The Besotted King

February 20, 2010

The Besotted King

There is an ancient tale about a powerful king who became infatuated with one of his slaves. Although such a mixing between castes was frowned upon, the king, who could do as he pleased, decreed that this woman be freed of her duties and given a large portion of the palace as her living quarters and immediately began making plans to marry the woman.

However, the plans were overshadowed by a mysterious illness that inflicted her soon after entering the palace. Despite the best efforts of the king’s personal doctors the illness grew worse. In desperation the king sent out a decree that the one who could cure this woman would receive anything they desired up to the value of half his kingdom.

A travelling hakim happened to be in the area. He heard of the king’s decree and decided to help. When brought before the king the hakim declared, “Your Majesty, I have no need of treasure, for the heavens above are my blanket and the people feed me as I feed them, but, God willing, I believe that I may be able to find a cure.”
With this he left and spoke with the young woman. Upon returning the hakim spoke once more to the king saying, “The illness is as simple to cure as it is deadly, and I am so confident I can help that if I fail I will gladly offer my head.”

The king was delighted at this news, but the sage continued. ”The cure will be a painful one,” he said.

“I would wish her no harm,” replied the king, “but if she is willing then do what you must.”

The hakim shook his head. “You fail to understand, your Majesty. The cure will not be painful for the woman, but for you. This woman is in love with one of your servants; by taking her into your care you have separated them. Give them your blessing to marry and she shall recover.”


One of the most trite and clichéd lines in the world is “If you love something, you have to be willing to let it go.” But, cliché alert, things get that way because there’s a kernel of truth to them.

Imagine you’re working for a human rights advocacy group, and this truly is your passion. You want nothing more than to see the world reconciled and for people all across the world to be treated with respect. You pour your life into it; you study and read up on the history of human rights theory; you work extra hours every week to ensure that cases are handled successfully. Now imagine that your firm hires someone to work under you who is truly gifted– an intellectual heavyweight. This person has a grasp of PR and can make a media darling of a case, but at the same time they can also work behind the scenes to ensure that everything goes off without a hitch. They’re great at mediation and masterful at the nitty gritty of legal statements. What’s the right thing to do in this case?

You know where I’m going with this, right?

Sometimes you have to hurt yourself in order for the thing you love to truly flower. This has implications in so many of our human pursuits, not just romantic love or human rights law. To be provocative, might it apply also to faith? Is there a point when fidelity to the letter of faith is a betrayal of the spirit of the faith? Are there moments when truly being faithful means betraying one’s faith? In The Fidelity of Betrayal Rollins talks about a Costa-Gavras film set during the Holocaust in which a Catholic priest struggles in vain against the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis. Unable to save anyone, the priest gives up his protection as a Catholic and takes the identity of a Jew, suffering with those who suffer.

Ruth Landegent once told me that instead of reporting the illegal immigrants she knew to the authorities she helped them get paperwork started so that they could become legal residents of Iowa. This is exactly what I’m talking about. This is the kind of betrayal that is truly faithful. This is the kind of love that is pleasing in the Lord’s sight.


One Response to “The Besotted King”

  1. Katie said

    This is a slight offshoot from the direction you’re going with this, but I felt a connection in the idea of letting go of something you’re “besotted” with. You know I want nothing more right now than to go back to Nizhni for as long as I can, and I’ve been setting up plans for it. But the fact is that at this point I don’t have the money, and I’m having to face the very real possibility that it might not happen. This has pushed me to the point where I have to be willing to let go of my plans – to still be passionate about it and plan for it, but be able to step back and say (with an ache in my chest), “If God doesn’t see fit to send me back this year, there’s certainly a reason, and life is going to work out okay in the big picture.”

    And would I even stop to think that if I DID have the money? Um…no, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t. But I should.

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