As the stranger turned away from the Pharisees, a shepherd passed by carrying one of his sheep. Even though they were in the bustle of town, the sheep nestled calmly in her shepherd's arms - nose tucked in the crook of his elbow.
The stranger looked at the shepherd and his sheep, and a mischevious smile tugged at the corner of his mouth.
With a penetrating glance, he looked at Darius and said, "I assure you, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber."
Darius' eyes flicked over to the shepherd, and then nervously back to the man who was speaking. This man was a stranger here - how could he possibly know what he had been contemplating?
The stranger continued, "For a shepherd enters through the gate."
Darius' thoughts immediately turned to deception - making a quick list of how he could turn this to his advantage, but then was interrupted as the stranger kept on talking.
"The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out."
Darius squirmed, feeling as if it were only this man and himself. Even the pangs of hunger that had been gnawing at his belly seemed to have disappeared. Every time he thought he had a way of getting around this outspoken stranger, he was instead pierced by his words.
The stranger began to move through the crowd, touching shoulders, looking intently into the eyes of the people, listening as the people poured out their pain, and speaking gentle words of hope to each one.
Darius had been looking down at his feet - trying to figure out what exactly was going on here and half afraid to look up - afraid that he was going to be singled out,exposed . . .ruined.
A pair of dusty brown feet stopped in front of him and the slightly hoarse voice faded away.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw the stranger's hand moving from his side towards him and he flinched. But the strength of that calloused hand merely settled reassuringly on his shoulder and shook it a bit.
"Darius, isn't it?"
Darius could only nod, his heart still pounding and hands clammy.
"It's lunchtime, friend, and I would very much like to share mine with you."
The stranger moved back a step, and waited.
Darius blinked, not quite sure what had just happened here. He wasn't going to be arrested or beaten? He glanced up at the man, and was taken in by the gentle friendliness shining from his eyes. Darius got to his feet and they moved away together, the stranger only a step ahead, and he continued, "After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them and they follow him because they recognize his voice. They won't follow a stranger, they will run from him because they don't recognize his voice."