In the Far East the emperor was growing old and knew it was time to choose his successor. Instead of choosing one of his assistants or his children, he decided to do something different. He called young people in the kingdom together one day. He said, “”It is time for me to step down and choose the next emperor. I have decided to choose one of you.” The children were shocked, but the emperor continued. “I am going to give each one of you a seed today–one very special seed. I want you to plant the seed, water it, and come back here one year from today with what you have grown from this one seed. I will then judge the plants that you bring, and the one I choose will be the next emperor.”
One boy, named Ling, was there that day and he, like the others, received a seed. He went home and excitedly, told his mother the story. She helped him get a pot and planting soil, and he planted the seed and watered it, carefully. Everyday, he would water it and watch to see if it had grown. After about three weeks, some of the other youths began to talk about their seeds and the plants that were beginning to grow. Ling kept checking his seed, but nothing ever grew. Three weeks, four weeks, five weeks went by, still nothing. By now, others were talking about their plants, but Ling didn’t have a plant and he felt like a failure. Six months went by–still nothing in Ling’s pot.
He just knew he had killed his seed. Everyone else had trees and tall plants, but he had nothing. Ling didn’t say anything to his friends, however. He just kept waiting for his seed to grow. A year finally went by and all the youths of the kingdom brought their plants to the emperor for inspection. Ling told his mother that he wasn’t going to take an empty pot. But his mother asked him to be honest about what happened.
Ling felt sick at his stomach, but he knew his mother was right. He took his empty pot to the palace. When Ling arrived, he was amazed at the variety of plants grown by the other youths. They were beautiful–in all shapes and sizes. Ling put his empty pot on the floor and many of the other children laughed at him. A few felt sorry for him and just said, “Hey, nice try.”
When the emperor arrived, he surveyed the room and greeted the young people. Ling just tried to hide in the back. “My, what great plants, trees, and flowers you have grown,” said the emperor. “Today one of you will be appointed the next emperor!”
All of a sudden, the emperor spotted Ling at the back of the room with his empty pot. He ordered his guards to bring him to the front. Ling was terrified. He thought, “The emperor knows I’m a failure! Maybe he will have me killed!”
When Ling got to the front, the Emperor asked his name. “My name is Ling,” he replied. All the kids were laughing and making fun of him. The emperor asked everyone to quiet down. He looked at Ling, and then announced to the crowd, “Behold your new emperor! His name is Ling!”
Ling couldn’t believe it. Ling couldn’t even grow his seed. How could he be the new emperor?
Then the emperor said, “One year ago today, I gave everyone here a seed. I told you to take the seed, plant it, water it, and bring it back to me today. But I gave you all boiled seeds that would not grow. All of you, except Ling, have brought me trees and plants and flowers. When you found that the seed would not grow, you substituted another seed for the one I gave you. Ling was the only one with the courage and honesty to bring me a pot with my seed in it. Therefore, he is the one who will be the new emperor!”
Jesus said, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” You are witnesses. You are the ones who proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins.
The Apostle Paul said to Timothy in his second later, “Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.”
You are witnesses to that proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins and you are to guard this treasure that has been entrusted – that has been planted – in you. Question: How’s that working out? Are you guarding what God has planted in you or have you substituted it with something else?
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. On the sixth day of creation “God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.’” From this we have the Latin phrase that refers to humankind, Imago Dei, Image of God. That in itself should be enough to keep us near to God, constantly seeking His face and His will. However, I recently came across another Latin phrase that raised the bar considerably.
St. Ignatius of Antioch: his death is placed somewhere between the year 98 and 117. Legend holds that he was one of the children blessed by Jesus and the 4th century historian Eusebius records that he was a student of the Apostle John and later became the third bishop of Antioch; Peter was the first.
Toward the end of his life there began, under the Emperor Trajan, another persecution of Christians and eventually Ignatius would be arrested and transported to Rome for trial. Along the way, he wrote seven letters that we still have today. He signed the letters, Ignatius Theophorus. Theophorus – God-bearer. Ignatius, one who carries God within himself.
St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” Christ lives – notice, that’s not in the past tense – Christ lives in me. Through our baptism, Christ also lives in us.
We are Imago Dei, in the image of God; but we are also Theophorus, God bearers, for God lives in us. We are all Theophorus, God-bearers.
Back to the question: How’s that working out? Are you guarding what God has planted in you, Himself – Christ. Are you bearing Him or have you substituted Him with something else?
Jesus calls us to be witnesses of the truth, repentance and the forgiveness of sins, but if something else has taken root in our souls, then we are no longer witnesses to that truth. Instead, we are witnesses to something foreign and of our own creation and it is not of the One True God.
Did you know that in the world today, it is estimated that there are approximately 41,000 different Christian denominations: Catholic, Episcopal, Baptist, etc.? 41,000! Did you know that it is estimated that the number increases by about 270 every year? About 5 new denominations every week.
One of those fun cartoons made the rounds awhile back: a pastor has made a diagram. It looks a bit like a family tree of all the denominations. Starts out with one church on the far left and on the far right is this string of various denominations. One of them is circled in red, and pointing at the one the pastor declares, “And this is where our movement came along and finally go the Bible right.” One of the students shouts with joy, “Jesus is so lucky to have us!”
Remember the day that Ling showed up before the Emperor. All the pots with trees, plants, and flowers that had been grown; however, there was only one that was of the Emperor. Only one was bearing, was witness to the truth. 41,000 denominations. Five new every week. Do they all bear the Truth?
We are the Episcopal Church. “Jesus is so lucky to have us!” We are the Episcopal Church and we’ve got more problems than Oklahoma has earthquakes, but that doesn’t mean that we as individuals aren’t called to be witnesses to the Truth.
St. Josemaría Escrivá wrote, ”One ought to be able to apply to every Christian the name that was used in the early ages: Theophorus, Bearer of God. Your actions should be such that you really deserve to be called by that wonderful name.”
There are thousands upon thousands of books and pages that have been written as to what the Truth of Jesus truly is; however, the message is not that difficult. A child can be a witness to it and proclaim it: “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
This is what we as individuals and the Church are called to be witnesses to. This is the message of the one in whose image we are made and whom we bear in ourselves.
As you go from here to there – wherever “there” may be – allow that Truth to be what flourishes in you. In doing so, you will be a faithful witness to Jesus and you will bear Him into the world that needs this Truth. That needs Him.