An Easter fable on Abundance that can be used anytime of the year.
THE MAGIC PURSE
An Easter Fable
By Timothy Thompson
Once upon a time, long ago, there lived a poor peasant farmer. He made his home just outside the village and tended his tiny farm and garden by himself. He never had very much of anything, but every year he seemed to have enough to eat and some years he had enough to share with his friends. He was a good-hearted man, but because his farm was so small he did tend to worry about things.
Sometimes he worried about whether the rains would come to water his crops. Other times, when the rain was falling, he might find himself worrying that it would rain too much. Once, some rabbits had dug up part of his carrot patch. After that, every time he saw a rabbit out in the forest he thought about his carrots. In the spring when he had finished planting his seeds, he kept a very close eye on the birds too.
But year after year the rains came and the crops grew, and one way or another he always had enough.
One evening he was in his farm house cooking a little barley stew for his dinner when he heard a knock on the door. He was quite surprised, since people rarely traveled out his way. When he answered the door, he was met by a very old woman.
"Good evening, kind sir," she said, "I am a weary traveler passing by on my journey. I saw the light in your home and smelled your fine stew cooking, and came to inquire of your hospitality. Would you be one who was willing to share a meal with a stranger?"
"Well," the farmer said, "I haven't much in my pot. But since the good land has shared this barley with me it seems only right that I should share with you as well." And with that, he welcomed her into his home.
He divided the stew between them, and also brought out a small loaf of bread and some fish he had saved from his lunch that afternoon. It was a fine little supper that they shared together. When it was finished, the old woman got up to leave but the farmer said;
"You can't travel on now, good Mother..."
(He called her "Mother" because in that country it was good manners to show respect for the elderly by calling them "Mother" and "Father".)
"... the sun has long since set. Stay here the night before you continue your journey."
"You are kind indeed." she said. And that night she slept on the cot while the farmer curled up in his chair by the fire.
The next morning the old woman was eager to be on her way, so the farmer wrapped up a bit more bread and some slices of cheese and gave them to her to take along. He walked with her down the pathway that led from his farm to the main road to see her off. Then the old woman thanked him and said;
"You have been very kind to me in sharing what you have. Now I am sharing what I have with you. Go back to your farm house and there on your table you will find a purse filled with gold coins. This is a magic purse. No matter how much you spend, the purse will never run out." And with that, the old woman turned and walked away.
The farmer thought this was very odd and was not at all sure he believed her. But he ran back to his house to see and sure enough, there on his table was an old leather purse with a small silver clasp. He opened it up and saw to his amazement that indeed, it was full of gold coins! He ran back to the road to thank the old woman, but she was nowhere to be seen. He was filled with joy and amazement and not at all sure what to do, so he ran into the village and called all his friends and neighbors together and told them the whole story.
"What wonderful fortune!" they all said. And they asked him "What will you do? What will you do?"
And the farmer replied "I will have a great party, and you all are invited! Come! Let us celebrate together!"
So he gathered the whole town and made a great feast with dancing and music, with food and drink for everyone. And they laughed and ate and sang songs together for three days until they were all too tired to go on. Then the farmer paid all of the bills for the celebration with only a small handful of coins from the purse.
Throughout that spring, the farmer gave many celebrations for his friends. And whenever anyone was in need of anything, he was always quick to help out because he had so much to spare. Sure enough, it seemed to him that the purse would never run out of coins. Sometimes he did wonder if it might have a few less coins in it than it did at first. But then he would say to himself; "That certainly can't be. For this is a magic purse -- it will never run out!"
Spring turned into summer, and summer turned into fall, and the farmer continued his generous ways.
Then one day the winds began to blow and a tremendous storm came up. It was the worst storm they had ever seen and the wind blew so hard that it blew the roof right off of the house of one of the farmer's best friends!
"Oh, what will I do? What will I do?" his friend cried out. "How will I ever fix my house?!"
But the farmer was quick to comfort him and said; "Don't worry, my friend. I will help you!" And he quickly hired the builders who worked and worked to put on a new roof. And when they were done, he paid them from the purse. But something seemed wrong. Was the purse, just perhaps, getting a little bit lighter?
After that, the farmer began to host his parties a little less often. And he didn't hire quite as many musicians. He still helped his friends when they needed him, but each time he did, he wondered more and more about the purse. Finally, after a whole year had gone by, there was no mistaking it. The purse had fewer coins left in it than there had been in the beginning.
"I guess it's not a magic purse after all." he said to himself. And he was sad. But then he thought; "Oh well. I guess I can't be too sad. After all, there still are plenty of gold coins left. I'll just need to be more careful."
In the years that followed, the farmer still hosted parties, but they weren't as grand. He still helped his friends, but not quite as much as he had done before. And as each year rolled by, he could see that the purse was slowly running out of coins. The farmer himself grew older, and became an old man. And the coins grew fewer and fewer until finally, there was only one coin left.
And that was the year that the great rains came.
The fields had just been planted and it rained so hard that two of the farmer's friends saw all of their seeds washed away right out of the field! There was nothing left! They both went to the farmer and asked for his help, but with just the one coin left he couldn't afford to help them both. But how could he choose between his two friends? How could he help one and not the other? It was a terrible choice to make.
The farmer said; "This choice is too hard for me to make. But I have heard that there is a man of great wisdom in the village beyond the valley. I will go and seek his counsel, and whatever he advises, I promise, that is what I will do."
So he took the leather purse and some provisions and set off on his journey. After several days he came to the house of the wise man and told him the whole story. The wise man listened patiently, but said nothing at all. The farmer concluded saying; "So now I have two friends in need but I can only help one. Yet I cannot choose between them. So I have come for your advice. Please help me. Whatever you advise, I promise, that is what I will do."
The wise man remained silent for a while. Then he said; "Old farmer, you are right. You should not choose between your friends. No, this is what you should do." He held out his hand to the farmer. "What you should do is give the last coin to me."
The farmer was shocked! This hardly seemed right! Could the wise man be so selfish? What about his two friends? Certainly it must be better to at least help one of them! But he had already given his word, both to them and to the wise man. So, the farmer opened up the leather purse, took out the very last gold coin, and placed it in the palm of the wise man.
He looked into the purse -- and it was empty.
"Close your purse." The wise man said.
"Snap!" went the silver clasp as the farmer closed the purse.
"And now," said the wise man with a gleam in his eye, "open it."
The farmer opened up his purse -- and it was full of gold coins. It was full! It was full! Just as full as it had been on that very first day he opened it all those years ago! It was a magic purse after all!
"How did you know?!" he asked, as the wise man stood up and went over to a shelf where he picked up an old leather purse with a silver clasp.
"An old woman once gave me this," he said, showing his purse to the farmer.
It was full of gold coins, too!
"It never runs out," he said.
"Are you sure?" said the farmer in disbelief.
The wise man nodded and smiled. "My friend, I have emptied my purse a thousand times since I received it. It never runs out."
"Now! On your way! You have two anxious friends, I think, who need to purchase seed and replant their fields."
Well, the old farmer nearly leapt out of his chair, so filled with joy he was. And he hurried back to his village running faster than a man his age has ever run. And all along he kept saying; "Oh what a fool I've been! All those years I wasted holding back when I could have been emptying the purse!"
And he decided that day that if his life and strength permitted, he would empty his purse a thousand times.
Now you may think that this is the end of the story, but I will tell you something else instead. That old farmer got older and older, and yet every year he seemed to get stronger and stronger. Until finally one day he left his village to go out and travel the world with his purse -- throwing parties and helping people in need.
So by now he must be the oldest man in the world.
And as far as anyone knows, he is still alive today, skipping and dancing down the highway, emptying his purse every chance he gets.
Permission must be obtained from Tim Thompson for any use of this story!
1512 15th Terrace
New Brighton, MN 55112
Timothy Thompson is an ELCA pastor who has a blog called The Feral pastor.