In a dream I traveled with the Apostle Paul. I joined him one morning and we walked a dirt road to some town not mentioned among the epistles.
I had so many questions for him: What did he mean by “work out your salvation in fear and trembling?” Why did he still bother with those crazy people in Corinth? How could he and Barnabas have decided to go their separate ways when it was so clear they complimented each other perfectly? My list was endless; his patience was not.
Our destination was too far for a single day’s walk, so we made camp by a stream just off the road. We gathered sticks for a small fire against the coming cool of the evening. We ate day-old bread and dried beef, and found some figs nearby.
In the last light of day Paul walked down to the stream to wash. He removed his outer garment and stepped into the current knee deep. Through the twilight I looked at his bare back. It was criss-crossed with scars from the Roman lash. His flesh had healed again and again, new skin pale and tender stretched over the old wounds. His wrists bore the marks of manacles harshly tightened from the nights he had spent chained to prison walls.
I had not noticed it until the slanting shadows and light bathed his body: the back of his bald skull was not smooth like other men’s, it was dented from the stones thrown by angry mobs. The back of his legs were still strong from a life of constant travel, his calves lean and tight just above the place where he had been chained to Roman soldiers, who had been sent in shifts during his house arrests.
His body was a map of the way of suffering, an indicator of how this man had fulfilled whatever was lacking in our Lord’s afflictions.
I didn’t realize I had been staring. He turned from the stream and noticed my gaze. He walked to his bedroll and pulled his tunic back over his head.
“Good night, disciple.” he said. “Are you still sure you want to be a servant of Christ?”
He turned over and fell asleep, and in that moment I awoke.