Chapter 12 – At the Nomad’s

When they came to the Nomad’s encampment, they sat happily in the shade of the tent and Amsiggel recounted all their experiences. He told how Faithful and Honey had come with them, accompanied by the Blacksmith and his brother and the two lads called Hamu. Then the Nomad asked, “Have you found an answer to our question?” “What was your question?” enquired Faithful in friendly fashion. “Well, we’ve actually got two questions,” he replied, “The first is: What is good? How can we know good from bad?”

Faithful smiled. “Quiet, all of you!” he said. Silence fell and there was no sound. Then he said, “Can you hear your heart beating? Listen carefully to your heart, because that’s where the Lord God reveals what is right. The heart of man is his life. When the heart goes silent, he’s dead. It’s to the heart that God reveals what he wants of us as long as we live, and he’ll show you what is good and what is bad. Listen always to what your heart tells you, and act on it, because it will be the truth of God.”

“I’ve listened to my heart beating,” said the Nomad’s wife, “but I’ve never yet heard a word from God. How can he show us what’s good and what’s bad?” “A person who listens carefully to the birds sing,” replied Faithful, “will know each bird by its song. A person who’s accustomed to measuring fields and rooms will know from a distance how many paces long they are. And a person who’s accustomed to hearing his heart will know what is good from what is bad, because his heart will weigh up what he sees and hears. If you see someone climbing off his mule so a blind man can ride, you know he’s done good. If you see someone lift a heavy sack for an Old Woman and carry it where she wants it, you know he’s done good. Someone who picks up broken glass from the path, or takes a straying donkey back to its owner, we all know that it’s good he’s done. Our heart shows us that it’s good to help people like this. Everywhere in the whole world, from the beginning of time to the present, this has been obvious because the heart of man shows him what is good. And we can put into practice goodness of this sort every day.” “Is there anyone,” asked Amsiggel, “who’s done all the good he could do? Surely there’s no one who’s been perfectly good?” “What you say is quite correct, Amsiggel,” replied Faithful, “and anyone who knows the good he should do but fails to do it – he is guilty of a sin!” “You’re right Faithful,” said the Nomad’s wife, “It’s easy to know what is good, but it’s hard for us to do it.”

“You’ve told us what good is like,” said the Nomad, “but how can people know what is bad? – they just don’t listen to what their heart tells them. They’re so used to doing evil that they can no longer distinguish between good and bad.” “You’re right,” replied Faithful, “But even they really know what is good and what is bad. There’s no liar who’ll tolerate his son lying to him. Even if a man tells lies more than anyone in the whole village, he’ll not stand for his son to lie to him, because there’s something in the heart of man that shows him lying is bad, and it can never meet with his approval. And it’s the same with theft. There’s no thief who’ll tolerate someone stealing from him. Even if he has lots of property himself and knows the one who steals from him is in need, he’ll not accept it, because there’s something in the heart of man that shows him stealing is bad, and it can never meet with his approval. Similarly, there’s no adulterer who’ll tolerate his wife committing adultery, because there’s something in the heart of man that shows him adultery is bad, and it can never meet with his approval. That’s how it is: we all know what is bad.” “You’re right Faithful,” said the Nomad, “It’s easy to know what is bad, but it’s hard for us to avoid it and keep away from it.”

“So, what was your second question?” asked Faithful. The Nomad replied, “Someone who knows he’s done wrong, and knows he’s failed to do good, how can he possibly enter into peace with God? How can he obtain God’s approval? What can he do to get God’s forgiveness?” “Well now, see your grey donkey there beside the tent,” replied Faithful, “When God created it, he gave it a black mark on its back above its front legs. What shape is the mark?” To this the Nomad replied, “It’s like if you put one stick across another.” “Well, that mark is the sign of a new covenant between us and God,” said Faithful, “Listen, all of you, and I’ll tell you about it. Once there was a good man who did everything God required of him; he taught people all about the way of God. He was kind and helped anyone in need; he did good to everyone, whoever they were. One day he was riding to the big city on a donkey: those who came to meet him along the road were so pleased to see him that they wanted to make him their king. But when he reached the city, one of his friends betrayed him. They seized him, tied him up, tore his clothes and beat him severely. Despite this, he did not retaliate at all – he didn’t hit back or dispute with them or get a sword to start a riot. Then they took him and hung him to die on a tall wooden pole. That pole was made of two pieces of wood; one was stuck into the ground and the other went across the top like that shape on the donkey. He hung there with his blood dripping to the ground – and he said nothing, except one thing. He raised his voice to heaven and cried out, “O God, forgive them! They just don’t know what they’re doing!” In fact, God had planned all this and knew about it from the very beginning. He puts that mark on every donkey colt born throughout the whole world so that we’ll never forget the one who rode on a donkey colt or how he asked God to forgive those who killed him.”

Then Faithful continued: “The man who rode that donkey, he wasn’t like other people, because he’d never done anything bad or shameful. He was always doing good to everyone; he did all that God required of him. He never needed God to forgive him, nor did he have to ask for mercy – he didn’t have to suffer the judgment of death that loomed over everyone else. And that’s why God planned for him to do something no one else could do except him. He sent him to do something very special.” “What did God plan for him?” asked the Nomad, “Why did he send him?” “God sent him,” said Faithful, “to suffer the judgment that lay upon mankind. He himself did not have to be punished for anything he’d done because he was without fault and had never done anything bad. That’s why he could bear the punishment that was coming to others. God sent him to die and suffer the Torments of the Grave and after that to rise from among the dead. And by raising him from the tomb to new life, God showed us he’d found acceptance with him. Then God lifted him out of this world and into his presence in heaven. And this new kind of life, he’s now given to all who believe in him. He’s made peace between us and God; he’s made a new covenant between us and our Creator.”

“Who was that man who came and made peace for us?” asked the Nomad. Amsiggel spoke up, “It’s the one we call our Saviour!” Tazzwit said, “It’s the Good Shepherd who dies for the sheep!” Hamu the New said, “It’s the one who makes us clean from the inside!” The Blacksmith said, “It’s the one who paid the debt we owed!” At this they all fell silent, listening to what their hearts were saying.

That night they stayed at the encampment. Early next morning the Nomad brought them some sheep’s milk and they had breakfast. Then they set out, accompanied by the Nomad and his wife who left their children there, some to watch the sheep, some to look after the tent. At this moment, Amsiggel remembered the bridge and the poor woman who’d fallen in the river, and he said to himself, “It’ll be hard to cross if the river has risen any further.”

Descending from the higher land, they entered the forest and went on till they came to the river. When they got there, the bridge and its foundations had been completely washed away. They asked some people how they could get across. “Keep going up the river, “they replied, “until you get to the big bridge.” They set off again but it was a long way. When they finally reached the big bridge they were impressed with its strength. It was so high above the river that the water could not reach it. They crossed safely and continued along the track.

“Year by year,” said Faithful, “people make wooden bridges and the river carries them away. Wooden bridges are fine for a while, but when the floods come they always collapse. Do you see the metaphor? The things we do and make are like that. What we do and make is fine for a while but eventually it collapses. Someone may do his ritual washing and say his prayers and keep the fast and do all that religion requires in order to draw close to God. The things he does may be fine for a while, but he never knows if they’ll endure to eternity or not. People are all in need of a bridge to cross over from this world to heaven but they’re always in doubt whether a bridge made of things they do will take them to the other side. They’re afraid they’ll just get carried off in the flood that comes with death… because the bridges they build always fall down!”

“We need a firm high bridge,” said Amsiggel, “one that will carry us from earth to heaven without doubt or fear. And I know what you’re going to say, Faithful, because there is someone who is a firm bridge.” “You’re right Amsiggel,” agreed Faithful, “No one on this Bridge will slip or fall into the Abyss. He’ll get safely to the other side, because he himself said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one will get to God’s presence unless I take him there myself.”

They stopped then to pray and thank God, saying, “O Lord God, we praise you because you’ve sent us the Saviour to remove our sins, to release us from the bondage of this world, to make a covenant of peace between you and us, and pay the debt that was beyond us, to take us from this earth into the world to come. All this was according to your plan in your great love and mercy. And now, O Lord God, guide us along the track and bring us safely to the old woman. Show us how we can comfort her from all that frightens her. We ask this is in the name of our Saviour, Amen.”