The following was written by Joshua for Telling the Stories that Matter.
The monks must have balked at first at Isaac’s strange instructions–did he really think it was wise to leave their gardening tools out in the garden at night?”Surely,” they said one to another, “he must know that thieves will come and steal them.” But Isaac’s story had earned their obedience even if it seemed a ridiculous instruction that almost certainly meant trying to garden without their tools in the days to come. They did as they were instructed because they had grown to trust Isaac completely and had, in fact, left their previous lives behind simply to be his disciple after hearing stories about him. Many of them had first heard of Isaac shortly after his arrival in Spoleto, Italy. He had traveled from far away and when he arrived he requested from the local officials at the cathedral that he be allowed to stay in the cathedral as long as necessary to make his prayers and to give thanks to God. When they consented, he went about his prayers with a fervor that was at first charming but grew tiring for the men in charge of the upkeep of the building. When he had been there for nearly sixty hours, one of the men had had enough of what he believed to be Isaac’s hypocrisy. The man reasoned that Isaac was attempting to gain favor with other worshipers by faking a devout prayer life all while keeping a roof over his head. So, the man approached Isaac to tell him to leave and not to pester anyone else.
With venom on his tongue, he harassed Isaac and told him to move one. But, Isaac continued in his prayers. So, the man struck him on the side of the face and knocked Isaac to the floor. The man was suddenly seized by an unclean spirit that took advantage of his spiritually weakened state and his sin against his brother. Under the conviction of God and having been driven to the floor by the unclean spirit, the man begged Isaac to drive the spirit out of him and grant him forgiveness. Isaac said nothing, continued his prayers, and leaned over the stricken man. In an instant the man was delivered from the spirit and from his sin and offered his heartfelt gratitude to Isaac as Isaac continued to pray. This story spread quickly and soon Isaac was deluged by people seeking not only to learn from him but to give him money, possessions, and land to build a monastery. Isaac politely refused all these offers and when asked why he responded, “A monk who acquires possessions is no longer a monk.”He left Spoleto behind and moved into a nearby wilderness to build a small cell and take up the devoted prayer life of a hermit. In his wake came those who were willing to cast aside all things to gain what it was that Isaac already seemed to have–an intimate connection with the God that others just seemed to talk about.
So, the monks under his care went to sleep that night confident that their tools would be gone in the morning. Indeed, shortly after they had all fallen asleep, thieves scaled the walls of the monastery and began the task of gathering up the gardening tools. But, as each man picked up a spade he felt a heaviness upon his heart concerning their plan to pilfer the monks’ livelihood. So, one by one they decided to finish the work that the monks had started before leaving with the tools. In the morning, Isaac gathered the monks and asked them to prepare a breakfast feast for some unexpected guests from the produce in their garden. When the monks went to the garden, though, they found the thieves still working and were amazed at the wonderful care that each man had taken in tending the garden. As the thieves and the monks stared at each other in surprise, Isaac entered the garden and began gathering produce while inviting the thieves to sit at the table and join in their feast. Each thief and each monk ate his fill and enjoyed the fellowship of one another. As the meal finished, Isaac spoke to the guests. He didn’t shame or guilt them but he simply encouraged the men to leave their lives of theft behind. He invited them to join with the monks in prayer whenever they wanted to do so and then he gave them each permission to come and harvest as much as they liked from the garden any time they were hungry. Many of the thieves left their sin behind while some were converted and even joined the monastery. Isaac had simply followed after his Lord Jesus and offered grace and mercy to any who would have it.