A certain king once committed adultery.
This was a long time ago, when adultery was considered to be very wrong. The king had a general reputation for being religious. He wanted to be liked so he felt he should deny his affair publicly and take a few steps that would conceal his adultery. So, he told a lie here and there, and covered up his affair by killing his lover's husband and focused the nation on a number of border skirmishes that he was sure would distract the nation.
By and by, there came to the castle a friend of the king's, who was a storyteller. This storyteller told the king a very long story about a rich shepherd who stole a sheep from a poor shepherd, who only had one sheep. The rich shepherd barbecued the stolen animal and served it as a meal to his rich friends and the poor man lost the only sheep he had. The storyteller was apparently a very good one, for the king, upon hearing this tale, became incensed and ordered the rich shepherd to be severely punished. "Such a man deserves to die!" said the king to the storyteller, "and he should replace the stolen sheep with four living sheep."
"Suppose," said the storyteller, "before we execute the rich shepherd, we change the rich shepherd in my story into a king, and the stolen sheep into another man's wife?"
The king was overwhelmed by the story.
"O God of the storyteller," he cried out in his loneliness and need. "I have done something far worse than inappropriate – I have sinned and it offends heaven. Is there anything to be done? My sin is obviously known throughout all the nation. What am I to do, God? Can a leader survive such a blatant transgression?"
"Well," said the God of the storyteller, "Great leaders have often survived sinfulness. Tell me this, did I not make you king and give you great wisdom? Have I not blessed your life with great talent and given your kingdom endurance and prominence among the nations of the world? Have I not, from the time you were a child, blessed you with a great family and lavished upon you blessings I have given to few others? Have I not promised you and your family a dynasty that would never perish from the earth?"
The king began to weep. He went to a little writing desk, picked up his pen, and began to write a poem, which he determined would be published throughout the nation. He wept even as he wrote the beautiful words that tore his heart with shame. The poem read:
"Have mercy upon me, O God, according to your unfailing love;
According to your great compassion blot out my transgressions,
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin . . .
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me . . .
Restore unto me the joy of your salvation!"
The king was very ashamed when he read the poem to his kingdom. He broke into tears and could not bear to look decent family men in the eye.
Well, that was a long time ago, and I am pleased to say that his kingdom forgave him and his children in time sired a line of kings that stretched across the ages. And the poem that washed from the king's tears became one of the greatest poems of history.
Once upon a time there was an American President. Alas, it is a tale without tears, for rich shepherds in these latter days eat what lambs they will. Shame is often not permitted when power is ultimate. Pride and weeping seldom keep company. This latter story is not altogether finished, but the end of it will be wintry and cold I fear. When the art of honesty is lost, a small prince rarely sires a line of kings.