Throughout the arduous day, as the repetitive labor freed the mind to amble, the seed to disobey took root in the boy and sprouted. He dreaded disrespecting his father, but it seemed inevitable. The boy had silently practiced the conversation while toiling alongside his father in the fields. He dared not ask for permission directly. The right words on the return journey were his last hope. Unsure of how to begin, he picked a stone from the ground, twirled it between his fingers, and pitched it from the roadway toward the valley below.
“Father, wait up.”
“The man we spoke of this morning…,” the boy hesitated, uncertain if the discussion would be allowed.
“When he lived here before, did you know him?”
“I knew the family, but like now, we lived further out from town than most. I knew them in passing, but I only met him once. He would have been around your age then.”
“What do you remember about him?”
“Not much, he was polite. He worked for his father, like you. But that was many years ago. Son, people change, and not always for the better.”
The boy picked up another stone and flung it into the trees.
“Father, is he…evil?”
“Son, he left our town, among strangers he found recognition, and now he returns. Why? To show the people what he has become? To rub his fame in our faces? I don’t know about evil, but he is a fake, perhaps a crook. Time will reveal his true identity.”
“But the people who hear him say…”
The father placed a firm hand on the boy’s shoulder. The boy surveyed the ground in silence.
“Not all the people. Yes, many are confused. They want to believe too much. They easily follow someone who promises great things. Do not believe because the people say, believe when you have discovered for yourself.”
“How can I if you won’t let me hear him speak?” The boy’s question escaped before he could restrain it.
The father’s eyes narrowed, his grip tightened. He began to speak but relented at the sound of a rider approaching. The pace of the hooves striking the road hastened the father and son toward the embankment. An unknown rider crested the rise behind them and slowed his horse as he drew near the travelers.
“Good evening friends,” spoke the fair-bearded rider.
“Hello stranger, you ride as if chased by an army. Should my boy and I be worried?”
The stranger grinned.
“Sir, I am seeking Nazareth and I hope to make it before nightfall. Is this the way?”
“It is, and at your pace you will make it with time to spare.”
“I only speed so that I may hear the words of Jesus once again, is it true that He speaks now in Nazareth? Have you heard His wonderful message?”
“He speaks there now,” spoke the boy. His father’s glare commanded silence.
“We have no need of false teaching,” countered the father.
The stranger’s grin vanished. He stared at the father, then dismounted quickly and with purpose. The boy anticipated a quarrel. Instead, the stranger held the reins toward the father.
“Then you have no time to waste. Take my horse. Ride now, you and your son. Go and hear the words of Jesus immediately.” The offer seemed absurd, but the boy was struck by the genuine expression of the stranger.
Take the reins father, take the reins,thought the boy. Take the reins and I won’t have to sneak out tonight and enter Nazareth alone. Let us decide together.
“I will walk and recover my horse tomorrow,” continued the stranger. “Go now and…”
“Don’t you know who He is?”
“I know what he claims.”
“So you have heard Him and still you deny...”
“Stranger, leave us! I would rather crawl the opposite direction and join a colony of lepers than worship the son of a carpenter. Isn’t he Joseph’s son? Jesus may have convinced strangers, but many here knew him when he was as young as this naïve boy. You will encounter others who won’t be deceived!”
The stranger looked at the boy then back to the father.
“Sir, I will pray for your heart. May you never endure that of which you speak. As for the boy, may I have permission to take him into Nazareth?”
The father hesitated, chuckled, and then spoke sternly. “Stranger, leave us now. My son and I have our journey to complete, and you have yours.”
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