There is a legend about a very wise king who decided to build a highway from one end of his kingdom to the other. Everyone approved of the king’s plans, and watched with anticipation as road crews went to work. This highway would be the pride of all who lived there. It would be used by soldier and monk, royalty and pauper, citizen and sojourner alike, and all who traveled it would bless the king for the ease with which they covered the hilly terrain. Merchants with caravans passing through the kingdom would gladly pay the toll the king required, for not only would their passage be safe and pleasant, their animals would be spared the strain and injury they often sustained along the way. The king’s subjects noted progress with great interest, and their excitement grew as the project neared completion.
When the day finally came to open the road, the king announced that there would be a contest to see who could travel the road the best. A valuable prize awaited the winner. The whole kingdom was ablaze with chatter as people wondered what the prize might be and how they could win it. Some wasted no time bringing out their finest chariots and horses, with silver buckles and leather buffed to a fine sheen. Others rode proudly on horseback, in the uniform of their occupation. Some of noble station rode in gilded litters lifted onto the shoulders of strong men, preceded by trumpeters whose fanfare announced to everyone the importance of their cargo. Young men ran as if the contest were a race, and women danced with tambourines, hoping that grace alone would be the mark of excellence by which the king would judge.
That grand opening day was not without a problem, however. As people came to the end of the road to greet the king, they each complained that the road was not completed! Near the end was a huge pile of stones and debris that the road crew had neglected to clean up. The larger chariots and wagons actually had to veer off the road to go around it. To each the king offered his sincere apology, and the promise that this would be corrected soon. Finally, at the end of the day, one man came to the finish line, tattered and filthy and out of breath. "I’m sorry to be so late, Your Majesty," the man said, "but toward the end I found a pile of stones in the way. I stopped to move them to the side. Within the pile, I found this, which must belong to you." The man held out a large bag of gold coins. "I suppose it was intended to pay the workers who built the highway."
"The gold is yours," replied the king. "You have won the prize. For he travels best who makes the road better for those who follow."
We all travel this same road, conscious or not of what prize might await us. Our wise friends remind us that the journey is as important as the destination. "Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God" (Heb 13:16). Our character is measured by what we give, not by what we acquire. Some pick flowers along the way; others plant them. As Christ, by his good deeds, prepared the way for us, so by our deeds may we remove all obstacles for those who follow.
The Rev. Brian Dale is the pastor of Allen Memorial Methodist Church in Oxford.