St Aidan Story: Oswald's Generosity
Oswald . . . had given the monastery much and had ensured that they survived the early days. The same open hands often gave away to the poor. He had appointed one of his servants to attend to the poor and make sure they were not ignored or sent away empty. He had often been told that Christ said, ‘As you do it to the least of these, you do it to me.’ He tried to remember this when confronted with the poor. Whilst at Iona he had heard the story of another soldier called Martin. He could almost remember the voice that told him the story.
|St. Martin and the Beggar, 1836 by Alfred Rethel|
At a certain time when Martin had nothing except his sword and his military uniform, he went out on a cold winter’s night when the weather was severe. At the gates of the city of Amiens he met a poor man begging. All were passing by and taking no notice. There were plenty of of beggars about. Martin decided that if all the others were ignoring this man, he must come to his aid. Yet what could he do? He had already given away many of the things he once had. He had no money and nothing he could easily give the man. Then, taking his sword, he divided his cloak into two equal parts. He gave one part to the beggar and wrapped himself in the other. People passing by and fellow-soldiers laughed at Martin, though some felt ashamed that they had not helped. Some of them could easily have clothed the beggar without exposing themselves to the cold, or to ridicule. Martin’s act was one of true generosity and love. It was that night that Martin had a vision of Christ. The Saviour was arrayed in half a cloak and saying to the angels, ‘Martin, who is still a catechumen, clothed me with this robe. ‘ Oswald had seen the beautiful book that contained this story in the library on Iona, and it had been an elderly monk who had related it to him.
Oswald the soldier tried to live by this high ideal. He could not be a monk, that was not his calling. But he could be open-handed. There was a certain Easter when Aidan had gone to Bamburgh to dine at the palace. Normally when he went he still ate frugally and escaped from the feasting hall as soon as was possible. He and his brothers would seek to get away from the noise to pray in quiet. On this occasion, being a special festival, the best of food was served up, on a silver dish. As the meal was about to begin, and a blessing was being asked upon it, a nervous-looking servant appeared in the doorway. He told the king that there was a great company of poor people gathering outside. The winter had been hard and they were starving. The meagre resources that they lived on had not lasted through the lean times. Oswald stood up immediately, pointing to the silver dish in front of him, which was laden with food. ‘Take this out to them, and see that they all get something to eat.’ He paused slightly and then continued, ‘And give them the silver dish that the food is on. See that it is divided up among them so that they all have something for another day.'
The servant did not know what to say. He bowed low and then walked out with the great silver dish and its contents being carried by two other serving men. Aidan was deeply moved by such generosity. Taking hold of the open hand of Oswald he said, ‘May this hand never wither with age.’ Here was a king who was generous indeed. Aidan prayed that many others would follow his noble example.
This extract is taken from 'Flame of the Heart' by David Adam and is reproduced by kind permission of SPCK." You can find the book here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Flame-Heart-St-Aidan-Today/dp/0281050333.