“The Wise Son,” Friend, July 1993, 15
Once there was an old, wise, and prudent king who had three sons. As the king grew older, he decided it was time to confer his kingdom upon one of them. So he called his sons to him and said, “Soon I will go the way of all the earth. Before I die, I will crown one of you the next king. I know that all of you are good men, so I am going to give you a test: Here are three small coins for each of you to take to the marketplace and buy something that is useful and that will fill my whole house.” Then he told them to come back the next day with what they had bought.
The three sons left their father’s house and went to the marketplace, which was very big. It was full of all kinds of things that were interesting and beautiful, simple and useful. Wonderful smells were floating in the air. Here you could find anything you needed or wanted.
The oldest son scurried around the marketplace, wondering what he could buy with his three small coins. Although he was a very busy husband and father, and had a business to take care of, he would honor his father’s unusual request. If only he could find something quickly!
Glancing at the rugs, he thought they were very beautiful. The rugs were useful, too, and could fill his father’s house—but they were far too expensive. Then he saw something else that was quite useful, and he could buy enough of it to fill his father’s house. He made his purchase and hurried home with it, thinking, That was easy!
The second son slowly wandered in and out of the stalls and shops. He was becoming very discouraged because he simply could not see a thing that he could buy with only three small coins. He thought that his father’s request was really impossible to fulfill. He was hungry and ready to go home, when something caught his attention. The son bought several with his coins and went home. At least he wouldn’t go back to his father empty-handed.
The youngest son was also very puzzled over his father’s strange test. He walked around the marketplace all day, looking and looking. Once he stopped to help a lost little girl find her mother. Another time he helped an old woman load her donkey with bundles of firewood. He talked with the men and laughed with the children playing games. But his search for something useful that could fill his father’s house seemed in vain. He had just about given up finding anything, because it was getting dark and the market was closing.
I’ll try once more, he decided. And as he passed a small shop for the last time, he saw exactly what he needed! “Why didn’t I think of it before?” he said out loud. He spent his three small coins and carried his treasure home.
The next day, the three brothers again found themselves before their father, the king. Each was ready to show what he had bought with his coins.
The oldest son carried in a large, bulky bundle of straw. He scattered the straw across the floors in all the rooms of the king’s house. It smelled sweet and made a crunchy, swishy sound as all in the household went about their chores. But soon the children were playing in it, and it stuck to their hair and got in their clothes. Then the chickens came into the house to scratch in the straw and to make their nests. And the women in the king’s house complained that they could not keep the house clean and that they couldn’t find small things that were dropped.
The king frowned. He decided that the straw was too troublesome to really be useful.
The second son filled small bowls with burning sticks of incense. Carefully, he placed a bowl of the incense in various places in the house. Its sweet smell started drifting through the rooms, and the people stopped their work, trying to catch a whiff of it. But the delicate scent was soon gone with the gentle breeze that came through the open windows.
The king shook his head and decided that the incense did not fill his whole house long enough and that when they smelled it, people didn’t seem to want to do their work.
Finally the youngest son came in. In each room of the house he set out a candle and lit it. A soft, warm glow filled the corners and hallways. Everyone began chatting amiably as they busied themselves around the house, for the light had chased away the shadows. The children giggled and played, or practiced their lessons. Women sang while they did their housework and took care of the babies. And the men were able to do their work faster, and more safely too.
The old king sighed a happy sigh, and smiled with contentment. The new king would be his youngest son, who filled the castle with light and helped his people enjoy their labors.