Monday, January 5, 2009

The Master’s Estate

In a time long ago, when lords were as powerful on their own lands as kings were in their kingdom, a lord left his one of his estates in the hands of a steward while he himself departed to attend the court of the king.

While some questioned the wisdom of the lord’s absence, the lord himself was content to leave the management and expansion of his estates in the hands of his tenants. From these he picked particular ones who were told off as stewards and overseers. Faithful service was often rewarded by a promotion of responsibilities, and as is human nature, some coveted the position but not the burden, others shouldered the burden without aspiring to the position, while many eschewed the appearance of burdens altogether. To keep himself informed of his affairs, the lord appointed a scribe who remained detached and disinterested and whose sole work was to keep an account of the day to day doings of the tenants and their overseer.

The overseer of this particular estate was a man faithful and courageous, who saw his task as his special duty, and he bore the burden with a deep sense of responsibility, oft times with toil and tears, shudderings, and a healthy fear of his master’s return. He knew he would be called in question for every deed done beneath his care.

The tenants went about their daily business, providing for themselves and their families. Strictly, they were not to leave the estate without the master’s express command to do so, but many thought light of it, and the discontents came and went, grumbling at the heavy hand of the conscientious overseer, or fighting amongst themselves. In vain the overseer remonstrated with such. He had to admit to himself that the estate was better off without dissentious, discontented tenants, but his heart ached to see them go. He knew that no master could be better than theirs, and with pain he watched them go where the oversight was lighter, but the aloof master was uncaring and unforgiving.

There were many tenants. There were those that were faithful and strove to daily improve their service for their master, there were those that did enough good as was convenient, and those that thought of little but what was good for themselves. Some excelled and were promoted to other estates of their master, and at times some were sent away in disgrace, though that was rare. Wayward tenants often left of their own accord.

There was one tenant, a poor man with a wife and children, who laboured to be faithful. This man, our friend, did not seek to rule over others, for he was a humble man, but he longed that his service might be of the measure that would give his master delight, and he longed to be worthy to do greater deeds for his lord. He was very aware of the maxim, “He that is faithful in little will also be faithful in much.” With this proverb always before him, he, with his good wife beside him, strove to be faithful in all things, with a conscientious attention to detail. Over time, this man watched many others gain promotion, attain greater responsibility, and achieve great things for the master, while he himself remained, faithful, but stationary, tilling the same field morn and night, returning to the same little cottage for his rest and meals. He, like his overseer, had an urgency driven by the expectancy of his lord’s return and the opening of the books so carefully kept by the scribe, and he strove to be in every way pleasing.

After many years, the master sent a courier to announce his imminent return. He was due the day following, and all were to appear at the manor and present themselves in the great hall.
The set day arrived, and the tenants crowded about the manor, waiting to be let in. None had seen the long awaited master. Some murmured that he had not come. Others were confident he would keep his word and was now within the hall, shortly to command the opening of the doors. Some of the tenants were trembling and eager, others outwardly confident, but inwardly quailing, some were reasoning there was no cause to fear, others justifying their neglect, and some were openly cowering.

The great doors were opened, and the tenants were bidden to enter. The tenants now became three distinct groups. There were those who hung back, wanting to escape notice, willing to merely slink into the back of the hall. There were those who hesitated, fearing the calling of the accounts, hoping they had done well, done enough to gain approval, but apprehensive of the result; they thought only of themselves. But many surged forward, regardless of their accounts, wanting only to see the face of the beloved lord for whom they had laboured so long. Indeed, so long had his absence been that many had no recollection of him whatsoever, and all they knew of him was what they read of his instructions and heard from the overseer. They crowded into the great hall before him whom having not seen, they loved.

Among these was our poor tenant and his wife, and for some time they stood utterly unconscious of all proceedings, content only to drink in the sight of the master who was seated on the raised dais. They became aware, after some time, of the motion of the master’s hand, the scribe taking up a scroll to read all that was recorded therein. The master would then pronounce judgement on the tenant thus called to account. There was praise and blame, reward and punishment, and the couple watched in awe and with a painful, growing awareness of their own lack of accomplishments.

The overseer was given gentle words of reproof for his failings and strong praise for bearing his burden well, and the weary, soul-torn man, after labouring for many years under great difficulties and handicaps was given rest, and every touch of the master’s hand, and the depth of the light in his eye, his compassion, and his gentle smiles were noted and coveted by the poor tenant and his yearning wife. How they wished they had seen the way to great deeds!
The master gestured again, and another account was unfurled, the scroll read, and the tenant was graciously given his due. This happened many times before the master’s eye fell on our friend, and the man knew his time had come.

Instead of the royal beckoning of the hand, the master rose and walked to the pile of scrolls before the scribe, and putting forth his own hand, he took one to himself.

“To whom much is given, much is required,” he said gravely. “But he that is faithful in little will also be faithful in much.”

But I have been faithful in so many little things, the man wanted to cry. How could I have missed my Much? Where was it?

Instead of resuming his seat, the regal lord took a step down closer to the crowd before him. Instead of handing the scroll to be read by the scribe, he broke the seal himself. Then with a crackle of the paper that was echoed in the gasp of the beholding tenants, he shook the scroll out into the aisle of the great hall. And before our tenant’s wondering eyes, the scroll unfurled and rolled itself down the carpeted aisle.

And it rolled, and it rolled, and it rolled. And there, before the stunned gaze of the tenantry was a record of more little things than anyone had imagined possible.

“They are little things,” the Master acknowledged. His eyes met those of his shocked tenant as he pronounced his judgement. “But they are much.”

©2008 Kim Blight