Reading: Acts 28:16-20, 30-31
Have you ever sat around with friends and reminisced about someone? It usually starts with, “Hey, do you remember the time that so & so did this?” An hour later you all have smiles on your faces as you’ve relived every positive memory. Then it comes to a close as someone asks, “Whatever happened to him/her?” Maybe there are vague guesses as to their marital state, the possibility of children, or which “M” state they live in now. I wonder if this scenario ever occurred with Paul and his Roman guard.
In the reading, we find the line, “When he entered Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him.” So Paul begins his stay in Rome living with his Roman guard (To avoid calling him Paul’s Roman guard the whole time, let’s call him Maximus, because who doesn’t like a Gladiator reference?). Now we shouldn’t let the phrase, “allowed to live by himself” fool us. In the commentary of The Jerusalem Bible the editor writes, “The prisoner [Paul] had his own lodgings, but his right arm was chained to the left of the soldier in charge.” Meaning that Paul only had as much distance from Maximus as his chain was long, hardly my definition of living on my own. However, this wasn’t a brief arrangement. We read, “[Paul] remained for two years in his lodgings.” This unusual living situation makes me wonder, whatever happened to that guy?
While we don’t know what happened to Maximus, or even if there was more than one Maximus, we can learn some important lessons from his presence.
First, if we assume that Maximus never converted than we can learn to not become overly burdened by discouragement. For two years Paul could have been chained to a pagan who never came around to belief in Christ. Despite that, Paul continued to preach and his final words in the Acts of the Apostles are, “Let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen” (Acts 28:28). Even if Maximus doesn’t listen. For us too, just because we have one example of a heart hardened against God’s love right in our face, does not mean that we give up on sharing the Good News.
Second, Paul had a present and tangible reminder chained to his wrist that he had to be a 24 hour Christian. Of course we are supposed to be 24 hour Christians. We put rosaries in our cars, pictures of Jesus by our computers, hang scripture and crosses in our rooms to act as reminders to us that we have that obligation, because it’s easy to let our guard down. Paul, on the other hand (no pun intended), had both the privilege and challenge of never having a day out of the spotlight. Having Maximus chained to him was a concrete reminder that even though he can justify things to himself, he could be scandalizing Christianity in the eyes of Maximus. This is a lesson that we should not ignore either, but we should remember to be like Paul and avoid scandal for the sake of the other, not for our reputation.
Finally, what did Maximus think of Paul? One can presume that Maximus was a man of discipline and obedience. So when we read that Paul preached “without hindrance” we can write it off as Maximus obeying orders. However, I wonder if there was a healthy respect there. I imagine that Maximus respected Paul for his zeal, his sincerity, and his consistency. I imagine he puzzled over who this Jesus guy was. As a Roman soldier, Maximus likely valued honor and the willingness to face a fight. So Paul’s willingness to go up against the Roman Empire and prominent Jewish leaders for the honor of this Jesus guy had to leave an impression. Does our sincerity, consistency, and zeal leave that impression on people? Do they see our willingness to stand up for Christ?
So whatever happened to that guy? The way it plays out in my mind is that Maximus chained himself to Paul out of duty to his lord and Paul chained himself in prayer to Maximus out of duty to the Lord. As the two shared the same living arrangement seeds were planted for Maximus. After two years Paul was released and Maximus and his buddies would reminisce about the crazy Christian Maximus guarded. But he would never allow them to defame him. It would always end in the question, “whatever happened to that guy?” One day, as the gospel was spreading to more and more gentiles, Maximus got his answer. On that day Paul was beheaded in Rome. From that point on Paul’s chain of prayers was only strengthened. The seeds that had been planted grew by God’s grace and led Maximus to the waters of Baptism. That’s what I hope happened to that guy. But for now, all I can do is try to be like Paul. To not allow discouragement to become despair, to walk as a 24 hour Christian, to live my faith with sincerity and consistency, and to chain myself to others in prayer.