Though the passing weeks did little to improve Paul’s beard, it did wonders for Prisca’s attitude.

The Corinthian spring was stunning—warm, sunny days, the blossoms of olive and apple trees bright against blue skies, the grasses of the plain springing to life and yielding in long, lazy waves to the gulf breezes. The breezes carried away the stench of the city, the cloying aroma of sewage and smoke and rotting garbage exchanged for the sweet smells of the sea and new blossoms.

Perhaps it was the freshness of the spring that prompted a revival of Prisca’s spirits, a blooming of her courage after a long winter of hybernation. Or perhaps, as she came to know Paul better, she sensed his growing eagerness to get on with his mission, his budding confidence that Corinth was vulnerable to the message of the Messiah.

It had been the subject of many discussions between husband and wife, late in the evenings after Paul left their apartment to return to his sleeping mat in the shop below. Aquila was ready, but Prisca remained cautious, needing to talk it through before they took a step they could not take back.

“Wife, he has suffered far more than we have, and he is ready to begin. I can feel it in him.”

“Husband, what Paul has suffered is beside the point. It’s what we’ve suffered that’s the issue. And what we might suffer again. Paul may be ready, but it doesn’t mean we are. That I am.”

“But Priscilla …”

“Don’t call me that!” She stomped her foot. “You always call me that when you want something.”

He breathed a sigh and looked up, as if asking for a patience only God could bestow. “Prisca, Rome is behind us. It’s done. It’s over. We can’t keep stifling our faith for fear of another Rome. Besides,” he reached for her, “we came out all right, even there. God watched over us.”

But she pulled away from him. “True. But others didn’t. What if we’d been Manius and Abigail? What if I had to watch them drag you away and hear weeks later you’d been beaten to death by some brute in prison?”

“God was watching over them as well, Prisca,” he said quietly. “He didn’t abandon our friends. We may not understand why that happened or how God works. But he didn’t abandon any of us.”

She straightened her back and set her mouth in that stubborn manner he knew so well. “You have more faith than I do, Husband. I’d rather keep quiet and have you, than speak up and loose you.”

And then her chin began to tremble and the tears brimmed over and she reached across the table to take his hand. “I’m so afraid, Aquila. I love you too much.” She wiped at her eyes. “I know what we have to do. I’m just praying for the courage to get on with it.”

He waited a moment, reveling in the warmth of her hand on his. “Priscilla?”

“What!” Her back straightened again. “What do you want now!”

And he cocked an eyebrow.


II

Sleep was coming hard for Paul. He tossed on the mat, trying to find a position that didn’t prod at his scars or make his joints ache intolerably. He felt the night cold and drew the blanket more closely around his shoulders. Scenes from the past weeks taunted him, faces from the street staring at him and then dissolving in the darkness. For a few moments, he felt himself drifting away only to be brought awake again by soldiers marching past the shop. He settled into the blanket once more, determined to sleep, willing himself to relax.

“Paul.”

He sat up with a start. He knew that voice. “Yes, Lord.” In the darkness, he could hear his heart pounding.

“It’s time, Paul.”

“Oh, yes, Lord. I know. I’m ready. But she isn’t. Not quite yet.”

“Tell her not to be afraid. It’s time to speak out. Don’t be silent any longer.”

“But, Lord, she is afraid. Rome still haunts her. I don’t think it’s herself she’s worried about. She’s afraid for Aquila.”

“True enough. She’s afraid of losing him, of facing herself without him. Tell her I’ll be with her. Tell her no harm will come to any of you. I have many people in this city who belong to me. They just don’t know it yet. And it’s time they did.”

The voice was silent for a long while. Paul waited.

“Paul.”

“Yes, Lord.”

“Corinth will not be easy.”

“Since when have any of them been easy?”

A chuckle bubbled up in the darkness. Then the silence again. Paul was content to wait.

“What’s at the heart of the story I gave you, Paul?”

He answered without hesitation. “Your cross, Jesus.”

“Yes, my cross. The extent of the Father’s love. The altar of my obedience.”

“The measure of our worth,” Paul whispered. “The standard by which our lives are lived.”

“The Father’s wisdom. The Father’s power. The Father’s heart,” the voice replied. “All revealed in the cross.”

“I know Lord.” Paul could barely speak. “Who would have thought?”

He heard the chuckle again. “It does come as a surprise, doesn’t it?”

The silence fell once more.

“The cross must be your message in Corinth, Paul.”

“But, Lord, the cross is always my message.”

“Not like here, my friend. The cross must be your message first to last. It must become your obsession. The cross in salvation. The cross in lifestyle. The cross in community. The cross in worship and leadership. The cross must become your Shema, Paul. You are to cling to it with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. You must impress it on the Corinthians. Talk about it in their homes and in their streets. Talk about it when you lie down and when you get up. Tie it like a symbol on this city. Paint it on the gates.”

“But, Lord, there is so much more. Your teachings. Your life.”

“Really, Paul? Which of my teachings are not shaped by the cross? Which do not lead to a cross? What part of my life does not demonstrate the cross? What part of my work in the flesh and now my work in the Spirit is not rooted in the cross? Think, Paul!”

“But why, Lord? Why so much cross for Corinth?”

He could almost feel the pained sigh that filled the room.

“Because these are proud people. They won’t like the cross. Mine or theirs. They’ll be eager for everything else: the Father’s love, the Spirit’s gifts, resurrection power, new life, freedom, victory. They’ll love all that.

“What they won’t want is the word of the cross. And so, that is what you must give them. Again and again, without relent. Because if they don’t learn the cross, none of the rest really matters, does it?”

“The cross is the death of pride,” Paul whispered, remembering.

“And pride is the seed from which all sins grow. Only the cross can kill pride, fully and finally. In you, Paul. And in them.”

The voice was still for a moment, though the presence remained.

“I’m proud of you, Paul. You give me great pleasure.”

And Paul’s heart welled up in worship. He felt the bubbling of living water inside himself. He sensed the presence of God’s Spirit—that burning, scouring, joyous presence—meeting with his own spirit, merging with it. His lips began to move and the praise poured out. He was grateful. He was penitent. He felt awe and humility and peace. He lost himself in the God of his fathers, caught up in a communion as intimate, as holy, as any he had known before.

He worshiped in the tongues of men and of angels. Until he lay back on his mat, exhausted, to sleep what remained of the night and gather strength for the hard days to come.

[Next Section]