From the Hebrew Scriptures I have been reading the Book of Proverbs lately, more so than since my childhood. The Proverbs, credited largely to King Solomon of ancient times, were often assigned as bed-time reading for me and my siblings. Returning to them now, returns me to my youth and some of the basic lessons I was taught.
For example, I’ve noted of late how often the issue of honesty bleeds onto the page. Solomon and his peers speak unyieldingly of “false witnesses, crooked ways, lying lips, and evil-plotting hearts.” Such behaviors are “detested by God” the text says. We once detested dishonesty too. Crooks, liars, and scoundrels were shamed, pointed to as corrective examples, as we were confidently told: “Cheaters never win and winners never cheat.” What a naive, gullible collusion today!
Especially when politicians spew more lies than any counter can properly catalogue, millionaires routinely buy/bribe college placement in Ivy League institutions for their spoiled children, and the selling out of integrity is as common for some as rising from their beds in the morning. Yet, the lament over rampant dishonesty is not the only word from the Jewish prophets and sages. “Be certain that your sin will find you out” (the pervasiveness of deceit qualifies as “sin,” antiquated or not) the Book of Moses warns. And the Apostle Paul said, “You cannot mock the justice of God. You will always reap what you sow.”
To that point, there was once a great king with no heir, so he decided to pick a child from his kingdom to be his successor. Hundreds of the brightest children were summoned to the palace where he gave them all a seed. They were instructed to go home, plant the seed in a flower pot, and tend it for a year. The Emperor would then judge their efforts and choose his successor.
The children did as they were told, and when they returned to the palace a year later, it was like a botanical garden! The flower pots were bursting with lush, green, flourishing plants. All that is, except for one little boy who carried only a bucket of dirt.
The king inspected the children’s work and said, “Clearly, all of you want desperately to be king, but only one of you is worthy.” He called the little boy forward with the empty pot and continued: “When I gave you those seeds a year ago, they had been poisoned so they could never grow. Yet, I see all these plants – obviously from seeds you planted – and only one barren pot. The only worthy heir is the one who held to his integrity no matter what everyone else was doing.”
Is such a children’s story what we need to read these days? I think so. For in the proverbs and stories of our childhood we were once taught this truth, and we fail to remember it at our own peril: It is never wrong to do the right thing.