Tough Choices


There are times in our lives when we have to make an important decision and none of the options seem attractive. The following story may help us to see that all is not hopeless and that the power of human ingenuity is a tremendous gift from God.

Many years ago, when a person who owed money could be thrown into jail, a merchant in Venice had the misfortune to owe a huge sum to a mean moneylender. The moneylender, who was old and ugly, fancied the merchant’s beautiful young daughter. He proposed a bargain. He said he would cancel the merchant’s debt if he could have the girl instead.

Both the merchant and his daughter were horrified at the suggestion. So the cunning moneylender schemed that they let Providence decide the matter. He told them that he would put a black pebble and a white pebble into an empty bag, and the girl would have to pick out one of the pebbles. If she chose the black pebble, she would become his wife, and her father’s debt would be canceled. But if she refused to pick a pebble, her father would be thrown into jail, and she would starve with no one to look after her.

Reluctantly, the merchant agreed. They were standing on a pebble-strewn path in the merchant’s garden as they talked, and the moneylender stooped down to pick up the two pebbles. As he did, the girl sharp-eyed with fright noticed that he picked up two black pebbles and put them into the bag. The moneylender asked the girl to pick out the pebble that was to decide her fate and that of her father.

What would you have done if you had been that girl? If you had to advise her, what would you have advised her to do?

  1. The girl should refuse to take a pebble?
  2. The girl should show that there are two black pebbles in the bag and expose the moneylender as a cheat?
  3. The girl should take a black pebble and sacrifice herself in order to save her father from prison?

The girl in the story put her hand into the bag and drew out a pebble. But, without looking at it, she fumbled it and let the pebble fall to the path where it was immediately mixed in among all the others. “Oh, how clumsy of me,” she said. “Never mind, however. If you look into the bag, you’ll be able to tell which pebble I dropped by the color of the one that is remaining.

Since the remaining pebble was, of course black, it had to be assumed that she picked the white pebble. Of course the moneylender dare not admit his own dishonesty.

Whenever I reflect on Jesus’ admonition that we should be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves, I think of this story. More than ever, we need to pray for wisdom. In our fast pace, highly technological world, we are sometimes faced with choices that may seem overwhelming. However, we can rely on Jesus’ promise that he would be with us until the end of the world. It should bring us comfort to know that nothing is  impossible with God.

Have a great week and remember: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”