St Peter was a flawed hero: he denied that he knew Jesus at the hour of his greatest need. Yet, despite this, Jesus entrusted him with the responsibility of leading the new movement. St Peter became a key leader in the early church. Great cathedrals, beautiful chapels, and fantastic schools all around the world are named after the flawed man who became a saint. Let me tell you my version of an ancient rabbinic story, about how God can transform our flaws to create something wonderful.
A long time ago, in a kingdom far, far away, a young prince ascended to the throne of his father and began to reign over the land. On the night of his enthronement, after a magnificent service in the cathedral, the royal palace was full of music and dancing. At midnight, the celebrations still going strong, the guards opened the huge wooden doors of the ballroom to admit a cloaked figure, carrying a bag. The orchestra slowly stopped playing and the dancing faltered. The mysterious visitor spoke, her beautiful voice carrying easily across the ballroom. She had come on a long journey and would like to see the king, alone. The king, being in a magnanimous mood, allowed the visitor into the private wing of his palace, insisting only that his personal bodyguard remain with him. When he was seated, the visitor bowed low to the ground, and said, “A gift for you, your majesty.” She threw open her bag with a flourish to reveal … a large and beautiful diamond. It was flawless. She held it up and even the king’s battle-hardened bodyguard could not help but gasp as it sparkled in the firelight. “Use it well and it will bring your kingdom joy and prosperity,” the stranger said. With that, she handed the diamond to the king, turned on her heel, and left.
The diamond was immediately placed on display in a special room, guarded at all times. Soon word of the stone’s beauty spread throughout the kingdom and many people came to see it for themselves. They would leave the palace feeling only joy and peace. Stories of the diamond spread, even beyond the kingdom’s far-flung boarders. Travellers from faraway lands began to arrive in increasing numbers to view it, bringing their wealth with them. Trade increased. The stranger had been right: the kingdom was flourishing.
Several years went by, but, as they did, the king became more and more jealous of the diamond. It began slowly at first: only those will special permission from the king were allowed to view the diamond, then only the royal household, then, finally, apart from the guards, only the king himself was allowed into the dedicated room. He would often just sit in the room, cradling the diamond.
Late one evening, the king was in his winter apartment, slumbering in his favourite chair. Suddenly the doors burst open and the royal advisor stumbled in. “My king,” the advisor gasped, “the diamond, the diamond!” The king leapt to his feet and sprinted along the corridors of the palace, leaving his aging advisor far behind. “Open the doors!” he shouted as drew close to the special room. He need not have bothered, for the two guards entrusted with protecting the diamond had already opened the doors and were standing motionless, staring in horror.
The king slowed and then stopped, his heart in his mouth. The diamond, the beautiful diamond which had brought so much joy to the kingdom … was ruined. A hairline crack ran half-way down the stone.
The finest craftsmen in the kingdom were summoned and sworn to secrecy. Each one was led into the room by the king himself and shown the diamond. Each in turn shook his head and turned away. “There is simply nothing to be done,” said the last of the craftsmen, sadly. “There is no way to repair it. I would only do further damage.”
Finally, when all hope seemed lost, a knock came on the king’s door early one morning: it was the royal advisor. “Another craftsman has arrived, your majesty,” he said. The king got up wearily from his writing desk and trudged along the corridors to the diamond’s room. A slightly built young woman stood in middle of the room, waiting patiently. “And what would you like me to do with your diamond,” she asked. The king was momentarily lost for words. It was the mysterious stranger. “Fix it,” he eventually blurted out. “Give me two weeks,” she said, “I am not to be disturbed. I want no payment, but when I am finished, you must use the diamond wisely. These are my conditions.” The king looked at her closely, pondering her offer. “Agreed,” he said.
The two weeks dragged by. The king could hardly sleep. Each day he would pace up and down the corridor outside the room, listening to the strange and alarming noises coming from inside. At last, the two weeks were up. The day of judgement had arrived, as he had come to think of it. He got up early and began his usual pacing. At 10am the doors opened. The young woman emerged. “How is it?” the king asked, barely controlling the urge to rush past her into the room. She smiled, “See for yourself.” The king entered the room and could hardly contain his joy. It was stunning, a masterpiece. The crack was still there, but the artist had carved a rose at the top of the diamond and the crack formed the stem of the rose. If anything, it was more beautiful than before. The kingdom was saved. He was saved. He turned to thank the artist, but she was gone.
Based on a story told by the Jewish preacher Jacob ben Wolf Kranz, Maggid of Dubno (1741–1804). Embellished by Father Theo.
The Reverend Dr Theo McCall