La donna è mobile, cual piuma al viento… “My! How you’ve changed!” “I can’t believe you’re doing that!” “Never know your mood.” “With her, I never know what to expect!” Many times we’ve hear those refrains, probably uttering similar comments ourselves. Change is good, change is bad, nothing changes, she’s changeable as the weather—we are delighted, frustrated, overjoyed, instigated, exasperated, feel overcome  by warmth,  are struck cold as ice—change in others does all of this and more. In ourselves, we long for positive changes in life, finances, affections, circumstances, and decry the downhill slide which often characterizes the changes we longed for. All of us are moved by change—none of us enjoy the pain that goes with it. We want to move on—we wish to go back to when…

Guess one of the richest gifts of maturity is retrospective memory.  I love to remember the beauty and clumsiness of youth, the fresh perspectives of expectations that were surprisingly fulfilled in ways never dreamed, frustrated hopes and multiplied renewals in life that scraped and shaped me. We will never return to “the way we were”—though in some ways--in germinal ways--we always were what we are now, and our future holds incredible turnings even though we will (in some ways) always be tomorrow who we are today.

Thinking of Biblical women who were familiar with more than skin-deep change, I always go back to Priscilla. If older women are to teach and model piety and righteousness to the younger generation, according to Paul’s vision of women’s roles in letters to Timothy and Titus, the wife of Aquila is a “Teacher of the Years” example to me and millions of Christian women over two millennia. Priscilla appears in Luke’s narrative of Paul’s stay in Corinth after his watershed sermon at the Areopagus in Athens. The Jewish couple had “recently come from Italy… because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome”. So they were refugees, displaced persons, exiles in a strange land. Originally from Pontus (Northeastern region of Asia Minor on the shores of the Black Sea), these (Turkish) Jews left their home and everything they had built in the Capital of the World to re-settle in Greece. There is no mention of children or other relatives—I imagine them as a middle-aged or older hard-working couple who had enjoyed some prosperity but suffered tremendous loss and upheaval right when they thought they would be settled.

Their tentmaking trade was essential for wandering Jews and unstable Gentiles alike. From the Orthodox who “had their tents carried before them” for any Sabbath travel, to Gentile merchants and tradesmen of all nations around the Mediterranean Sea, Aquila and Priscilla would always have clients. Today we call bivocational missionaries “tentmakers” because, like their colleague Paul, this godly couple  worked leather and sturdy textiles into transportable shelters, and simultaneously sheltered the Word of God that dwelt in them, sharing their know-how and knowledge with any who would listen. Paul stayed and worked with them and was “occupied with the Word” in the synagogue every Sabbath. After Silas and Timothy joined the apostle and Jewish opposition increased, Paul left the Aquila-Priscilla household  and moved to the home of a Gentile believer, Titius Justus, next door to the synagogue. There, Crispus, president of the synagogue and his family all became believers, and Paul remained in Corinth for eighteen months. Certainly Priscilla heard about Paul’s vision and took those memorable words to heart:

Do not be afraid, but go on speaking
 and do not be silent, for I am with you,
 and no one will attack you to harm you,
          for I have many in the city who are my people.

 Paul suffered united attack by the Jews, who took him to court—where the Corinthian magistrate refused to judge religious matters. The angry Jews beat Sosthenes in front of the tribunal, and Gallio “paid no attention to any of this”. After staying “many more days longer”, Paul and his entourage took leave of the brothers and set sail for Syria, “and took with him Priscilla and Aquila”. Now the tentmakers were colleagues in foreign missions—a creative, productive solution for people who realize that above all, they are pilgrims in a strange land. Many ports, many towns were their stopping places. In all the region of Phrygia and Galatia Paul went on  “strengthening all the disciples”. Priscilla and Aquila decided to stay longer in Ephesus—especially after hearing Apollos speak, and weighing the opportunity to minister in his life. They did not badmouth the young preacher for his errors, but “took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately”. From Acts 18 through 19, it looks like Priscilla and her husband were adept at mending and tying loose ends in the lives of people they touched, risking their lives, putting in practice the doctrine they learned from their rabbi Paul.

They did return home—a political change again made them resume residence in Rome, because when Paul wrote his letter to the Romans (around 58 AD), he greets Prisca and Aquila as “my fellow-workers  in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well” (Rom. 16:3).

When Paul got his wish and arrived in Rome it was not as a free Christian-Jewish academic and Roman citizen native of Tarsus. He had appealed to Caesar and was a prisoner in Rome—perhaps under house arrest part of the time, but most certainly under constant surveillance.  Priscilla and Aquila must have been frequent visitors who alleviated his incarceration with food and clothing and maybe  books (later he  would ask Timothy bring his coat, books and especially parchments he had left in Troas -- 2 Tim 4:13).  And continued to be disciples, as they also continued discipling others.

Paul wrote to the Christians at Philippi: “it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear…” (Philippians 1:13-14) Paul’s prison letters (to people at Ephesus, Philippi, Colossus--Philemon was a member  of the Colossian church to whom he wrote personally in defense of the runaway slave whom Paul must  have met and evangelized in jail) are pregnant with life-giving doctrine  and life-living  joy.

 Joy was the theme of one who did not know if he would live or die, but learned to be content: “Making my prayer with joy”  (1:4); “”Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (1:18); “I will rejoice for I know that through your prayers…”; “continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith” (1:25);”complete my joy” (2:2); “I am glad and rejoice… likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me” (2:17-18); “Receive him with all joy” (2:29);”Finally my brothers, rejoice in the Lord”(3:1); “my brothers whom I love and long for, my joy and crown” (4.1); “Rejoice in the Lord, again I say rejoice”(4:4); “I rejoiced…”(4:10)

I suspect that Priscilla learned that kind of contentment throughout the months and years she and her husband were associated with the apostle. The words of the hymn “When I survey the wondrous cross” resound with Paul’s teaching: “My richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride”. A woman who lived through many changes in life— living well through wealth and poverty, sojourner in tent without a roof over her  head, yet giving shelter to young and old, apostle and new Christian, possibly living the loneliness of childlessness, but anchored by a husband who was with her at all times and found refuge in Christ alone—going back to where she started, while that return will never be the same—you and I can relate to Priscilla’s changing status, moving circumstances and fluctuating feelings that accompany myriad changes. Like Israel of old that dwelt in tents under the shadow of the Almighty and the Pillar of Fire, gathering manna and quail in the wilderness.  “I have learned to be content”; “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me.”

Like you and me, Priscilla was not a noblewoman noted for her strength or prowess. She was a working woman—a thinking woman, knowledgeable to the point of “straightening out” wrong ideas of a talented young preacher! Probably she cried and wrung her heart each time change meant loss—Pontus, Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, Rome, to the ends of the earth. But she learned to rejoice always and return, always being where God wanted her to be—wherever and under whatever circumstances they were.

I have made friends of all ages, all lifestyles and walks (or sprints) of life. When with children and grandchildren of friends of my youth, I must remember the freshness and vigor that opened the door to my heart, and look to them likewise. To aged friends battling their constant losses and disfranchising, I must share hope that “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me”. To those caught in the boredom of middle-years’ sameness, I can share the newness of abundant life. Many are the virtuous women whose stories flood the Bible with character and courage, and we women of postmodernity can learn from them. I hope to have learned a little with a woman sojourner and missionary called Priscilla, whose husband Aquila was both Eagle and Needle.  We are not wanderers lost and tossed by life—we are pilgrims with purpose and destiny, who enjoy (even if sometimes groaning!) each step of the way.

Elizabeth Gomes

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