Chapter 8: The Mission

For several days, the three of them spent every waking hour together, working at the shop, or talking until late in the apartment upstairs. They had a great deal to learn about each other, a process that requires time.

At the shop, Aquila and Paul would cut hides, punch holes, hammer grommets, and stitch seams. But that only required their hands. So as they worked, they talked. They began, in the mornings, with simple matters—details about whatever job they were sewing … sales at the shop.

Later though, as the day wore, they turned to things that meant something—faith, church, and, of course, more stories.

Prisca always joined in, hungry to know Paul better and to hear one more of his never-exhausted supply of tales.

This day, though—the day before Sabbath—she was uncharacteristically quiet. She shuttled back and forth between the customers out front and the conversation going on in the back. With the customers, she was bright and joking and helpful—the good salesman. With the two men, however, she was subdued. She listened, but held her tongue.

Aquila sensed something. Paul began to as well. They tried to draw her into the exchange all afternoon, asking questions, wanting her thoughts. But she deflected these attempts, stubbornly keeping to herself.

It wasn’t until they closed up shop and moved back to the apartment that Prisca spoke her mind.

“I wasn’t very good company today,” she confessed, placing the evening meal on the table.

Aquila reached for her hand. “Are you ill?”

“No.” She smiled at him and sat down to her food. But the smile crumpled. She did sudden battle with a wave of emotions, determined to get through this without tears. She placed her hand on Paul’s arm. “I am truly glad you’re here. I want our home to be a safe place for you.” She took a deep breath.

“But I want this to be a safe place for me, as well. And for you, Husband.” She squeezed Aquila’s hand. “What happened in Rome, when the gospel came to the synagogue, was the most terrible thing I’ve ever known. I was afraid for months. Angry and disappointed and so afraid. I dream about it every night. I still carry that fear.

“What I was thinking about all day … what I was wondering … is it always like that? Will it be like that here?” She searched Paul’s face for the answer. “All the stories you told that first night, all the stories you’ve told since—they all have the same ending. You stand up in a synagogue and tell about Jesus. The synagogue explodes. You get thrown out—or worse. And anyone who stands with you …” She didn’t finished the sentence.

“Don’t you have one story with a different ending? Where faith and peace break out instead of a brawl?”

Paul looked at her for a long moment before shaking his head.

“Is that what’s going to happen here, once it begins? Another Rome?”

“We can hope for better,” he smiled weakly.

“But you don’t, do you? Hope?”

“I hope, Prisca.” He smiled again. “But I don’t expect.”

She stood to fetch a loaf of bread, to put some space in the conversation.

“So how will things go?” she asked, returning to the table. “You have more experience at this than we do.”

Paul looked down at his plate and then sat back. “The first week, I’ll stand up and tell them about Jesus. Sometimes that’s all I get; they don’t let me speak again. But most of the time, I have a few more Sabbaths—to tell the whole story and to work through the prophecies. There will be objections, some polite, others … not.” He glanced at Aquila. “Eventually, things will get hot enough that they’ll ask me to leave. That’s when it gets really hard.”

“What do you mean,” Aquila asked quietly. None of them had touched their food.

“Well, by then, the gospel has done its damage.” He rubbed his eyes. “Faith is a funny thing. When it gets into someone …” He paused and shook his head. “I won’t leave alone. Married couples, whole families will come. But there will be a husband or two who will walk out and their wives will stay. There’ll be sons and daughters who leave their parents behind. One friend will choose Jesus, another will hold to Moses. It will happen that way here.” He looked at Prisca. “And it’s always heart-breaking.”

Prisca nodded. “Yes, we’ve seen that.” She shared a look with Aquila. “I know it will be heart-breaking, and I don’t mean to be callous, but I think we can survive leaving the synagogue with you. We haven’t been here long enough to get close to anyone. We won’t be leaving anyone behind. It’s the next part that worries me.”

Paul shook his head. “Which part is that?”

“You know, Paul,” her sarcasm showed. “The beating and stoning and rioting part. The part about prison and exile.

“Oh! That part!” He smiled, but she didn’t, so he gave it up. “I don’t think that will happen. The parting, when it comes, will be painful. But it doesn’t usually get violent … or, if it does, they prefer taking it on me rather than their ex-friends.” He tried another smile. Still no takers.

“Rome was an exception, Prisca. A much larger Hebrew population. A city with a fondness for riots and unrest.” He reached over to touch her arm. “That won’t happen here. I promise.”

She moved away from his touch, not yet ready to be comforted. “How can you know that?”

“I just do. I’ve prayed about it.”

“And that makes me feel better?”

Paul smiled now in spite of her mood. “It should.”

He looked down at his food and was suddenly hungry. He picked up his spoon and took a large bite of beans. “Anyway,” he said, swallowing, “after the initial pain, the fun starts!”

“How so?” Aquila spooned some beans into his own mouth. Prisca stared doubtfully at her plate.

“Come on, Prisca,” Paul teased, tearing bread from the loaf. “What happens next?”

“Well, I suppose we start a new gathering. Meet on the Lord’s Day. Worship Jesus openly. Share the Supper. That’s what happened in Rome, anyway.”

Paul drank some wine. “Good. And then?”

Prisca thought. “I guess we start teaching our little group how to be followers of Jesus. All the stories they need to know. The life Jesus calls us to live. The way of the cross.”

“Yes indeed. And then?” Another spoonful of beans.

She frowned, concentrating harder. “Well … there’ll probably be a settling period. Some who went with us will go back to the synagogue. Some who stayed will decide to join us later. There’ll need to be some healing, some peace making. Is that what you mean, Paul?”

“You’re exactly right. And then?” He reached for an apple.

Prisca shook her head, confused. “We act like a church. We love each other. We raise our children and bury our dead. We offer encouragement and help where we can.” She shrugged her shoulders and looked to Aquila, needing some help of her own.

Paul wiped his mouth on his sleeve and sat back, something pulling at the corners of his lips. “Who do we talk to about Jesus?”

Prisca bit at her thumbnail. “Once some time passes, some of our former friends might be willing to listen again.” She looked over to see if that was Paul’s thought.

He shook his head.

“Newcomers? People like Aquila and me, expelled from Rome? Brothers passing through?”

Paul shook his head again.

Aquila put his spoon down and smiled. “You’re thinking about the gentiles, aren’t you!” He looked at Prisca, excited. “You remember what happened in Rome, Wife.” He turned back to Paul. “We heard there were gentiles responding to the gospel. There were rumors that some of our own people were teaching them. Our group had no contact, of course. We kept a kosher fellowship. Still, it was encouraging to think that even gentiles might believe.”

“So we’ll start a gentile church?” Prisca asked Paul.

“Certainly not.”

“Well, that’s a relief.” She chased a bean around her plate with a spoon. “I don’t mind dealing with gentiles in the shop and at the market, but trying to share faith with them … helping them start their own church … that would be too close, too intimate. I’d feel unclean.”

“Would you, Prisca? I wonder.”

Husband and wife looked at each other, perplexed.

“If you came across a lost child, a gentile girl, would you take her by the hand? Give her something to eat? Try to find her mother? Go knocking on gentile doors?”

“Of course. That’s simple charity.”

“And would that make you unclean?”

“No.” Her chin came up. He was touching her stubbornness.

“And if you came across a man beaten on the side of the road, like the Samaritan, would you wash his wounds and take care of him—even if he were a gentile? Would you bring him into your home, if necessary, until he healed?”

The two of them looked at each other again. “I would hope so,” Aquila answered.

“And would that make you unclean?”

“Technically, perhaps,” Prisca conceded. “But mercy has priority.”

“Who created the gentiles, Prisca?”

She frowned. “The Creator, of course.”

“And do you believe that God loves only Jews? Or does he love all his children?”

“Paul, where are you going with this?”

He pointed towards the window and the city beyond. “There are a great many of God’s children out there who are lost and need to find their way home. Satan has attacked them, beaten them, and left them for dead. Why would it make you unclean to take them by the hand, bind up their wounds, and lead them to Jesus?”

They blinked at him, not knowing what to say. This was new territory for them.

“Doesn’t Scripture tells us to ‘Come out from among them and be separate’?” Prisca asked, feeling faintly ridiculous for quoting Scripture to a Rabbi.

Paul shrugged. “You said it yourself. Mercy has priority.”

“But there are limits, Paul. Surely.” Aquila stroked his beard. We have our traditions and customs. Even as followers of Jesus, we can still be good Hebrews.”

Paul couldn’t help chuckling. “Aquila, some time soon, you and Prisca are going to walk out of synagogue with me. You’ll turn your back on Sabbath traditions and our customs for worship. You won’t be able to celebrate the festivals in the customary way—the synagogue won’t let you participate. How does that make you a good Hebrew?”

Aquila pushed his plate away, appetite gone. “When everything came apart in Rome, when we left the synagogue, it felt like I’d been shipwrecked. So much of what I loved had to be jettisoned, thrown overboard.” He looked at Prisca again. “But when I swam to shore, I was still myself. I didn’t have the ceremonies, true. I didn’t have the synagogue. But I still had the Scriptures. I still had God’s law and the habits of my people. I kept my robe and my beard and my kosher table. Jesus didn’t change that.”

“But he will, Aquila.” Paul stared at his new friend, knowing how hard this was. He had faced this hardness too. “If you’d stayed in Rome longer, if you had more time, you would have met gentiles who needed the hope you’ve found in Jesus. What would you have done with them?”

He let the question hang between them for a moment.

“Eventually, you’d have met gentiles who believed, who claimed the same Lord you do. Would you have prayed with them? Worshiped with them, shared the Supper with them? Or would you have valued our traditions more than mercy?”

Aquila stared at him for a long time, finally lowering his eyes. “I don’t know.”

Paul stood, took his plate to the slop bucket, and scraped off the remains of his meal with a crust. He took Aquila’s plate and did the same. He looked at Prisca’s plate, untouched, and gestured that she should try to eat something. He filled their cups with the watered wine and sat down again.

“The day after they close the synagogue doors to me will be the Lord’s Day. I will worship with you and whomever else God gives us. And then I will go into the city. I’ll talk to anybody who will listen. Jew, gentile, soldier, merchant, prostitute—it doesn’t matter. First, my own people get a chance to hear the good news. And then the rest of Corinth.”

Aquila frowned. “But I thought you said you wouldn’t start a gentile church?”

“I won’t. They’ll be with us.”

It was very quiet around the table.

Prisca roused herself at last. “Paul, this is very difficult for us. It’s something we haven’t faced before.” She reached for her husband, knowing his turmoil. “But we trust you. I believe that God brought you to Corinth to do his will. I believe he is at work in you. So …” She took a bite of beans at last and washed it down with the wine.

“Two things. First, we need some time. To get ready for the synagogue. To get ready for the gentiles after. Don’t ask us to go where we’re not ready.”

“Fair enough. And second?”

“If you’re serious about reaching this city, you need some time. To learn your way around Corinth. To learn about these people and this culture. Corinth won’t be an easy place for the gospel. It’s too proud, too corrupt. So, if you plan to hit the hornets’ nest, you better know where to run.”

Paul grinned at her. “And where might I find someone wise enough, patient enough, to teach me the ways of Corinth?”

“Oh, I think I know just the person.” She took another bite of beans.

[Next Chapter]

[Beginning of the novel]

© 2012 by Tim Woodroof. Reproduction of this material requires permission from the author.