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Last Wishes, Long Journeys, and Old Friends Last Wishes, Long Journeys, and Old Friends
    by Thom Lemmons

Editor’s Note: We sometimes forget that our Bible heroes were real people, and sometimes even real “characters.” Thom Lemmons has a wonderful way of letting the people who populate Scripture come alive. This snippet from his upcoming book gives us a glimpse of Syntyche and Euodia (Philippians 4:2-3) from the eyes of an aging Lydia (Acts 16), and also gives us a clear reminder of the power of someone physically unimpressive, but spiritually a giant, the Apostle Paul. I hope it whets your appetite to know more about these people from our Story and helps you see the Bible personalities as real people when you read Scripture in the future.

    Poor Syntyche, she was a mess, as usual. Lydia had given Clystra very careful instructions about how to find Syntyche’s house on High Street and about precisely what to say. She didn’t want her friend alarmed by having it seem to be a last-gasp summons. But here was Syntyche, flustered and disheveled, weeping over her and clinging to her hand as if this were, indeed, the final goodbye.

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    “There’s no need to be upset, my dear. I’m dying, but not yet. At least, I don’t think so. Please, sit down and calm yourself.”

    “I came as soon as I could, Lydia—”

    “Of course you did.”

    “Your servant said you were asking for me, so naturally I was afraid—”

    Lydia darted a glance at Clystra, who ducked her head and studied the tops of her sandals. “I did ask Clystra to bring you to me, yes. And I’m so glad you’ve come. Can the girls get anything for you? Some wine, maybe? A bit of bread?”

    Syntyche pressed her hands to her face and took in a deep breath through her nose, drawing herself up straight. She dropped her arms to her sides and gave Lydia her best imitation of a bright, cheerful look. “No, thank you. I’m fine now. Really.” She dragged up a stool and sat down beside the bed. “Now you must tell me how you’ve been since I saw you last.” She grimaced as soon as the words were out of her mouth. Lydia gave a dry little chuckle.

    “Syntyche, I’ve been just as you see me now. It seems I’ve had little time for much else.”

    “Oh, Lydia, I’m sorry—”

    “Never mind. Ask one of the girls to bring me some water, would you?”

    Syntyche motioned Euterpe over. She took the jug from the servant’s arms and poured a little water into a small, shallow dish, spilling onto the table top nearly as much as she put in the vessel. Slowly she brought the dish to Lydia’s lips. In Syntyche’s concentration, the tip of her tongue played along her upper lip. She reminded Lydia of a young girl trying to learn to thread a needle. Lydia took a sip or two of water and motioned it away.

    “I spoke of you to Euodia, yesterday.”

    Syntyche gave her a startled glance, then quickly rose from the stool and paced toward the window, hugging herself. “Why would you spoil her visit so?” she said. “Or cut it short. No doubt, when you said my name, she left immediately.”

    “Syntyche, come here.”

    She turned slowly, walked back with hesitant steps. She wouldn’t look at Lydia.

    “It’s been over thirty years, Syntyche. What will it take?”

“What will it take?”
    “I tried, Lydia! I did everything except crawl on the ground at her feet, and still she—” Syntyche gestured helplessly and spun away again, narrowly avoiding a collision with the table beside Lydia’s bed. “Nothing I can say will make any difference. It’s her problem, not mine.”

    “She says much the same.”

    “I never meant to hurt either of them! It was a stupid blunder! How many times have I tried to tell her that?”

    “But the hurt is still there, Syntyche. An arrow let slip by mistake can kill just as surely as a carefully aimed shot.” Hermeia. . . Lydia shoved the thought aside. “Go to her, Syntyche. Try again.”

    Syntyche paced back and forth, shaking her head. “But it has been so long. So many years.”

    “And the years haven’t eased it, have they? The more time you let pass, the harder the healing.”

    Syntyche stopped pacing and looked at her. “Why, Lydia? Why now?”

    “Because you are both my friends, and it grieves me to part from this life with the breach unmended. Because Paul asked you to do this, years ago, and I still wish enough to honor his memory to prevail upon your friendship.” Lydia smiled. “And because people will do things for a dying old woman that they wouldn’t do for anyone else.”

    Syntyche stared at her.

    “Oh, it’s true, dear. Dying gives you a kind of power you never had while you were well. The closer you approach death, the more you are wrapped in its aura. By the time you finally go, you’re nearly invincible.”

    By now, not only Syntyche, but Clystra and Euterpe as well, were looking at Lydia as if a gourd vine had just sprouted from her forehead. By the edgy glances the three gave each other, Lydia could tell they were trying to decide if her mind had preceded her body into the next world. She couldn’t hold her face still any longer. The laugh shook her and set her to coughing.

    Syntyche grabbed the water dish, spilling most of its contents in her haste. She slid an arm beneath Lydia’s shoulders to help her drink.

    “Ah, thank you, friend,” Lydia said. “The water was good, but I think the laugh was better.”

    “Such things you say.” Syntyche shook her head.

    “Part of my charm and you know it.”

    Syntyche looked at her thoughtfully. “Yes, I think so. You can say almost anything, Lydia. As long as I’ve known you, you’ve been able to do that.” She sat down on the stool at the foot of the bed and leaned forward, propping her elbow on one knee and cupping her chin in a palm. “I’ll miss that. It’ll be too bad, not having someone who can say whatever she likes, whenever she likes.”

    Lydia turned her face away from Syntyche, toward the window in the far wall. Not such a great talent, really, she thought. Sometimes it’s better to keep from saying what’s on your mind.

    “Do you ever think of Paul?” she asked.

    Syntyche cupped her elbows in her palms and stared into the air above Lydia’s head. “Of course I do. How could I not?”

    “What do you remember most about him?”

    “His voice,” Syntyche said instantly, “sometimes so weak and raspy you could barely hear him. Then, other times, without really being any louder, it cut like a knife.”

    Lydia nodded, closing her eyes. Yes. The voice.

    It was unseasonably cool that day, Lydia remembered. The middle of summer, and yet she recalled being chilled by the wind as she sat on the grassy bank of the Krenides. She was wishing she had brought a heavier robe as she listened to Euodia’s slave read from the Torah scroll.

    “Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby,” the old man read. “When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent—”

“Grace to you, friends.”
    Syntyche was first to notice them, Lydia remembered. At her look, the rest of them gradually turned around to see the four strangers, standing at the edge of the path that ran between the city’s western wall and the stream. One of them was tall, with an erect, decorous bearing. One of them was young; his eyes switched back and forth among his companions, waiting for a cue as to what he should do next, it seemed. One was short and stout, and the fourth stood slightly in front of the rest. He was short also, but the opposite of stout—rather bony, in fact. He had forward-angled shoulders and a balding head that seemed too large for his frame.

    The rest of the women were watching her to see what she would do. Lydia rose to address the strangers, her eyes meeting those of the tallest one, unconsciously assuming him to be the leader.

    “Grace to you, friends. How may we be of assistance?”

    The answer came, not from the tall, refined one, but from his slight, stoop-shouldered companion. “As we were walking down the path, we heard the words of the Torah,” he said, gesturing toward the scroll still held by Euodia’s man. The speaker’s voice was thin and nasal. Lydia remembered her surprise at his recognition of the Scriptures. “Since we came here four days ago, we’ve been looking for fellow believers in the one true God. May we join you?”

    Lydia hesitated a moment. The Jewish religion was officially unpopular these last few months, since Claudius’s edict of expulsion; that was why they met here, outside the city walls, to reduce the likelihood of being disturbed. Was it wise to allow people of unknown intent to come into their circle?

    But the eyes of the small man burned into her, urged her with silent pleadings. She recognized something in his expression that she hadn’t thought of in a long time. Something that called to her, that invited her to imagine things never before imagined. She nodded, returning to her seat, and the four men moved in among them. Lydia looked at the skinny, bald man. “You seem to know the Torah. Would you like to read?”

    The man nodded vigorously and all but snatched the scroll from the slave’s hands. The old man tried to point to the place where he had left off, but the stranger shook his head as he shuffled the scroll back and forth, searching for some other passage. Stifling her annoyance at such a breach of manners, Lydia watched as the small man’s fingers slid back and forth with practiced motions along the lines of Hebrew characters. Finally, he found the place he wanted. With a grunt and a nod, he began to read.

    “The LORD had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’” Carefully he rolled the Torah scroll and slipped it into its leather sheath. He kissed it and handed it to the slave. Lydia suddenly realized; here was a man skilled in the Hebrew scriptures—maybe even a rabbi! There had been no rabbi in Philippi ever, as far as anyone knew.

    “Today, I will show you how this promise to our father Abraham has been fulfilled,” he said. And he began telling them things—things Lydia had always known, but would never have guessed. . .

    “Why do you think he was like that?” Syntyche wanted to know.

    “How do you mean?”

    “So absorbed—so constantly intent.”

    Lydia opened her eyes and looked at her friend. “Because he was chosen.”

 
Excerpted from Thom Lemmons' new book Woman of Means, ©2000, Multnomah Publishers. Used by permission.

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Title: "Last Wishes, Long Journeys, and Old Friends"
Author: Thom Lemmons
Publication Date: February 19, 2000

 

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Article © 2000, Thom Lemmons. Used by permission.
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