The story is told about a cattle rearer who whenever he took his herd out daily to graze across the open fields of the village, into town and back would always stop and sit under a certain almond tree out in the middle of the fields.There under the tree everyday also sat a prophet with whom the cattle rearer formed a tight bond of friendship, bringing him food each day as he stopped to sit and talk while his men watched over the cattle before continuing on his business.
One pleasant day as the prophet sat quietly in his usual spot, an angel appeared to him “servant of God,friend of the shepherd”, the angel greeted, “today is the last day on earth for your friend, today your friend shall die”.
In shock and with a scream,he jumped to his feet , “what?! why?!”
“I do not know; the Almighty ordained it”, replied the angel.
“This can not be! What has my friend done?” ,wailed the prophet
“Today you bid your friend the shepherd goodbye for the last time because when he leaves you to continue on his journey,his dead body shall be brought back”.
“Can he not be spared?”,asked the prophet
“The Almighty alone knows the seasons of a man’s life, only he determines the destiny of man”, said the angel before he disappeared.
Grief stricken, the prophet sank to the ground and wept his heart out. In this condition it was that the shepherd met him. As the shepherd tried to console his friend, he asked the reason for his tears but the more he asked, the greater the prophet’s grief became and the louder his wails so much that he refused the meal placed before him as was usual.
The prophet’s pain was so much that the shepherd began to weep.
The shepherd’s pain for the prophet was so much that the shepherd’s men began to weep.
Seeing that he could not console his friend, the shepherd rose to his feet to continue his journey with his herd but as he did so, he said to the prophet, “I will pray to the Lord that your sorrows be turned to joy. I promise you”.
Now heartbroken and confused at the situation, the shepherd sang and prayed as he walked. When he could not contain his grief anymore, he stopped and took a very long time to pray so hard, so earnestly that his men who stood guard watching the cows prayed with him.
When he rose from his intense supplication and intercession for his friend, he vowed that as a sacrifice on his friend’s behalf, he would give away all his cows- one to any person he came across on his journey for he thinking aloud said, “perhaps the Lord will have mercy through my faithful sacrifice and take away this grief that so deeply besets my friend”.
And he did as he vowed; gifting away his cattle to anyone he met on the road, both young and old, man or woman.
Meanwhile, somewhere on another part of that large road behind the bushes, up in the trees and lying in the grasslands, a group of paid assassins waited for the shepherd to show himself- a jealous colleague had set a trap for him.
All morning and all afternoon they waited and when he did not pass by at the expected time with his cattle, they waited till evening but the shepherd had spent all morning consoling his prophet friend into the afternoon…
….And then spent all afternoon praying for his prophet friend…
…thereafter spending the remaining part of the afternoon into the evening fulfilling his vow before God stopping and giving away his cattle to anyone who crossed his path so that by evening while the assassins awaited his arrival, the shepherd had given away all of his cattle. Concluding with his men that there was no need to continue on their journey since there were no cows left; they turned and headed back the way they had come.
As they went, they came to the almond tree where the bossom friends would usally meet and there sat the prophet deep in thought with tears sliding down his cheeks.
“Greetings , dear friend”, said the shepherd.
At the sound of his friend’s voice, the prophet sprang up with joy and disbelief on his face, grabbing the shepherd, hugging and kissing him over and over again, “My friend! oh my friend, is this you?”. was all he could say as he felt him all over to ascertain that he was truly alive.
The shepherd for his part gleamed with pleasure at the sight before him: his friend prancing about happily.
Noticing that his company was smaller at his return than at his going out, the prophet asked where his cattle was to which the shepherd replied, “I could not stand your sorrow so I prayed and swore to give away all of my cattle as a sacrifice for your joy to be returned”.
At his reply, the prophet shook his head and silently marvelled at the irony of it all. Each happy for the other for different reasons but strangely the same reason too; the prophet for the shepherd, the shepherd for the prophet and the shepherd’s men for the shepherd and the prophet…the prophet never saying why he was grieved in the first place.
And the assassins waited…
Till they could wait no more.
So they told eachother, “The shepherd will die one day but not today and surely never by our hands for clearly today is not his day to die. We have done our part.”, they gathered up their arms and left.
The thing about love. It sparks a chain reaction. It comes back. It goes around and then it comes back to you. The path it takes may not always be easy but somehow it is usually simple enough…and when love protects us, we don’t always know it.