Saul walked with Crispin and Ichabod to Judas’ sister Sarah’s house.
After the initial tension upon Saul’s arrival in Damascus, Crispin and Ichabod had grown closer to Saul. During the first few months, amidst the fear and distrust, they couldn’t deny the explanations that Saul would give for things he now understood.
Over time, his honesty and openness drew everyone closer to him.
Saul also learned from them as much as they learned from him.
Crispin’s easy manner taught Saul how to engage people without setting them on edge.
Ichabod’s factual approach and skepticism taught him to question the things that he had taken for granted for so long.
“Saul, something is wrong with this. Walking with you to make sure you safely arrive. You sneaking out of the city. It doesn’t feel right.” Ichabod was thinking out loud.
Crispin spoke softer, “Saul, how do you feel about this? We didn’t really give you a choice.”
“I believe that this is what is necessary. My heart is open. I am seeking wisdom. This feels like the right thing.
“I don’t like it, I don’t like the feeling of leaving before I am done, but that is me talking. If I surrender my will, I realize that leaving is best. It is more of a continuing and less of a leaving.”
Saul then changed focus, “Ichabod, why did your parents give you your name?”
“I didn’t have a father. Well, I did, of course, but I never knew him. He was a soldier that moved on shortly after meeting my mother.
“And my mother’s parents were gone, both died an early death. After finding out that she was pregnant, my mom was alone and ashamed.”
“So she named you Ichabod, ‘for the glory has departed’?”
“No, actually, if you consider the meanings of the name, it also means ‘there is no glory’.
“She named me that because she believed anything that I would become would bring glory to a place where there was none.”
“Well, you have definitely done that.”
They turned a corner to face the city wall at the end of the road, towering in front of them.
“Judas said that his sister’s house would have hanging plants along the front, and three large windows open to the street, with a lantern glowing in the center window.
They walked down the street, noticing four guards walking through a wide alley between the last house and the actual wall.
The guards glanced toward them.
Crispin drew a deep breath, and began to slow his pace.
The guards continued by without hesitation.
“Sarah’s house is on the left ahead. One house from the end.” Ichabod said.
In the shadow of the city wall, they arrived at the wide house, with the glow from the lantern casting a bright light out onto the street, even in the waning light of the afternoon.
Saul surprised Ichabod with a quick hug. “I hope to see you again soon“
“You will soon enough.” smiled Ichabod.
Then to Crispin, “You have taught me so much humility and gentleness. Thank you for so much. I expect we will also see each other again as well.” Saul finished with an embrace.
As night fell on Damascus, sunset was short lived for anyone living inside of the high citadel walls. Lanterns were lit around the city and gave each street and house a surreal glow.
The lanterns light was impeded in Judith’s house because of the crowd gathered there. Everyone had brought supplies to assist Saul in his trip.
Ananias and Judith were waiting for the right time to make their way to the city wall, to say goodbye to Saul and deliver the supplies, as soon as they believed that they would attract undue attention from any guards passing by.
A clamor erupted from the street outside. There was a banging on the door.
Ananias stepped through the crowd, “Coming!”
His hand reached down to slide the lock up from the door. The instant the bar was clear the door swung open and a soldier stepped through.
“We are looking for Saul from Tarsus. Is he here?”
“May I ask why?”
“We have orders to find him. Is he here?”
“Uh,” Ananias looked around for a moment, “No, he isn’t here right now.”
“Can you tell us where he is?”
“He is having dinner with a friend.”
“Can you give me the address please?” The soldier was standing in the doorway, filling it in width and height. His shoulders were wide enough to brush the jamb on each side, and the crest of his helmet touched the top of the frame.
“Um…I…can you just wait here until he returns?”
“That would be a waste of time.”
“I would rather not disclose his location.” Ananias knew that he was walking a fine line. The rights of the citizens of Damascus protected them to a certain point. Ananias could not be arrested unless he was the cause of resistance.
The guard turned in the door way, the sword hanging from his hip banged against the frame. He pointed at two of the guards. “Go around back, make sure no one leaves.”
He turned back to face Ananias and the crowd. “Sir, we are going to enter your house, and search for anyone matching his description. Any resistance will be met with force.”
Ananias stepped aside and gestured for him to enter.
Dinner with Judas and Sarah had been pleasant. She prepared a meal of slow cooked lamb and vegetables served over grain, and it was anything but bland. Fresh bread was served, so fresh that when it was broke open steam wafted out and the smell of rosemary and rye filled the room.
Saul didn’t believe that he could eat any more when Sarah cleared the table and returned with a tray of pastry drizzled with a light fig syrup.
Both men leaned back and groaned as if there was no way they could consume more food. And then, leaning forward, Saul dipped the light dough into the sauce, took a bite, and smacked his lips. “Judas, you must try this. I promise you, your stomach will survive.”
Since Saul’s arrival, a friendship had existed between Saul and Judas that was unique.
Judas remained loyal to the temple, but after witnessing the man that Saul now had become, his curiosity had driven him to learn more, and that had led to a genuine friendship. For the last three years, when Saul was not wandering the countryside, Saul and Judas would sit and talk for hours on a regular basis. Conversation ranged from family and childhood to lessons learned and regretful decisions made.
Even now, on the eve of his departure, Saul enjoyed the company of one of his best friends.
However, as darkness fell on the city, the normally relaxed Judas seemed to grow anxious. Conversation became harder and Judas was distracted. There was a long pause, and Judas seemed to arrive at a decision.
Abruptly Judas stood and called to his sister in the next room, “Saul and I are going to take a walk in the cool air…we will be back shortly.”
The soldiers searching the house made their way out through the front door. The captain followed behind the others, then stopped at the door, turned, and addressed Ananias, “Tell me where to find Saul.” There was no question in his voice.
Hoping enough time had passed, Judas said, “He is dining with the sister of Judas of Medhat Basha. I don’t know exactly where she lives, but it is somewhere on Mou’aeiyah St.”
The soldier turned and walked out through the open door.
Ananias slowly shut the front door and slid the lock in place. Then he glanced at Judith and nodded to the back door. She stepped close and whispered, “The guards are gone from the back as well. We need to get to the wall right away.”
The wall of Damascus was more than one thousand years old, and had withstood attacks from every direction. It was constructed of stone blocks of various sizes, mortared together. Overall, the height of the wall stood higher than three men, and was wide enough at the top for horses and carts to pass each other. In many places the wall widened even more to provide guard towers or housing structures for high ranking military. The outer ribbon of the wall was topped with a waist high parapet to provide security from the arrows of attackers.
The evening darkness covered the city like a blanket within the walls, and the majority of the people in the city had long since entered their houses for the evening.
Judas and Saul walked out of Sarah’s front door and headed toward the wall. At the edge of the wall there were no sign of soldiers. Judas turned and walked left toward the steps that led to the top of the wall, but stopped short when he heard soldiers moving along the edge.
Judas paused long enough to listen for the commotion to pass.
“What’s bothering you?”
“Difficult decisions” replied Judas. He paused, took a deep breath, hesitated some more and kicked at the dirt. “I still am not sure of what you say, but my heart will not let me totally deny it. It goes against everything that you and I have ever been taught. For the messiah to come and be guilty of such blasphemy, I can not accept it…”
“But Judas, it is not blasphemy if it is the truth.”
“..And promising so much freedom when what we believe is founded on law. I understand what you say, but it is so hard to turn from our history and what our whole foundation is built upon.”
“Judas, who knows all of this better than I do? I am not trying to change what anyone believes, I am trying to enhance it, and make it real!”
Saul’s voice echoed along the street, bouncing between the houses and the edge of the city wall. Judas glanced up and down the road and then moved closer to Saul.
Quieter, Judas spoke, “Yes, Saul, I know all that. I have watched you and listened to you for years now. I know it. My heart wants to believe. If there was just some way He could show himself to me”.
Saul smirked, “I will pray for you, Judas.” His small dark eyes were focused so intently on Judas, that the sincerity was unmistakable. “All I ever wanted was for Messiah to prove himself to us, but yet while he was here, all I did is work to discredit his proofs. I will pray that He will make your heart heavy with the burden of the rules that we live by, so great that you can not bear it. Then you can believe in Him and follow the law, not because you have to, but because it is the natural action of a new life. Where the law can not give relief, He can. I know this Judas, because I can feel it.”
Judas suddenly seemed resolved in some decision that he didn’t mention. He ran up the steps and turned to Saul, motioning for him to follow.
“Yes, pray for me, Saul, that I will have the faith that you do.” He turned and continued up.
At the last step, glancing along the edge of the wall, Saul noticed several figures moving in the distance, but only from shadow to shadow.
He scurried forward and grabbed Judas by the collar, and spun him around. “Judas, I have heard that there are some that want me to leave the city, so that they can put an end to my words. Now I notice that there are people in the darkness ahead that are moving in secret. What is this? Why are you leading me toward them?”