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The Happy Prince and Christ the King

Updated: Mar 15, 2022

Jn 18:33b-37

Pilate said to Jesus, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus answered, "Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?" Pilate answered, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?" Jesus answered, "My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here." So Pilate said to him, "Then you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."

The Happy Prince and Christ the King

“High above the city, on a tall column, stood the statue of the Happy Prince. He was gilded all over with thin leaves of fine gold, for eyes he had two bright sapphires, and a large red ruby glowed on his sword-hilt.” (Oscar Wilde, The Happy Prince)

The statue of the Happy Prince presided over the city. Everyone in the city had the impression that he was happy. Well, in any case, his statue was well adorned. A swallow on its way back from Egypt and a failed love affair with a reed stopped off on the way and rested on the statue. He soon found that the statue was crying. As it turns out, he had once been a human with a human heart. As a prince, he had lived a splendid life. Now, as a statue, he could observe much of the suffering of the people he had been oblivious to while he was ruling.

“When I was alive and had a human heart,” answered the statue, “I did not know what tears were, for I lived in the Palace of Sans-Souci, where sorrow is not allowed to enter. In the daytime I played with my companions in the garden, and in the evening I led the dance in the Great Hall. Round the garden ran a very lofty wall, but I never cared to ask what lay beyond it, everything about me was so beautiful. My courtiers called me the Happy Prince, and happy indeed I was, if pleasure be happiness. So I lived, and so I died. And now that I am dead they have set me up here so high that I can see all the ugliness and all the misery of my city, and though my heart is made of lead yet I cannot choose but weep.” (Oscar Wilde, The Happy Prince)

He has begun to see the suffering of his people and he charges the swallow with a special mission.

“Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow, will you not bring her the ruby out of my sword-hilt? My feet are fastened to this pedestal and I cannot move.” (Oscar Wilde, The Happy Prince)

The swallow begins to carry out certain errands for the Happy Prince. He takes his jewels in order to help the people of the kingdom. The swallow wants to continue his journey to Egypt but is persuaded to stay because of the good he is able to do in the city.

At some point, there are no longer rubies to take to the people in need, so the prince asks the swallow to take one of the sapphires that serve as eyes. He is to help a young man who is writing a play. The next day, the prince bids him take the other sapphire to give to a match girl, a girl who is so poor she makes her living selling matches. When this deed is done, the prince has nothing else to give and he tells the swallow to go on his journey to Egypt.

But now, the swallow does not want to leave and every night he comes back to the prince to tell him what he has seen.

“Dear little Swallow,” said the Prince, “you tell me of marvelous things, but more marvelous than anything is the suffering of men and of women. There is no Mystery so great as Misery. Fly over my city, little Swallow, and tell me what you see there.” (Oscar Wilde, The Happy Prince)

Seeing the beggars on the street, the swallow brings this news back to the prince. He tells him to take away the gold, bit by bit, to give it to the poor in the city, the city he had once ruled.

The swallow grows old and as the winter is approaching, he becomes weaker and weaker. He goes near the prince and says goodbye. The prince thinks he is finally going to Egypt and is happy for him.

“It is not to Egypt that I am going,” said the Swallow. “I am going to the House of Death. Death is the brother of Sleep, is he not?” And he kissed the Happy Prince on the lips, and fell down dead at his feet. At that moment a curious crack sounded inside the statue, as if something had broken. The fact is that the leaden heart had snapped right in two. It certainly was a dreadfully hard frost. (Oscar Wilde, The Happy Prince)

When the town councillors discover the dead bird and the dilapidated statue, they deem that they are two worthless things. The mayor decides to make a new statue in his own image.

“Bring me the two most precious things in the city,” said God to one of His Angels; and the Angel brought Him the leaden heart and the dead bird. “You have rightly chosen,” said God, “for in my garden of Paradise this little bird shall sing for evermore, and in my city of gold the Happy Prince shall praise me. (Oscar Wilde, The Happy Prince)

If we compare the story of the Happy Prince to the story of Christ the King, we see some similarities, but also notable differences. The Happy Prince was given to a life of pleasure during his earthly life, whereas Christ was used to austerity and suffering. But in death, the Happy Prince begins to see the suffering of others and gives of himself for the good of the people of his city. Christ was always like that. He is a King who gives himself, indeed, one who dies for his subjects.

Christ has bought us with the price of his own blood and for that reason we owe him our own lives. We are supposed to be like the little sparrow. Each day we go to Christ the King and tell him what we see. Then we are called by him to run errands of mercy and help those around us. What will you do this year to show Christ that he is your king?

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