If you’re not familiar with the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale, The Old Beggar-Woman, I recommend clicking here to read the story before proceeding to my commentary.
“May God reward you.” The blessing of the old beggar woman in this story. She spoke these words to those who gave her something when she asked. These four words call to mind what our Lord Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). She received something, but she gave as well. She blessed those who showed her love. But of course, this is not where our focus is drawn. This paragraph-long story is centered on the poor behavior of the “friendly rogue of a boy” who at first appears to be concerned with serving his neighbor, but who is ultimately shown to be not at all interested in the welfare of the woman.
She came in, but stood too near the fire, so that her old rags began to burn, and she was not aware of it. The boy stood and saw that, but he ought to have put the flames out. Is it not true that he ought to have put them out?
Yes, it it true that he ought to have put them out. How often do we see someone in need and yet we don’t help them. Is it not true that we ought to put out the “flames” that are consuming our neighbor when we see them? Indeed! Loving our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:39) is not done in word and talk only, but in deed and truth (1 John 3:18). It’s easy for anyone, friendly rogue or otherwise, to say “Come… warm yourself,” but the Christian is called to more than empty words. We deceive ourselves if we think our faith is expressed in hollow gestures. Christ is the Word of God incarnate, likewise the words of the Christian are realized in deed and truth for the good of our neighbor.
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:14-17)
The story’s conclusion is hyperbolic, showing just how far a person should be willing to go in service to neighbor. The boy “should have wept all the water in his body out of his eyes…” Is it not true that this is precisely the love we should have for others? We don’t, but we should. Is it not true, however, that this is precisely the love Jesus has for us? If crying was what He needed to do to save us from the flames, He would have cried and cried and cried some more. As it is, crying isn’t how He came upon water to save us. Apart from all exaggeration, dying was what was necessary to show God’s love for us. Dying on the cross where He was pierced for our transgressions, where two streams (blood and water – Communion and Baptism) flowed (John 19:34), extinguishing the fires of hell that we would live.
The next Finding Truth in The Story will be on The Jew among Thorns. Click here to read the fairy tale in advance.
I’m reading the fairly tales from the Fall River Press publication, Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales illustrated by Arthur Rackham. Click here to purchase a copy for yourself.
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