Reginald Fitzwalter and his lovely bride Judith had just celebrated their first anniversary. He was Lord of the Manor in Dunmow, England...and a man of means.
"If I was a common laborer and not Lord of this Manor," Reginald asked Lady Judith, "would you still love me?"
"My dear," she sighed, "if we had only each other and rags upon our backs, I would be blessed forever."
"Blessed forever." The words hung in the air like magic.
In that ethereal moment of the year 1104, those two lovers had an inspiration. They hatched a conspiracy of which only lovers are capable.
They agreed to celebrate their anniversary rededicating themselves to God and to each other...but with a twist.
Disguised as peasants in rags, they visited the abbey of a nearby shire. They explained it was their first anniversary and asked the local pastor for God's blessing on their marriage.
The humble pastor was touched by the love of this "poor couple." Laying his hands upon them, he blessed them with a beautiful prayer. He reached into his own pantry and returned with a flitch of bacon (a side of cured pork) as an anniversary gift.
Then came the BIG REVEAL; Lord Reginald and Lady Judith unveiled their royal identity.
In appreciation to the pastor, they presented a generous gift of land to the local Abbey...with a condition: if any couple arrived at the Abbey on their first anniversary and proved their devotion to God and each other, they would be rewarded with a blessing and a flitch of bacon.
So goes the story. Is it true? In the 14th century, Chaucer thought so. To this day, a reenactment - the Flitch Trial - is held in Greater Dunmow, England.
It's an archetype, isn't it? The Prince and the Pauper. There are legends of King Stefan, dressed in rags, giving gifts to the poor. King Richard, disguised, finding a friend in Robin Hood, the noble outlaw.
All these stories, though, point to an epic and overarching truth: there is a Great Eternal King Who became a Carpenter. "Jesus was rich, but for your sakes" - Scripture says - "He became poor so you might become rich."
James 2 delivers a startling lesson about God's heart for those "in low places."
"My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory." (James 2:1-13) Read it all.
Show no partiality, says James, since you hold the faith in Jesus, the Lord of Glory.
James' radical statements are 180 degrees out of phase with human thinking. While we are judgmental by nature, Partiality and the Person of Jesus do not mix; they have less in common than a frog and a bicycle.
Remember, it was Jesus Who set aside the privileges of His Deity. He took the form of a servant. He humbled himself, and humanity did not receive Him. The world couldn't comprehend the Light, because they were too busy judging that Light. They displayed their partiality - and they EXCLUDED the very SON OF GOD. Listen to their voices:
"Oh, no prophet comes out of Nazareth."
"He eats with prostitutes and criminals."
"He's a friend of sinners!"
"A glutton and a drunkard!"
"Probably demon possessed."
"We are not illegitimate (like you)."
Yet it was this disguised King, the Son of Man, Son of God, Son of David, upon Whom the Father bestowed the name above all names.
The best minds in Israel? The power brokers of Rome? They "chose poorly." Of all people, Christians should be sickened at the thought of judging a book by its cover.
Jesus could have incarnated Himself into glory and ease. He did the opposite. He went out of his way to choose not only poverty, but disgrace. Jesus' mother was pregnant when Joseph married her; this cost Joseph his credibility in the community. Jesus taught without formal training, and even his own brothers disbelieved him. The religious leaders AND the civil authorities judged Him to be either a liar or a lunatic. Ultimately, they executed Him publicly as a pitiful, naked loser, and hung him on display with criminals.
No, Jesus Christ does not identify Himself with the Rich and Famous. Instead, He militantly takes a place with down-and-outers. "If you've done it to the LEAST OF THESE," He says, "you've done it to ME."
Jesus has friends in low places. You and me.
Are you thankful He reached out to you in your low place?
Oddly, when we reach out to others in their need, we find Jesus already there.
A final thought. There's no shortage of low places. Jesus said, "You will always have the poor with you." On earth, deficiency is everywhere!
Poverty shows up as more than just poor people. There are poor marriages. Poor results. Poor examples. Poor weather and poor bookkeeping. Poor judgment, poor driving and poor behavior. Poor return on investments. Poor values. Poor credit. Poor skills and poor grammar. Poor performance. Poor management. Poor hygiene. Poor planning and poor follow-through!
Poverty surrounds us! Poverty IS US!
I can guarantee, Beloved: - if it hasn't already - poverty will come knocking at your door, at my door. It will walk right down the center aisle of your church.
Who knows what form that poverty might take? It might arrive looking like a divorce, a disease, a frustration, a failure. Maybe, like James says, it will show up as a man in rags. Maybe, like Reginald and Judy, it will arrive looking like a poor couple in love.
But a Poor Something will come along - and it will be looking for your kindness. Don't judge that Poor Something, Saint. Instead, take it to a good seat. Bless it. Give it what you can.
That Poor Something might just be the Lord of the Manor in a clever disguise.