The Tinker and the Prince (A Fairy Tale Sermon)

Sermon for Sunday, October 25, 2020 || Proper 25A || Matthew 22:34-46

I’ve never done this before, but for today’s sermon, I wrote a fairy tale about the great commandment to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself. Here it is.

Once upon a time there was a young prince who had everything he could possibly desire and never spared a thought for anyone but himself. As his father, the king, lay dying, the young prince sat by his bedside so he would know the moment that he (the prince) would become king. The dying king was a just and loving sovereign, and he lamented that his indulgence had led his son down the lonely path of selfishness. So the king called upon her grace, the archbishop, who had the honor of crowning the new monarch upon the king’s death.

The king said to her, “Take my crown and remove the three jewels that adorn it. Only when my son shall fill those three settings with ornaments of his own shall you crown him king.”

“But that’s not fair,” the young prince whined. “I am king the moment after you draw your final breath.”

“Not so,” his father said, his voice hoarse and his breathing labored. “Her grace will be regent until you present her with three tokens that show you have learned what it means to love with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

The king died that night, and the prince shed no tears because of the anger he felt over the test his father had set before him. The prince brought item after item to the archbishop, but she rejected each one with a wave of her hand. “You are like the bird at the end of the V who refuses to take a turn at the front,” her grace said. “Go away and do not return until you have flown into the wind.”

She sent the prince from the palace, and for the first time in his life, he had no one to bring him food or draw his bath or tend his horse. The prince turned up his collar against the rain and rode hard away from the palace and the regent and his father’s test.

The rain continued to fall, and the road became a thin strip of swamp in the midst of farms, pastures, and woodlands. By and by, the road dipped into a narrow valley between two hills. Stuck in the mud at the bottom was a cart piled high with boxes and bags all tied together with ropes. A man with weathered features and a determined set to his jaw was coaxing a waterlogged donkey to pull, but the cart would not budge. The young prince dismounted and led his horse by the cart, intent on riding on once clear of the obstacle.

But as he passed by, the man said, “I’ve been here for hours, and you are the only other traveler out on the road in this wet. Please, will you help an old tinker get unstuck?”

The prince sneered at the tinker. “Why would I do that? What could you possibly give me in return for inconveniencing me so?”

The tinker bowed his head. “A young lordling like yourself would find the items in my packs terribly simple. I’m afraid I have nothing to offer.”

The prince’s eyes widened as he looked at the bulging sacks of oddments atop the cart. Despite the tinker’s modesty, surely something in them would satisfy the archbishop.

“On second thought, I will help you,” the prince said. “If you give me three perfect tokens from your stores.”

The tinker wiped the rain from his eyes and nodded. “A fair price.”

The prince leapt atop the cart and began passing the sacks to the tinker so the cart would weigh less. He felt the bulges and hard corners through the material, wondering what treasures might be contained therein that would adorn his crown. When the cart was unloaded, the prince directed the tinker to hook the prince’s fine steed in the traces alongside the bedraggled donkey. The two animals pulled at the tinker’s soft urging. But still the cart did not budge.

“I think we will need to push,” the tinker said.

“We?” the prince repeated. “I’m not getting in the mud. Don’t you see what finery I am wearing?”

The tinker stepped into the thick mud. “Clothes are clothes, as far as I’m concerned.”

The prince scowled at the tinker’s homespun wisdom. But when the tinker, the horse, and the donkey still could not move the empty cart, the prince squelched his way into the mud next to the old man. The mud topped his riding boots and began oozing inside. He put his shoulder to the back of the cart. The young man and the old man pushed, and still the cart did not move.

“What we need is a pushing song,” the tinker said. “The animals will feel the rhythm and pull along with us.”

The prince shook his head, sending rainwater in every direction. “I stopped to help you. I lent you my horse. I got in the mud. But I draw the line at singing.”

“Suit yourself,” the tinker said. And with that he struck up a shanty with a good strong beat.

The rain will fall, the sun will set
But I shall reach my ending yet
And trav’lers I meet on the road
Will ride with me to share our load

He added verse after verse, always coming back to this chorus. After the fourth or fifth verse, the young prince found himself singing along under his breath. And by the seventh verse, he was singing as loud as the tinker. They sang together and pushed together and the horse pulled and the donkey pulled. And the cart moved.

The two men clambered out of the mud and hugged each other with glee. Then the prince remembered himself and withdrew. “Now, the three items you promised me,” he said. “What do you have in these packs?”

“Odds and ends mostly,” the tinker said. “Anything someone might need.”

By this time the rain had stopped, and the young prince began dumping the tinker’s packs out on the ground. He searched through each pack and box and found flint and tinder, bits of thread, vials of tonic, mismatched utensils, chipped plates, tallow candles, rough clothing, wooden toys.

“It’s all worthless,” the prince bellowed. “I can’t bring any of this to the archbishop.”

“Worthless to you, perhaps,” the tinker said. “But to the farmers and laborers I visit on the road, these things make a life.”

The prince held up a bent spoon and looked at his own distorted reflection in it. He stared back at himself, upside down in the bowl of the spoon. And for the first time in his life, he came to himself. “Perhaps I’m the one who is upside down.”

He held out the spoon to the tinker and said, “This is all I desire. This and your friendship. Come, I will ride with you to your destination to make sure you don’t get stuck again.”

Presently they found a tavern and passed an evening in each other’s company. The next morning, the young prince bid the tinker farewell and rode back to the palace. The archbishop smiled as she took in his muddy and disheveled appearance. “What have you brought for your crown, little bird?” she asked.

The prince picked some dried mud from his boot. “Loving with all your heart means getting in the mud with someone else to help them.”

Her grace smiled wider.

The prince took a deep breath and sang the tinker’s chorus. “Loving with all your soul means learning someone else’s song until it is yours together.”

Her grace clapped her hands.

The prince handed her the bent spoon. “Loving with all your mind means expanding your perspective to understand the vastly different lives of other people.”

Her grace held out the jewel-less crown.

“Remember what you have learned and you will be a just and loving king like your father.”

A tear ran down the prince’s cheek. “I was so angry with him that I didn’t even mourn his death. How could I have been so upside down without realizing it? He tried to teach me, but I would not listen.” The prince looked at the empty crown. “I won’t replace the gems. I have brought back invisible tokens for my father’s test. These settings are now full of love.”

Thank you to epic fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss for his vision of the tinker, which I borrowed for this sermon.

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