At thirty-four some saw him old,
Some young. But only two were bold
Enough to call him little child:
His mother, and the man reviled
Through all the world as foolish Paul.
And by some strange design, a call
Was sent from both, unknown to each,
By letter, if perhaps to reach
And summon Timothy to leave
His church in Ephesus and cleave -
To her in Lystra, him in Rome;
To help them, as they said, "Get home."
In Rome, Paul lay in jail to wait
The whim of Nero's fear and hate,
And wrote, "Dear child, almost bereft
I lie, for Luke alone is left."
In Lystra, Eunice lay diseased
And wrote, "Dear child, I would be pleased
If you would come and help me die."
And now, how should a son reply?
Two letters here, two loves, and one
Must wait, when neither can, and none
Is lesser than its ardent twin
Or likely in a war to win.
One love will lure him west, one east,
Yet neither summons most or least.
How then should such a love decide,
When one child's heart cannot divide?
He made his choice on this: "If I,
In God's good will, before they die,
Could see them both, then first I should
Attend whom I more likely would
Survive, and then give my goodbye
To him with whom I well may die."
And thus he made his journey east,
And watched with love as Eunice ceased
To breathe, and felt his father's touch
In blessing on his head with such
A power after twenty years
To make and double all his tears.
And then he sailed for Rome. Before
He left, He took his father's hand and swore,
"If I survive my time in Rome,
Then I will come and take you home
With me to Ephesus, and care
For you and Gramma Lois there.
But if I don't, then, father, hear
This word from what Paul wrote to cheer
My soul if he should die. 'The fight
Of faith I have long fought with might,
But not my own; the bloody race
Is all but done. I set my face
Like flint to finish well, and grace
Has given strength to keep the pace.
The precious faith my soul has kept,
And now with all enticements swept
Away by prison, age and hope,
I lean with longing toward the rope,
The scaffold, fire or sword
Where I will shortly meet the Lord.'
Goodbye. I love you, father, much
Today, and thank you for your touch."
The journey on the sea to Rome
Was rough. And winter waves with foam
Rolled early 'round Aegean isles,
And frigid winds stole sailors' smiles,
And made them tell dark jokes. "What's worse,"
They asked the passengers in verse,
"Than winter on the sea?" But none
Could answer: "Tell us, have your fun."
And so the mates, with flashing teeth,
Replied, "Why, winter underneath."
Then Timothy with boldness said,
"Ah, yes, good mates, but there's a dread
Much worse than both. Come try your skill
To solve my riddle now: What still
Is worse than winter on the sea
Or underneath? Come answer me."
"We can't imagine anything
They said. So tell us, what's the sting
That's worse than winter on the sea
Or underneath?" Then Timothy
Replied, "To freeze above the swell
Or drown, it's worse to wake in hell."
Nobody laughed. But in the days
To come, the sailors found their ways
To ask him, when the waves were high,
If he knew how to safely die.
And he would take his precious scroll
That Paul had sent to him, unroll
A portion, then, to sailors, iced
And cold, declare the warmth of Christ.
At last in Rome, a winter's night -
So cold and clear and moonlit bright
That one could see his comrade's breath,
Or not, and mark the signs of death -
Found Timothy and Luke outside
The city wall, where they had cried
Till there were no more tears to cry.
Too late, too late to say goodbye.
Paul lay between them dead beside
The Ostian Way where Nero's pride
Was fed again with Christian blood.
He stared down at the red-streaked mud,
And murmured simple phrases from
The letter in his coat: "Please come
Before the winter, Son. Please come
Before the winter, Son." Too numb
To feel the bite of night, all he
Could feel was this: Too late to be
Here when he needed me. Too late.
Too late. "My Son, please bring the great
Cloak when you come. I'll need it in
The winter." There he lay, so thin,
Blood-soaked with just a shirt. "'And, son,
Please don't forget the books.'" It's done,
My Father, I did not forget.
I have the parchments too, and yet,
Too late. Too late. O, Father, did
You need them at the end? Forbid,
O God, that I withheld the food
He needed just before they hewed
Him down. O God! No books, no cloak,
No friends but one." And thus he broke
Off murmuring. His satchels lay
Around him now in disarray,
All full of things to make Paul strong,
And able to endure the long
Hard winter of a Roman jail.
Luke watched the force of guilt assail
The battered faith of Timothy,
Then said, "Now listen well to me,
Young man. The greatness of our friend
And father did not simply end,
As if a sword could silence what
He preached and wrote. What you have got
There in your letter did not fall,
Nor ever will. The voice of Paul
Was not the mutterings of man
And will not perish in the span
Of one short life. It was the voice
Of God. Now you must make your choice:
Go follow now the feelings of
Your guilt and come to naught, or love
Your father better and believe.
Let not the face of guilt deceive.
You did not err in caring for
Your mother as you did. One door
Of sacrifice is all that we
Can enter at a time. But be
Assured, this is not so with God,
While we in single pathways plod,
God treads ten thousand ways and takes
All our unplanned delays and makes
Divine appointments of them all.
And so it was with you and Paul."
He paused and riveted his eyes
On Timothy and said, "One dies,
And sows the seed, another lives,
And bears the fruit. God takes, and gives.
He was not late in Rome today,
Nor was your eastern trip delay.
And now to know his plan and way
Keep vigil till the morn and pray."
When Luke awoke, the sunlight broke
Through crimson clouds, and smoke
From all the fires of Rome spread haze
Above the city like the blaze
Of some great furnace of a king
In Babylon. "You know, we'd sing
If Paul were here," he said. "He had
A song for every plight, both bad
And good." Luke watched as Timothy
Methodically arranged the three
Large satchels at his side, then took
From one a precious, well-worn book,
And from another Paul's great cloak.
He stared a long time at the smoke
Above the city wall, then stood.
He lifted up the cloak and hood,
Looked down at the apostle Paul,
Then put it on. "Is that your call?"
Luke asked. "What are you going to do?"
"I'm going to preach in Rome, and you,
My friend, what of your night of prayer?"
"I'll bury Paul, and join you there."
And then Luke said, "You're very young
To die." "I think Paul called it dung,
What we who know the Lord will lose,
When we lose all but Christ. Strong views!
And I doubt much they were designed
For older men, as if we find
That youth should trade their God for earth
And find in it a greater worth?
More souls are lost by fearing death,
I think, than risking life. Is breath
More precious than the soul?" He smiled
At Luke, and turned to go, a wild
And solid hope filled all his frame.
And in his hand a book - aflame.
Now let the fire of candle two
Ignite the wild and solid view
That God, our God, is never late.
And let it burn until the weight
Of this all-conquering truth consumes
Our fear, and even by the tombs
Of fallen martyrs, makes us dare
To ask, Whose mantle will we wear?