Wednesday, January 25, 2012
At the watering hole, along the barrens of Fey, on the fork of the road leading to Mem in one direction and Ar in the other, the wise and righteous Fort encountered a weary stranger in threadbare garments. And although Fort would later go hungry, he offered the stranger his last loaf, which the man eagerly consumed.
Fort bid the stranger to make himself comfortable, then asked his name.
“They used to call me Saul,” the stranger replied in a defeated voice.
“And what do they call you now?” inquired Fort. “It hardly matters,” the man replied. “Just call me Saul.”
Whereupon Saul related an account when, as a much younger man, God had appeared to him in a vision, and thus filled with this vision he had traveled far and wide, enduring many privations, braving persecution and hardship, to spread the good news.
"Five times, in the hands of my own people,” he related, “I have received the 40 lashes minus one. Thrice was I beaten with rods. Once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep. Angry mobs, robbers, betrayal from my brothers, in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night.”
“Indeed, you have endured much,” said Fort, “and your undertaking has been very noble.”
But Saul only shook his head in resignation. “I was young, I was foolish,” he reflected. “I thought I could change the world.”
“And now?” Fort inquired.
“I am old and wise,” Saul replied. “No one listens.”
“Indeed, you are very wise,” Fort replied.
“Wise enough to know the follies of my ways,” said Saul.
“But surely,” protested Fort. “There is great merit in service to God.”
“And how does God repay me?” Saul replied. “By sinking my boat.”
“Indeed,” allowed Fort, “God is hardly worthy of your service. But your people, your followers, surely they possess far greater wisdom. Surely, their numbers are legion.”
Saul laughed bitterly. Casting one arm over the empty expanse of the barrens, he observed, “Ah, the multitudes. As you can see, I never get a moment to myself.”
“But you are far from home,” protested Fort. “Surely, upon your return, by a warm hearth, you will be welcomed with open arms.”
Saul made a sad face.
“I understand,” said Fort. “Had only your own people proved worthy, it would have been easy to forgive God. But perhaps neither God nor your own people are to blame. Perhaps it is your message that is unworthy.”
Saul’s aspect appeared questioning.
“A worthy message,” explained Fort, “would have attracted people of high status and considerable means. You would be supping with kings. You would be resting your head upon fine cushions. Heralds would be proclaiming your wisdom far and wide. Alas, if only your message were worthy.”
“Alas,” acknowledged Saul, “my message fell on deaf ears. Only people of no account listened.”
“People of no account,” repeated Fort.
“People of modest means,” explained Saul, “barely able to eke out a living. Not to mention people of no means and wretched status, outcasts, slaves, women, lots of women.”
“The wrong people,” Fort concurred. “People of no use to you. Clearly, what have they done for you?”
A flash of anger appeared in Saul’s eyes. “They took me in,” he exclaimed in a voice robust with indignation. “They provided for me with what little they had. They journeyed with me. They shared my hardships with me. They risked their lives for me.”
Fort affected to reflect upon the matter. “Ah,” he said at last.
“Gladly,” said Saul, “for these people, I would have God sink my boat - again and again.”
“Ah,” said Fort.
And the realization dawned in Saul’s eyes. Tears flowed down his cheeks, his carriage trembled. “I am greatly indebted to you,” said Saul to Fort. “You are indeed a very wise man.”
“A wise old fool,” Fort corrected in a kindly voice, “far from home, like you.” He rose to his feet, and indicating a road branching off from the fork, he said to Saul, “You are a very worthy man. I would be most honored if you joined me.”
But Saul pointed in the direction of the other road. “My path lies this way,” he said.
“A very lonely road,” observed Fort.
“A very lonely road,” concurred Saul.
“Yet more privation and hardship lies ahead,” Fort cautioned. “You are old, your condition is weak.”
“My strength is made perfect in weakness,” Saul replied, as Fort helped him to his feet.
“Spoken like a wise old fool,” said Fort, with approval in his manner.
A robust laugh issued from Saul. “A wise old fool,” he agreed.
“I would bid you God speed,” said Fort, with a twinkle in his eye, “but you and God have not exactly reached a meeting of the minds in this regard.”
“And I would wish you God bless,” Saul responded, his manner mirthful, “but you and God have probably come to your own arrangement.”
They embraced. “God speed,” said Fort. “God bless,” said Saul. They broke off their embrace, then parted company and headed their separate ways, two wise old fools.
And so it came to pass, far along the road, that Fort related his encounter to a band of pilgrims from the land of Rho, making their way to The Place. And the travelers marveled over this wondrous account of the strange man who had apparently wasted his life serving such a God of infinite unyielding disdain.
“It is not easy being God’s servant,” Fort allowed.
And what do you think became of this strange man? they inquired.
“That I cannot tell you,” Fort replied. “But I can venture this - that this time around, on the last leg of his journey, my guess is that God did not sink his boat.”
Also see Book I.