The Payoff

March 8, 2010

The Payoff

Once there was an old and learned priest who worked tirelessly in the streets of a city nestled deep in the heart of an empire ruled over by an elderly king. This priest was greatly respected by all the people and would constantly be approached by those who needed help in all manner of issues.

The king of this vast empire had a young sun who grew up hating the church. He was disgusted by what he perceived to be its hypocrisy and deception. Because of this deep hatred the young prince would often oversee the imprisonment of church leaders and order the break-up of religious gatherings. But his actions betrayed a deep jealously. Indeed he particularly disliked the fact that there was a priest who received the people’s respect that he believed was rightly due to him.

Why should the people be so deceived by this old fool? thought the prince. He is like so many of his type: a coldhearted liar who sells the people lies in order to live.

The prince harbored a burning desire to put an stop to the priest’s work, but he did not want to garner the hatred of the people. So he carefully devised a plan that he believed would expose the hypocrisy of the priest to everyone in the empire once and for all.

He is a poor man, thought the prince. I will offer him a great sum of money in exchange for a public confession concerning his hypocrisy and the hypocrisy of his church.

So late one evening, under the cover of darkness, the prince visited the priest and, upon entering his home, said, “I have the power to reach every person in this kingdom through the printed press. For 10,000 rupees would you write a letter to be dispersed throughout the kingdom, in telegrams and newspapers, informing people that you are nothing but a liar and a hypocrite?”

The priest was indeed a poor man who had been born into poverty and had known nothing but need all his life. He thought carefully for a few minutes before finally responding.

“I will do as you ask, but only under three conditions.”

“What are your conditions?” replied the prince.

“First, if I do this you must leave me and my church alone.”

“Yes,” said the prince.

“Second, you must release those brothers and sisters of mine who are innocent of any crime.”

“It will be done,” replied the prince. “And the third stipulation?”

“Well,” said the priest after a great deal of though, “10,000 rupees is a great deal of money, and I am but a poor man. You will have to give me time to raise it.”

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In this story power meets weakness and is undone by it.

The prince is the very embodiment of power. He’s the next in line to the throne, and he can have people jailed at his every whim. But more than just power, he wants adoration, admiration, and love from his subjects. He’s jealous of the priest, because the priest has what the prince has not. But the prince doesn’t understand something that the priest does: it is easier to love someone who is an equal.

The priest does not set himself above the people he serves, because the priest understands that he is not the point. He is trying to clue people in to something beyond himself, and so when given the opportunity to “expose” himself, the priest jumps at it, because he does not want to be worshipped. In order to avoid this fate– being worshipped– so that he can instead point to the light illuminating his own life, the priest takes the prince’s offer as a good thing, only protesting that he needs a bit of time to make it a reality.

Power clashes with weakness and loses. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

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