Paul’s Face, Part 2

Paul turned the right side of his face
Into the dark and took the case
He carried in his cloak, and found
The linen napkin folded ’round
The little flask of oil, where none
Could see. The constant tears had run
Down to his chin and left their stain
Like ashen stripes on cracked terrain.
He wiped the stain, as he had done
Ten thousand times before, till none
Remained, then in the shadows held
The open flask of oil, that smelled
Like beaten olives crushed to make
A healing ointment for the sake
Of others crushed another way.
He paused, and then discreetly lay
His moistened fingers on the place
That never healed, then took the case,
And put it back, and said, “Let’s see,
Now, Timothy, can you help me?
Where were we when we stopped?”
“You said
Your father hoped to have, instead
Of you, another kind of son
That looked and sounded like the one
He always dreamed would make his school
A famous place. You said that ‘fool’
Is what he called you once, and that
Is why he named you Saul. You sat
And studied at the feet of old
Rabbi Gamaliel who told
You once that you could be the best
Rabbi in Israel and blessed
Above them all, if you would use
Your gifted mind and will, and choose
Your books to be your friends. He said
God gave you mental brawn instead
Of looks, and someday you would put
A stop to foolish claims afoot
In Israel that heaven’s king
Had come. You said, against the sting
Of shame outside, you built a wall
Around your Law and pride and all
Your books.”
Paul smiled, with his good side,
And said, “You listen well. I tried
To live inside that wall with books,
And never stopping by the brooks
To look down at my face, content
To be the best—in vain. I spent
More hours than Gamaliel
Would ever know under the spell
Of two angelic faces in
My youth.” Paul stopped and felt his chin
To see if he should wipe his face,
Then said, “It was a lonely place
Inside that wall.” He glanced across
Where Eunice sat enthralled. “The loss
Of love is like a hollowing
Inside the tree of life. You cling,
And then let go, and feel how great
The tree of love had grown. The weight
Of empty space is heavier
Than all the trunk and branches were
When she was there.”
Paul stared somewhere
Beyond the lantern light. The air
Was thick with eagerness. “Was there
A woman?” Eunice asked, with bare
And simple words. “I never thought
Of her that way. A woman ought
To be grown up. But we were not
Yet twenty-one. There were a lot
Of girls around Gamaliel’s school,
Because he had the finest pool
Of single Pharisees where they
Could fish. But there was one who, day
By day, would work her kitchen rounds
And then read Torah to the sounds
Of her own melodies. Most girls
Did not know how to read. Their curls
Meant more to them than Moses did.
But not Tashuka. Oft I hid
Behind a wall or bush to look,
Or listen, as she sang the book.
And after months of this, I put,
At last, a letter at the foot
Of one great terebinth where she
Would often sit. It said, ‘This tree
Above is like the Law to me,
Because within its shade I see
More beauty than in all the fields
Beyond. And there is none that yields
A sweeter fruit to bless so well
The garden of Gamaliel.
Please know, Tashuka, one there is
Who studies in these walls, and his
Desire is that someday, beyond
All dreams and hope, you might respond,
And, trembling in that very place
Alone, we might stand face to face.’

For three long months I put a note
There every day, and what I wrote
Was all my heart, in hope that she
Would love the Saul that she could see
In letters first, before she saw
My face. I hoped my zeal for Law
And God would be enough to win
Her love in spite of looks and skin.
And then one day I saw her lay
A note there by the tree and stay
For just a moment. Then she left.
I watched, as if I plotted theft,
And stole the letter silently,
And took it to my room, and there
Among my books and parchments, where
I lived so safe, and so esteemed,
And so alone, I sat and dreamed
What she might say. At last I cut
The seal and read, ‘Dear sir, you shut
Yourself away, unseen, unnamed,
Concealed, as if you were ashamed.
There is no need for that. All I
Can see are worthy reasons why
You should stand forth. I would suggest,
Dear sir, put me now to the test,
And in my customary place
Make your proposal face to face.’
And so with fear and trembling I
Prepared myself and prayed that my
Right eye one hour would be dry,
And my lips not so weak when I
Attempt to speak. I saw her come
At her appointed time. My numb
And reddened cheek was hot. She turned
As I appeared. My body burned
With fear and blazing hope. I said,
‘Tashuka, I am Saul. I read
Your letter. Thank you, that you came.’
But as she stared at me, the shame
Increased with every second till
She turned and left me standing still
With flowers in my shaking hand.
I’ve traveled through the Sacred Land
A hundred times, and never met
Her once since then.”
Sad tears had wet
The face of Eunice as she heard
The story of Paul’s loss. She stirred
The cup in front of her, unsure
What she should say. “I’m sorry. You’re
Worth more than that,” she said. Then Paul
Replied, “The mortar in the wall
Around my lonely soul was mixed,
I think, with too much notice fixed
On worth and not enough on grace.
I saw this in another face,
And everything I’d built began
To fall.” So Eunice asked, “And can
You tell us whose it was—this face
So powerful that we can trace
To it the fall of all your world?”
“About a year went by. Then swirled
A storm of controversy in
Jerusalem. There had not been
Such fury since the day we killed
The Lord. And finally it spilled
Beyond what anyone had seen
For years, and filled the court with mean
And raging men, including me,
Though I was but a youth. And we
Were driven to this rage by one
Whose humble face shown like the sun,
And said that Jesus was alive,
And that our Law, and how we strive,
And worship with our feasts,
And sacrifice our flawless beasts
Was coming to an end, and all
That we must do is trust, and call
Upon the mercy of the Lord.
I knew if this was true, a sword
Would pierce the city of my soul
And lay in ruins ev’ry goal
I had, and overthrow my birth,
My pride, and all my vaunted worth.
And so I gathered at my feet
The garments of the most elite
In righteousness as they stoned him
To death. And then, when ev’ry limb
Of Stephen’s body quivered in
The agony of death, the sin
Of all my righteousness appeared
For one brief moment. Killers cleared
Away, and I saw Stephen’s face,
The right side torn away, and grace
Filled all the rest. And with the lips
That he had left he said, ‘Though whips
And stones destroy this flesh, I know
That my redeemer lives. I go.
Behold the Son of Man has stood,
And counts this sinner Stephen good!
However great their sin amount,
Christ, lay it not to their account.’
The wall was breached, and though I raged
To keep myself with Law encaged,
The power of his shredded face
Would prove to be triumphant grace.”

There’s one more chapter, Timothy,
Of what God had to do to me
To free me from myself, and give
Me peace with who I am, to live
In freedom from the looking glass,
To let the stares of others pass,
And ponder not incessantly
That I am seen, but that I see.”

O candle two, ignite this truth
And burn it into every youth:
The love we need is not the kind
That comes to us and tries to find
Some worth or beauty that can keep
The lover true. No, we must sweep
All self-exalting loves away.
One kind of love alone will stay,
And it is not the kind that needs
Our worth or beauty or good deeds,
But intercedes for us and dies
When there is nothing here but lies.
The love that, as we kill, it cries,
“Lord, make these enemies your prize.”

©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.

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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org