The merchant appeared one day at the temple, a long way from the center of town. His robes were torn and dirty, his face streaked with tears. The priest was summoned and met him at the door.
“Please, sir, I want to join the you and the monks,” said the merchant, kneeling in the dirt.
“Why? What’s happened to you?” asked the priest.
“I was foolish. I made bad decisions . . . and now I’ve lost everything! My money is gone, my wife left me. My debtors took everything I have! You’re the only one I can turn to–please let me become a monk, and I will spend the rest of my life in the temple doing God’s work.”
The priest looked at him carefully. “Your faith is not in God, I think.”
“But it can be! I know I haven’t been a very faithful person–”
“You are very faithful. Your faith is in men’s hands, and what they make with them.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I’ve seen you at the market,” said the priest, “and I know where your faith is. Your faith is in the surging masses, clamoring to bargain. Your faith is in the camels coming in from the desert, laden with fine silks and spices. Your faith is in the battered ships, bringing your cargo here through storms and pirates. There lies your enthusiasm, your heart, and your faith–not here at the temple.”
“But those things have only led to me to ruin!”
“Have they?” The priest smiled. “Your wife was beautiful, but she did not love you and she left at the first sign of misfortune. Perhaps you are well rid of her?”
“Well . . . maybe . . .”
“And you aren’t quite penniless.” The priest pulled a small pouch of gold coins from his robes and gave them to the merchant. “There is enough there to get started again, I think.”
“I don’t understand,” said the merchant, shaking his head. “You would turn away a monk?”
“I would help you through a time of doubt, if I can.”
“You would rather have me do man’s works instead of God’s?”
“All works are God’s works,” replied the priest, “and all faith is faith in God.”
And the merchant bowed low and returned to the city.