Reading this morning about Saint Aidan, Celtic monk and bishop of Lindisfarne, I recalled the proverb
Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.
We shouldn’t look at the value of a gift (even if it’s an old horse) but rather accept all gifts gratefully.
But the story of Aidan and the gift horse is quite different, as told in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History.
King Oswin gave Bishop Aidan a horse with fine trappings so that the bishop could ride to the far-flung parts of his diocese instead of walking as had been his custom.
One day Aidan met a beggar who sought alms. Aidan dismounted and gave the horse and all the trappings to the man. As Bede notes, Aidan “was very compassionate, a great friend to the poor, and, as it were, the father of the wretched.”
The king was a little upset and told Aidan that he had other less valuable horses that the bishop could give to the poor.
Aidan’s response is classic:
“What are you saying, your majesty? Is the child of a mare more valuable to you than this child of God?”
No thing, no animal is more valuable than a human being, a child of God.
I also recall a conversation Charlie Clements writes about in Witness to War: An American Doctor in El Salvador. He spoke to some campesinos who worked on a cattle ranch near Suchitoto. They told him how the owner would send them to town to buy medicines for the animals – but they had no medicine for their sick children.
How often are the poor treated worse than animals, than things.
The witness of Saint Aidan is as important today as it was in the seventh century.