Lesson of the Figs (A Tale of Ancient Rome)

By Amy Friedman and Meredith Johnson
Once upon a time, the emperor of
Rome was touring the land of
Israel. He was walking among the
orchards of Tiberius when he
came upon a sight that took his
breath away. There was an
orchard thick with fig trees, but at
the very edge stood an old man
with a long white beard who was
hard at work under the hot sun.
He was digging hole after hole,
planting young saplings.
The emperor ordered his men to
ride close. When they were near,
he called out to the man. “You,
graybeard! What are you doing?
Surely you did not spend the days
of your youth working hard only
so that you might work this hard
in old age.”
The old man smiled and stopped
his work to walk toward the
emperor. He bowed to show his
respect, but he shook his head.
“You do not understand, sir,” he
said. “I do not mind working in
old age. As long as I am strong
enough to work, I consider it an
honor.”
The emperor was surprised to
hear this, as so many men
complained. But surely this man
did not expect to reap any
rewards. “You won’t eat the fruits
of your labor,” the emperor said.
“By the time these trees bear fruit,
surely you will be long gone from
this earth.”
Again the old man smiled. “That
may be true, for we all are in
God’s hands, young and old. If it
be God’s will, I might enjoy the
figs I am planting. We cannot
know.”
The emperor was impressed by the
man, and he asked how old he
was. When the old man told him,
he was once again shocked.
“Today is my birthday,” the old
man said. “I am 100 years old this
very day.”
The emperor could not help
himself. He burst out laughing.
“One hundred years old? Why
would you work so hard for such a
slim chance at being able to taste
these fruits?”
But the old man patiently
explained that he was not working
in vain. “Didn’t my ancestors
work for me?” he asked. “All the
trees of these orchards were
planted by my ancestors, and now
I work for future generations.”
The emperor was so impressed by
the old man’s goodness that he
hoped he would see him again one
day. So he said, “Dear old man, if
you live long enough to eat these
fruits, make sure to let me know.”
And with those words, he and his
entourage rode on.
Many years passed. The saplings
grew and blossomed and
thousands of ripe, juicy figs grew
from their branches. The old man
lived and enjoyed the taste of
those very fruits. And so one day
he decided he must keep his
promise to the emperor. He filled
a basket with some of the finest
figs and set off for the Roman
capital.
When he reached the palace, the
guards turned him away. After all,
he was just a dusty old man; he
couldn’t possibly have business
with their emperor. But the old
man would not move. He stayed
until one of the emperor’s wise
men saw him standing there. He
recognized the old man, and he
sent him on to the emperor.
At first, when the old man
appeared before the emperor, he
had no idea who he was. But the
old man bowed and said, “You
don’t remember me? Many years
ago, you asked me why I worked
so hard. So I have traveled all
these miles to share the fruits of
my labor with you. I believe if you
do, you’ll understand.”
Suddenly the emperor
remembered that day in the
orchards of Tiberius. He could not
believe his eyes and ears. He
counted backward, 101, 102 and
so on. The emperor realized that
the man must be 112, and here he
was offering a basket of figs.
The emperor quickly called his
servants to bring a chair to the
old man, and he invited his guest
to sit. Then he told his guards to
empty the basket of figs and fill it
with gold.
The ministers were furious. Why
would their emperor bestow such
an honor on an old, dusty man?
The emperor explained, “If the
Creator has granted this man so
many years of life, he is deserving
of much more. He deserves our
honor and our praise. Let his hard
work be a lesson to us all. Hard
work does reap its own rewards.”
The emperor passed the figs
around. Everyone agreed that they
had never tasted figs so sweet, figs
planted with love and kindness.

One Comment

  1. Temi Badmus Badmus TemiloluwaAuthor April 7, 2016 Reply

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