A thief had been condemned to death after he was caught stealing food from the local market. As he awaited his fate, sitting in a dungeon deep beneath the gallows, he sent word with a guard that he had a secret gift he’d like to give the King before he was executed.
“It is a peculiar power that the men in my family have always carried,” he said to the guard. “I know how to plant an apple seed and have it grow into a flourishing tree overnight, bearing fruit the very next day. I would like to pass the secret along to the King, that it not die with me.”
Upon being informed of this, the King was curious enough to have the thief brought before him. “If you have such an ability,” he asked, “why were you stealing bread from the market when you could simply grow an abundance of fruit in your own backyard?”
“It is a sad story,” replied the thief. “The apple seed itself can only be planted by someone who has never been dishonest — never lied, cheated or stolen anything. I lost the ability years ago by lying to the woman I loved. Yet the magic still works — the seed simply needs to be put in the ground by someone who is virtuous. Someone who has never done any of the things I just mentioned.”
Hearing this, the King called for his Prime Minister. When the man arrived, the King explained the situation and asked if he would plant the seed. Yet the Prime Minster was hesitant.
“Why do you falter?” the King asked.
“I’ve stolen things,” the Prime Minister replied sheepishly. “When I was younger. I knew it was wrong, but I just couldn’t help myself. I’m sorry to say that the seed will not grow if I plant it.”
Disappointed, the King turned to his Chief Treasurer, but upon spotting him, saw that his face had gone a deep shade of red. “And what honesty have you betrayed?” he asked the man. “It is written plainly on your face that the seed will bear no growth under your touch as well.”
The Treasurer replied that he had not always been completely honest in his dealings with the finances under his care. “It was always in favour of the kingdom, however!” he insisted. “Always to our benefit alone. . . Yet certain other countries were not given their full due in particular instances, and it is I who had the final decision in such cases. I am afraid, dear King, that the seed will not grow under my touch either.” He looked earnestly at the king. “It is you who will have to plant the apple seed. Surely your virtue lies above all others!”
At this the king grew silent. He immediately recalled how, in his younger years, he had been far from faithful to his wife. He hung his head, admitting that he too would be unable to plant the apple seed.
The thief, in rags and chains, looked closely at them all. “The three most powerful figures in all the land, living lives of untold luxury and consequence, and yet none of you are fit to plant this tiny seed, while I, a humble citizen starved for bread, am condemned to death. What a sight this is.”