“Then shall he say unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed. For I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we _thee_ an hungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, _Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me_.”
After spending the greater portion of his life in many distant climes in a fruitless endeavor to find the Cup of the Holy Grail,[C] thinking that thereby he was doing the greatest service he could for God, Sir Launfal at last returns an old man, gray-haired and bent. He finds that his castle is occupied by others, and that he himself is an outcast. His cloak is torn; and instead of the charger in gilded trappings he was mounted upon when as a young man, he started out with great hopes and ambitions, he is afoot and leaning on a staff. While sitting there and meditating, he is met by the same poor and needy leper he passed the morning he started, the one who in his need asked for aid, and to whom he had flung a coin in scorn, as he hurried on in his eager desire to be in the Master’s service. But matters are changed now, and he is a wiser man. Again the poor leper says:–
“‘For Christ’s sweet sake, I beg an alms’;–
The happy camels may reach the spring,
But Sir Launfal sees only the grewsome thing,
The leper, lank as the rain-blanched bone,
That cowers beside him, a thing as lone
And white as the ice-isles of Northern seas
In the desolate horror of his disease.
“And Sir Launfal said: ‘I behold in thee
An image of Him who died on the tree;
Thou also hast had thy crown of thorns,–
Thou also hast had the world’s buffets and scorns,–
And to thy life were not denied
The wounds in the hands and feet and side:
Mild Mary’s Son, acknowledge me;
Behold, _through him_, I give to thee!’
“Then the soul of the leper stood up in his eyes
And looked at Sir Launfal, and straightway be
Remembered in what a haughtier guise
He had flung an alms to leprosie,
When he girt his young life up in gilded mail
And set forth in search of the Holy Grail.
The heart within him was ashes and dust;
He parted in twain his single crust,
He broke the ice on the streamlet’s brink,
And gave the leper to eat and drink,
‘Twas a mouldy crust of coarse brown bread,
‘Twas water out of a wooden bowl,–
Yet with fine wheaten bread was the leper fed,
And ’twas red wine he drank with his thirsty soul.
“As Sir Launfal mused with a downcast face,
A light shone round about the place;
The leper no longer crouched at his side,
But stood before him glorified,
Shining and tall and fair and straight
As the pillar that stood by the Beautiful Gate,–
Himself the Gate whereby men can
Enter the temple of God in Man.
“And the voice that was calmer than silence said,
‘Lo, it is I, be not afraid!
In many climes, without avail,
Thou hast spent thy life for the Holy Grail;
Behold, it is here,–this cup which thou
Didst fill at the streamlet for me but now;
This crust is my body broken for thee,
This water His blood that died on the tree;
The Holy Supper is kept, indeed,
In whatso we share with another’s need;
Not what we give, but what we _share_,–
For the gift without the giver is bare;
Who gives himself with his alms feeds three,–
Himself, his hungering neighbor, and me.'”
The fear is sometimes entertained, and the question is sometimes asked, May not adherence to this principle of helpfulness and service become mere sentimentalism? or still more, may it not be the means of lessening another’s sense of self-dependence, and thus may it not at times do more harm than good? In reply let it be said: If the love which impels it be a selfish love, or a weak sentimental ism, or an effort at show, or devoid of good common sense, yes, many times. But if it be a strong, genuine, unselfish love, then no, never. For, if my love for my fellow-man be the true love, I can never do anything that will be to his or any one’s else detriment,–nothing that will not redound to his highest ultimate welfare. Should he, for example come and ask of me a particular favor, and were it clear to me that granting it would not be for his highest good ultimately, then love at once resolves itself into duty, and compels me to forbear. A true, genuine, unselfish love for one’s fellow-man will never prompt, and much less permit, anything that will not result in his highest ultimate good. Adherence, therefore, to this great principle in its truest sense, instead of being a weak sentimentalism, is, we shall find, of all practical things the _most intensely practical_.
And a word here in regard to the test of true love and service, in distinction from its semblance for show or for vain glory. The test of the true is this: that it goes about and does its good work, it never says anything about it, but lets others do the saying. It not only says nothing about it, but more, it has no desire to have it known; and, the truer it is, the greater the desire to have it unknown save to God and its own true self. In other words, it is not sicklied o’er with a semi-insane desire for notoriety or vainglory, and hence never weakens itself nor harasses any one else by lengthy recitals of its good deeds. It is not the _professional_ good-doing. It is simply living its natural life, open-minded, open-hearted, doing each day what its hands find to do, and in this finding its own true life and joy. And in this way it unintentionally but irresistibly draws to itself a praise the rarest and divinest I know of,–the praise I heard given but a day or two ago to one who is living simply his own natural life without any conscious effort at anything else, the praise contained in the words: And, oh, it is beautiful, the great amount of good he does and of which the world never hears.