After breakfast, which didn’t amount to anything more than what was absolutely necessary to keep prisoners alive, everyone sat quietly in their respective corners.
Mark’s frame filled his corner. He rested against the outside wall, and the sunlight that poked through the high window cast him in a shadow. Dark complexion, broad chest, black curly hair, massive arms folded across his chest. He was an imposing figure.
“So the Jews in Damascus just let you go? I can’t imagine the priests in the synagogue of Damascus were okay with you leaving them, just like that, especially after you had become their greatest weapon to stop the Christians.”
Alexander, now wide awake, started to speak. “I have heard of you, Paul. You have been all over the place. Now that I know who you are, I know all about you.”
“Really. I’m curious what you know,” replied Paul
“Well, there must be a lot more to your story, because some friends of mine claim that you leave a wake of unrest everywhere you visit. Even to the point of causing riots.”
“I don’t know about that.”
“Well, I have been listening, and your stories have kept me wondering. Although in your story, there is nothing to account for the rumors, I am sure there is more to come. Right now, we are what? Still at 30 years ago. I’m sure you have caused some trouble in those years.”
“Unfortunately, I wasted so many years before I got started.”
“Well, I have a feeling you are the guy. Some of my friends on the south coast have businesses that thrive on people being able to do whatever they want.”
“And why do I affect them?”
“Every time you sail through a town, you leave in your wake a crowd of people that stop going temples, they start to share their money, and they lose their desire to spend.
“My friends thrive on consumers. When you leave a town, the business of selling to those seeking people drops off.
“Not that I buy into any of it at all. I don’t see why what you say would make a difference. Everyone does his thing. We make it too complicated. People do what they do.” He finished this last part definitively, begging for a rebuttal.
The room was silent for a moment. No one interrupted, because it was obvious that Paul was working on something to say. He looked and cocked his head sideways, his bald head shining in the sun light. His eyes shifted up toward the ceiling, and he held one finger extended to show that he wanted everyone to listen to something.
“Alex, have you noticed that the wind will shift every so often, and we can feel a gentle breeze pass through that tiny window?
“Have you ever thought about what made that breeze drift one way one moment, then another way the next moment, moving through that hole in the wall, into our little piece of the world?”
“Not really. It just happens.”
“Nothing ‘just happens’. Not you, or me or even that breeze. We are here for a reason. Whether you chose to believe it or not, does not change its truth. That breeze is the result of a long chain of events that were put into motion for a purpose. The wind moves the waves in the ocean, and spreads the clouds across the sky, changes the temperatures and the seasons, and moves the air. It all has a purpose. Look inside your head and you know what I am saying is true.”
Another long pause. This time it was Alex who was doing the thinking. There were many arguments rolling around in his head, but none seemed like a good defense.
Finally he replied, “And what makes you an expert on the subject?”
Paul smiled. “Well, I guess because I know the answer.”
Alex shot back “So you are smarter than anyone else? I don’t think so”
“No. I am not any smarter than anyone. In fact, I’m a pretty simple old man. I just think that I understand some things, lessons that I’ve had to learn the hard way.
“Why does my talking here make you think I am the one your friends speak of?”
“Because, I can see where this is going. Freedom to talk and question what people have known for so long.”
Saul continued to live in and around Damascus, staying mostly with Ananias and Judith his wife.
On purpose, he maintained a pretty low profile, sometimes out in the desert for days thinking and meditating on new found truths and freedom. Other times wandering through the temple listening to what the teachers were saying.
He cut his beard short, and kept his hair trimmed to resemble the Greeks in the town. Hats were no longer a part of his wardrobe, and his thinning hair became more noticeable but also helped to change his appearance.
It didn’t take much time for his popularity with the synagogue to wane. The Jews in Damascus realized that whatever had happened to him, the lion that the temple had sent to devour The Way was now just a tame cat. He wasn’t going to be their cure to the trouble makers.
Saul would pace along the base of the massive temple steps that led to the synagogue. This is where the men that were studying would stand to teach other what they had learned. It was their moment to show off.
Oh, there’s Ben…Benjamin, excuse me. He has been saying the same thing for the past two months. Time for some new material.
And then he would move within hearing distance of the next teacher. He is new…looks like he came from Jerusalem. What’s he saying? Oh, more about the commandments. How long will they continue to say the same thing?
On and on.
Week after week.
Talkers talking and saying nothing at all.
But it seemed to keep the priests happy. They liked the constant reinforcement of their teachings.
Oh…here is an interesting one. He is talking about the next prophesy to be fulfilled…
…yes, the messiah must come…yes, yes.
“What if Messiah has come, and we missed him?”
Great, now I sound like Peter did.
“That wouldn’t have happened.” The teacher replied with a smug tone.
A firm grip latched onto Saul’s arm and a voice whispered in his ear, “What are you doing?”
“Just asking a question. Judas, what are you so afraid of?”
“I am afraid of you. You seem to me to be rock, perched on the edge of a cliff, waiting for one small push to send you over, and the damage you cause as you come rolling down will be irreparable.”
Judas pulled Saul away from the temple steps and walked for several blocks before speaking again.
“Saul, I like you and respect you. You have only grown wiser over the past years…”
“Yes, but you are going to draw attention, and when they realize that their tame lion is starting to think like the ones he was sent to destroy…they will not stand for it.”
“Judas, you worry too much.” A brief smile passed his face. “Ok, I hear you. I can’t pretend to sit by and be silent, but I will try to be more careful.”
Judas turned and walked away. “Saul, why don’t I believe you.”
Saul made an effort to keep his interactions with the Pharisees and priests focused on understanding the law, and he spent most of his time asking questions and listening.
At several occasions, he tried to explain what he believed was different, but they quickly dismissed him as a misguided young man.
This continued for three years after his encounter on the road. He quietly observed the actions of the Jews and Gentiles, the priests and The Way. All of them.
Frustration began to grow.
He believed that he understood enough that he could share with other Pharisees, and they would understand.
Instead of just listening, he was beginning to ask questions that the priests and scribes did not have answers for.
He was doing it on purpose, and they knew it.
Saul and Judas remained close, and Judas often warned him of the frustration that the temple was expressing with Saul.
Surprisingly, no one associated Saul with the man that had been sent to Damascus three years earlier.
Then, as suddenly as lightning flashes, but the thunder follows shortly after, Saul’s time in Damascus came to an end.
“…laws put us in chains. We don’t need these chains. He has already set us free, paid the price, become the sacrifice.
A priest looked at Saul, “What do you think you are doing!?”
Then turning to face the crowd, “What does he think he is doing!?”
“I’ve been doing this for a couple of days now.” Saul replied.
Addressing the gathered crowd, “He isn’t a teacher, he isn’t a Priest. Why is he teaching on the temple steps?” said the priest.
“Isn’t this allowed? For a citizen, a Jew, and a Pharisee to speak publically?”
“Not when I don’t like where you are headed with your teaching.” Replied the priest.
“If I could finish, I am sure you would understand.”
“I do not need to understand. I understand what I am meant to understand, as God reveals it to me.”
“But maybe God has invited me to share what I have learned, so that others can learn also?”
“He has. Please, give me a short amount of time to explain.”
“No, I have heard enough. Leave now, or the guards will escort you out.”
Saul walked down the ten steps to the street and began to yell. “You should know, Jewish men and women, that there is much more than what these men tell you. So much more. We know only a part of it.
The scriptures foretold of a messiah that would come. He has already come, Messiah has fulfilled His promise. We are free to…”
“He sounds like one of those Jews from The Way.” A voice yelled from the crowd.
“Yes, I know. Isn’t this Saul?” the priest of the synagogue walked closer to Saul, pointing at him, but not really expecting an answer.
Saul didn’t even notice, or at least didn’t indicate that he recognized that he was aware of anyone interrupting him.
He was speaking fast, barely stopping to take a breath, like he was afraid that his time to speak was running out, and he had so much to say. His voice was clear, with a pitch that cut though the noise and commotion of the synagogue, but resonant enough to bring a certain amount of authority.
The priest, still with his finger pointing toward Saul, walked down to the street and continued to speak to no one in particular. “I know it is. I saw him in Jerusalem so many years ago. He is the one that was on his way to Damascus to continue what he started there. I saw what he did to the Jews in Jerusalem that followed Jesus.”
He spun on his heels to address Saul directly. “So tell us, Saul, what happened to you, where have you been all of this time?”
Of the Jews in the surrounding area, there were two distinct groups of listeners.
The first was made up of interested Damascus Jews, wondering what this man was talking about. They were easy to spot, because of their scowl and aggressive stance.
The second group was a growing crowd of skeptical listeners that could not believe what they were hearing.
They now were all snapped to attention, like being startled awake after a short nap. “How can you all sit here and listen to this man!?” Now the priest was looking directly at them, pointing and yelling with the most volume he could muster.
“Oh boy” Ananias muttered to himself. He had been following Saul to the synagogue day after day for the past week. He had seen the change in Saul, and knew that if Saul was going to continue to speak as he had been, he wouldn’t go unnoticed for long.
Ananias had been following the crowds, hiding from Saul’s line of sight, waiting for a sign that Saul overstepping his boundaries.
It was definitely happening now.
Ananias was waiting for a chance when Saul was slowing down and talking less, but there was none. Saul seemed to get energized when new listeners passed within the hearing distance of his voice, and his voice seemed to carry to everyone within sight.
Now the priest’s voice was matching the intensity and volume of Saul’s. He was slowly turning the attention of the closer listeners, mostly priests and Pharisees, toward himself.
“Excuse me…uh, pardon me…please, yes…thank you, excuse me, could I squeeze through please?” Ananias pushed and slid his way closer to Saul through the ever growing crowd. His mind was spinning the whole time. He was trying to think of what he could say to Saul that would convince him to finish his teaching for the day.
Saul’s attention snapped toward Ananias as soon as he came in to view. Abruptly he discontinued his speech, bid the crowd farewell, and joined Ananias, who was already boring a hole through the sea of people toward the nearest exit.
They didn’t pause from walking until arriving at Ananias’ house.
Ananias waited for Saul to enter and then slammed the door behind him. “I didn’t think I was going to get you out of there.”
Saul paused for a minute. “I must admit, under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have complied so quickly. I am enjoying the way that I seem to be filled with the words to speak. And then, the moment I saw you, the source of the words ceased, almost like when a break in the clouds stops the rain from falling. So, with nothing more to say, it seemed foolish for me to stand in front of all of those people and ramble on.”
“Well, they have noticed you now. As we were walking away, the priests were gathering together and pointing at you, directly. From the way they were gesturing, I don’t think they are going to ask you back to discuss things.
“So, you think that I have gone too far?”
“Yes…I am afraid so. Now that they know you, and have heard your message, I don’t think they will tolerate you any further.
“I don’t want to do this, but both Judith and I agree, we need to talk about your return to Jerusalem. I think the time is drawing near.”
“I know that time is coming, but I don’t feel ready. Yes, the church in Jerusalem are due an explanation to the changes in me. I don’t imagine that they will be eager to believe me.
“And if today is a sign of things to come, the priests will not put up with me for much longer.” Saul finished.
Throughout the afternoon, members of The Way began to gather for the evening meal. They tried to meet once each day in a member’s house, to share and stay connected.
As dinner grew near, knocking on the door for people to enter was almost consistent.
Then there was a knock with an urgent tone.
The door swung open, and Judas stepped in and scanned the crowd. Seeing Saul standing in the kitchen he yelled, “Saul! We need to talk.”
Then focusing on the person that had opened the door…“oh, hello, Ananias.”
“Judas, why are you here?” Ananias asked.
Saul can through the group and said quietly to Judas, “We can talk later.”
“No, actually we cannot.”
Saul reached around Judas and closed the door behind him.
“What is it, Judas?” Ananias asked.
“The Jews have stirred up a crowd and involved the army. They want to put pressure on Saul, hoping that he will leave the city. They will wait for him at the gates. When he leaves, they can overtake him outside the city, and no one will be responsible for what happens”, he answered.
“Saul, I know you want to stay and defend your new belief, but you cannot. You have stirred up enough trouble with the temple that I am sure you must leave.
“And not by the gate.”
Saul looked at Judas. “I have experienced so much since my walk from Jerusalem. I am convinced that God has charged me with spreading his word. I do not think that He will allow me to be stopped so easily.”
Judith had stepped forward and stood at Ananias’ side, “No, but that doesn’t mean that we should all act foolishly and run out there among them.”
Judas looked at Judith and Ananias, then at Saul. “Forgive me for being so forward, but Saul, we have already arranged for your escape from the city.”
“Judas! We can’t have Saul escape from the city! How would that look? He is not a fugitive.” yelled Ananias.
Still calm and reserved, Saul responded, “Well, actually I am. I don’t like to feel that way, but I am not sure that I have a choice. The people that I came to see here don’t want me here. The people that I need to go to see probably won’t want me there either.
Judith spoke again, mostly to her husband, “Judas has proven that he is a friend, and has Saul’s best fortune at heart. If what he is saying is true, we have no choice.”
“Ananias, I believe that she is showing wisdom.” Saul replied, “Judas, what are your plans.”
“My sister has offered to help”, he said. “She was with me when I was told that the Jews have planning to drive you from the city, and overtake you outside the gate. She likes you, but then she has always wanted something different from religion. Apparently your time with us has changed both of us and begun to open our hearts.
“We will dine at her house tonight near the northern section of the city wall.”
Judas looked at Ananias and Judith, “I have an idea, but we need to work out the details. We will need a few others to help.”