“I was there, you know.”
He stood there like a child waiting to be acknowledged, stiff and awkward. I was used to his random barging in on me by now, so I didn’t even look up. It wasn’t strange that he would just open my door with some revelation at all hours of the night. He had probably seen the soft light of my little oil lamp and let himself in.
“You where where, Paul?” I kept writing, knowing that what came next could be a startling revelation or a random observation.
“In the temple!” His voice was earnest and hoarse—almost filled with pain.
I kept writing but looked up. “Yes? You’re in the temple quite a lot—-well not so much anymore.” I half smiled until I saw his face.
“When they murdered him.” He stumbled in and collapsed in my half slept in bed. I heard the scratching of my pen stop. Slowly I turned toward him in my chair.
“When who was murdered?” I said puzzled. Paul had been responsible directly or indirectly for the murder and imprisonment of many Christians in the early days of the movement.
I shook my head.
“Stphen.” His eyes were fixed like a man in a trance. Tears welled up in them. “I was there.”
If there was one think I had learned in my many years of medical practice, it was to wait to respond. If you don’t know what to say, just listen. I had not been there—not yet a part of The Way— when Stephen was murdered. Stoned. It was an awful way to go. The church had been rocked by this horrible event. There were rumors he had been there. Little whispers.
I gasped silently.
“I held their coats.” I watched my friend cry for the first time.
“That was the beginning of it all… I…” He took a deep breath and sobs shook this empire of a man.
I got up and sat next to him on the cot. He was slumped over sobbing into his hands. Tears slipped through his fingers and onto the floor. I placed my hand on his shoulder.
He suddenly looked up at me, his face so overwhelmingly wracked by grief. “I held their coats.”
It was hard not to breathe a sigh of relief. “You held their coats…” I was not sure what else to say. That was so much less than he had done to so many others. I tried to hid the confusion on my face. I stammered and then sighed, then lapsed into silence.
Ages seemed to pass.
“I was young” he said at last wiping tears from his face. “Too young to be remorseful. You know what the worst part is? All the rest of the people I persecuted, I did it because I genuinely believed. I believed I was right, Luke!” He grabbed my face with his hands.
I was used to his strange intensity by now. “But this, this, I did to be noticed.”
He got up and began to pace. “No one needed me to hold their coats. I just stood there and began to take them up—trying to be noticed, trying to help. Casting a stone would not have been enough for my young ambitious mind.” He shook his head at his younger self. “I would have been lost in the crowd. I had to hold their coats. I used Stephen’s stoning to…. To gain influence in the Sanhedrin.”
The verbalization of his realization hit him like some sort of paralytic and he froze. It was almost as if he were back there outside, holding their coats.
“I did it for me.”
I stammered softly to myself as I tried to hold back another gasp. What was I supposed to reply? Was I supposed to placate him, tell him that it was long ago? Do I indulge his pain and guilt? Do I assuage it?
He turned to look at me. I don’t know what was on my face in that moment, but I know I felt such pity for this odd preacher of Jesus. He must have sensed it because he continued.
“I saw everything. I heard him testify. I heard every word. I remember it like it was just, just last week…”
He slumped back down on my bed and began to recount to me the whole story—everyhting Stephen had said to them. Before now, all recollections of his martyrdom had been hearsay or rumors—bits of evidence collected here and there and verified where we could.
My pen scratched as fast as it could as he traced back over Stephen’s timeline of Israel’s history. Looking back I can still see his figure getting up and down, from sitting to lounging on my bed, to pacing the room. And I wrote and wrote and wrote.
Dawn was breaking when he finally sat down in silence again. I smiled at him. Grief and Guilt still anchored themselves on his face.
“I did it for me, Luke.” I did it so I could advance my own career. Iw anted to be the next great Jew! And now, now they count me for dead. I participated in a murder and look at me now.” The horribleness and ridiculousness of it all hit him at once.
“I wish I could go back. I wish I could somehow change everything, maybe I could have changed their minds. Maybe I could have slowed them down—or or stopped them— or or changed their minds somehow. I… I should have done something.”
He looked at me with the same intensity he always displayed towards everything in his life. Intense pain.
“I am a Roman! I could have easily stopped them. I am a Roman! I could have told them no! I knew it! I knew it in that moment but I didn’t care!” He was shouting again. The rays of morning began to climb into the room. I dared not stop his reverie.
Grief, I had learned from my own experience, as well as that of my patients—both those healed by myself or Jesus and those who had not been—grief, I had learned was one of the most powerful forces. As he began to cycle through the anger and sadness, I wondered if he had not been doubly paid as Isaiah says, for his sins.
“But I didn’t. I didn’t stop them.” He looked at me again. “I used someone’s faith and martyrdom as a stepping stone. It was his blood that ignited in me the idea to persecute you all! It was that moment when I decided I liked this feeling of being powerful. It was that moment that I realized if one death could get me this much attention, how much more so persecuting all of you! And, and then… then I convinced myself I was connived and before long I was. I really began to believe it was the right thing.” “I would have gone on for who knows how long, years maybe, if it hadn’t been for Him.”
He looked up, his voice soft and hoarse again.
“Do you hate me? You’re dedicated to saving, to preserving life and.. how are you even friends with me?!”
It was at this point that I felt I must step in.
“What is your name?”
He turned towards me a confused look on his face.
“What is your name?” I looked at him as pointedly as I could.
“Tell me what it means.”
His shoulders relaxed and a soft smile formed at his lips.
I smiled at him.
“Why are you telling me all of this, Humbled One?”
He came and sat down on the bed. “Because they need to know.” He pointed to the manuscript I was compiling of the early days of the Way. “Put it in your book of our acts.”
“Why do they need to know Paul?”
“Because they need to know that…” he sighed deeply. “They need to know my story. I want Theophilus and everyone else who will read it to know. To know that, if He can choose someone that helped kill one of His followers for their own gain, if He can take me and make me into a servant of His… If He can change my name, from THE ONE AKSED FOR to humbled? IF He can change my name, He can change theirs.”
Tears welled up in his eyes again. “There is always hope, Luke. If He can take me a murderer for gain, and make me into a servant of His, then there is hope for everyone.”
Now I was crying. I had to quickly dab the parchment before I ruined the manuscript. “He can change their name, Luke. He can change their name.”
As I sit here telling you this story, even all these years after my best friend’s death, I can still hear his voice.
“He can change their name!”