Reader Writes - May 2019
The old King was quite angry and upset; the Queen had never seen him so cross, and it had been going on for months and months. It would be hard for a newcomer to the kingdom to give a consistent account of what was upsetting everyone so much. One said this and the other said the opposite, both with equal conviction. Views could almost be predicted by which taverns you frequented. The notions of compromise and balance were quite out of fashion.
The way the King saw it, the barons who dominated his Parliament, for the moment, were determined to bring in tariffs on corn imports. Why? Because of course they owned the land and wanted to ensure their grain commanded high prices. Keep foreigners and their stuff out! As the King saw it, they were nakedly advocating protection of their own interests, and at the expense of the landless who had to buy their expensive flour in both poor seasons and very poor seasons. On the other side in Parliament the representatives of the artisans and smaller merchants wanted a common market and the closest possible relationship with their nearest, but not always dearest, neighbours.
As was his custom when angry and upset, the King, a godly and prayerful man, took his chaplain and went down the cobbled street from the palace to see his friend the bishop. It was a spring day and he could hear the black redstarts calling from ancient roofs, a falcon flew over with its yikkering call and wrens were in full song in every little garden. He felt better already; ‘do not store up treasure on earth’, ‘do not worry’, ‘seek first the kingdom of God…’. These things will pass, he said to himself, but our predicament is grave, and I must fight for the people.
The bishop had long been praying over these very issues and knew that it wasn’t the Church’s duty to take sides so much as to discern how God might direct people’s consciences. The bishop had of course returned to a piece of scripture that seemed to provide just that benchmark. With strong Turkish coffees in cupped hands, house martins prospecting their nest cups outside the open windows, the bishop turned to the Prophet Micah. My goodness, thought the chaplain, notebook in hand, that’s interesting. Micah, of course, was a prophet in Judah at a time of great deprivation, greed and decline that led eventually to defeat and exile. Did our kingdom also face isolation and decline? And together they listened to God’s words through Micah “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
And so they turned to prayer. Justice, mercy and humility; there was plenty to think about. And there is plenty to do, thundered the bishop at last. Micah the prophet was ignored by Judah, and saw the consequences in defeat. If only they had turned round and sought God. We shan’t have these corn tariffs isolating our kingdom, grumbled the King, as they toiled their way companionably back up the steep lane. Ah, the swifts were finally here, screaming their wild cries, seeking out ancient tenures under medieval eaves. They are older than Adam and Eve, their ways mysterious and marvellous. To the Creation and men alike are owed justice and mercy and humility.