(*Links to previous chapters are at the end of this article.)
ENCOUNTERS ON THE PATH
“Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the LORD our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison. When such a person hears the words of this oath and they invoke a blessing on themselves, thinking, ‘I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way,’ they will bring disaster on the watered land as well as the dry” (Deuteronomy 29:18-19).
“See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12:15).
“From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus” (Galatians 6:17).
After having spent a few hours under the shade of the Joshua tree in a sleep free of nightmares to which he was used, Theophilus felt invigorated.
“Are you hungry or thirsty?” This question from Joshua, who had watched kindly over his sleep, brought him back to reality.
“What do you think? Of course, I am hungry and thirsty. But I don’t see any Starbucks or McDonalds around here,” retorted Theophilus, who, in spite of the desperate situation he was facing, was indulging in sarcasm.
“Yes, you are right,” answered Joshua without any defensive tone in his voice. “This is why I am a guide; I have all the resources needed to help castaways like you survive in the desert.”
“Oh yes, and how so?”
“It’s simple. Put your hand over the scar in the middle of my chest and press hard enough to make a syrup with the taste of honey come out. It will satisfy your hunger and quench your thirst. Thus, you will be able to be on your way until you find one of my brothers who will help you to pursue your goal.”
“Thank you,” answered Theophilus who found this cactus more and more peculiar, because as he got closer to Joshua, his barely opened eyes could make out a soft scar where usually cacti have long and dangerous needles.
“Tell me, Joshua, why all cacti have thorns, but you have scars instead?”
“Well, my friend, it’s obvious. How could you get close to me enough to feed yourself? And besides, those are the marks of my Master.”
Satisfied with this response for now, Theophilus followed Joshua’s instructions and felt his strength coming back. However, he still had a pressing question.
“I know that some people remove cat’s claws or genetically produce thornless roses, but I think it‘s against nature. How do you defend yourself against attacks that you didn’t even provoke?”
“Well, it’s a little difficult to understand. It’s my Master’s handiwork. He is a very good surgeon, you will discover. But don’t worry; my brothers will explain everything to you. Have a good trip.”
Still wondering about his conversation with Joshua, Theophilus continued on his way with difficulty, but with a growing glimmer of hope. The sweet-tasting syrup had calmed his worries, and a strange feeling invaded his being in spite of the many questions bouncing off the walls of his skull.
He was regaining a little of the lucidity he had experienced as a child when life used to be simple, pleasant and without worries. Without even realizing how much of his journey he had accomplished, since his mind was so absorbed in his new adventure, Theophilus arrived at his next touristic stop bathed in the light of a sunset as can be watched only in the desert.
Once the fireball cursed by the desert Bedouins had ceased lighting his path, he was able to distinguish a luminous shape strangely similar to the first Joshua tree. This discovery filled his mind with the reassurance that he hadn’t lost his way. Nevertheless, he was wondering how he could have not deviated from it in this unknown immensity.
“Good evening and welcome.”
The comforting voice reminded him of his first encounter with the Joshua tree. Though, this time, it had lost a little bit of the surprise effect, all the more since the voice was coming from a figure strangely resembling the other Joshua.
He felt at ease and sat down surrounded by the only light emanating from the cactus. It spread all around them and provided a heat that felt welcome against the night’s cold, settling as a companion to the surrounding darkness. That night, he met Joshua’s brother, himself named Joshua, who offered him food, drink, light and heat. However, his morning query that was left unanswered was still bothering him. So, before falling asleep against the Joshua tree’s thornless trunk, he asked him this question:
“Tell me, Joshua; this morning your brother told me that you would reveal to me the mystery of the absence of thorns and of the soft scars. Also, he vaguely insinuated that there was something wrong with my heart. I don’t see how.”
“Well, actually a lot of people have this problem. Do you remember when you were young and felt abandoned, confused and lost in a merciless world without understanding why? Then growing up, the injustices, abuses and deep wounds that left their marks on you, the thorns bushes that you encountered at the turning point in your family, professional or social life that you didn’t know how to deal with? It’s normal; people defend themselves as they can.
“The sad part about it is that these thorns find their way to their heart and become encrusted, producing a poisonous infection without a chance of healing. These thorns appear on the surface and multiply each time another thorn thrown at us penetrates the sensitive skin of our fragile ego and, with time, form a stone-hard and cold callous, building a self-inflicted protective prison. The only antidote to this poison is a radical change of heart that only the Master of the Joshua Trees can provide with his healing power. He is the only one who can help you by giving you a new life so that you do not have to keep those ugly thorns that harden your heart, darken your vision and poison your life and that of the people around you.”
“Yes, I begin to understand,” answered Theophilus, who remembered that the first Joshua had mentioned a horned viper whose poisonous bite weakened its victims and rendered them blind and incapable of recognizing their true spiritual condition. “So, that explains the absence of thorns on your skin, doesn’t it?”
“Exactly; my Master teaches us how to reject the thorns and to not let them penetrate our hearts. He will reveal it to you when you meet him soon. You’ve made a lot of progress. Tomorrow, after a good night’s rest, you will be on your way. Keep hoping because you are about to meet the Master.”
My friends, I shall see you soon for the next and last chapter of our desert adventure.
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