My Name is Saul- Very Close
I know, close but no cigar, right? Just in case you would like to know the origin of that phrase…here.
So why write about it when the first draft of the manuscript is not done?
Because I am close…really close! And that fact is worthy of saying so. More than that…saying so is too tame. I am jubilant! This story has been alternately exciting, supremely challenging, frustrating, maddening…I could go on, but you get the idea.
But a few months ago, this contradictory, complicated, mysterious, paradox of a man decided to shed enough of his shroud for me to see him. Climb inside and dwell awhile. And what a privilege! Way back in January, when Nancy came up with this cover, I knew I was in for ride. But this one was more than I bargained for…long periods where there were no words. They just were not there. Those are the times that require huge vats of endurance, trust.
Here is an excerpt you may enjoy reading:
On this third day before the ides of June, 811 years following the founding of Rome (AUC), I, Aurelius Maximus, Legionnaire of the Roman Empire, testify that the words you are about to read are those of Paul of Tarsus. Although the script is clearly my own, rather than his, the document was dictated to me during our teacher’s last night on earth. Where I felt it necessary to do so, I have inserted my own comments and longer narratives like this one merely to clarify sections that otherwise may seem to the reader as out of place or confusing.
. There are legitimate reasons that the followers of Paul may suspect the provenance of this document written four weeks after his second letter to Timothy: the one Paul himself wrote that would be his last. I was a Roman Centurion before my Tribune assigned me the shameful and odious task of being primary jailer for Paul of Tarsus at Mamertine Prison in Rome during his last nineteen months on this earth.
Since I am known only to my fellow Christians here in Corinth, you, my brothers and sisters in Christ must make your own decision as you read these words. No one knew of the crippling arthritis in the fingers and hands of Paul, he kept it even from Luke. But the pain and deformities in his fingers became so severe during the writing of that second letter to Timothy that Paul was forced to ask my help in constructing the final sentences. Paul’s handwriting had become indecipherable.
Therefore, I write this preface to explain to you very briefly how and why a Roman soldier assigned as a guard to one of the foremost enemies of Nero, Paul of Tarsus, came to write his last letter. Or far more accurately, how our Lord used humiliation to bring me to my knees, through his servant Paul.
During Mercedonius, Leap Month, 813 AUC, I was transferred from the battlefront of the Judean Wars to guard duty at Rome Mamertine Prison. An assignment customarily reserved for the mercenaries, the foreigners, in a word, the hastily trained battle fodder. Never for native Roman soldiers, Legionnaires.
The suddenness of my demotion along with my return to a Rome I no longer recognized nearly destroyed me. I had been Centurion since the age of twenty-two. And had expected to live out my years as a warrior ─ or to die on the battlefield. Honorably.
Although it had been three years since the Great Fire, my native city remained shattered, ruined. Yes, of course, I knew about the week-long fire, we all had. And I thought I was prepared. But nothing had prepared me for such massive devastation.
This Rome is unrecognizable from the beautiful, vibrant, and cultured center of learning I grew up in. Most of the magnificent temples remain in ruins. Three years and there has been no attempt to rebuild. Seldom is Latin heard while walking the streets, for Rome is now populated by Idumeans, Hispanians, Numidians, Franks, Syrians, Egyptians; slavish people from all ends of the Empire teeming into the city for the free food, housing and depraved entertainment provided by Nero as he fights to maintain control of the Senate.
The reasons for my Tribune’s decision are clearly irrelevant to my purpose here; suffice to say that I craved a way to externalize my humiliation. To find someone worthy of my enmity. I discovered him in Paul.
My treatment of Paul of Tarsus those first few weeks of my assignment at the prison was reprehensible. The iron chains I fashioned around his torso were unnecessarily constraining, at times, inhibited his breathing and reopened poorly healed lashing scars. I delighted in inventive methods to provoke and cause him pain. Frequently I taunted him by pouring his small portions of food and water onto the ground a tantalizing distance from his lips. Tormenting him with deprecations about his inane savior, Jesus became a favorite activity.
After nine days of all but starvation and intense thirst, Paul spoke his first words to me, in flawless Latin. “I wonder why such a fine looking specimen of a man like you has come to detest himself to such a degree that he causes himself such agony?”
How can you ask such a thing? You, in chains, me, your captor?
Why does the look in your eyes make me want to drop to my knees and sob like a three-year-old?
Why don’t you hate me?
The strange light that emanated from his eyes had not diminished despite his emaciation and parched, bleeding lips. In fact, the fire had intensified. And there was a quality about him that defied description…a stillness not due to the chains. The man had an inner serenity that no execrable words or deeds of mine could disturb. When I finally looked into his eyes for the first time, instead of a mirror of my own rage and hatred, I saw what I could only interpret as love. For me.
How can this man look at me this way? With the tenderness of a mother looking at her infant?
I could not help it, my jaw dropped open. I could not hide my amazement.
“Who are you? Why don’t you detest me as I do you?
“You do not detest me.” His cheeks were sunken, and his lips so cracked that he could barely whisper. I leaned down to hear him, suddenly irresistibly drawn to this ravaged, scarred shell of a man.
“You hate yourself, what you have become…” The light in his eyes seemed to blind me. I wanted to spit in his face, curse him for speaking this way to his captor but it was as if I had been struck deaf and dumb.
My knees suddenly folded, as if a pair of giant hands had applied such force to my shoulders that I knelt onto the dirt floor. Right beside him. So close I could see the pores in his skin. He said nothing. Merely pinned me with his gaze.
After what seemed like hours but was probably just a few minutes, he laughed. Or rather rasped. “You should probably give me some water…,” then he coughed violently.
I jumped up, raced over to get some water and then as his lips began to touch the rim of the cup, leaning only the few inches permitted by the heavy irons, I said, “Wait, let me take these silly things off.” And removed the chains around his chest and torso, more excited than I had been in many years. Something is happening here. This man has wisdom and is willing to teach it to me. I feel as if he can see into my soul.
And the process of my becoming a Christian began.
That Our Lord has trusted me with the task of recording the last words of the greatest man I have ever known, the prisoner who set me free, is a thing of such grandeur, splendor, and glory that I will spend all of my days in an attempt to prove myself worthy of His and Paul’s trust. To God be the glory.
Okay, so just when does close become done? Somewhere around late December or early January, depending on about a zillion factors outside my control. Well, maybe not a million but very close.