Paul, Malach, and Talitha

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Paul stood above the screaming din
Outside the Roman barracks in
Jerusalem, as angry Jews
Cried out “Away with him!” The news
That he was being beaten near
The temple court had reached the ear
Of Roman guards in time to spare
His life. But now the raucous air
Was filled with cries that Paul be put
To death, and men were throwing soot
And shoes above their heads. “Away
With such a man,” they cried, “and lay
His blood with us and with our seed.
Give him the lash and let him bleed.”
The Romans hadn’t heard such jeers
For almost five and twenty years—
Since Pilate stood before a mob
Like this and did his bloody job.
This time it wasn’t Jesus’ name
That set this frenzied mob aflame.
One word was more enraging for
Jerusalem. At first the roar
Subsided while Paul spoke about
His life. But then the word came out.
He lifted up his voice and said,
“The Lord declared, ‘Paul, go and spread
The promise of your fathers I
Have bought with my own blood, and cry
Out to the coastlands far away:
Gentiles are welcome on that day.’”

At this they stopped their ears. Of this—
That gentile heathens share the bliss
Of Abraham’s inheritance—
They would not hear. There was a tense
And fearful clash, as soldiers seized
Their prisoner and then appeased
The crowd by tying up his hands
And hanging them with leather bands
High on the flogging stake.
But then,
Before they struck, Paul said, “Oh men
Of Rome, do Romans flog a man
Who is a citizen? And can
You lawfully inflict the stroke
On one not yet condemned?” This broke
The frenzy of the hour, and Paul
Was put in custody, and all
His enemies began to plan
How to eliminate the man.
Next day, a hearing split the tie
That bound his enemies. The high
Pitched sounds of Sadducees, who claimed
God does not raise the dead, now blamed
The Pharisees for buttressing
The heresy of Paul. Each wing
Beat down against the other, and
Again the man escaped the hand
Of his accusers—for the night.
That night two things occurred. The light
Of God shown in the prison cell,
And said, “Take courage, Paul, and tell
The truth of Christ. Stand strong at home,
And you will testify in Rome.

The islands and the tribes will hear!
This is my oath. Now do not fear.”
Meanwhile that night the Jews had made
A plot. And more than forty laid
Their hands on sacred scrolls, and swore
By God that they would neither pour
Themselves a drink nor take of bread
Until the man named Paul was dead—
The plan of forty men with sword
Against the promise of the Lord!
Soon after dawn a child, a lad
Named Malach, nine years old, and clad
In common clothes, approached the guard
Who stood outside the gate that barred
The way to Paul’s detaining place.
The boy looked up without a trace
Of fear and said, “I’d like to see
My uncle Paul.” “And you would be
The nephew of the prisoner
Named Paul?” the guard replied. “Yes sir.
My mother is his sister, and
I have some bread here in my hand
That she would like for me to give
To him. She said that pris’ners live
On gifts from friends and other aid.”
The guard looked down, “Aren’t you afraid?
He is a criminal, you know.
I’ll give the man your gift, you go
And thank your mother for the bread.”
“No sir, I’m not afraid,” he said.
“My uncle Paul is brave and strong,
But not a criminal. You’re wrong
To call him that. May I please take
The food to him myself? I’ll make
It short.” “All right, young man, at your
Own risk. Come follow me.”
The door
Was thick and heavy. One small slit
Allowed a little air, and lit
One corner of the cell where Paul
Sat on some straw in prayer. “You call
Me when you’re done,” he said, and let
The boy go in.
The floor was wet
Beneath his feet. “Hi, Uncle Paul.”
“Is that you Malach? You’ve grown tall.
How old are you?” “I’m nine.” “Well, tell
Me, Malach, in my private cell,
Is it against the law now in
Jerusalem, or is it sin,
To hug a nine-year-old?” “No sir,
It’s not. But even if it were
It would be right.” Paul held him tight
A long time in the shaft of light
That pierced the cell. He smiled and said
“You sound just like your mom. Well bred.
‘But even if it were, it would
Be right’—just like your mom. That’s good
Young man. How is your mother, son?”
“She’s fine.” “I’d love to see her one
Of these rare visits to this town
Sometime. It seems like there’s a frown
On me each time I come.
What’s in
Your bag?” “I told the guard I’d been
Sent by my mom and had some bread
For you. But Uncle Paul,” he said,
And trembled. “There’s a scary plot.
The bag is empty. All I’ve got
Is news. This morning we—my friend
And I—were going to the end
Of Market Street to get some bread,
And overheard some priests who said,
That forty men had vowed to take
No food or drink, until a stake
Is driven through your heart—they said
It just like that. Until you’re dead
They will not eat or drink. They plan
To ask the tribune if you can
Come down for questioning, and then
They said there’d be an ambush when
You’re half way there. And so . . .” “And so
You took a risk and said, ‘I’ll go
And save my uncle’s life.’” “Well, not
Exactly, Uncle Paul. The plot
Is really scary and I thought:
If I come here I might be caught,
And maybe they would even kill
A kid. But my friend said, ‘It will
Not matter if they kill a kid
Who follows Christ, ’cause Jesus did
Not stay inside the grave, and won’t
Let us stay either, and so don’t
Hold back or be afraid, but go.’”

“Well, Malach, I would like to know
His name, this friend of yours. That kind
Of faith is rare. It is assigned
To very few. What is his name?”
“It’s not a him, it’s her.” “No shame
In that. What is her name?” “Her name
Is Talitha.” Paul smiled, “The fame
Of that word runs wherever Christ
Is loved. He spoke that word and sliced
The veil of death in two and raised
A little girl from death and dazed
Her father Jairus with his might.
I guess her mom and dad did right
To choose that name.” “I thought you’d know
The story uncle Paul. And so
Perhaps you’d like to know the rest.
That twelve-year-old that Jesus blessed
And raised up from the dead, well, she’s
The mother of my friend. She sees
The world so differently than all
The rest of us. And Uncle Paul,
Her daughter, Talitha, my friend,
Sees everything that way. ‘Go send
Your uncle news,’ she said. ‘If they
Kill kids you won’t be dead.’ Someday
I hope I see the world that way.”
“Well, Malach, God has let you play
With Talitha, and given you
A friend who knows and feels what’s true
And right, and sees the universe
The way it really is. Immerse
Yourself, son, in the words she speaks.
The wisdom every human seeks
Is in this wild and risky truth.
I marvel she is but a youth.

But, Uncle Paul, aren’t you afraid?
Tomorrow, Uncle Paul, they’ve made
A promise—more than forty men
Won’t drink until you’re dead. And then
They said they’ll feast.” “No, Malach, I
Am not afraid, because my eye
Can see what they cannot. God will,
In truth, tomorrow night fulfill
A promise he has made, and then
There will be forty thirsty men
Here in Jerusalem. The Lord
Has purposes for me. The sword
Of man cannot destroy God’s son
Until those purposes are done.
‘The islands and the tribes will hear,
This is my oath’ he said. ‘Let fear
Be gone.’
So Malach, tell your friend,
Tell Talitha, ‘God has an end,
A goal, in mind, for giving such
A faith as yours. Your simple touch
Makes Malach bold, and spares me for
The tribes and islands set before
My heart and mind. Such faith is meant
To fill your heart with discontent,
Until you’ve spent your faith-filled life,
As single woman or as wife,
Completing what I aim to do,
But will not finish without you.

Such faith as this—that sees and knows:
If they kill kids, they cannot close
The grave of those who live in Christ—
Such faith, when all is sacrificed,
Will say, “I do embrace the pain
And call my fleeting losses gain,
If I can be among the few
Who say, O Gentiles, unto you
A Savior has been born, the seed
Of Abraham, and you are freed
From all your sins if you will trust
In him.”’
Now Malach, go. You must
Make haste and tell the tribune all
You know. Fear not. Your uncle Paul
Will be all right. Make sure you say
To Talitha, ‘I learned today
Why Jesus stood beside that bed,
And raised your mother from the dead.’”

O may the gift of candle three
Be this: the light by which we see
That every promise from the Lord
Is true, and nothing—neither sword
Nor famine, nakedness nor death—
Will separate us from the breath
Of life that Jesus breaths into
Our soul. That if we die, it’s true
We are not dead; Christ Jesus rose,
Himself, up from the dead, and those
Who follow him will never die.
And that this news must multiply
And all the nations taste and see
How full God’s house was meant to be,
With every race and every tongue
In love embraced, both old and young.
Then we will see when this has spread,
Why God raised Jesus from the dead.