Hour upon hour, the boy had toiled steadily alongside his father in the fields. The silent labor had freed his wandering mind and the seed to disobey had taken root and sprouted. Perhaps now, he thought, on the return journey, he might discover the right words. 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 boy made a brief sprint up the wide, worn path.
"The man we spoke of this morning," he 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 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?"
"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."
As they walked, the boy picked up another stone and flung it into the trees.
"Is he evil?"
"Son, he left our town, among strangers he found recognition, and now he returns. Why? To show us 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. Many are confused. They want too much and easily follow someone who promises great things. Do not believe what people say, believe when you have discovered for yourself."
"How can I if I'm forbidden to 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 ground hastened the father and son toward the roadside. An unknown rider crested the rise behind them and slowed his horse as he drew near the travelers.
"Good evening friends," spoke the stout, 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 have time to spare," replied the father.
"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 feared 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 on the stranger's face.
His young mind raced. "Take the reins father, take them," he thought. "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 and..."
"No," interrupted the father.
"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 will crawl the opposite direction and join a colony of lepers before worshiping 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 young boy's heart leapt. He made an instinctive, unseen step toward the stranger.
Holding the unknown man's glare, the father hesitated, snickered, and then spoke sternly. "Leave us stranger! My son and I have our journey to complete, and you have yours."
Jason Swiney is a Christian, husband, father and educator who lives and writes in NE Georgia (lettingitflow.com). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org