From the CLAY “Story” Series
“Who did you say sent you?”
The dark-eyed woman opened the door a crack as she spoke to the tall, lanky stranger, wanting to be hospitable but obviously wary of his intentions.
“Dumah – sells fruit in the market?”
“Yes; our family has known Dumah for years. Be sure and try his figs.”
The man smiled. “He said the same thing. They were so good I brought some for you.” He held out several figs he had tucked into his cloak.
She hesitated as she glanced at the ripe figs. “You’re very kind but he’s not really up to seeing anyone right now.”
The man furrowed his brow. “Is he ill?”
“Just old. Tired.”
The man didn’t want to press but also didn’t want to pass up this opportunity to speak with the man she was protecting. “I have a little medical experience – maybe I could take a look and suggest something to help him get his energy back…?”
A raspy voice called from the next room. “Who is it, Abihail?”
“A man asking to see you, father. I told him you were resting.”
“I’m always resting these days. Show him in.”
The woman opened the door further. The man handed her the figs, which she tucked into a fold in her garment. “I’ll cut some of these up for him later.”
“You’re a good daughter.”
She smiled. “Granddaughter, actually.” Her smile faded as she lowered her voice. “Promise me you won’t stay too long.”
“You have my word.”
She swept aside the thin curtain hanging over the entry to the spare, but neat, back room and motioned for the man to enter. Inside, a weather-worn old man sat up on a woven mat laid over a bed of straw to cushion his thin frame.
“This is Nethanel, my grandfather.” The woman knelt down and tucked his bedding in neatly around him. She pulled out a fig. “Look father – some of Dumah’s figs. Would you like me to cut one up for you?”
The old man leaned around her to address the visitor. “She already knows the answer to that.”
She smiled. “I’ll be back,” she said, quietly disappearing beyond the curtain.
The old man looked at his visitor. “Sit down, sit down,” he said, motioning to the floor. “I wish I could offer you a more comfortable seat.”
“This will be just fine,” said the man, as he lowered himself to the ground and leaned back against the wall.
“You’re a tall one,” said the old man, smiling. “And you’re not a Jew. Why are you here?”
“Dumah said you knew something about the night the Christ was born.”
“I do,” said the old man, his face brightening. “I was there.”
“I’m very interested in what happened that night. Do you remember?”
“You don’t forget something like that no matter how old you get.”
The stranger leaned forward. “Tell me about it – please.”
“Of course. But…” The old man looked searchingly at his guest. “Most have tired of hearing my stories about that night by now. I imagine Dumah mentioned that. Hardly anyone who was alive when it happened is still around and the younger ones – well, I see the looks they give each other. Are you here to scoff at an old shepherd’s fantastic tales, too?”
“No, sir – absolutely not. I’m here to know the truth.”
The old man smiled. “Then you’ve come to the right place.”
“Figs, anyone?” The woman entered carrying a small bowl holding several slices of the fresh fruit.
“Perfect timing, dear one,” said the old man. “This strapping fellow was just about to help me up from here so we can continue our conversation outside in the shade of the sycamore. Can you fetch my sandals?”
The woman set the bowl down on the floor. “Are you sure, grandfather?”
“Well I wouldn’t be much of a host if I entertained him in my bare feet, now would I?” He winked at his grinning visitor.
“You know that’s not what I…”
“My precious granddaughter, I know exactly what you meant – and I don’t know what I would do without you. But I’ve lain here in this bed for the past four days. I could use some fresh air, a fig or two, and a nice conversation with this gentleman who appears to be foolish enough to hunt me down and then sit and listen to me. Now – do I have your blessing?”
The visitor clamored to his feet. “Kind woman, I promise that, at the first sign of fatigue I will have your grandfather back in bed and will take my leave with great haste.”
“There – you have the word of a gentleman. Sandals…?”
“They’re here beside your bed.” She knelt and fastened the worn sandals on her grandfather’s feet.
“Thank you, daughter.” He held out his hand. “A little help, sir?”
The visitor half assisted and half lifted the old man to his feet and the woman helped him put on a robe over his thin undergarment. She handed the bowl of fruit to the visitor. “I’ll be right inside if you need anything.”
“Thank you for your kindness.” He offered the old shepherd his arm and the two of them made their way outside, settling on a bench under the shade of a tree. The old man helped himself to a piece of fig, savoring the fruit while his visitor waited patiently for him to begin.
“We were living out in the fields at the time, my two older brothers and I, not very far from here – about an hour’s walk to Bethlehem. It was after midnight and the sheep had finally settled down; so had my brothers. Both were sound asleep by the fire. But that would soon end…”
“How’s the writing going?”
“Hmm?” The tall man looked up as his host entered the room, his quill poised above the parchment.
“The testimony from the eyewitness – the shepherd you found. I’ve hardly seen you since you got back from Bethlehem.”
The tall man looked at his host as if seeing him for the first time. He laid his quill down and rubbed his eyes. “I’m so sorry. I’m afraid I’m totally engrossed in what I’m writing and am being a terrible guest. Please forgive me.”
“No apology necessary. After your journeys and what you’ve been through I would be surprised otherwise.” He turned to go. “I’ll leave you to your work.”
“Actually, I could use the company.” He motioned to the seat on the opposite side of the table.
“Gladly.” His host sat down and reached for a piece of fruit from the plate in front of him. “Other than these figs, was it worth the trip? Did the shepherd corroborate what you had already learned?”
“He did. His memory was amazing. Everything he told me was rich with detail – the angels, the stable where they found the newborn Jesus. He even described Mary perfectly.”
“Did she remember the shepherds when you spoke with her?”
“She did. She remembered they were very shy and didn’t want to intrude. Joseph asked them to come in – they couldn’t take their eyes off of Jesus. She said the young one told them what had just happened out in the fields. That would be Nethanel, the shepherd I spoke with.”
“It sounds as though her memory was amazing as well.”
“Yes, it was – considering she had a lot on her mind that night.” The tall guest laid his quill down and leaned back in his chair.
The host eyed him for a moment. “It appears you do, too, my friend.” He indicated the fruit. “Have a fig and tell me what’s on your mind.”
His guest paused. “Nethanel asked me if I knew what became of the baby.”
“Yes. Even though he and his brothers never stopped telling what they saw that night, they had no idea what happened after that.”
“What did you tell him?”
“I told him everything; the same thing we’ve told countless thousands for the past – how many years? Who Jesus was, why He came, the significance of His death, His atoning blood, God’s gracious gift of salvation – everything.”
“And he came to faith in Jesus, he and his granddaughter both.”
“Praise be to God! That’s great news!” He looked searchingly at his guest. “ Isn’t it?”
“Yes – yes, of course it is. But how is it that all we’ve done to spread the good news all these years – the traveling, the preaching, the sacrifice – how is it that there are some who still don’t know that Jesus was the Christ and why He came? Nethanel was one of the first people to see Jesus, the first to tell the story that a savior had come. But that’s where the story ended for him. How could he not know?”
His host answered, “You have always been faithful to our Lord in sharing the gospel, but remember what Matthew wrote that Jesus said to the disciples? ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.’”
His guest sighed. “And getting fewer.” He began to straighten up his parchments. “I know what we did wasn’t in vain. Many came to faith in our Lord Jesus during our travels. But now that Paul is gone there must be another way.”
“There is – you.”
“No – Paul was the preacher. That’s not my calling.”
His host tapped the stack of parchments on the table. “But this is. You’re a diligent historian and a gifted writer. But more than that, you’re a committed follower of Jesus. You have an opportunity to tell His story so everyone will know. Tell of His humble birth, His grace and gentleness, His love for all people. Finish what the shepherds started.”
“Matthew and John Mark have already done that. What do I have to add?”
The host smiled. “Did either of them interview a shepherd?”
“Will you at least seek the Father’s will in this?”
“Of course. And I’m sure you’re right, but I’ve just struggled with how to continue since Paul died.”
“I understand. But you were there with him for a reason. And God has a task for you – I know it. You know you’re welcome to stay here and write as long as needed. It’s a big house. I would welcome the company and the chance to make a small contribution to your work.” He indicated the parchments in front of him. “Do you mind if I read some of what you’ve written?”
“Not at all.” The guest thumbed through the stack of parchment. “Here – this is what I’ve been working on today, the story the old shepherd told me.”
His host took the parchment and began reading:
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’”
He glanced over the top of the page at his guest. “This is good; very good. I look forward to reading it all.”
“Then you’ll be the first.”
“I’ll leave you to your work. Let me know when you’re hungry for something besides figs.” The host turned to leave, pausing at the door. “And Luke?”
“Remember the old shepherd and all who’ve never heard. Write it for them – for all the people.”
“I will. Thank you, Theophilus.” Luke sat for a moment, then dipped his quill in ink and continued writing:
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men…”
© 2012 by Dusty Teague