The Poor Man and the Rich Man is a tale about the Lord visiting both a poor man and a rich man. Each of the men get their reward for what they offered. It’s a morality tale that has deep roots in the biblical parable of the rich man who wanted to follow Christ, but could not give up all his Earthly possessions.
Once upon a time the Lord was traveling and could not get back home before it was dark. He came to tow houses. One was large and owned by a rich man and the other was small and owned by a poor man. The lord figured that he could pass the night at the rich man’s house, as it would not be much of a burden to the rich man. He knocked on the door and inquired if he could pass the night there. The rich man observed the Lord’s shabby clothes and decided that he did not want this poor man staying the night in his home. The rich man told the Lord that he couldn’t let every beggar who passed by his house spend the night or he would soon be begging himself.
The Lord turned away and went to the poor man’s house. The poor man opened the door right way and insisted that the Lord pass the night in his home. The man had a wife, they did not have much, but they shared what they had with the Lord. The food was course, but the couple shared it freely. When it was time for bed, the husband and wife insisted that the Lord take their bed and they would sleep on straw. The Lord didn’t want to take their bed, but they insisted. The Lord spent the night at the home of the poor man. In the morning, they had a meager breakfast, freely shared with the Lord.
The Lord offered the poor man three wishes before he left. The poor man did not know what to wish for. He finally said, “What else should I wish for but eternal happiness, and that we two, as long as we live, may be healthy and have every day our daily bread; for the third wish, I do not know what to have.” The lord suggested that the man might want a new house. The poor man said that it would be nice to have that. The Lord left and the couple was soon surprised to see a brand new house where their old house once stood.
The rich man happened to look out his window and see a brand new house where his poor neighbor’s house had once been. He asked his wife how this happened. She decided to find out and went to the poor neighbor’s house to inquire. The wife came back and told her husband how the poor man had gotten his house. He knew this was the man he had turned away in the night. He soon got on his horse and raced after the man.
The rich man soon caught up with the Lord and asked his forgiveness. He told him he had been looking for his door key and in the meantime the stranger had gone away. He told the Lord that if he ever passed this way again, he must spend the night there. The Lord agreed that he would do so. The rich man asked for three wishes as well. The Lord cautioned him that he could not wish for anything that would benefit him and it would be better if he did not wish at all, but the rich man thought there was something he could wish for that would raise his position.
The man was on his way home when he let the bridle fall. The horse began to get a little rowdy at this. The man got angry at his horse and said that he wished her neck was broken. Immediately the horse fell down dead. This was the man’s first wish. Being miserly, he cut the saddle off of the horse and carried it on his back. He thought of what to wish for with his remaining two wishes. He thought that if he wished for all the riches in the world, he would still later wish for something better.
He mused that if he were a Bavarian peasant all he would wish for would be a great deal of beer, as much beer as he could drink, and lastly, a barrel of beer. He pondered. For a while, he thought and thought. At times, he thought he had found his answer, but it just wasn’t as awesome as it should be.
The saddle was heavy as the man walked along. He started thinking about his wife. He thought that all she had to do all day was sit in a cool room and enjoy herself. He wished that his wife was sitting in that cool room, on the saddle he was carrying on his back instead of him having to drag it everywhere. The saddle disappeared and that was his second wish. The man realized that he had just used his second wish and was worried. He frantically wanted to be alone to think of a third wish.
He rushed home, intending to sit in a quiet room and think for himself, but when he got there, he found his wife on his saddle. She could not get off. The man told her to deal with it because he was going to wish for all the wishes in the world. The wife, understandably, became angry. She said all the riches in the world wouldn’t do her any good if she had to stay on the saddle. The man had to wish that his wife was no longer on the saddle. That was the final wish.
The rich man gained nothing for his wishes, but the poor man lived contentedly until their deaths.
I don’t know why the Lord is constrained by darkness. I’m pretty sure he made the sun and can make it light whenever in the heck he wants to. And God said, Let’ there be light. God deemed the light good. It’s interesting this idea of turning a deity into a more human figure. Some people are so strictly God-is-divine, while others have this sense that God is more human than we give him credit for. I like to be in the area that says God is divine, but perhaps, he was at one time just like us.
This story is firmly rooted in a biblical parable. In the New Testament, a rich man wants to follow Christ. Christ tells him do this, this and this, and also, give up all your possessions. The rich man could not bear to part with his possessions. Afterwards, we end up with the saying how it is easier to a camel to enter through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Back in the day, art, theater, and music, revolved around religion. Your entertainment and religion were one in the same. This story was meant for entertainment, but it was also religious, because that’s just how the European world worked at that point in time. If you get all into the history of theater, you will find that theater has many of its roots in something called a “passion play.” It was for entertainment, but the nature of the play was highly religious. At one point, everything you did, was centered around your religious practice. This story is just one example of that.
Not that there weren’t still brothels and saucy puppet shows around…
I already mentioned the parable of the rich man from the Bible. This tale is essentially that parable, but with some added features. This story was intended for those just a little more crass that your average Bible enthusiast. There is no way Christ would ever have some man’s wife on a saddle that she couldn’t get off of, but your Average Joe, totally would. So this story is religious, but not too religious.
Of course, we have the idea of three in this story. I don’t recall God ever granting wishes from my studies of the scriptures, but he did answer prayers. Are they the same thing? That would be a very fine point to argue, but as I am not a religious scholar, I am not going to attempt the argument. Three wishes does sound more like something a genie would do.
The poor man didn’t have much of anything, but he shared what he had. The rich man valued what he had so much, that he didn’t want to share. The poor man valued people, while the rich man valued only things. We know this isn’t true in every way. We know rich people, like Bill Gates, give lots and lots of money to charities. We know poor people who give money to charities as well. We also know some more destitute people who are rather selfish with what they do have.
I come from a poor family. I, myself, am comfortable, but wouldn’t consider myself rich by any means. My poor family is quite generous. If they have it, and they aren’t using it, you are welcome to it, for free. If they’re eating food and you show up, you’re welcome to stay. It doesn’t matter how little there is. That’s just how my family works. I know other people, who have more, but will not give it to you. If it belongs to them and they aren’t using it, they still want it, but they might offer to sell it to you. I guess there is nothing inherently wrong with trying to make a little extra money, but I just don’t see the point in forever keeping something that you’re not using.
It’s all about your attitude. It doesn’t actually matter if you are poor or rich. It matters how you see other people and value them. You could be rich and be just as generous as the poor man in this tale or your could be poor and be just as stingy as the rich man in this tale. We have these black and white examples because it’s easier for people to learn with just two options. Black or white. Hot or cold. Right or wrong. Fun or boring. We know there are more choices than just two choices in the world, but we do learn better when there are only two options. That’s why there wasn’t a third man in this tale who was of the middle class, or homeless for that matter. There also wasn’t that much of a middle class back in the day.
That poor man asking for change on the side of the road, could be the Lord in disguise. Are you going to be generous or stingy?