Chapter 65: The Mission

“Come along, Crispus.” Paul was almost dragging him through the streets towards Gaius’ house.

“Why? Why now?” Crispus complained. He was following, but only with reluctance. “There are a great many years involved here, Paul. A great many wounds and slights. Those won’t go away with one meeting.”

“True!” Paul was quite willing to concede the point. “But it has to start somewhere. And today is as good a time as any.”

“But what if I’m not ready? What if he’s not ready? Do we have any say in this?”

Paul smiled. “Actually, no. Before I can go, I need a solid group of leaders in place. You and Sosthenes know the Scriptures. You both know how to deal with the demands of community. You know how to teach and train. You know how to handle conflict.” He smiled again. “Though you haven’t always handled it well. Especially with each other.

“I won’t go until the two of you kiss and make up. I need you working together, not nursing old grudges.”

Crispus fell silent for a few moments, walking beside Paul and mulling the matter over.

“I don’t actually have to kiss him, do I?”


II

They entered his room to find Sosthenes engaged in lively conversation with Prisca. Apparently, from what Paul overheard, they’d been discussing the Beatitudes. He hoped Sosthenes would remember the blessing Jesus pronounced on peacemakers.

Sosthenes turned at the sound of the opening door and saw Crispus framed in the threshold. He stood up and stared. It had been a long time since that day in the synagogue. It had been far longer since the two of them had exchanged civil words. There was an awkward silence in the room, a moment of indecision and uncertainty.

But then Sosthenes stepped forward and extended his hand. “God be with you, Crispus—my old friend and my old enemy. It’s good to see you again.”

Crispus noted the purple bruising around his nose, the cuts on his eyebrows and cheeks. He remembered how he’d felt the day he’d walked out of the synagogue—the raw wound of turning his back on so much he’d counted precious. That had been a bludgeoning of sorts.

Now, looking at Sosthenes’s scars, he wondered what it would feel like to have the synagogue turn its back on him in such a violent and unmistakable way. He felt a surge of sympathy for this man he’d known and wrestled with for so long. He wondered if, in fact, there might be room for some peace between them.

They were like exiles, he realized, banished to some lonely island by the only community they’d ever known. They could sit in isolation, nursing their old rivalry, or they could find common ground and survive the loss together.

He took the proffered hand and shook it firmly. “Sosthenes. My old friend and my old enemy. You look terrible.”

Sosthenes laughed, touched his nose self-consciously, and then lapsed into awkward silence again.

Paul motioned to Prisca, who joined him at the door. He addressed the two men. “I’m going to lock you in this room. I’m asking you not to come out until you’ve made peace.” He looked at Crispus. “Sosthenes is a believer now. Like me, he came to the light through blindness. He is your brother in the Lord, Crispus. Whatever passed between the two of you before must be confessed and forgiven.” He turned to Sosthenes. “As I told Crispus on the way here, the two of you have an important role to play in the church here. I need you working together. They need you working together. For their sake, if not your own, I’m asking you to put the past aside, to be brothers once more.”

He looked from one to the other. And then, with a nod, he ushered Prisca out the door.

As they walked together down the stairs to the great hall, Prisca asked, “They won’t beat each other senseless, will they?”

Paul grinned. “I certainly hope not.” He pulled a face. “I’ve had enough of bedpans and sponge baths!”

Prisca took his arm and laughed.


III

In spite of all their poisoned history, the meeting between the two men went well. If they didn’t settle all the matters that littered the years between them, they made confession and extended forgiveness about a few. And if they didn’t leave the room exactly friends, they at least laid a basis for something that might grow into friendship. Stranger things had happened.

“I think we can work together, Paul,” Crispus assured the Apostle later as they walked for a final time through the agora. “There’s a humility to him now that wasn’t there before. I guess it came from the beating. Or from your willingness to show him the cross.”

Paul arched an eyebrow at his friend. “And what, I wonder, would Sosthenes say is different about you? What would he see in you, now, that wasn’t there before?”

Crispus gave Paul a sheepish look. “I imagine I’ve found some humility of my own.”

“The two of you will need each other in the days ahead, Crispus. I’m counting on you both, and Hester, and Stephanas to provide leadership.” He turned to look at his companion. “Someone will lead these people. If the four of you don’t step up …”

“Gaius?” Crispus asked.

“Yes. Gaius. And his friends. Be careful how you handle Gaius. He won’t let you lead, if he can help it. And he won’t follow your lead easily. Watch him, Crispus.”

“We will, Paul.”

“I’m only a letter away, Crispus. I’ll let you know where I am, where you can reach me. If you run into problems, if you hit a wall, write to me. I’ll do what I can.”

“I’ll remember that.” Crispus motioned to Paul and they walked over to stand before the Bema. Crispus stared at it for a long time, wondering what the future might hold. “I’ll count on that, in fact,” he said with feeling.

The two of them moved on together, past the shops and temples and municipal buildings that Paul had come to know so well. In every corner of the agora was a memory. At every statue and monument was a face. They stood together at the spot where Prisca began her lessons about Corinth. They walked in front of the taverna where Paul met Stephanas and heard the story of Oedipus. They stood at the foot of Babbius’s monument and read once again his boastful inscription.

Paul turned and, in his mind, could see the uplifted faces of the crowd who’d watched that first debate with the philosopher. Christian! the man had named him, as if the name were a slur. A follower of a crucified god! he’d scoffed, as though Paul should be embarrassed.

But he was not embarrassed. He was proud. Grateful to be a Christian, even if the name were an offense to others. Thankful beyond words to be a follower of this crucified God.

And now there were others who called themselves by that name. Now there were others who would follow in the steps of the Crucified One.

A pretty good way to spend eighteen months of my life, he told himself. One more labor for the sake of the pearl.

[Next Chapter]

[Beginning of the novel]

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