There was once upon a time a very honest and pious man who, by his hard work, his abilities and his irreprochable character, had risen to become the minister to the king entrusted with all his financial affairs. The king was happy to have someone he could rely on, but naturally, wherever there is success, there will be jealousy, and one day someone with such a shadow on their heart came privately to the king.
“Your majesty,” said the schemer, “this minister is becoming very wealthy, and it could be that he is building his fortune from the royal treasury.”
The jealous man then told the king that by some means he had seen the accounts of the minister, and knew the total value of his assets. His advice to the king, therefore, was the following. “Ask him, your majesty, how much he is worth. If he names a figure lower than this –” and he gave the king a slip of paper, “it means he is trying to conceal something from you, and then you must take care!”
It was difficult for the king to believe that his minister was cheating him, for he seemed to be honest, modest and very religious in his habits. Nevertheless, the next time he saw the minister, he said, “And how are your own affairs?”
“I do well enough, your majesty,” the minister said humbly.
“You take good care of my figures,” said the king, “so I suppose you know your own accounts just as well. Tell me, what are you worth?” the king asked.
The man frowned, thought for a moment, and said, “I could not say to the exact penny, your majesty, but – ” and he named a figure that was, to the king’s dismay, perhaps a tenth of what the schemer had told him.
“What?” demanded the king angrily. “I know for a fact you have ten times that amount. How dare you lie to me! I shall confiscate all your property!”
The minister bowed respectfully, and begged the king’s permission to explain. “Sire,” he said, “you did not ask me what I own, but what I am worth. What I own may change from day to day, and as you yourself have shown, all can be taken from me in a moment. But what am I worth…? God alone knows the real answer, but what I have given in charity cannot be taken away from me, and that is the figure I quoted.”