Chapter 29: The Mission

The sun rose that next morning on the first day of the week. The Lord’s Day. For most Corinthians, it was a day like any other. They got up with the sun, chewed a crust of bread, and set off to work or to shop at the farmers’ market.

For a few, however, the sun that morning rose on a different world.

In the villa just beyond the Sikyon gate, Stephanas snuffed out the candles that had lighted his reading through the night. The Psalms. The heart cries of a king called David. He had to be careful as he read, angling the scroll so his tears wouldn’t fall on the parchment and mar the letters. He wanted a faith like David’s. A bold, relentless, grateful kind of faith. He sat back in his chair, watching the light gather at the window of his study, and marveled at the turn of his life.  

In a house near the synagogue, Crispus and Hester greeted the first light of morning in prayer, a new fervency brought to their devotions by the visit the night before. Knowing the storm that was about to break, their prayers were urgent. What would their lives look like this time next week? Crispus opened his eyes to see his wife looking at him. Her cheeks were wet, but her mouth was smiling. She reached for his hand. They sat together in silence, afraid and convicted. She squeezed. He patted. And Crispus thought it a wondrous thing that his heart could be so heavy and so full at the same time.

In a third-floor apartment, Prisca woke from an untroubled sleep—no dreams of Rome and the soldier reaching for her—and knelt on the floor beside the sleeping figure of her husband. Hear O Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart … She prayed confidently, strengthened by the familiar words. She would need that strength. For the sun rose on a different world for Prisca that morning. She just didn’t know it yet.

In the leather shop, Silas and Timothy dressed for work. But even as they did so, they reminded each other of the day and thanked God together that, because of the Risen Lord, it was indeed a different world. The news of what was about to break at the synagogue would not reach them for a few more hours. But it wouldn’t matter much. Synagogue squabbles weren’t that unusual in the world they’d chosen to inhabit.

In far-off places like Philippi and Thessalonike, people not yet a year-old in the faith greeted the morning with prayers still strange on their tongues. In the growing light, they put on new habits like they put on their clothes—deliberately, one at a time … the clothes worn and comfortable, the habits still awkward and uncertain. Husbands and wives embraced each other, so different from the people they’d been when they married; strangers in some ways, their lives turned upside down by Paul’s visit to their city. Former idolaters, walking to work, thought of gathering that night with other believers to share bread and wine and remember the One who died and rose again. Hebrews shopped at the morning market for food they would share with Gentiles later on this new day.

A different world indeed.

In the agora, leaning against a column of the Babbius Monument, Paul watched the rising sun and thought of them all. He unpacked them from the safety of his heart—one city at a time, one face at a time—and held each up to the morning light. A prayer of thanks for the difference in their lives. A prayer of protection for the difference to last. And then he packed them away again, carefully, knowing he could only love them and leave the rest in God’s hands.

The sun rose on a different world for Paul also. He sensed the change coming. When and what those changes would be, he could not predict. But it didn’t matter. If he did not believe in the fated world of Oedipus, he did believe in the plans of God. God would work his will—how and when he wanted.

If the world was to be different today, Paul could face it with calm and confidence. For the God he served was never different. He was always the same.


II

Later that morning, Crispus crossed the city to warn Paul. When he arrived at the shop, he was panting—as though he’d carried a great weight through the streets and was in desperate need of a place to lay it down.

Paul took one look at his face and asked Aquila and Prisca to go for a walk. He and Crispus would watch the shop.

The two of them huddled together in the back room, Crispus telling of the evening visit, their bald heads bowing close to each other. Paul said little, just nodded on occasion and took it all in.

When Crispus was done, he sat back with a dazed look, spreading his hands to Paul as if to ask, What should we do?

But Paul was not ready to respond. His head was too full of other people who’d sat before him with that same dazed look, the stunned expressions of men and women standing at the abyss, preparing to step into the void and leave behind everything that had once mattered in life. He’d seen that look in Pisidia and Iconium, in Galatia and Macedonia. He’d seen it in Hebrews forced to choose between old friends and new faith. He’d seen it in women whose husbands had forbidden them to believe. He’d seen it on the faces of sons whose fathers were threatening to throw them out.

Grace is such a demanding thing, he was thinking. He knew too well the cost of it.

And yet, in all his travels, Paul kept finding people willing to pay that cost. It was a constant surprise. Everywhere he’d been, he watched these quiet dramas play out in homes and synagogues. Unheralded. Without monument or marker. Acts of great courage that always humbled Paul when he witnessed them. He found an odd comfort in them, a kind of affirmation that he was not alone, that others saw the treasure and would sell everything to have it.

He shook himself and looked up at Crispus.

“Hester’s right. They’ll move this Sabbath. ” He reached out a hand, placing it on the arm of his worried friend. “And what will you do, Crispus?” It wasn’t until he asked the question that he realized how much the answer mattered to him.

Crispus met his eyes and smiled for the first time that morning. “What else can I do, Saul? I’ll come with you. The jar’s broken. The wine’s spilt. I’m just thankful Hester agrees. It would be too hard …” He didn’t finish the thought.

Paul leaned back, the relief so profound, he felt lightheaded. “I’m very glad to hear that. You and Hester.” He wanted to laugh, to whoop out loud, to take Crispus by the beard and lead him around the room in a merry dance. Instead, he closed his eyes and thanked God. After a moment, he reached his hand out again to his friend. “I know how difficult this is, what these people mean to you. I can only tell you … it’s worth it.”

Crispus stared down for a moment, then got to his feet and extended his hand. “Sometimes I wish you’d never come to Corinth, Saul. Life would be easier.”

People had said that to Paul before. He knew it wasn’t true. “Blame yourself, Crispus. I’m just the messenger. You’re the one who believed.”

He grunted and turned to leave. “Still, life would be easier.”

Paul called after him as he left the shop. “You were getting soft in your old age, Crispus. Life was too routine. You needed a little controversy, remember?”

Crispus laughed and shouted over his shoulder as he marched down the street. “Come to synagogue this Sabbath, Saul. There’ll be controversy enough for us all!”

[Next chapter]

[Beginning of the novel]


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