A long time ago an English engineer lost his bid to build a bridge over the river Thames in London. At about the same time he read a beautiful poem that had been translated from Chinese into English. The poem had been written by a wise sage in a remote province of Northern China. In order to come to terms with his disappointment at having lost the London Bridge contract he decided to take a trip to seek out this sage and meet him.
He wrote to the governor of the remote Chinese province requesting his help in this search. The governor eventually wrote back saying the sage was a humble but elusive person who did not enjoy the limelight, but if the English engineer still wished to look for him the governor would provide a guide and interpreter.
The Englishman set off on the arduous trip to this Chinese backwater arriving there several months later. At last, he was met at the dock of the riverboat by the diminutive guide and interpreter. The guide also served as the Englishman’s servant to cook and do his laundry when necessary.
Off they went in search of this Chinese saint. In each hamlet and village they would inquire whether anyone had heard where the sage was. Each village would say something like “Oh yes he was here but left for some other village.” They would then enjoy the hospitality of that village and then move on in the search.
This search went on for several weeks. The Englishman noticed a few things. Firstly each village would extol the virtues of the saint confirming for him that this search was a worthwhile adventure. Secondly his guide and interpreter was a wonderful companion who seemed to be well-known and welcomed warmly everywhere they went. Thirdly he noticed that in several villages the watering point near the freshwater spring was frequently trampled by animals and very muddy and difficult for the women and elderly to collect water from.
After a while he inquired of one village elder if he could have some help to build a simple, but very effective, well protection system he believed might help. They were overjoyed.
Using the rocks he found near the village he built a simple protection with a bamboo pipe leading from it. This prevented the animals trampling the spring and the pipe made it very easy to collect water. Now at every village, where they needed it, he and his companion and some local villagers would build these simple spring protectors.
Several months and many spring protectors later the engineer began thinking of home. He believed the sage did not want to be found. He had learned so much about humility, service, hospitality and kindness from his companion and the villagers that he was content to go home without finding his sage.
As he boarded the riverboat he was handed a small parchment by his guide and interpreter on which was written a beautiful poem. The boat was about to leave when he looked up from reading the poem and realized that his companion all this time was the very sage he was searching for.
The engineer never designed another bridge. He never became the famous engineer he hoped. But he saved millions of Londoners lives by designing a huge and complex sewer system for clearing the sewerage out of London and drastically reducing diseases that had taken the lives of thousands of Londoners every year.
Jesus never drew attention to himself just as the humble sage in my story did. But He helped people see that a fisherman could become a foundation stone for building a church. He ensured that a woman’s service would be remembered for all time. He insisted that wise men must see a humble woman and that the faith of another woman is what made her well.
As Claude says in the musical Hair “I believe in God and I believe that God believes in me....”