Darius, the amazing Prophet of the Mount’s, back was killing him. He had been hoeing in the garden for most of the morning and had developed a throbbing pain where his body bent forward as he leaned into turning the soil. His hands were red and blistered as well, and his knees felt like they might not straighten out his legs ever again.
As he decided on a brief respite, Darius stole a quick glance at his tree. It stood proudly at the head of the trail, where he was always seated beneath its giant branches, his back to its massive trunk, whenever pilgrims reached the end of their journey. There they would break bread with him, receive his words of wisdom, leave him gifts of gratitude and, finally, launch themselves back down the way they had come.
For nearly forty years it had been so. It was a life of solitude and, often, deep loneliness; but Darius was the Prophet of the Mount and he could no more change that then he could grow a decent crop in the garden where he now stood. For years he had anticipated retirement and had looked futilely for a replacement among the many pilgrims who made their way to his tree. Finally, he had become convinced he was the last Prophet of the Mount.
Musing he turned his attention back to gardening, and was startled to see a man emerging from around the side of his modest hut. The mid-morning sun blurring his vision, Darius couldn’t quite make the stranger out until they both had come much closer together. Then Darius could see the man’s hands were raw and bleeding from clutching at sharp rocks on the climb up the steep side of the mount. His trousers also displayed several fresh tears and bare, scraped knees underneath.
Darius spoke first. “Why did you come up that way?”
“I didn’t want you greeting me as just any pilgrim, I suppose.” He held out his hand, “I’m Jared.”
Darius stared at the proffered, bleeding hand, his brow furrowed. People generally did not attempt to touch him. They wanted his advice…his prophecies…but feared his touch. He gently took Jared’s injured hand and said, “Let’s get you inside where I can wash and bandage you up.”
Jared’s grateful smile touched his entire face, and Darius felt a small tingle on the back of his neck. Possibly just the cool breeze again.
After bandaging and some lunch, Darius and his visitor spent the afternoon, and then the evening, talking. It had been a long time since Darius had a normal conversation with another person. Usually Darius talked. Pilgrims listened, gave him some food or an object as a gift and left as fast as they could. Being a prophet was sometimes the loneliest job in the world.
Jared, though, was different. He wanted to know all about Darius’ life; his days, nights, studies, prayer schedule – all of it. He never once posed a question on his own behalf. “Or, perhaps,” the thought crept in, “it is all on his behalf?”
In the morning Darius woke to the rising sun coming through his window and Jared already gone. As he stepped out into the cool breeze of morning, Darius saw that Jared was working the garden for him. He’d apparently been up at the crack of dawn, and had nearly finished what Darius calculated to be several hours worth of labor.
His eyes squinting together in quiet bewilderment, Darius approached the sweating, sagging Jared, leaning on the hoe in the last row of the garden.
“Jared, why have you done this? You are my guest, there is no need for you to feel you must repay me for a night’s stay.”
Jared turned and looked at Darius, a look both penetrating and reaching – reaching out to a man grieving his legacy – and said, “My friend, not as payment have I worked this soil, but as a gift. It is my gift to a man who has lived a consecrated life. A man who has given the whole of his life in service to the Lord, as I hope to do myself.”
Darius turned his head heavenward as his eyes began to well up and said silently, “Lord, thank you for finally sending the one who is to take my place.”
His legacy intact, Darius looked back at Jared, through moistened eyes, and saw, for the first time, the blood seeping forth from under his bandaged hands.
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