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Broken Chains

 

The old man walked alone on the dusty road that led to a small village tucked away behind a hill and almost hidden from the inquiring eyes of the occasional traveler. The man’s name was Demetria, but he was better known by a name given to him years before when he much younger. At first, he hated the name, but over time, and especially after the day he met the Galilean, he came to like the name because every time he heard it, it reminded him of what the prophet did for him. As the old man walked, he smiled and whispered that name to himself, “The Dead Man”.  To some to be called by such a morbid name would be an insult and offensive, but to Demetria it was beautiful and a source of wonder and amazing joy.

 

Three boys from the village were playing in a field alongside the road and happened to see the old man heading in their direction. To be truthful, seeing anyone on the road to their village was a wonder in itself. But, to see an old man shuffling along in the thick dust of the road was a curious sight to the boys. Of course, their first question was, “Who is this old man?” Followed by the next obvious question, “Why is he coming to our village?” 

 

The boys forgot the game they were playing, and ran to the road to get a better look at the stranger. From where they stood, it was easy to see he was old; maybe even older than the elder in the village they called “Abraham’s older brother” behind his back. But there was something about the way the stranger walked that caused them to reassess their thoughts about his age. To be sure, he walked bent over and slower than a slow three-year old girl; but his steps were deliberate and steady. His simple robe hung loosely on his shoulders and his sandals looked older than the poor soul who wore them.  The only things he carried were a staff, a leather bag, and a smaller bag strapped to the belt around his waist.

 

While the boys were occupied with gawking at the bent, old man stirring up the dust at noon day, the stranger did some gawking of his own.  He correctly guessed them to be twelve years old or at least not far from being twelve. The tattered tunics they wore told him they were desperately poor; which sadly, described just about every person in this neglected part of the region.  

 

The boys mistakenly thought the apparition coming toward them could not hear their not so quiet conversation, but he heard every word they said. Instead of being offended by their innocent banter, he found it both refreshing and somewhat entertaining. During the course of their roadside discussion, he clearly heard their names and when he was within earshot of his observers, he greeted each boy by name. The boys turned to look at each other, as if to ask if they really heard what they heard.

 

The stranger, now much closer, called out, “Yes, you heard correctly, my young friends; you might be surprised to know I heard every word you spoke. And Artemis you should be ashamed calling your older sister a goat.”

  

The young offender was too stunned to do anything but turn red in the face. And his friends took up where the stranger left off and made fun of the unfortunate Artemis. “Artemis is a goat! Artemis is a goat!”

 

The boy put his hands on his hips and in his deepest voice informed his mischievous friends, “I am not a goat!”

  

After several long and lonely days of walking, the comical scene on the side of the dusty road was a welcome relief and the old traveler couldn’t help but burst into laughter. The three boys stopped their name-calling and after a moment joined the man and laughed at themselves.

 

As they watched, he took the leather bag from his shoulder, put his hand inside brought out an orange and gave it to the one called Artemis. He repeated the action until each boy held an orange in his hands. He enjoyed giving to others, especially when he knew it would make their day a little brighter. And from the looks on the boys’ faces, their day was definitely brighter.

 

“Now which one of you would like to help this old man walk the rest of the way to your village, and see to it he gets some water to drink and maybe a morsel of bread to eat?”

 

All three volunteered to aid their new friend, and soon they came to the entrance of the village and made their way to the open area in the middle of the settlement. Everyone stopped what they were doing to stare at the man the boys brought into their midst. The market area of the village was always a cacophony of voices, children crying, donkeys baying, and sellers hawking their goods; but the moment the stranger arrived, it became eerily silent.

 

 

Demetria wasn’t at all surprised by the people’s reaction to his sudden and unannounced arrival; in fact, he expected it. He learned years ago that sudden silence was much better that being chased from a village by a mob with lots of stones to throw. Under his breath, he thanked God he didn’t see any sign of trouble today.

 

People moved out of his way as he walked to the center of the market area, stood on a big rock and announced in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear.

 

“My name is Demetria and I come in peace. As you can see I am well past my youth, and could bring no harm even if I wanted to. And you can tell by the way I speak I am a native of this region.”

 

Someone shouted, “All of us are anxious to know why you chose to come to our poor village.”

 

“Yes, stranger, we are all eager to hear why you have journeyed so far to visit a village of unlearned and unwanted goat and sheep herders.” The man who spoke moved within a few feet of Demetria and stood staring intently at his face.

 

Suddenly the man gasped, “My God, it’s you isn’t it? For years I heard stories about you, but I never believed them. But here you are! Tell us the truth; are you the one they call the Dead Man?”

 

“My name is Demetria, but I am known as the Dead Man. So, yes, I am he!”

A wave of excitement swept through the crowd when he confirmed his identity. 

 

Many of the villagers had heard stories of the Dead Man all their lives. Stories of a man filled with demons who lived among the tombs, lived among the dead. A man so feared by others they tried time and time again to chain him, but each time he overpowered them and broke the chains into pieces. 

 

Then something unbelievable happened when the prophet from Nazareth and his disciples came through the region and encountered the Dead Man. There are many versions of what Jesus did, but they all agree on one thing--Jesus changed the wild man that day.  The man who ran naked and screaming among the tombs met the Nazarene and the demons that tormented him were forced to flee.  

 

Those that saw what happened said one minute the Dead Man was screaming and threatening the prophets and his disciples, and the next he was calm and asking for clothes to wear.  The witnesses also told how the one they called Jesus put his hand on the changed man’s shoulder and appeared to be praying for him. Stories of what happened spread like wildfire and people as far away as Damascus and Jerusalem wanted to know more about the man that had authority over even the most powerful demons. And most certainly they wanted to see the one people called the Dead Man.

 

The village elder drew closer to Demetria and spoke barely above a whisper, “Sir, we are honored you have chosen us today. Please let us provide you with food and shelter and may our peace surround you. In exchange for our humble 

hospitality, I pray you will tell us your story.”

 

Several in the crowd heard the elder’s request and shouted, “Yes, you may eat and drink to your heart’s desire, if you will only agree to tell us every word of your story!”  Soon the entire village was asking him to stay long enough to tell them everything.

 

The Dead Man raised his hand to quieten them so he could speak. “Your promise of food and drink is accepted by this weary old man. In exchange for your gracious hospitality, I will tell you my story from beginning to end.”

 

When the villagers in the market area heard the stranger’s promise, they were excited and told each other how special their day had become. The elder took the Dead Man by the hand and led him to a large tree and made sure he sat in the most comfortable place in the welcome shade it provided. Without being asked to do so, people brought jars of water, wineskins filled to the brim with homemade wine, and fresh wheat bread. Others brought dates, raisin cakes, and honey combs dripping with thick, sweet honey. One man brought a goat and made a show of announcing that the animal would be the guest of honor at the evening meal. He laughed at his own humor and many others laughed with hm.

 

The elder observed with visible satisfaction his peoples’ display of generosity for a man they only met a few hours earlier. With no small flourish, he stood and addressed the expectant congregation crowded into the shade of the tree.

 

“Peace be with you! And peace for the one who has blessed us with his presence today! We are your humble and undeserving servants and wish to make our village your village. Please receive the bread and wine we offer. We hope it will give strength to your bones and joy to your heart.”

 

Then as an afterthought, “And may it help you tell us the story you promised!”

 

Everyone watched as the Dead Man broke the bread and let the honey drip on it until it was covered with the dark sweet liquid. The bread and honey was followed by a handful of dates and a nice plump raisin cake. A young girl offered him a clay bowl filled with almonds and he made short work of them. 

 

When he finished eating, the wife of the elder filled a cup with wine and gave it to him. For the first time in days, how many he could not recall, his belly was full and the hunger that followed him like a shadow was gone. He leaned back on the trunk of the tree and lifted the cup of wine to his lips and let the delicious product of the grape take its time washing down his throat. The spell-bound villagers watched him eat and drink and when he smiled and burped, they knew he had enjoyed what they gave him.

 

But all the good food and delicious wine, mixed with his tired body, and the heat of a Middle Eastern day suddenly hit him and to everyone’s utter amazement, he closed his eyes and fell fast asleep.

 

He had no way of knowing how long he slept so he didn’t know what to expect when he opened his eyes. He certainly didn’t expect to see what he saw; even though the sun had moved to late afternoon, the villagers who gathered around him as he ate earlier were still there! Apparently, they sat and watched him sleep and never left the circle. 

 

The elder cleared his throat, “Dead Man, we hope you enjoyed your rest. Those of us, who stayed awake, enjoyed your snoring and are still wondering how a small man can produce such big and annoying sounds!” 

 

Then in a more serious voice, “Demetria, we are ready to hear your story.”

 

The story teller sat up, ran his hands through his hair, and cleared his throat. He let his eyes move slowly across the eager faces around him and began.

 

“The story I am going to tell you, isn’t about me at all, it’s about the Jew from Galilee, the one some called a trouble-maker and a rebel. But many more knew him as the Messiah, the Promised One who came from God. They, even though they never met him face-to-face, came to love him with such passion, their whole lives were changed. And those who saw him or heard him were never the same afterward.

 

I am one of those and here is the story of how Jesus changed me.”

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