Long ago there lived a few saints in a hermitage at the outskirts of a jungle valley. Here blew the zephyr of ceaseless peace. The saints ate the fruit of the trees and drank the living water of the sparkling mountain springs. Joy throbbed in their bosoms and their eyes glittered with celestial smiles.
And yet, one day, one of the saints, who thought he had enjoyed too much spiritual happiness, decided he wanted a taste of kingly happiness. With this desire in his heart, he left the peaceful nook of the hermitage and set out in quest of regal happiness. On the way he thought: “Heavenly Father, I am Thy child. Surely Thou wilt guide me to the place where I can enjoy kingly happiness for a day.”
As he walked some distance from the hermitage, his eyes fell upon a palatial mansion. “Ah, I see the Heavenly Father has made my dream come true!” he exclaimed. The saint passed through the gates without being stopped by any of the guards. He then walked all around the beautiful, flower-bedecked garden and met no one. Upon entering the palace dining room, he found steaming hot, delicious food awaiting him at the table, but not a trace of any servants.
Encouraged by this inviting array of food, he thought: “The Lord is good to me. He has materialized this palace and wonderful food fit for a king just for me. It is just as I wanted.” Being thus convinced, he took his bath in the royal bathroom, dressed, and sat down to eat.
Just then, the palace servants, who had been gambling, rushed in. Seeing the saint seated at the table, they shouted: “Who are you, and why are you eating the food of our king who is out hunting and expected to arrive any minute?” The saint, thinking that their reaction was a test of the Lord, replied in a calm, loving tone: “I am a friend of the Great King. I have come here at His command to enjoy royal happiness for a day.”
The servants thought that the saint meant he was the guest of their king. So they let him finish the royal dinner and allowed him to sleep in the royal chamber. They did not understand that by “the Great King,” the saint was referring to God, not their earthly king.
Two hours later, a herald arrived with a message from the king, stating that he was detained and would arrive in three hours and would like to have steaming hot food prepared. The servants anxiously asked: “Didn’t his highness send a guest to enjoy his dinner and bed?”
The king’s herald was enraged to learn that a beggar had devoured the king’s food and was now audaciously snoring on the royal bed. He urged the servants to go and get sticks and staves with which to rout the beggar. The saint was thus awakened from his dream of royal happiness by sticks and staves mercilessly falling upon him. But the more the servants beat him, the more he laughed. Furious at his unceasing laughter, the servants flogged him into unconsciousness and threw him beyond the palace gates.
A brother saint found him and took him to the hermitage, where they forced milk into his mouth. He asked: “Do you know who is feeding you milk?” The battered saint replied laughingly: “The same God who beat me for trying to be a king for a day—that same God is feeding me milk.”
The other hermits were glad to find their brother saint’s faith in God unchanged. He thus showed that he was unlike those who worship God during prosperity but disbelieve in God during adversity.
When the king of the palace returned, he was very angry to learn of the beggar who had eaten his food and laughed while being beaten. But the strangeness of the story intrigued him and he ordered his servants to find this audacious beggar. The servants searched for many hours and were returning home in despair when they galloped past the saint’s hermitage and heard his loud laughter. They dismounted, seized the saint, and took him before the king.
When the king and the saint met, the saint began to laugh louder than ever. Under threat of death, the king asked the saint repeatedly why he had laughed while being beaten, but the saint did not answer. When threats of death failed, the king pleaded with the saint to respond, but still he refused. Driven mad by curiosity, the king offered his throne to the saint if he would only explain his laughter while being beaten.
Seeing the king humbled, the saint replied: “God thrashed me for craving the delusive enjoyment of kingly material comfort for a day, but I laughed because I realized that I ‘got off easy.’
“I thought: ‘If I merit such a beating because I forgot God briefly while indulging in kingly material happiness, just think of how many more beatings are coming to that king who has indulged for years.’
“No, thank you. You may keep your throne. I would not be king, for I have ever-fresh happiness in God, which does not end with beatings, threats of death, or the lashings of material adversities.”