Sunday, February 15, 2015

Rhoda's Story

Rhoda's  teenage shoulders bounced slyly as she tried to suppress the giggles.  Salome's humor was irresistibly ensnaring. Her whispered remark to Rhoda had set the two friends both to laughing, but not out loud. This was no time for silliness. Rhoda would not allow herself to glance at the freckled face sitting next to her, but Salome's knee touching hers was quivering.  Straining against the next spasm of laughter, her mind was sternly scolding her lack of self-control. She knew the seriousness of the occasion. The leader of their house church had been incarcerated. His death was likely ; heartless authorities despised them and their beliefs in Jesus Christ, Messiah, raised from the dead. A large group had gathered here at her mistress Mary's house to pray for God to somehow intervene and spare his life. She and Salome both worked as maids for Mary and were both believers. Earlier when the guests had arrived, the girls had ushered them in, noting the quiet somberness on each face. How irreverent to be so distracted by silly thoughts!

But the meeting was long.  She and Salome were at the back of the crowd, near the hallway to the outside door, and it was hard to hear the voices offering prayers. Some were barely whispers, others were choked with emotion . "God forgive me", she thought, trying to force her thoughts into the fervency of praying.

Then she heard the quiet knocking at the door.  She nudged Salome. Her heart beat faster. A late night visitor seldom brought good news.  Church gatherings were kept as low key as possible; members were at risk of being harassed and taken in for questioning. Rhoda braced herself for a forceful entry, but when nothing further happened she relaxed a bit, hoping whoever had been there was now gone. Both girls again bowed their heads.

But the quiet knocking was back. Rhoda shivered. She would have to answer the door.  If the stranger knocked louder it might disrupt the meeting.  It was also her duty to open the door to visitors and greet them on behalf of her mistress. When she knew their mission in coming she could properly announce their arrival.
Trembling, she grabbed Salome and they both began walking gingerly through the hallway towards the door.

Rhoda opened the door slightly and tried to recognize the image of the shadowy figure standing there in the moonlight. The figure spoke. Surely, she must by stricken by fear and apprehension. She was seeing Peter, the leader they were praying for. Her reasoning argued with her eyes.  Yet she had no doubt that it was Peter. Overwhelmed with the news she possessed, she closed the door, and ran through the hallway, Salome close behind.

"Peter is at the door", she announced exuberantly. Startled faces looked towards the disruption. Rhoda saw their incredulous expressions and then felt the sting of rejection as one after another shook their heads and looked towards their hostess for assessment of Rhoda's inappropriate outburst. Her mistress chuckled softly and said to all, "It must be his ghost."  There was a murmur of laughter. Then she continued, "What a tale, Rhoda! You may leave the room now! We will talk later." Rhoda caught Salome's puzzled expression as she turned to leave.  Rhoda then stopped.  They had to know the truth, and Peter was waiting outside. Looking at Mary she boldly asked,  "Please go look for yourself, madam.  It is Peter.  I insist." Mary, paused for a moment, surprised by Rhoda's impudence. The room grew quiet and the distinct sound of Peter's persistent rapping broke into the silence. Uncertainty clashed with optimism as the occupants weighed the absurdity of  Rhoda's words against the reality of the presence on the other side of the door.

The mistress of the house strode resolutely to the door determined to end the disruption. Many followed her. As the door opened, Peter pressed inside and closed the door quickly behind him. Joy overcame disbelief as many rushed into the hallway and swarmed Peter with questions and touches of affection. He held up his hand for silence as they all gathered back into the larger room.

Peter related the incredible story of his miraculous release from prison, completed with help from God's angel.  The group of believers listened, awestruck. Then someone apologized to Peter, on behalf of them all, for their lack of faith, even while praying.  He forgave them freely, but his eyes were searching the room. They all waited, sensing there was something he needed.  As Peter found her eyes, Rhoda looked down, confused by all the emotions tumbling inside her. She had shamed Peter by shutting the door in his face. Even though she had been right in announcing his arrival, the others had belittled her. Her mistress had rebuked her publicly.  She was also excited that Peter was safe and among them. It all felt mixed up inside and she wanted to cry.

Peter then walked towards her.  His hand found her chin. He gently inched her face upwards. Then he spoke softly, "You believed it was me, from the first glance.  The others struggled to believe your words, but they also had a boost to their faith when they realized God had answered their prayers. It just took them a little longer.  Forgive them, as I have, and thank you for answering my knock.  It took courage for you to do that and boldness to speak out on my defense. I commend you my daughter. You are released from any condemnation. Your part in this awesome night of miracles will be remembered forever."  Rhoda's eyes filled with grateful tears. Love for the God who once again had been her defender and helper felt warm and comforting. Love for her community swelled inside, too. She knew that the strength of their oneness with her and each other would give them courage and hope for whatever the future held.

I have recently been studying the book of Acts in a bible study group. I've always been fascinated by this story.  I didn't know where it was headed or how it would end as I began writing.  I am blessed with the tenderness of God in caring about Rhoda's heart in the events of the evening and Peter's personal words to her. I was reminded of Jesus' words about the woman who poured the expensive perfume on his head.  "Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”  (Mark 14:9)  All these years since, these stories have been preserved.   Stories of real people, with feelings like ours. Someday we will be able to listen to each other recount our stories and retell His-story in us.

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