Mahala – Sister of Paul
by John C. Westervelt
My name is Mahala. I was born in Tarsus of Cilicia, 350 miles north of Jerusalem on the north shore of the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea. My father and mother, both of the tribe of Benjamin, originally lived in Gischaia, Galilee, twelve miles northwest of the Sea of Galilee. My father, as his father before him, worked with leather and made tents.
When my grandfather was a boy, the Romans conquered Israel. From that time on, a Roman could conscript a Jew to work for him. When my father and mother were newlyweds, Flavius, a Roman centurion stationed in Gischala, conscripted my father and mother and took them with him to Tarsus. Flavius and his one hundred soldiers would maintain order in that city that was at the center of the east and west trade routes.
Flavius felt indebted to my father for his craftsmanship in making tents for his soldiers, so within a year he granted my father Roman citizenship. Therefore, Paul and I were born Roman citizens. As a young girl, I thought it was normal to live in a ghetto of Jews in a Roman occupied city.
By the time my older brother Paul was ready to begin school at the synagogue, my father decided to move to Jerusalem where Paul could study under Gamaliel. I remember many years later overhearing a conversation between my mother and her friend Hannah.
“Abigail, so good to see you. It has been a long time and we were such good friends when our boys were students together at the synagogue. Tell me about your family. I remember your son Paul always won the school's writing contests. He seemed so gifted. Has he used his writing skills professionally?”
“Hannah, Paul was a good boy and a natural leader. However, I have been disappointed on two counts. One, he never married so he gave me no grandsons. And secondly, he has written nothing noteworthy. Oh, Paul has written some letters which he tells me are read by the churches he has started.”
When I was eighteen, I married Jareb and started a family. Jessica and Jobina were followed a few years later by the birth of a son Eli. Eli attended the same synagogue that his father and Uncle Paul had. I seldom heard from Paul who was always on some sort of a journey all across the world.
I knew about a group who called themselves Christians that met in homes in Jerusalem. They believed that Jesus was our messiah. Jesus’ brother James was their leader in Judea. My friends who had joined the Christians told me that my brother Paul was their missionary to the rest of the world.
One day Jareb came home and told the children and me that Paul had come to Jerusalem to see James. A mob had formed demanding Paul’s life for teaching that Jesus was the messiah. When the mob got out of control, Roman soldiers took Paul into their barracks for his protection. And what was worse, a group of forty vigilantes had taken an oath to not eat or drink until they killed Paul.
As these words left the tongue of my husband, I covered my face with my hands to catch my tears, which now ran uncontrolled down my cheeks. My children had been perfectly quiet. Now Eli came to me, took my hands in his small hands, and said, “Mother, I can save Paul.”
“Oh my son how?
“I can walk into the barracks and talk to the soldiers.”
“But you are only thirteen.”
At this point, Jareb said, “He may be right, for only a boy could reach the Roman commander.”
After hugging me and looking up at his father, Eli walked out the door and down the street that led to the Roman barracks. When he arrived, the soldiers recognized him as the boy that played in the streets nearby.
Eli asked a soldier, “May I see Paul?”
The soldier led him to Paul. After Eli told Paul about the vigilantes, Paul asked a Centurion to take Eli to Lysias, the Roman Commander. The Commander took Eli by the hand and walked a few steps to where they could talk in private. After hearing about the plan for murder, the commander squatted down, looked eye-to-eye at Eli, and said, “You have done a brave thing. I shall do my part to protect Paul.”
Eli, with a broad smile on his face, said, “Thank you for saving my uncle’s life.”
Note from the Author
When my pastor Tom Harrison preached about Acts 23, he said, “The Bible has a large body of ‘no-name’ characters.” I decided to give Mahala a name and tell her story. I had Paul’s mother Abigail say that Paul wrote nothing noteworthy.
I hope you know I was kidding. If not, let me say that in my judgment the list of writers with the greatest command of the language are Paul, Lincoln, and Shakespeare in that order. Paul thought in Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek. With translation, Paul lists love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control as the fruit of the spirit. Even more amazing, Paul lists fifteen descriptors of the desires of the flesh, which are opposite of the fruit of the spirit. (Galatians 5)
Paul, thinking in entirely different languages, conveys to me clear, in-depth, word pictures of the meanings of spirit and flesh. And this I need to understand.
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