Ananias and Judith walked quietly along the base of the wall, hoping that their timing was going to work out.
From a distance they followed a group of six soldiers that were making their way along the ribbon of the city to complete their hourly rounds. They hadn’t been noticed, mostly because the soldiers never stopped to look to the road between the wall and the edge of the houses.
Between the two of them, they carried three packs that were beginning to weigh on them.
The guards walked slower and slower, stopping often to argue. They would turn and form a circle, and then engage in conversation, gesturing to each other. They were too far away to be heard, but the pause in movement meant that their rounds would be delayed.
Right now, timing was everything.
They had trusted Judas to get Saul to the wall, and to avoid the guards. Trusting Judas was not easy, considering the close ties that he had with the Sanhedrin. They didn’t understand the reason that Judas was willing to help…but they needed his help to get Saul safely from the city.
The guards were moving again, still arguing, but slowly moving along. The tower was just ahead. That was where they would stop until it was time for their next circuit around the city wall.
The guards disappeared into the tower.
Ananias and Judith needed to make their way up the steps to the tower, past the guards, to reach the point where they would say goodbye to Saul.
Drifting on the wind, they could hear the conversation flowing from the window of the tower. “…telling you, no one has any business being on the wall after dark. People up here have no reason.”
“Yeah, that is why there is never anyone up here.”
“Then why do we have to continue to watch the wall. No one is attacking…”
The slapping of footsteps sounded from along the top of the wall from behind. The moon lit shadow of a soldier running by floated along the houses at ground level as he rushed past and into the tower doorway just ahead.
Again, sound from the tower. “What is it?”
“A message from the captain. The search for Saul of Tarsus in the city has proven unsuccessful. He wants everyone to assist in the search.”
“So what are we supposed to do?”
He has instructed you to conduct a continuous search of the wall. No breaks between watches.”
“No way! Sitting here is the only time we stop moving as it is, and now we are to constantly look for someone that no one else can find?”
Still out of breath, the runner continued, “The captain said…that you would complain…said for you to keep moving along the wall, watching for Saul and some local named Judas. They are supposed to be together. He is on his way to meet him now. I am heading back.” Then he headed back the way he came, panting and running, sandals slapping against the top of the stone wall.
The other soldiers left the tower, complaining and grumbling as they went.
Ananias whispered in Judith’s ear, “They are heading toward Judas and Saul. That is where Judas was supposed to meet us.”
“It sounds like they know where Judas will be, do you think Judas gave away our plans?”
“I don’t know.”
They walked up the steps, keeping distance between themselves and the guards and stepped into the guard tower.
From this viewpoint, they could see the path along the parapet all the way to the next turn in the wall. Along this section was where Judas and Saul were supposed to meet them. At the next set of steps where the guards had just passed was where Judas’ sister’s house was located, but there was no sign of anyone out of place, and no sign of Judas or Saul.
Ananias and Judith left the tower and stopped halfway between the tower and the steps that led down to where Judas and Saul were supposed to be. They shrugged off their packs and leaned them up against the wall. The silence of the night increased the tension. In the short distance, they could still hear the guards complaining.
A rustling from behind.
“Hey!” a yelled whisper made them both jump in panic.
Ichabod smiled in the moonlight and dropped a large straw basket alongside the packs.
“You scared me!” Judith said, slapping him on the arm. “Is everything ready?”
“I think so. This basket is sure heavy enough, and the rope is used to support shipping crates. I think it will be enough.
“Where are they?”
“Haven’t seen them yet…” Ananias replied.
Speaking in hushed tones, Judas replied, “Saul, we must get you out of the city tonight. You are right; there are those that want to catch you alone.
“Is there anything that you need for your travel that we can supply? There are packs prepared for you with food and water enough for your journey. You will also have a companion to accompany you back to Jerusalem.
“Come.” Judas turned and moved toward the shadows.
The shadows moved closer and Judith ran forward the last few steps to hug Saul.
Then she led them all back to where the bags were piled on the wall. Still no words spoken.
Saul assumed the packs were provisions. The only thing that was out of place was the large woven basket that was used to carry dirty clothes to the water for washing.
Judith spoke then, “Judas, what happened? We were afraid they had stopped you at your sister’s house.”
“What, who is heading to Sarah’s house?”
“The soldiers, they are looking for Saul.” Ananias replied.
Judas looked over the wall toward his sister’s house, and then back to them.
“You told them where we were?”
“I didn’t have a choice.”
“She has nothing to do with this. If they come, I cannot stay up here.”
“I don’t understand why we are here.” Saul interrupted.
Ananias answered, “This is where we will say goodbye.”
Saul looked from one direction to the other. His gaze swept up and down the length of the wall. He turned his head to look over his shoulder toward the center of Damascus.
Then his body leaned over the parapet to scan down the wall and out over the countryside. The setting sun cast purple shadows along the hills in the distance.
“I don’t understand”.
Then his eyes grew wide, as understanding broke through.
“You mean to send me over the wall!” It was not a question, but an absurd statement. “I cannot climb.”
Judith stepped forward, glancing from Saul to Ananias, then Judas. “We were going to lower you over the wall in this basket”, she said, gesturing toward the basket with a nod of her head.
Saul raised his eyebrows, and then leaned over the wall to measure the distance to the ground below.
Judas snapped his head to look down toward the street. He could clearly see the shadows of soldiers passing in front of house after house as they searched Mou’aeiyah Street moving closer to the bottom of the wall and Sarah’s house.
Looking from the street below to the basket, then to the others, Judas said “quickly Saul, in the basket. We have no time, and you need me to help him over the wall.”
Ichabod stepped forward. “Drop me over first, and then throw over the bags.”
Judas and Ananias grabbed the rope and leveraged one foot up against the parapet. Ichabod secured the rope to the basket and lifted it over the wall and stepped in.
Hand over hand they lowered the basket, cringing as the rope creaked and stretched over the stone.
The rope and basket was quickly hauled back up as Judith dropped the packs over the wall to Ichabod. Saul stepped over the wall into the basket and grinned. “Ananias, this is crazy, but I’m up to the task. I will definitely miss you, and you too, Judith.”
“Judas, thank you for so much. Hopefully we will meet again.
Again, hand over hand the basket dropped toward the wall.
Judas watched as Saul descended the wall, and glanced over his shoulder.
The soldiers were two houses away from Sarah’s front door. Two thoughts screamed for his attention. I have to get to her house before they do. I have to make sure they don’t see us lowering Saul over the wall.
He glanced over the wall again and saw that Saul was just a short distance from the ground. “Ananias, I have to go. They will see us.” And then let the rope drop.
Saul watched the ground grow closer, and then the ground came on too fast as the basket dropped the last several feet, crunching as it smashed against the dirt.
As Judas arrived at Sarah’s door, the soldiers left the house across the narrow street and walked to the front porch.
With one last glance toward the wall, he could see Ananias and Judith moving off into the shadows. “Good evening, Captain. How can I be of assistance?”
Saul began the long walk back to Jerusalem by the light of the stars. Ichabod was preoccupied, scanning the black gates of the city in the shadows, checking for pursuers.
The idea of lowering him over the wall in a laundry basket was not as crazy as he had originally thought. Once the basket was over the wall, and Saul had climbed over the wall to get into the basket, everything else went relatively smooth and uneventful with the exception of the sudden drop at the end. There was no sound from the top, and no outlines of movement.
Now, under a clear sky of midnight blue, the moon casting just enough light to travel by, Saul’s mind began to wander.
He reviewed the events of the past few years, and the incredible amount of change that had impacted his life. All in one moment, hundreds of questions regarding belief and purpose had been cleared away like writing in the sand on the shore. At the same time, even more questions had entered that same space. Questions about his purpose and this new life he had just begun.
Then he considered the radical implications of his return to Jerusalem. What would happen when he entered the city and confronted the men that had sent him to Damascus? Should he even let them know he was there (or would they already know)?
What about the members of Christ’s Way in Jerusalem? Would they accept him? Would they understand and accept his apologies?
As Saul drew ever more near Jerusalem, he knew that he would be viewing the city from a brand new and unique perspective.