Slave leaned to the right and peered down the long line of workers to try and see what the payment was. It was usually horrible, but with some slight variation: a whipping across the back, a hot iron to the chest, or the breaking of limbs. Some paydays were far worse than others, but none were ever pleasant. Payday was a miserable thing and no matter how many days had come and gone, Slave always dreaded his pay.
Nothing could be done about it. This was the way it had been for generations. Slave did not know anything other than serving Master Sin. His father had served this master and his father before him. Strangely, the work Master Sin had his workers do was not hard. In fact it was quite enjoyable. It was everything they wanted to do every day. There were no rules or daily requirements, other than showing up for payday. And even though the pay was awful, all the workers spoke highly of Master Sin. Slave did as well.
Occasionally Slave heard stories of another master; the first master who lived on top of the mountain, just outside the walls of Master Sin’s city. He was a good master, but to live in his house you had to make the long journey up the mountain (which no one had ever done). And if you ever made it there, he had an impossible list of tasks and requirements that must be done perfectly in order to stay.
This is how people had first come into the service of Master Sin, so long ago. No one had been able to complete the first master’s serving requirements—and everyone knew it. Sadly, venturing out to climb up the great mountain was out of the question for Slave. Besides, from childhood he had grown up with the painful paydays—and again, the work was quite enjoyable.
Slave’s back ached from the previous payday. He had received blows with a long rod and he was pretty sure one of his ribs was broken. And his jaw was still swollen from the clubbing he was given the payday before that. “I hope it’s not the back again,” he thought as he stepped forward and presented the clerk with a list of the work he had done. “You’ve been busy,” the clerk said as he scanned the work sheet, “Put out your hands!”
Slave took in a deep breath and placed his hands on the table in front of him. Before he could exhale an iron mallet came down crushing both hands. Pain shot through his body and the room started spinning. Then everything went dark.
When Slave woke he expected to find himself in the dormitory. Master Sin always put the broken people there. Then as soon as they woke up, he would put them back to work. Which is what they wanted anyway, because once again—the work was quite enjoyable.
But that’s not where Slave found himself. He was outside. He could hear water from a stream nearby and knew he was beyond the city walls. His wounds were all washed and his clothes were clean. In fact these weren’t his clothes at all.
“I see you’re awake. That’s good. We’ve got a long journey ahead of us,” said a voice from behind him. Slave whirled around, jumping to his feet he saw a man walking toward him. This man was so plain and ordinary he was almost impossible to describe, other than his strange appearance of seeming neither very young nor very old.
“Who are you? Did you do this? Why am I here?” Slave demanded. The man said nothing for a moment and then replied, “Yes. I brought you here. Are you ready to go?”
“Go where? Did you take me from the dormitory? Did you steal me from Master Sin?” Slave asked in confusion.
“We’re going to my Father’s house,” the man answered. “He sent me here to get you.”
“So your Father is a thief then!” Slave retorted. The man looked at Slave sharply, but not in anger, and replied, “My Father is no thief. He sent me here to buy you and that is what I’ve done.”
Slave felt a bit ashamed for the accusation, though he wasn’t sure why. After a long pause he finally said, “I suppose, considering you bought me, I have no choice but to go with you.” The man shook his head. “No. You’re free. You can do what you like, but you will come with me.”
Again Slave was confused but decided to ask a different question. “What is your name and where is your Father’s house?” The man thought for a moment and replied, “My name is Joshua and my Father’s house is on top of that mountain.” Slave laughed, “Your Father is the first master? Nobody has made it up the mountain and no one can perform the required tasks of the house. It’s impossible! Everyone knows this!” Joshua smiled, “Yes. It is impossible, and yet I’ve performed them all. And you’re right, no one gets up the mountain… without me.”
Slave was speechless for a few moments and finally inquired, “Have you brought others there?” “I’ve brought countless people there and never lost one of them.” Joshua answered with a smile as he started walking toward the mountain.
“But what of the rules and the tasks?” Slave asked. Still walking, Joshua answered, “They are done. I’ve done them all, for good. The mansion gates are open.”
Slave looked back at the walls of the city, then back at Joshua walking toward the mountain. “But what will I do if I get there?” he shouted, “What will he have me do?” Joshua laughed, calling back over his shoulder he replied, “Party, my friend. He’ll have you party.”
Slave shot one more glance at the city wall and then headed toward the mountain behind Joshua.
In what seemed like no time they reached the base of the mountain. It wasn’t a gradual incline, but more like a massive rock shooting up out of the ground. It was so high that it disappeared into the clouds.
Slave felt fear wash over him and he suddenly thought he had made a very grave mistake. “Are you sure they will let me in if I make it there?” he asked in a trembling voice. Joshua had already begun scaling the great rock wall. He firmly replied, “No one who shows up with me gets turned away… and you WILL make it.”
Slave’s whole body was trembling now. Every wound and beating he had ever taken from Master Sin, over countless paydays, began to throb and ache. He looked down at his hands. They were broken, mangled, and weak. He would never be able to make this climb. The years of service to Master Sin had taken a toll on him that he hadn’t fully realized until that moment. His eyes filled with tears and he cried out, “I can’t do this!”
Joshua was only a few feet up the rock mountain wall. He turned to look back at Slave and stretched out his arm with an open hand, he said, “I’ll get you there. I promise.”
At this moment Slave saw Joshua’s hand was also scarred. Scarred in such a way that only a payday in Master Sin’s city had scarred people. But his hand didn’t look weak like Slave’s did. These scars looked old and his hands stronger because of them.
Slave looked down again at his own hands. They were a mess of broken bones and fingers, shaking violently. Through tears he confessed, “I will not be able to hold on to you Joshua, I just won’t!”
Joshua smiled and grabbed a hold of Slave’s trembling hand and said, “Don’t be afraid little brother… I’ll hold fast to you.”
As the son of a Pastor, Daniel Emery Price was raised in church and various kinds of Christian ministry in a small town in rural Arkansas. He began writing and performing music in his teen years and was heavily involved in worship ministry before moving to Seattle in his early twenties to pursue a career in music. He later moved to Phoenix and returned to leading worship and took a leadership position in youth/collegiate ministry, before moving back to Arkansas where he helped plant Trinity Church NWAin 2009, and he now serves as Pastor. Daniel lives in Northwest Arkansas with his wife Jessica and their daughter Anna. He is a regular guest on theological radio shows, podcasts, and is a conference speaker. Daniel is a Contributor to Christ Hold Fast and a co-host of the weekly podcasts, 40 Minutes in the Old Testament and 30 Minutes in the New Testament. He is the author of the forthcoming book, Scandalous Stories: A Sort of Commentary on Parables.