Take Up Your Oar And Follow Me
Once upon a time, there was an old holy man, who lived in the high mountain country. He poured out his life ministering to the native people. He had become a legend among them. He spent the long winters making treks to the valley below, securing medical supplies and gifts for the children. Everything had to be carried up on his back. In the spring, when the rivers melted, and with his precious supplies bound to his raft, he was buoyed up upon the dangerous waters, with the anticipation of the gifts he bore, and the Good News he had to share.
The old man had become too frail to continue the grueling trips. While he was awaiting the arrival of the young recruit to carry-on his life's work, he decided to make one last trip to say farewell to his beloved flock. As soon as he set out, the rapids overwhelmed his raft, smashing his oar against a rock, and jamming his raft against the shore. Undaunted, he tied-off his raft, and hiked back to his cabin.
When he arrived, he found the young recruit waiting to report for duty. The young man said, “I want to be like you, I want serve the Lord.” “You may begin then, said the old man, by returning to the valley below, and bring back an oar, that I might finish my last trip. I know you must be exhausted from your long week’s climb, so eat and sleep well tonight, and leave at first light. Before you leave, it would do you well to read verse one of the second chapter of Sirach, to encourage your journey.” The young man said, “I want to serve the Lord. I shall return with your oar.” But in his eagerness to be on his way, he forgot to read the Scripture.
Going down the mountain proved every bit as difficult as the ascent. He slipped and fell many times, and with each bruise and scrape, he said, “I want to serve the Lord!” When he finally reached the city, he immediately purchased an oar, a week’s supply of food, and then set off with his face set to climb the mountain. Dragging that oar made the journey harder and longer than he had planned. With yet another day and a half to go, he found himself without food. That night, he went to sleep hungry, telling himself, “I want to serve the Lord!”
As morning broke, he was awakened by a ferocious roar. He opened his eyes to an angry bear, rearing up on its hind legs. The young man grabbed his oar, and began beating the bear with all his might, and with all the might of his guardian angel as well. As the bear turned to flee, the final whack on its back broke the oar in half.
The tears in the young man’s eyes told the old man everything he needed to know. He held the young man in his arms. “I am so proud of you, he said. And it grieves me to tell you, that my life is at its end. I have only a short time to say goodbye to my people. I must ask you to go quickly and bring me another oar.” The young man said, “I want to serve the Lord!” He gathered up his supplies and set off down the mountain.
Three weeks went by, and the young man returned with a jubilant smile. He shouted, “See, I have brought you two oars, one extra, in case of bears!” The old man hugged him in a long silence, kissed both cheeks, and said, “You are a faithful servant.” Then, tucking both oars under his arm, he turned, and waded into the river to shove off his raft. But the old man suddenly stood up straight, clenched his heart with both hands, and slumped to his knees.
The young man jumped into the water and held the old man in his arms, as they watched the oars float away in the rapids. The young man tried to smile as he cried softly to the old man, “It’s ok, I can get you some more oars.” The old man looked up to the sky, then closed his eyes, and sighed with a half smile -the kind one would have as one lays his head into his pillow after a l hard day’s work. Then he whispered, “I don’t need them now, I have these two angels instead.”
The sun was setting when he buried the old man in the garden. The young man sat down on the porch to ponder all that had happened. The day’s last light shone upon the old man’s tattered bible. It had a faded picture bookmarking the worn pages. He opened to it, and held the picture toward the sun. It was of the young old man, standing proudly on a brand new raft, leaning on an oar.The young man looked at the bible. It was opened to the second chapter of Sirach, its pages coffee stained. The first verse was underlined. He read it aloud to himself, “My son, if you desire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an oar-deal.