The Wise Woman’s Stone
The reading is a story called “The Wise Woman’s Stone,” author unknown .
A wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream. The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food. The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him. She did so without hesitation. The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime. But a few days later he came back to return the stone to the wise woman.
“I’ve been thinking,” he said, “I know how valuable the stone is, but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious. Give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me the stone.”
Have you ever wanted to be independently wealthy? So well off you didn’t have to work for a living? Boy, I have. Especially in my twenties when I was struggling to make ends meet. I wanted to have time to write, or at least to try, and instead I was spending all my time behind the counter at Burger King. I thought that if I had enough to live on without having to work, I could work at whatever I wanted—I could volunteer my time doing the things that most accorded with my values and my interests.
What if you were given a gift that would guarantee you would never have to work again? What if you met the wise woman on the road and she offered you the stone that was worth so much, you knew you could live well the rest of your life doing whatever you most wanted to do? Security for a lifetime. Wow. What a great gift!
This gift would be of great value. Can you imagine the value of this gift? Can you imagine giving it back? Yet the traveler in the story seeks the wise woman again in order to give back the stone, that extremely valuable stone that would give him freedom from toil and security for a lifetime. He gives it back because he wants something more valuable.
But what he asks for—can that be given? He wishes for what is inside the wise woman that enables her to give such a valuable gift. We don’t hear if he gets it or not. What do you think?
Notice he gives the stone back “in the hope that she can give him something more precious.” He doesn’t give it back conditionally; he doesn’t say he will give it back if she can give him something even more precious. No. He returns it, and then he asks if she can give him that other great gift. In doing so, he is well on the way to receiving it already. In giving up this great good without even knowing if the other good can be given, our traveler appears to know something about how to find this far more precious good. If he were to drive a hard bargain and only give it back if he could be assured of getting the other, do you think he would ever get it?
He knows the value of the stone when he sees it. But he knows the far greater value of that intangible quality of giving when he reflects on it. He might rather be poor and able to give what he has than wealthy and afraid to part with his security.
For that’s what he’s giving up—his security. Security for a lifetime. His retirement fund. It’s perfectly natural to not want to give that up. We need to make sure we have enough to live on. But how much is enough?
Shall we name this great gift our traveler is asking for? Shall we call it generosity? That word doesn’t almost seem enough. I looked in the thesaurus and found generosity listed under liberality. We call ourselves religious liberals. You know what the thesaurus lists under liberal? “Free, generous, charitable, hospitable; bountiful, bounteous, ample, handsome; unsparing, ungrudging; unselfish; open-handed, large-hearted.” And as a verb to be liberal it lists “spend freely; shower down upon, spare no expense, give with both hands; keep open house.”
This church is a home of liberal religion. But is this liberal religious institution truly liberal? Do we give with both hands, do we keep open house? Are we open-handed and large-hearted? Isn’t this what we strive to be? Isn’t this precisely what we gather together for, what we hope to learn from each other?
And it is from each other that we will learn it. We are the wise woman, as well as the traveler. We seek what we each contain within us. We seek what is within those we are in fellowship with. We find it, we learn it, by seeing examples of it. We find it, we learn it, by being examples of it.
The wise woman has given this great gift by her example. By doing it she is giving it. By giving the gift of the stone, knowing its value, she is giving the other far more precious gift as well, to those who have the ability to see it as something other than foolishness. The traveler saw it, and that’s why he came back to return the stone. He saw it, and he valued it more than his security, more than his material well-being. And in giving back the stone, he already received the other gift he was asking for. He was giving it too.
I’d like to share with you another story of generosity, of liberality; another story of people who are unsparing, ungrudging; unselfish, charitable, bounteous, open-handed and large-hearted. People just like us.
It’s called “The Rich Family in Our Church,” by Eddie Ogan.
I’ll never forget Easter 1946. I was 14, my little sister, Amy, 12, and my older sister, Darlene, 16. We lived at home with our mother, and the four of us knew what it was to do without many things.
My dad had died 5 years before, leaving Mom with seven school kids to raise and no money. By 1946 my older sisters were married, and my brothers had left home.
A month before Easter, the pastor of our church announced that a special Easter offering would be taken to help a poor family. He asked everyone to save and give sacrificially.
When we got home, we talked about what we could do. We decided to buy 50 pounds of potatoes and live on them for a month. This would allow us to save $20 of our grocery money for the offering.
When we thought that if we kept our electric lights turned out as much as possible and didn’t listen to the radio, we’d save money on that month’s electric bill. Darlene got as many house and yard cleaning jobs as possible, and both of us babysat for everyone we could. For 15 cents, we could buy enough cotton loops to make three pot holders to sell for $1. We made $20 on pot holders.
That month was one of the best of our lives. Every day we counted the money to see how much we had saved. At night we’d sit in the dark and talk about how the poor family was going to enjoy having the money the church would give them. We had about 80 people in church, so we figured that whatever amount of money we had to give, the offering would surely be 20 times that much. After all, every Sunday the Pastor had reminded everyone to save for the sacrificial offering.
The day before Easter, Amy and I walked to the grocery store and got the manager to give us three crisp $20 bills and one $10 bill for all our change. We ran all the way home to show Mom and Darlene. We had never had so much money before. That night we were so excited we could hardly sleep. We didn’t care that we wouldn’t have new clothes for Easter; we had $70 for the sacrificial offering. We could hardly wait to get to church!
On Sunday morning, rain was pouring. We didn’t own an umbrella, and the church was over a mile from our home, but it didn’t seem to matter how wet we got. Darlene had cardboard in her shoes to fill the holes. The cardboard came apart, and her feet got wet. But we sat in church proudly. I heard some teenagers talking about the Smith girls having on their old dresses. I looked at them in their new clothes, and I felt so rich.
When the sacrificial offering was taken, we were sitting on the second row from the front. Mom put in the $10 bill, and each of us girls put in a $20. As we walked home after church, we sang all the way. At lunch Mom had a surprise for us. She had bought a dozen eggs, and we had boiled Easter eggs with our fried potatoes!
Late that afternoon the minister drove up in his car. Mom went to the door, talked with him for a moment, and then came back with an envelope in her hand. We asked what it was, but she didn’t say a word. She opened the envelope and out fell a bunch of money. There were three crisp $20 bills, one $10 bill and seventeen $1 bills.
Mom put the money back in the envelope. We didn’t talk, just sat and stared at the floor. We had gone from feeling like millionaires to feeling like poor white trash.
We kids had had such a happy life that we felt sorry for anyone who didn’t have our mom and dad for parents and a house full of brothers and sisters and other kids visiting constantly. We thought it was fun to share silverware and see whether we got the fork or the spoon that night. We had two knives which we passed around to whoever needed them.
I knew we didn’t have a lot of things that other people had, but I’d never thought we were poor. That Easter Day I found out we were. The minister had brought us the money for the poor family, so we must be poor.
I didn’t like being poor. I looked at my dress and worn?out shoes and felt so ashamed that I didn’t want to go back to church. Everyone there probably already knew we were poor! I thought about school. I was in the ninth grade and at the top of my class of over 100 students. I wondered if the kids at school knew we were poor. I decided I could quit school since I had finished the eighth grade. That was all the law required at that time.
We sat in silence for a long time. Then it got dark, and we went to bed. All that week, we girls went to school and came home, and no one talked much. Finally on Saturday, Mom asked us what we wanted to do with the money. What did poor people do with money? We didn’t know.
We’d never known we were poor. We didn’t want to go to church on Sunday, but Mom said we had to. Although it was a sunny day, we didn’t talk on the way. Mom started to sing, but no one joined in and she only sang one verse.
At church we had a missionary speaker. He talked about how churches in Africa made buildings out of sun?dried bricks, but they need money to buy roofs. He said $100 would put a roof on a church. The minister said, “Can’t we all sacrifice to help these poor people?”
We looked at each other and smiled for the first time in a week. Mom reached into her purse and pulled out the envelope. She passed it to Darlene. Darlene gave it to me, and I handed it to Amy. Amy put it in the offering.
When the offering was counted, the minister announced that it was a little over $100. The missionary was excited. He hadn’t expected such a large offering from our small church. He said, “You must have some rich people in this church.”
Suddenly it struck us! We had given $87 of that “little over $100.” We were the rich family in the church! Hadn’t the missionary said so?
We can all be the rich family in our church. We can all be the wise woman giving the precious stone. We all are already rich indeed. We all have that power inside us that the traveler was seeking. That quality within that is so much more precious than any diamond or any other material thing we can possess, including even our material security. We all have the power, the potential to be generous, liberal, open-handed, but this quality only shows itself when we use it. This great gift that we are all blessed with only exists when we let our open hearts overflow out into our open hands and offer what we have to others. But when we use this gift of ours to give, we are giving far more than the material gifts that are the currency. We are giving far more than the wise woman’s stone. We are giving that which the traveler came back to ask for, that gift of the heart that provides far more than material needs. May we all exercise such loving giving in our lives and may it enrich our souls and our world.