A Touch of Midas 

What if God appeared in a dream or otherwise, and asked, “What should I give you?”  What would we ask for?  Would we ask for wisdom, an understanding and discerning mind, as young King Solomon did when he began his kingship while still a child?  Or would we cut to the chase, and ask for what we really desired, money, the defeat of all our enemies, a long life?

When I was a child I learned as a fairy tale the Greek myth of King Midas and the Golden Touch.  I was fascinated by how wealth could be created at the flick of a finger.  The King had the good fortune to win from the Greek god Bacchus whatever he wanted.  What did he ask for?  That everything he touched would be turned to gold.  As Midas went his way, he broke a twig from an oak tree, and immediately it turned to gold in his hands; he picked up a stone, and lo and behold it was gold; an apple, and it became golden.  Midas was happy, to say the least.  To celebrate the miracle he ordered an incomparable feast.

With everybody present, he sat down and fingered the roast.  It turned to gold, and everybody was amazed.  No sooner had his lips touched the wine than it became a glass of solid gold.  Again, everybody murmured in awe–and began backing away from the King.  A look of sadness came upon Midas’ face.  And when his little daughter, whom he loved more than anything in the world ran to him  to cheer him up, she too became solid gold, a perfect little statue, to the King’s great and everlasting grief.

As I grew older I began to see more clearly the wisdom–and the horror–in this story.  It teaches us that our lust for wealth can lead us to dishonor the world around us, reducing the value of everything to money, to gold.  Our greed can separate us from the warmth of human touch.

An apple is no longer some marvelous thing in creation, wonderful to see, to touch and to taste, but merely a thing, an object, to be turned to gold.  In fact, we may no longer taste the wonder of God.  We may no longer taste that God is good, thus dishonoring Him.

And, most horrifying of all, when we are so driven to serve wealth and not God, we may arrest, or freeze, the spiritual development of not only ourselves but also those we most love without even intending to.  We may transform our spouse and our children into things, pretty little statues that we collect and store not to serve and glorify God but for our own paltry self-gratification and convenience.

When we’re young, it’s awfully difficult for us to even begin to understand and appreciate wisdom, and in our rapidly changing and globalizing culture, we tend to extol youth and vigor and the consumption of things, not the wisdom that comes with age and experience.  Yet, no matter what culture our ancestors come from, Greek or Jewish, East or West, our stories teach us again and again the value of wisdom.

Jesus himself was a Rabbi and a wisdom teacher.  He told his followers many parables and sayings to make them wise.  He directed his followers to travel lightly so they would be healthy in body and responsive to the spirit.  He taught them that only wisdom can arm them against the relentlessness of greed that results in the failure to appreciate all that God has given us.  “You cannot serve God and wealth,” Jesus said.  “No one can serve two masters….”  He taught the secret of wisdom: to love God with all our heart, mind and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

So when God appears in a dream or otherwise, and asks, “What shall I give you?” may we humbly ask for wisdom and the mind of Christ.  Only an understanding and discerning mind can fill us with God’s compassion and strengthen us to work for peace with justice in the world and to restore the integrity of creation.