Rome 60 A.D.
Scriptures for reflection: Mark 15:15 – 25
My dear sons,
Springtime in Rome is so incredibly beautiful . Warms the bones of an old man. Why this letter now? Because I want to set down, for my beloved grandchildren, the event that changed all our lives, now thirty years ago. You two know it well but, as I said, its for your children, Julia and Drusus, Agrippina and Simon.I remember I turned forty that year, you boys were eighteen and twenty-one. Two years before we had lost your mother. For some months I thought I would lose my mind. Perhaps it was that more than anything else that spurred the idea of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
We had left Palestine and settled in Cyrene in your grandfather’s time. I had been born on that lovely Libyan coast. Our family business was prospering. I knew that you boys were old enough to look after things for a couple of months. I booked passage on a freight galley that would call in at Alexandria before going up to Joppa on the coast of Palestine.
The voyage was uneventful, very pleasant in Spring. Jerusalem was teeming with people for Passover, expatriates like myself everywhere. I find a huge city exciting. You boys must have inherited this from me because here we all are in Rome, you two in your own business, your old father as your permanent guest!
It was early morning on my third day in Jerusalem. I was strolling by shops on one of the narrow streets when there was a sudden disturbance. There were shouts, people backing away to each side. I caught a glimpse of a Roman helmet. As the centre of things got closer I realized it was an execution detachment. When I saw the prisoner I was shocked. He could barely walk. He had obviously been lashed within an inch of his life. The weight of the heavy crossbeam he was trying to carry was making his knees buckle every few paces. He happened to fall again just as he reached where I was.
To this day what happened then is a blur. I realized the centurion in charge of things was shouting at me. I heard “You! Yes you! Pick it up!” I was terrified. Fingering a whip, he strode towards me, pointed to the heavy beam and said very deliberately and menacingly “Pick it up NOW!” Trembling, I was barely able to obey him.
We followed the street to the gate in the city wall, left most of the crowd behind, all except the hardened few who enjoyed an execution. At the top of a low mound there was an appalling sight. Two crosses already held two others, both obviously in unspeakable agony. The centurion turned to me and barked “You. That’s enough. You can go”. I turned to go, and then it happened. The prisoner turned towards me and mouthed a hoarse “Thank you.”
I didn’t wait. I ran, down the slope, in under the city gate, along the streets, ran until I reached my lodgings, threw myself on the bed exhausted, and slept.
You know the rest of this family story, how I returned home to Cyrene haunted by that “Thank you” and by the eyes in that battered face. You remember how I tried for the next few years to find out something about the prisoner I had helped. Then a business colleague told me one day there was a group he thought I might like to meet. He and his wife had offered their house.
That evening I heard a name I had not known. I heard about the man whose cross I had carried. I heard the unbelievable news that had brought this group of friends together. Somehow I knew that life would never again be the same for me.
As you well know, a few years passed. You two became gifted businessmen, found your wives, had your children. Life in the empire changed and you decided to sell the business in Libya and move north to Rome. Imagine my joy when both of your wives became involved with the community here. By then it had a name – Christian. Then my greater joy when you both became part of its life. All because I happened to be standing where someone fell in total exhaustion and pain, someone whom all of us as a family now call Saviour.
My dear Alexander and Rufus, you have both done well in Rome. You will leave your children a magnificent inheritance. One thing I ask. Keep this letter. Pass it on to them.
What it speaks of is precious beyond all else. Remember always our greeting…
Jesus is Lord.
Your loving father Simon.