and let them begin a new life without him.
In the years ahead the little kingdom established a govt. that was just and fair. When people told stories to their children about the early days of the kingdom, they said their way of life had been shaped by the man who was called, “the Tinker King.”
Jesus came to us humbly to serve us, and in doing so, brought salvation to all who believe in Him. We remember and worship Jesus now as “King of Kings and Lord of Lords,” because He came to save us and give us New Life. Our King rules in love and justice for all.