His name was Artaban. He set out to follow the star with his friends Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. He carried with him a sapphire, a ruby and a pearl beyond price as gifts for the King.
He rode hard to meet his friends at the agreed upon place. But the time was short and they would have to leave even if he was late. Suddenly he saw a figure in the twilight ahead of him. It was a traveller stricken with a fever lying on the ground. If he stayed to help he would miss his friends—but he did linger to help and the man recovered.
But now he was alone. Because he had missed his friends and their caravan he was in need of camels and bearers to help him across the great desert. He sold the sapphire to get camels, and to hire bearers—and he was sad because the King would never get his gem.
He journeyed on and on and in time came to Bethlehem. But again he was too late. Joseph and Mary and the baby had gone. Then the soldiers came to carry out Herod’s command that the children should be slain. Artaban was in a house where there was a little child, and he could hear the tramping of the soldiers coming to the door. The child’s mother was weeping. Artaban stood in the doorway tall and dark. He held the ruby in his hand as a ransom for the captain not to enter. The child was saved; the mother was overjoyed—but the ruby was gone, and Artaban was sad because the King would never have his ruby.
For years Artaban wandered in vain looking for the King. More than thirty years afterwards he came to Jerusalem on the day of a crucifixion. When Artaban heard that it was Jesus being led to the cross, he hurried toward Calvary. He thought that perhaps his pearl, the loveliest in all the world, could buy the life of the King.
Down the street came a girl fleeing from a band of soldiers. “My father is in debt,” she cried, “and they are taking me as a slave to pay the debt.” Artaban hesitated—then slowly he took out the King’s pearl and gave it to the soldiers. The debt was paid and the girl was set free.
Suddenly the skies darkened. There was a tremendous earthquake and a falling tile hit Artaban in the head knocking him to the ground. As he lay there half-conscious, life ebbing from his body, the girl cradled his head on her lap. He uttered, “Not so, my Lord. For when did I see you hungered and fed you? Or thirsty and gave you drink? Or when did I see you a stranger and take you in? Or naked and clothed you? When did I visit you in prison? Thirty and three years have I looked for Thee—but I have never seen your face nor ministered to you, my King.”
And then came a voice like a whisper from very far away; “Truly, I say unto you, inasmuch as thou hast done it to these the least of my brethren, thou hast done it unto me.” And Artaban smiled as he passed from this life because he knew the King had received his gifts.”
~ from The Story of the Other Wise Man a novella by Henry van Dyke written in 1895, and recounted in Barclay’s Commentary on Mark 2 ~ MERRY CHRISTMAS, 2014