The Traveler and the Disciple
a modern parable
Briseadh na Faire
On an ice-blue winter’s morn a long-journeyed traveler strode into a quiet village. Grownups, both proud and humble kept to their paces, bustling about in preparation for the coming holiday. But a young girl, on the cusp of womanhood bounded up to the stranger.
“Hi,” she sparkled.
“Hello” the Traveler returned.
“You’re not from around here” the girl observed.
“I have traveled from afar.” The Traveler paused, looking about. Snow covered much of the streets, and dripped slowly from thatched roofs creating diamond icicles reaching nearly to the ground. The winter sun was warm enough, however, to cause wisps of steam to float above the rooftops. The Traveler pulled back the hood of his forest-green cloak revealing his white hair and sky-blue eyes.
“Are you a Disciple?” The girl casually flicked back a lock of golden hair.
The Traveler paused. He looked at the girl, and at the townspeople who averted his glances. Then he sat down on the stone bench by a frozen fountain. He invited the girl to sit next to him. “What do you hope to learn by asking me if I am a Disciple?”
She squinted her eyes. That was not the answer she expected. She expected a yes, or a no.
“You’re not a Disciple,” she concluded.
“Why do you say that?” The Traveler looked into her eyes.
“Because…if you were a disciple you would have said so right away.”
“And so” the Traveler interjected, “you have judged me?”
The girl sat straight up. This stranger knew some of the words. But still, he didn’t come right out and confess that he was a Disciple.
“You asked if I was a Disciple so you could judge me.” the Traveler continued. The little girl felt her cheeks burn.
“If I said yes” the Traveler continued, “you would have accepted me. But if I said no…”
“Then…” the girl stammered, “then I would know you did not accept our Lord…” She paused, fidgeting. “…that you followed the Deceiver.”
The Traveler leaned on his birch staff and stood, looking to the east where a lone eagle circled against the cerulean sky. “I have heard of this Deceiver.” His back was to the girl. He slowly turned around. “But…”
The girl waited uncomfortably.
“But, if I followed the Deceiver, wouldn’t I have answered ‘yes,’ that I was a Disciple?” The Traveler’s eyes locked onto the girl’s eyes. She felt like he was peering into her very soul.
She thought about what this stranger said. It was true. The Deceiver would lie, about everything. She looked around. On the fringes of the village square she saw townspeople – the grown-ups that had taught her the words to ask – how to tell if one was to be accepted as a friend, a Disciple, and to shun all who didn’t say the right words. But this stranger, this man who didn’t say all the right words, but who knew some of the right words and seemed to know truths her elders never taught her – her head was swimming…
“You asked me if I was a Disciple so you could either accept me as a friend, or not have anything to do with me,” the Traveler sat back down next to the girl.
“Get out of my head!” the girl thought. “You can’t know what I was thinking!” She cupped her hands over her ears burning ears.
The Traveler reached down and took her chin, directing her gaze into his eyes. “It’s alright. You were only doing as you have been taught.” His kind gaze relaxed her and she lowered her hands.
“If believers and deceivers both answer the same way…how do I tell the difference?” The girl’s eyes welled up with tears.
“The only way anyone can tell,” the Traveler replied, “by what they do, not by what they say.”
“I have travelled far,” the Traveler continued, “and have heard of this Lord of yours. I hear he is kind and gentle and wise. But not all have heard of him. When you ask a man who does not know what it means to you to be a Disciple, he will know that his answer will mean you won’t accept him for who he is.” The shadow of the eagle flitted over the Traveler as the great bird circled overhead.
“Tell me, does your Lord demand everyone be a Disciple?” The Traveler asked, standing and extending his left arm.
“N-n-no,” she stammered, “He leaves that choice to everyone. But the elders…”
The eagle swooped down and silently lit on the Traveler’s outstretched arm.
“Wow!” the girl’s eyes opened wide. “Is he your pet?”
“No. He’s more of a companion.”
The townspeople about the square stopped bustling about and gathered in small groups, talking in hushed tones and pointing at the stranger by the fountain.
“You were about to tell me about the elders?”
“They taught me to ask everyone if they are a Disciple. They taught me to stay away from anyone who didn’t confess they were a Disciple of my Lord. They taught me that everyone who is not a Disciple follows the Deceiver – they lie and are not to be trusted.”
The girl paused and frowned. “And you never answered my question.” She folded her arms.
“Ah, but I did. I just didn’t give you the answer you expected.” The eagle spread its wings and lifted itself effortlessly into the air. “That is true,” the girl thought.
“The sun, does it shine only on Disciples?” The Traveler took a couple of steps to the east.
“It shines on everyone.” She answered.
“Disciples, and those who are not Disciples?” His back was to the girl. But the townspeople to the east of the square suddenly broke their little groups and scurried into the nearest shops.
The girl got up from the stone bench and walked over to the Traveler. “Everyone. It doesn’t matter who you are, or what you believe. The sun is the sun. It shines on everyone.”
“And your Lord, is he not like the sun?” The eagle cried overhead.
“What do you mean?” Behind her, the townspeople started moving into the square.
“Well, this is his square, is it not?”
The Traveler kneeled on one knee so his face was even with the girl’s. “Is it only for Disciples? Or may anyone gather here.”
“Anyone may gather here.” She paused a moment, thinking. Then she walked over to the fountain. “Anyone may drink of this fountain. Anyone may walk the streets.” She turned and faced the Traveler. “My Lord didn’t exclude anyone.” Then she looked at the growing crowd of townspeople. She backed up to the Traveler.
“But not everyone is welcome in the shops of the elders.” She turned and faced the Traveler, tears welling in her eyes. The townspeople halted in the snow. The little girl through her arms around the Traveler, sobbing onto the shoulder of his green cloak. A woman in fine clothes began pushing her way forward from the back of the crowd.
“The elders….they’re not Disciples” the girl whispered into the Traveler’s ear. “I know” he whispered back. The Traveler gently placed his hands on the girl’s shoulders, holding her at arm’s length. He spoke softly, so that the townspeople could not hear. “You won’t have to ask that question anymore. You’ll know what’s in their hearts without asking. And what’s in their hearts is more important than whether one calls themselves a Disciple.” She nodded, wiping the last of her tears with her sleeve.
The woman broke through the crowd and grabbed the girl by the arm. “Come along, daughter!” she commanded.
“You’re not my mother!” screamed the girl, wresting her arm away. “You stole me from my mother when I was a baby!” The townspeople began muttering in hushed tones. In the shadows between shops, a woman in rags, long shunned by the townspeople, began crying.
“She’s my mother!” the girl proclaimed, pointing at the woman in rags. The woman stood, stretching out her arms even though she was still crying. The eagle overhead cried out, too. The girl ran to her mother, leaving behind the woman in fine clothes. The muttering in the crowd grew louder.
Suddenly there was a crack! as the ice in the fountain broke loose, spraying diamond-crystals and mists of freezing water every which way. The group of townspeople turned towards the fountain, and where the Traveler had stood, but the Traveler was nowhere to be seen.
“I love you, mother” the girl whispered in her mother’s ear.
“I love you, too.” The mother replied, as the woman in fine clothes grabbed the daughter’s arms and wrenched her away.
‘What’s in their hearts is more important than whether they call themselves a Disciple.’ Those words echoed in the girl’s ears as the woman in fine clothes pulled her down the town’s streets to the house where they lived. She vowed to herself that she would never again ask anyone if they were a Disciple. And to her dying day, she never did. But she did share what that stranger taught her by the fountain that one ice-blue winter’s morn.
© 2016 Briseadh na Faire