“It’s not everyday that you get your head chopped off.”
Author’s Note: If you’d like the context behind this story, read Galatians 2:11
I looked at his lips as he spoke and wondered as to how many words have been spoken by them. How many lives have been changed. And yet he’s here.
And we’re having dinner.
“I clearly remember the days leading to my beheading.” He looked upwards as if to reminisce.
He was a short man with a lean build. You’ll never realize who he really is until he tells you.
“In any case Paul, can you tell me…” I fumbled as I was spinning my slim, silver fountain pen with my fingers.
“Sorry.” I picked it up and held it atop my brown, leather journal.
“What I meant to ask was, can you tell me about that time when you had a sort of a face-off with Cephas?” I waved my hand in front of my face as if to act out my words.
“Ah, yes. That time.” He picked up his cigarette between his fingers.
“Cephas was with us in Antioch. It was a joyful time, really.” He lit the cigarette. Puffed a smoke and breathed it out.
“This new body is really something, you know?”
I actually really don’t. So I answered back with a respectful smile.
“He ate and drank with us. We were in fellowship with the Gentile Christians there. Until some Jews came along.”
He picked up his wine glass. Half red.
“Friends of James.”
He took a sip. I leaned forward since I found it hard to hear his voice from the other end of the long, wooden dinner table.
“Cephas was a bit confused, really. He was the apostle called to minister to the Jews, after all. Perhaps he just didn’t want more confusion and conflict so he opted to go the safe route.”
“Safe route?” I asked.
“Yes. You know, when you would rather do what’s easy and what’s generally accepted by the society you care about rather than stand up for what’s true.”
“Mhmm.” I nodded.
“I think he was a bit pressured too. Jews were looking at him. Gentiles were looking at him. He’s the apostle called to the Jews. I think he wanted to focus on setting a good reputation for his… uhmmm…” He waved his hand as if he was looking for the word.
“There’s this word you use in your time… Something about a market.”
“That’s it!” He pointed his cigarette at me. “Target market!”
“So you’re telling me that Cephas wanted to set a good reputation for himself for his target market. That’s why he opted not to eat with the Gentiles anymore.”
Paul nodded. “That’s right. And sadly, Barnabas followed suit.”
He took another puff from his smoke. “I vividly remember the hipocrisy in the air. I had to do something. I had to stand up to it.”
“And how did you find the courage to do that? To face the Rock with whom the church has been built on?” I took a sip from my own wine. I realized we haven’t touched our dinner. It was getting cold.
He paused for a while. Then took a deep inhale. Then he looked at me with a piercing look in his eye.
“Truth has to be defended. It is very vulnerable especially when individuals who are highly looked upon by other people – individuals who are in power or position – are compromising it.”
He put down his glass of wine and leaned forward as if to say something important.
“There is only one truth. Any other versions of it is a lie. During that time, what Cephas was doing is a relative version of an absolute truth. He was saying that the Jewish tradition holds sway in our salvation. This, for me, was unacceptable.”
“So you stood up to him.”
“I had to. Otherwise the early church would fall apart. Cephas may have continued on as such.” He took another puff from his cigarette. Then crushed it on the ash tray. “People don’t realize that it was a critical moment in the history of the church.”
I browsed through my list of questions from my journal. “So if you were to give me one advise in standing up for the truth, what would it be?”
Before I even finished the question, he laughed. For a few seconds. Then he picked up his wine and took a sip.
“My brother, if you were to lose your head for the truth, in all its vulnerability in this mad, relative world, filled with lies…” He lit up another cigarette and stood up from his seat.
“Would you give it freely?”
In a blink of an eye, he disappeared. Perhaps there’s somewhere he has to be.
That new body really is something.