Finding Peace

Easter Program, 2022 

I would like to tell you about the man who introduced me to my Savior.
We were born in the same town, Tarsus. But that is where the similarities ended. He was a Jew and would have nothing to do with me, a Gentile.
I remember stopping our play in the streets to block him from walking past us. “Where ya’ going Jew?”

“My name’s Saul.” He responded with his chin raised a little higher.
“That would be Paul to us, Jew.” I winked at my friend Antony beside me. We would never call a Jew by his Jewish name, only by his Roman name.
He looked perturbed but kept walking.
I moved to stand in front of him, hindering him from continuing. He was a little guy, I, though the same age, was a head taller than he. “Still didn’t answer my question.”
He shifted his feet then without wavering said, “To the scribe.”
“What for?”
He bowed his head. His voice lowered to barely a whisper. “To know the Torah.”
I laughed, “What’s the Torah?”
He cleared his throat and looked me in the eye, “God’s Holy Word.”
His answer surprised me. I was caught off guard and he walked around me.
I went to detain him again, but Antony stopped me. “Let’s play.”

The next day I has prepared with more questions when I blocked his way. “Why is your God better than Mithras, god of friendship?”
He cleared his throat. “My God included all our people in His blessings, not just a secret few.”
He stayed at the scribe for six hours. That’s a long time to bow before a scroll. Didn’t his knees get sore? “What do you do with this Torah? Worship it? Bow before it?” 
But again his answer caught me off guard. 
“We memorize it.” With that he walked around me.
Antony asked, “Haven’t you watched through the door of the synagogue on Saturdays?”
I shook my head. Why hadn’t I?
Antony added, “Someone reads from a Scroll while everyone listens.”

I shook my head, “But to memorize it?”
Antony laughed. “Maybe that’s why the scribes looked like they’d lived a thousand years!”
We laughed and returned to playing, but I continued to think about words worth memorizing generation after generation.
What God would have that many words to tell?

Saul trudged Tarsus’s streets to the scribe’s to learn the Torah.
He seemed willing, not like I would’ve been. 
I’d have left home but not showed up at the scribes. 
How did knowing what a God say change your life?
Saul didn’t repeat his father’s answers. He had his own. And his eyes showed such intenseness and passion for knowing its truth.

Each day I had more questions about this God and what the Torah said.
Each day he’d answer briefly so he wouldn’t be late for class.
I should probably be ashamed of tormenting him, but I’m not. His answers, even from a little six year old, made me think. 

When he was about 10 years old, I no longer saw him. “What happened to little Paul?”
Antony said, “He’s moved to Jerusalem.”
I felt the loss. Like I’d lost my direction.

As life does, our paths went in two different directions.
My father tried to apprentice me in carpentry. The only thing I wanted to do with wood was throw it across the room in frustration.
So I joined the Roman army with Antony.
We were inseparable
My mom cried. 
It was the only thing I had ever done to make my dad proud.

But the Roman army was disciplined. 
I was not.
I soon became disciplined though, out of fear of what not being disciplined would bring.
My friendship with Antony deepened.
Antony sought adventure. 
I wanted to know.
He’d burst through without thinking; I’d have it all figured out beforehand. 
We went through everything together.
We were sent together for errands. 
I could trust him with my life.

The Roman army lives in tents as it moved from crisis to crisis. My commander sent the two of us to the tent maker to pick up what we had ordered. 
When I reached his tent, I stopped short. It couldn’t be!
Was that little man, the kid I tormented every day for two years? I cleared my throat.
He looked up from his sewing.

I read recognition in his expression, but no softening of his features. He remembered me too. And not fondly.
I had Rome’s power behind me now. “I’m here for the promised tents.”
He nodded to a pile in the corner of the tent. “They’re ready.”
He struggled to his feet. He was shorter than I by almost a cubit. He shuffled through the piles of hides that lay between him and the tents and lifted the first tent. 
It looked heavy. Made from thick goats’ hides. Known for their excellent quality. 
“Where’s your cart?”
I gestured outside the tent. And stepped forward to help.
Antony held me back. “Let him do it.”
I forgot my role as a Roman soldier.
We watched Paul load our cart. 

Isn’t that what the power of Rome gave me?
When I picked up the reins of the horse to leave, I looked back at him. I wanted to ask him how the Torah had changed his measly life.
But somehow the words stuck in my throat. 
He had already gone back to sewing. 
I left.

Somehow I was assigned to getting the tents for the army every time. The next time I prepared questions for him.
“Where did you go after learning from the scribe?”
He seemed surprised by my question, but then he squared his shoulders back. “To study under Gamaliel.”
He answered as if I should know how important that was. I didn’t.
Antony whispered, “He’s the top scribe.”
“Ever finish memorizing your Torah?”
He looked me in the face and nodded.
“What good does it do you?”
Without pausing, he answered, “It makes me know God.”
How could anyone know God? I shook my head. “What good does that do?”
“So I can please Him.”
I shook my head. Who cared if they pleased the gods! Everyone in this city tried to please some god. Usually it was an excuse to do what they wanted. “What makes your God so special?”
He thought for a moment, then said, “Because He cares.”
I laughed. No god cared. Every god of Tarsus wanted to be pleased, but could care less what that did to you.
“Do you really believe that?” I studied his face.
He showed such intensity, I felt ashamed doubting him. 
He responded emphatically, “I do.”
His words replayed in my mind, long after I left his tent. “Because He cares.”

Our troops were sent to Jerusalem. Pilate expected difficulties. The Jews would be celebrating their Passover.

Every Jew, if he was a Jew, traveled to Jerusalem every year for the Passover.
The city was hot, packed with people. 
We camped outside the city, ready for any insurrection or disturbance.
My cohort was assigned guard at the temple.
We’d been briefed that a man attracting quite a crowd might be there.
When a group of Jews passed the lines of people purchasing their sacrifice, Antony nudged me. “He’s the one.”
“How’d you know?” 
“Look at the way everyone makes room for him as he enters.”
Sure enough the crowds seemed to part for him.
“And look at who’s with him.”
The crowd behind him was not composed of people who would ever associate with each other—there was one of our tax collectors, several salty, rough characters, probably fishermen and even some wealthy men. 
I nodded. Wish I had Antony’s ability to evaluate a situation instantly. By the time I had assessed danger, it would have stabbed me in the back!

The man stalked to the money changers tables and tipped their tables over.
I stepped forward to stop the commotion.
Antony stayed me with his hand. “Watch.” 
I saw the twinkle in his eye and stepped back.

Even the sacrificial animals in their cages stopped their restlessness and bawling.
Coins rolled to a stop on the marble floor.
All was silent. 
The merchants scurried on the floor to gather the money.

But the man was not finished.
“It is written, ‘My Father’s house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations.’”
Interesting. He said, “Father’s house.” But was this not considered God’s house to a Jew? So is this man claiming to be the Son of this God?
I glanced at the reaction of their religious leaders, who stood inspecting the people by the main entrance of the temple.
His meaning was not lost to them either. 
Their neck muscles bulged through all their tunics and robes, like my father’s when I knew I’d get it.
Their eyes glared hatred—If they had a knife they’d have thrown it.
My hand tightened on my sword hilt, prepared to draw if they had the courage to fulfill their thoughts. But as I saw their cowardice, I smiled. He was claiming to be the Son of God. 
Maybe I was understanding this Jewish Law stuff.

The person next in line to exchange his money moved to the other table where he would purchase his lamb with the proper temple money. He put his foreign money on the table, chose his lamb, then stepped away taking the lamb with him without waiting for the man to reject his money.
The next in line did the same.
The line by-passed the money-changers.
Antony shrugged, “They aren’t breaking Roman laws, now are they?”
Rome instills in us not to show emotion, for that is a weakness. But I couldn’t help but smile. 

Even after I was off-duty, I couldn’t remove the Man from my thoughts. His passion for right so consumed him, He cared nothing about what people thought, but all for righting wrongs.
He reminded me of Paul, whose passion made him sacrifice for what he believed.
I could respect that.
I had no passion like that.

The week continued. There were killings by Zealots—stupid Jews. They knifed walking through crowded streets—For no purpose but to create havoc.
When I was on guard, the hair on my neck tingled and I’d look again.
Another person lay dead in the street. 
What could we do with that?
If we interfered, we’d be stabbed.
We watched for mobs.
Rome was good about creating a presence of strength and dominance.
I must mimic that as a Roman representative, otherwise I’d get killed quickly.

The city held its breathe for something.
I felt my own chest tighten as if I couldn’t breathe.
The end of the week approached with the Passover. 
Friday afternoon, Antony awakened me to start our duty.
“Maybe we’ll see some excitement!” 
I grunted, not sure excitement was what I wanted to see.
We walked through the streets, making our presence known.
I whispered to Antony, “The city seemed waiting for something, you may get your excitement today.” I hoped not. 
The feeling I got made my stomach ache and my hair stand on end beneath my tunic. That didn’t give me excitement, it made me itch.
A group of Pharisees, distinguished by their dress, clustered in a doorway. Their group broke up as I passed. One turned, and I caught my breathe. It was Paul.
He fell in line with me as I walked.
“What are you doing here in this crowded mass?” I looked at him out of the corner of my eye.
It was hard to recognize him for he wore the robes of a Pharisee. Seemed too dignified for how I remembered him.
“I’m a Jew. I’m here for the Passover.”
I felt stupid. Of course.
“Do you stay outside the city in one of your tents?”
He shook his head. “My sister lives here. Our family joins together for Passover.”
I don’t know why, but I felt relieved he’d be protected within a house, rather than a tent. 
I nodded, but didn’t understand. These Jewish feasts and festivals differed from the orgies done for the gods in Tarsus. 
At a cross street, he turned, I continued straight. 
Though out of sight, he was in my thoughts for a long time.

Antony and I finished our shift. 
Other than several stabbings, all had been quiet. 
Jews had painted their doorways with blood and entered their homes to stay for the night.
I looked forward to sleep. 
My sleep was short.
Antony woke me. “The commander needs us at Pilate’s house for extra duty.”
“Look’s like you’ll get that excitement you wanted.”
Antony’s eyes twinkled; mine tried to hold back dread.

No amount of sleep could have prepared me for what would take place there.
The streets were empty.

We could hear their shouting long before we reached them.
We broke into a run.
This was the mob we had been trained to control.
I shook my hands to retrieve my dagger quickly.

Pilate’s courtyard could hold no more.
“What happened to celebrating their Passover in their homes and staying off the streets tonight?” I whispered to Antony.
Antony answered, “These are the Jews who disregard the rules they make for others.”
We both saw the hypocrisy of these religious leaders, why didn’t their own people?
We slipped inside the doorway and kept our backs to the wall, so no one could slice us from behind.
I glanced around. 

Many of those associated with the religious leaders were there. In that I mean, the religious leaders would not do certain things because it was against their law, but they hired people who didn’t care to follow their law, to execute what they wanted. We had come to meet many of them. It seemed they were all here.

After viewing the ranting mob, I glanced at the stage.
Beside Pilate stood a man I could not recognize. They had beaten and whipped him so much his blood pooled at his feet.
Pilate’s voice rang out as he pointed to the beaten man, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?”
What? I looked more closely at who it was. He was the man from the temple Who was the Son of God.

A voice from the back corner yelled, “Release Barabbas. Release Barabbas.”
Barabbas had been imprisoned because of several murders during the insurrection.
I squinted to see who was in the dark corner.
It was one of the religious leaders.
His demand swept through the crowd. Repeated on every lip.

Pilate asked, “What shall I do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?”
The voice in the dark corner started the chant. “Crucify Him!”
Had I heard right?
I stepped forward.
Antony motioned for me to remain against the wall.
I fingered my sword, then dropped my hands to my sides in position. I bit my lip and repeated to myself, “A soldier shows no emotion. A soldier shows no emotion.” But even as I tried to convince my mind, my mind told me, “This was wrong.”
I was angry at these blood-thirsty, power-hungry Jewish leaders who would kill a man out of jealousy.

Time stood still as Pilate declared his verdict. He washed his hands, declaring his innocence, yet would allow the verdict to stand.
The people filed from the courtyard toward the place where Rome crucified.
We waited until the courtyard was empty.
Our commander motioned us to leave.  
I couldn’t have been more relieved. 
I felt sick.
Antony looked at me, “You don’t look so good. You all right?”
I nodded, but wasn’t.

The commander directed, “Others will cover the crucifixion.”
I was relieved.
Crucifixions were hard to guard.
Not that the people were unruly, but the judgment was so gruesome.
I always felt like I couldn’t breathe as I watched the criminal try to get a breathe. My chest felt heavy. My limbs weighted.
I shook my head to dispel the thoughts. My chest continued to feel like a horse had sat on it.

When we reached our tent, I shed my armor quickly, and fell to my bedding exhausted.
But I could not sleep.
I lay awake for a long time thinking.
That Man was innocent.
I nudged Antony. “Do you think that man was innocent?”
He moaned as he woke. “Does it matter? He’ll be dead in less than a day. Did you see how much He’d already been beaten?”
I nodded, though he didn’t see me. His eyes already closed in sleep.
Why did it bother me? 
But that idea that He was the Son of God that we’d just killed stuck in my mind and hindered sleep.

Rome crucified so many—countless who threatened Rome. 
The men blurred in my mind, except that one.
As Roman soldiers, we grow a thick skin especially against the Jews—they caused so many problems. 
Somehow this time, I did not think this Man was a threat.

Other soldiers later told—the man—Jesus, created quite a crowd at His crucifixion.

Of course, the normal jeering crowd harassed them.
There was another crowd, one who mourned. They, too, were always there, but this crowd seemed to mourn for the entire world. Their hopelessness was contagious, even to some of the soldiers there.
Even the soldier gloating over winning the convict’s cloak seemed muted. 
The cloak was a worthy prize! Flawless. Warm. 
The man must have had quite a rich following to warrant such cloth of tight weave.
But that was just the beginning of that mood.

I tossed on my blanket, tormented by what I had witnessed.
Light streamed in our tent. It was about the third hour.
I knew I hadn’t slept, but suddenly the light was gone. Like a giant curtain covered the world. I rose from my bed to see what had happened. Looking out the tent slit there was nothing visible. The row of tents could not be seen, the blackness was eerie, that feeling I had earlier about something happening came with full force.
“Hey, Antony.”
He paused briefly in his snoring. But I couldn’t see whether his eyes fluttered.
The entire earth shook beneath us. 

Our tent fell on us as the pegs came undone.
This finally woke him.
“Help me fix the pegs.” I crawled outside to find them. Without even the stars or moon light, though how would you expect them to be out in the day? I could find nothing.
We shouted to one another as we searched on our hands and knees to find the pegs.

When the thunder pierced the darkness with such power and force, we forsook fixing the tent and hid under its folds of the unmade tent.
Rain poured then. Soaking us even through the tent’s protection.
Like all heaven poured in this one-moment in time.

Not all my shaking was from rain.
Was this God of the Jews letting us know we had wronged His Son?
I could think of nothing else.

But the Jews’ own rulers had brought it to pass.
I didn’t have answers.
I hoped to run into Paul to ask him.
But I didn’t.

We were supposed to have slept during that day.
I could not.

At the close of the day, the sun finally peaked through the clouds and shown.

What relief I felt, though our blankets, tunics and robes were drenched.

Our commander requested formation. He knew we had already pulled a double shift with not much sleep afterward. 
He asked rather than demanded—it was funny how he presented his request, so unlike him, “The Jews have requested that someone guard the tomb.”
Snickers and outright laughter resulted.
He raised his hand. “I know. But we must. Who is willing?”
My feet suddenly felt colder than their wetness should. “Whose tomb?”
The commander hesitated, “The man they crucified, Jesus.”
I cold shill ran down my spine.

Antony nudged me, “Let’s do it. What’s so hard about guarding a tomb.”
I shook my head. “This time, it’s a bad idea. No.”
Antony smacked me.  “I’m going to do it.”
I grabbed his arm. “Don’t.”
“You afraid?”
I couldn’t tell him why. But it wasn’t fear, it was… I don’t know.
He laughed.

He watched that grave.
But when he returned Sunday morning he looked pale as death.
“What is it, Antony?”
“I…I….” he shook his head and couldn’t voice his thought.
“What happened?”
“A ghost? A spirit? I don’t know. A bright light. Blinding light.
And the tomb—”
I could hardly wait for him to finish. “What happened?”
“The tomb was empty.”
“You mean, no body?”
“The stone, you know that takes four men to roll to seal that hole? It was rolled away. After the bright light came, I wondered about the body, the boulder was rolled away, the body was gone!”
I tried to understand, “Someone stole it?”
“No! The body was there, but wasn’t. The grave clothes lay like a body was wrapped in it, but they were flat.” He motioned with his hands like a flat table. “But with no substance.”

I tried to piece together his words, “So the bright light took it?”
“No! I don’t know. But the body was gone without the graveclothes. Even the napkin over his face remained where it should.”
Then he shook.

I grabbed him and held him as he sobbed.
I cried with him.
A soldier who failed his duty was killed. 
We both trembled. I for my only friend. And he for his life.

I suggested, “Why don’t you run for your life? Spare your life.” 
“Where could I run where Rome would not find me?”

We waited for the commander to come for him.
He did not wait long.
He entered our tent, still damp from Friday’s rain. 
He tried to clean off the mud before entering.
He looked around the tent before resting his eyes on Antony.

“I spoke to the religious leaders.” He gulped. “This is not Roman policy.” He fidgeted then knelt beside us. He extended his hand toward Antony. “They give this for your silence.”
Antony nervously took what the commander held. It was a large sum of money. He counted it. His eyes widened. “I don’t understand. I failed in my duty.”

The commander shook his head. “You were paid to watch a dead man. That man is no longer dead.” He lowered his voice and I had to lean forward to hear him, “They pay for your silence. They request you tell that you fell asleep.”
Antony stood up and shouted. “I did not sleep!”
“Quiet!” the commander raised his voice to match his as he looked toward the tent opening.
Antony lowered his voice, “What if I can’t be bought with their money?”
The commander lowered his voice again. “If you do not, you receive the Roman penalty.”

Antony looked at the money again. “Let me understand. They will pay me this money if I say I fell asleep. But if I don’t, I receive the Roman death penalty? It doesn’t make sense.”
I had been quiet the entire time, but now I explained, “They don’t want Him to receive victory. Though He has, if he rose from the dead.”
Antony looked at me sternly, “He did indeed raise from the dead. He is not there.”
“Those religious leaders think by paying you, they will silence Him.” 
I was excited for him. “Think what land you could purchase with that much money. You can buy the land we talked about, then later retire on it with money to spare.”
“Yes, that land we saw in Tarsus, up on that mountain that overlooked the sea. We could take our breaks from the army there.”

The commander put an end to our dreaming. His voice suddenly held his normal sternness. “If you accept the money, you will be dismissed from the army.”
“If you accept the money, you will be dismissed from the army?”
Antony’s countenance fell. “But if I decline, I will be killed?”
Antony’s shoulders fell. “What choice do I have?”
The commander put his hand awkwardly on Antony’s shoulder, “I, too, must decide. They will release me from my position. You were under my charge.”
I whistled. “That’s a lot of money these religious leaders have to give away. Does Rome know how much they have withheld from paying them?” But my thoughts meant nothing to these who must decide much weightier manners.

Antony left that night to return to Tarsus. His purse was full, and his eyes were red.
Our tent seemed empty after he left. 
His eyes may have been red, but mine poured water all through the night.
How would I survive without Antony?

As my commander had said, he too must decide. He was gone by the next day.
Our troops would not remain leaderless long.
They promoted me to commander.
I felt the loss of Antony more than ever. 
Who would watch my back now?

I couldn’t wait to leave Jerusalem—its heat, dust, turmoil, but especially the memories.
I was never so relieved as when our ship sailed for Tarsus. 
It’d be good to be home again.
I was kept busy with my new duties.
Kept my mind from dwelling on the loneliness, my empty tent, the hollowness of the job, and the loss of a friend.

In Tarsus, our demands were not so urgent. 
Tarsus is known for its intellectuals, wealth and culture.
The wealthy kill discreetly, by poison or subtle, discreet  stabbing, nothing Rome must control.
Intellectuals like nothing more than stabbing each other with words and ideas. What harm is that?
Not this killing of innocent Sons of God that bothered me in Jerusalem.

It was time to forget what happened.
And that’s what I tried to do.

My path did not cross Paul again until our unit was detached to return to Jerusalem.
On the way, I was informed of the reason, by a note:
“It seems this Jesus wasn’t finished walking the earth.”
Wasn’t I finished with this yet?
The wounds of Antony’s dismissal tore open again.
I swallowed, blinked and tried to continue reading,
“His followers are stirring up the religious leaders.”
Maybe they needed stirring, I thought.

“You are called to keep a mob from forming.”
I could hear Antony’s response to that, “Good luck with that.” 
I smiled in spite of my wound.
I felt the same way. Only I was the commander who would be responsible to make sure it didn’t happen.

In Jerusalem, I assigned our group immediately to a mob formed on the hill outside the city.
As we arrived, religious leaders were stoning someone.
If we interfered, we’d be accused of obscuring their justice,
Yet was this justice? I’d seen enough of their justice with Jesus, whom they set up to crucify. Yet I had to remind myself that a Roman soldier showed no emotion. 

The man they were stoning was near death already.
He looked at the sky, “Behold, I see the heavens open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
At these words, the leaders covered their ears and rushed on him with more fury.
It was pitiful to watch. 
The man offered himself, like a sacrifice. With no malice. No anger. No retaliation. He even offered forgiveness in his final words.
Their anger made their aim worse.
Instead of speeding his death, they lengthened it.
I could only shake my head in disgust.

Off to the side, stood a small man under the shadows of a tree.
“No—it can’t be him.” I murmured.
I squinted. 
It was him—Paul.

His countenance was angry.
I didn’t understand his anger.
Wouldn’t that be what you want? To be received by your God?

I moved to stand behind him.
“Why are you so angry?”
He turned startled as I had spoken. 
When he saw it was I, his countenance darkened.
“God would not stand for his entrance.”
“Why not?”
“He believes Jesus rose from the dead.”

Was there any doubt? The story the soldiers were made to tell was harder to believe than that Jesus still lived. “That man you crucified?”
He shook his head. “I had no part of it, but the rulers…” He shut his mouth as if he’d said too much.
“Yeah, it was set up. They didn’t even follow their own laws, instead of staying inside eating their feast, they were busy killing Jesus.”
Paul clamped his lips. “That man deserved to die.”
“Which?” I nodded to the man being stoned. “Him? Or Jesus?”
His face darkened. “Both.” 
He shook his head and refused to say any more.
I too must shut my mouth, for I had forgotten to watch.

When the man was dead, the rulers came by Paul who handed them their cloaks.
When they left, I dismissed my group. “We’re done here.” 
To my orderly, I gestured to the mound where the man was left. “I’ll take a look.”
“I’ll wait here. I’ve seen enough.”
When I uncovered the man’s face, his face was bloodied and swollen. I didn’t know what I expected to see.
But his  expression was of what? 

I didn’t know what I would find, but that hadn’t been it.
I covered him again with stones. I was angry I had looked.
What had I hoped to see?
I didn’t want to see anymore of Paul and what he represented. 
He wasn’t what I thought.
I had enough.

But killing this man was just the beginning of the torture the Jews would inflict on their own people.
Like a fire kindled by Jesus that spread to His believers — the rulers must extinguish to keep their power.

How successful could these religious leaders be in shutting out the news, if they couldn’t keep one man dead?
And there was no doubt, THAT MAN WAS DEAD.

A Roman crucifixion made sure of that, before they are removed from the tree, they either have their legs broken, so they finish suffocating, or they confirm their death by thrusting a javelin in their side to pierce their heart.
That man was dead.
But now is alive.
How can they silence that?

Money wouldn’t keep me quiet.
But I wished to remain a soldier, though I was not liking my job now.

What did they do with those people who believed and told others?
We escorted religious leaders to believers’ homes and dragged out people who believed Jesus had risen from the dead.
What if they asked me? Did I believe?
Antony hadn’t lied.

Where did they take these believers?
Prison. Torture. 
Herod started dipping them in oil to burn for lights in his garden.
I would have hated to stand guard for that.
Did these people have no fear of this God?
Wouldn’t this God Who cared, protect His own?
Even His Son?
I had too many questions without answers.

It seemed our fate was destined that we cross again.
Our troop was assigned to escort several religious leaders to Damascus. They had waited for special papers.
We left in the night.
It would take 7 days.
I was glad to be leaving the city. This barging into homes of hard-working people wore on me. 
Maybe Rome hadn’t calloused me yet.  
Maybe distance would help me settle my thoughts.

It wasn’t until day break when I realized I hadn’t left all my troubles behind—Paul was the person we were escorting!
Our break was brief, and we started again.

It seemed he, too, wanted to forget what was behind us.
Or hurry to do what he must do.
It was along about the noon break when I was close enough to talk. “What’s in those papers that are so important?”
Normally I didn’t care what their business was, but with him, I did.
He responded with great satisfaction, tapping his bag where the papers lay, “They give permission to bring those Jesus worshippers back to Jerusalem.”
I looked at his face. The hardened look and hatred, like when we were at the stoning, surprised me. “What wrong have they done?”
He sputtered at the question. “It pertains to our law, you wouldn’t understand.”
“But you said yourself, your God cared. How can killing your own people bring God pleasure?”
Rather than answering, he stalked off without answering.

We were half-way to Damascus. I kept to the end of the line. I no longer wanted to question him. 
He was just like all the others. They did what they wanted, but hung the law over their people to control them. 
Had Paul’s hatred and consuming desire for destruction driven him to madness?
He wasn’t any different than anyone else.
So neither was his God.
The ache that realization gave me tormented me.
I did not want it to be so.

I was deep in thought, not paying attention, when I nearly ran into the soldier in front of me.
The sudden stop jolted me to notice my surroundings.
An unusual light  shown ahead. Brighter than the sun, even though we were at noonday.
I pushed through the soldiers to the front. 
All had stopped before this bright light that hindered anyone from passing.

A voice came from the light, but I couldn’t understand the words.
Paul knelt with his face to the ground before this light. “Who are You, Lord?”
Who was he talking to?
There was no one but the light.
But the light was more than light, it was a Presence.

The rumbling came from that Presence, though I couldn’t decipher the words.
Paul seemed to understand.
The circle of soldiers watched unsure what to do.

We were commanded to protect this man, but leading him through a battle with his God was not part of our assignment.
I became angry. 
Who was this God Who touched those close to me, yet wouldn’t let me know Him?
The light faded. 

The road came into view, like nothing had happened.
We waited for Paul to rise.
When he didn’t, I felt embarrassed. 
Maybe this light had killed him. 

What would I report? That his God killed him?
I nudged him with my boot. “We must go.”
He shook his head and turned toward me.
His voice shook, “I know it’s you, soldier, by your voice, but I cannot see you.”
I helped him to his feet. 
I turned to my men, “We will make haste to Damascus.”

We could not leave this area soon enough for me.
Whatever God had spoken had blinded this man.
I was thankful He had left me alone. 
We arrived in Damascus and released Paul.

I never felt more relieved to be off duty, except since the Nazarene, Jesus duty. That still haunted my sleep.
This did not torment me, it alarmed me.
Every time I closed my eyes, I felt that Presence in the light. What if it had called my name?
What would I do?

I praised the gods we were rid of Paul—I hoped for good.
Not only did he make me ask more questions than answers, but he himself got blinded for persecuting this bright light. How could Rome protect me from that?
I hadn’t known Jesus for long, but maybe that was enough for him to blind me.
How did knowing a Son of a God, change you?

I returned to Jerusalem to report to the religious leaders about our mission.
“We delivered Paul safely,” Then I coughed. “To his destination.”
I omitted reporting about the light. Who would believe us?
And I remember what happened to Antony. It had killed him to leave the army. Maybe I was ready to leave. 
Did I still believe what Rome protected?

The religious leaders looked around the room. “So where are the prisoners?”
I cleared my throat again. “Paul was detained and dismissed us.”
The chief leader nodded, accepting my answer.
I let out a breathe I didn’t know I was holding.

As we returned to our tents, my attendant asked me, “We delivered Paulsafely?”
I defended my answer, “He wasn’t dead, was he?”
He laughed, “No sir, he was not dead.”
I nodded, “Then he was safe.”
“Yes, sir, safe.” 
How can you be safe from God?

I hoped I was finished with Paul. His inconsistencies with what He professed his Law said, was enough for me not to want to know what he was doing.
As commander, I couldn’t be bothered by why people did what they did. I had Rome to defend. 
Although I had seen enough of Rome’s brutality and injustices to begin to make me cynical of any true justice.
But fate would have me see Paul again.

Though the normal soldier only lasted  sixteen years in the army, I did not. I became part of the Praetorium Guard, living in Rome. Described by some as special soldiers with unique skills and services. For me, I just questioned more than others and pursued motives. What I found often was inconsistencies, but those led to finding betrayal which awarded me with merits. 

I warned that HEROD WOULD FALL APART, and he committed suicide. 
Some thought I could predict the future, but it wasn’t the future I understood, but the motives of people and what they would do with them.
Though my old body could not sleep in a tent anymore, for I needed my bed, I could still serve Rome.

Emperor’s came and went.
Though they were considered gods to be worshipped,
I saw nothing there that deserved my worship.
If they were gods, they weren’t immune against poisoning, killings, and death.
Tiberius died. 
Caligula replaced him. But was then murdered.
Claudius was declared emperor, but then was poisoned by his wife. 
Nero replaced him.

If emperor battles weren’t enough, countries revolted against Rome.
When the Jews revolted, many were imprisoned in Rome, waiting the emperor’s decision. Like some god sanctioning or condemning their acts. Would true justice happen? I did not think so.
Josephus pled for the Jews interests before Rome. But then turn traitor to the Jews, when he acquired Roman citizenship.
Such pursuit of power. And for what?
Death comes to all.

Guess I have become cynical, especially after seeing Paul so innocent at six, turn so filled with hate over what?
A group of people who believed a man rose again?

I almost died several times in mob actions. 
Don’t know what god was watching out for me.
But I will thank him.

Yet with all that, life is not much more than one day lived after another.
As long as I have a meal and sleep in my own bed—that now is important. After all these years sleeping on the rocky ground in campsites, my bed is a great comfort.
What more is there?

I was walking down a side street I normally didn’t go. 
Don’t even know why I was on it, when I heard a voice that made me stop. I traced it  to the open window. The door was guarded by a Praetorian guard. 
Uh. A prisoner.

The words caught my attention: “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.”

Was this a plot against the ruling class?

I prided myself on my ability to think, to question. Didn’t I come from Tarsus—known throughout the world for its thinkers?
I caught another phrase, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” 
What God is this?

That voice tickled my memory.
I nodded to the guard, and opened the door.
By acting confident as if I were in charge, I went places others would ask and be denied.

When I entered, the speaker faced away from me, but I would recognize his small stature, though hunched now with age, anywhere. He bent over a scroll resting on a table in front of him.
“Paul?” I asked incredulously.
The speaker faced me.
His features were marred, scarred but his eyes were the same. 
I could see the question in them, his attempt at recognition.
His voice though raspy with age, asked, “Yes?”
I could see his mind trying to remember.
“We grew up together in Tarsus.”

He still had a puzzled expression.
I reluctantly prodded, “I tormented you on your way to the scribe every day.”
He smiled then and laughed. “Yes. And then escorted me to Damascus.”
“I left you blind there. But now you see.”
He pointed to the only chair in the room. “Sit.”
I had nothing better to do, might as well be humored. I sat.
“You left me blind in Damascus. But God gave back my sight and brought me on an adventure ever since.”

His choice of words took me back to someone else who looked for adventure, Antony. How long ago that had been!
But though a long time, a stab of unhealed wounds surfaced. Wounds I thought had been deeply buried.

After Paul received his sight by a miracle, he studied the Law as it related to Jesus. And found prophecies fulfilled.
“Why didn’t you see it before?”
Paul sat. “I was blinded in more ways than physical. My spiritual eyes would not let me see.”
“Why can you now?”

Paul smiled. “You’re always asking questions. Always searching for reasons. But let me ask you something? With all your wisdom, did you find peace?”
His question was unexpected. I thought about it. Shrugged. “Peace is ambiguous.”
Paul pointed to my chest. “The peace that settles in here and allows you to sleep.”
I shrugged. “In my work, I ask questions to create unrest. People talk more when they are worried.”

Paul persisted, “But I’m not talking about your work, I’m talking about peace with yourself, with God, with others.”
I laughed. “That would require a miracle.”
Paul responded, “Exactly. That’s why God must bring it.”
“Is that what you got on the Damascus road?”
Paul laughed. “You are good! Which governor or future emperor do you work for?
I shrugged. “Who is going to last?”
Paul sobered, “I work for the One Who will win the final battle.”
I laughed. “They all die, then what?”
Paul clasped his hands with finality. “Judgment. By. God.”
My tone got stern. “I’ve seen you acting as God’s judgment and I want no part of that.”

Paul sighed, “Even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor, Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant with the faith and love which (121) are found in Christ Jesus… Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.  Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” I Timothy 1 :13-17 

The silence was long as I considered his words.
When I broke the silence, I said, “Who is this God who must demand all worship and praise?”
“The One Who came back from the dead?”
Paul smiled. “The very same One.”
I questioned again, “And He gives peace?”
“You have this peace?”
“Without a doubt. I am willing and ready to die.”

I laughed, but it had no humor, “I’ve been willing and ready to die for a long time, it’s the living I have problems with.”
Paul nodded, “For to me to live is Christ, to die is gain.”
“And that gives you peace?”
“Like no other.”
“I must think on this.”
Paul nodded. 
I stood to leave.

Paul followed me to the door. “Felix said the same thing. But he chose no peace.”
I had worked for him. I knew him well. I nodded. 

Wisdom did not bring me satisfaction.
Knowing Nero burned Rome did not bring vindication.
I was there when Nero beheaded Paul.
He died with an expression that took me back many years to a man who was stoned as Paul held the religious leaders’ cloaks. 
His expression was peace.
The same God gave that to them.

I wanted that peace—more than adventure, wisdom, even more than a comfortable bed.
I gave my heart, mind, soul and life to the Lord Jesus Who died instead of me, so I could live with Him.
I now have that peace that passes all understanding—even during suffering and death. And I’ve seen many die for Him with that same peace on their faces.
I understand what Paul meant when he said, ‘for to me to live is Christ, to die is gain.’

Peace trumps wisdom. 
Anyone can have wisdom.
Peace only comes by living in the presence of God.
That is where I will stay.

Author of Biblical fiction, married to my best friend, and challenged by eight sons’ growing pains as I write about what matters.

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