I wished they would leave.
I handed my customer a sack of barley as I eyed the newcomers. They stood in the main square, trying to talk to passersbys. I had heard about these two trouble-makers: Paul and Barnabas. A traveling friend of mine said they were spreading news about this new god, and wherever they went, trouble followed.
I was a farmer from out of town and came in to sell my produce now and then. Now, I didn’t follow Zeus or the other gods. I couldn’t respect the priests. They always tried to build their social standing at the expense of others. I continued to eye the two men.
I remember it clearly. I nearly choked on the juicy pomegranate seeds I was munching when Paul called out to a crippled man and he leapt up and began walking. The crowd instantly grew wild and began speaking in their native language.
“These men are gods in human form! The one who healed him is Zeus, and the other is Hermes!”
I recalled the legend when Zeus and Hermes had visited Lystra and Derbe before. According the tradition, when the gods came to visit the first time, no one welcomed them in except an old couple. The gods were so angry they killed everyone but the couple. The crowd was rushing around to get gifts for Paul and Barnabas, not wanting to repeat the mistake of their ancestors.
I felt my weathered cheeks grow hot. I crushed the remains of the pomegranate with my fist.
It was a lovely scam they had going. All Paul and his buddy had to do now was bask in the glow of sacrifices and worship. They could remain famous and showered with gifts as long as they stayed. They were just like the power-hungry priests.
But to my surprise, Paul discovered what they were saying and began running around and yelling. I could tell he was upset. I didn’t catch all that he said, but it was something like, “We’re only humans like you! Turn from these things and turn to the living God.”
I wondered if he was talking about that new god. According to my traveling friend, this god couldn’t die.
I stopped and thought a moment. Paul could have gained instant popularity with everyone, but that didn’t seem to be his goal. This new god must have been awfully important to him. I considered closing up my shop and walking over to listen.
As I sat and watched, a new group of people arrived. I knew they were Jews by their dress, and they seemed to know Paul and Barnabas. Imagine my surprise when they began yelling and pointing threats at the two men. I didn’t know this at the time, but these Jews had been hunting Paul. They were from Antioch and Iconium, where Paul and Barnabas had come from.
The crowd grew agitated and began to agree with the Jews. They believed if Paul and Barnabas weren’t gods, they were false prophets.
It became apparent the crowd that wanted to shower them with praises earlier now wanted to kill them.
I jumped to my feet when they grabbed Paul and threw him down. Before I could react, they grabbed nearby rocks and began to stone him. They held Barnabas back as he struggled. I didn’t know what to do.
It wasn’t long before Paul was still. The mob grabbed him and began to drag him out of town. They let Barnabas go, and he ran after them. I saw the previously crippled man on the side of the road, crying.
I grabbed a bag of assorted fruits and grains and discreetly followed the crowd. I wanted to see if Barnabas as all right. The crowd dumped Paul’s body outside of the city. Barnabas kneeled to mourn and pray. Other people were with him. I guessed they were Paul’s disciples from Antioch and Iconium. Perhaps they came to warn him. But now it was too late.
I slipped quietly beside Paul’s followers, offering the food and my condolences. Paul seemed like a good leader, and I admired his heart.
Much to our surprise, Paul coughed.
He sat up, and looked around, and with a little help from friends, stood on his own. I was dumbstruck. How could anyone survive a stoning like that?
I knew in that moment he served a god who was stronger than death, and I wanted to know more.
So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord –Romans 5:21 (NLT).
Copyright by Molly Anderson 2012. Use by Permission Only.