If you’re not familiar with the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale, King Thrushbeard, I recommend clicking here to read the story before proceeding to my commentary.
What sort of suitor would continue to pursue a bride who mocked him? A man full of patience and love, as we shall see. King Thrushbeard is so named because his would be bride laughed at him upon seeing his face and cried, “he has a chin like a thrush’s beak!” Just as Isaiah writes concerning Jesus, “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2b). No matter. King Thrushbeard was not deterred by his beloved’s sin – pride, haughtiness, and mockery.
With a self-sacrificicial plan to turn her from her great wrongs, he set aside all his kingly glory choosing to live as a beggar in order to take her hand in marriage (Philippians 2:4-11). We mustn’t make light of what it meant for King Thrushbeard to live in poverty, for this is the very picture of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, our King, who humbled Himself to serve us, His bride. (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 19:16; John 12:15; Matthew 20:28). And how did our Lord serve us? By sacrificing Himself that we would turn from our sin and believe in Him.
We’re shown the extent of Thrushbeard’s riches as he, in the form of a beggar-man, took his beautiful bride to live with him in his home. They came upon a large forest, a beautiful green meadow, and a large town. All of which could have been the bride’s if she had married King Thrushbeard, that is, if she hadn’t been such an insolent sinner. He could have taken her to live in the large town, for it really was his, but instead the couple went to live in a “very little hut.” The hut was of such lowly estate that when the bride saw it she exclaimed, “Oh goodness! what a small house; to whom does this miserable, mean hovel belong?” Little did she know King Thrushbeard had a reason for his actions.
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)
And so we see by the end of our story that that’s exactly what happened to the beautiful bride who learned that her husband was actually King Thrushbeard. She received the grace of a king who was rich, yet for her sake became poor, so that she, through his poverty, might become rich – far richer than having large forests, beautiful green meadows, and large towns: rich in spirit!
But before she confessed her sin and said, “I have done great wrong, and am not worthy to be your wife,” and before she was absolved of her sin with the words of her bridegroom, “Be comforted, the evil days are past; now we will celebrate our wedding,” the beautiful bride settled into her new life with her still impoverished husband. As she does the reader is blessed with a series of Biblical truths.
She asked about having servants and received the reply, “you must yourself do what you wish to have done.” She was not use to having to do anything for herself, she was a princess, after all. This won’t do. Not for Thrushbeard in our story nor for Christ in reality. In the historic Christian Church believers confess the words of the Apostles’ Creed. We say, “I believe in God…” We don’t say, “We believe.” It’s personal. I believe. Why? Because “the righteous [person] shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). For more on this, take a look at Matthew 25:1-13 and Luke 7:50.
But lest we’re tempted to think our faith is a work we do to earn salvation, the story continues, most appropriately, with more truth. After he saw how poorly his wife worked (she couldn’t possibly save herself), the beggar-man declared, “You are fit for no sort of work.” Like the bride, sinful man is unable to do anything to contribute to his salvation. God must do everything for us. Hence the beggar-man saw that his bride’s attempts to work failed and said, “Now I will try…” The results of his efforts seat his bride in the market-place to sell the ware. We can easily see that this is the Church seated in a passive posture, doing nothing in the market place of religion. Christ has done everything. We simply sit and sell the goods of Christ’s efforts, that is, proclaim the Gospel to the world. Of course, the price tag says, “free.”
“For the first time she succeeded well, for the people were glad to buy the woman’s wares because she was good-looking.” It’s no wonder she succeeded for the first time. It was her bridegroom’s plan. As history has shown, many people have come to believe in Jesus, to “buy” the Church’s “wares” – the Gospel – because Christ’s Bride is attractive. How many people have been drawn to the Lord’s goods (forgiveness, salvation, and life everlasting) through the Church’s adornment, her art and ornamentation, a sanctuary’s splendid architecture, or the beautiful liturgical order of the Divine Service? The Church is attractive and indeed she draws people in by her good looks.
This, like her other attempts, however is tainted by her failure. Like the bride, we Christians continue to struggle with our failure. We can do nothing well on our own. We need our King. And when Christ returns in His glory, we will experience what she did. The bride was reunited with King Thrushbeard who came in pomp and splendor, “clothed in velvet and silk, with gold chains about his neck.” While she is cursed “her pride and haughtiness which humbled her and brought her to so great poverty,” the king seized her hand. She pulled away (like God’s people do), and he chased after (like God always does).
Confession. Absolution. And all is well. The King and his Bride live in happiness, and joy is carried on in earnest.
As for this reader, I love how the Grimm Brothers end the tale. “I wish you and I had been there too.” Amen! Would that everyone could be at the marriage feast of the Lamb. Would that everyone would curse their pride and haughtiness and be humbled and brought into poverty, “for you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).
The next Finding the Truth in Story will be on Fitcher’s Bird. 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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