Seventh day of the Feast of Tabernacles – John’s family home
For the first time in days, John was back in his own home for this Feast, and he greeted the brethren arriving for the last day. “It is good to be back with you. I bring you greetings from the other fellowships I visited.”
“We heard you were arrested again,” one of the members said.
“Only for a short time,” John replied. “Long enough to be reminded I am being watched... we all are. But, what is more important is that God is watching us.” He saw Jason looking at him worriedly and added, “God watches us to bless us, to see if we are growing more like His Son. He doesn’t punish us. Men do that.”
As the room filled, John took his seat on the couch, among them, not in front of them. Today he would enjoy hearing instead of teaching. Samuel was speaking, and afterwards John would tell the people about their brethren in the other fellowship groups he had visited.
Samuel stood so all could see him. Looking around the room, he saw Alexander and Jason; Miriam, who lived nearby, and her three sons. Old Persis was on one couch out of consideration for her age, and John was on his couch, which had been pushed to the side as he was not teaching. Squeezed into the room were the members of the local fellowship. All had arrived at different times, to avoid arousing the attention of the soldiers and Benjamin had offered to be the lookout as they were arriving.
Naomi, Lois and Rhoda sat near the door so that when the meeting was over they could go quickly to the kitchen and put the stew on to warm. Although everyone had brought their meals, or had been provided for by someone else, this was the gift to them that Naomi had planned and prepared.
Samuel cleared his throat and began, “This last day of the Feast, in former times, had many traditions associated with it...” and he went on to describe the water ceremony. Looking at John, he smiled his thanks for allowing him to read his description of the last Feast their Savior attended in Jerusalem.
John nodded. It was encouraging to hear another generation pass on the truth.
Samuel continued after the pause, “A booth is temporary, yet God made Israel dwell in them. We live in booths this week because in His word God instructs us to do so. He said to Moses… ‘Speak to the Israelites and say to them... these are My appointed feasts, the appointed feasts of the Lord, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies.’ God calls them His feasts. They were not only for the Jews. Here Moses was speaking to all the tribes of Israel. And I can attest to the fact that God’s own Son kept the Feasts… so we are continuing the pattern, God’s pattern.”
Having reminded them of the past, now he came to the present... “But think about the temporary nature of these booths we have lived in this past week. From inside your booths, I am sure you can see more of the night sky than you could in the beginning, when the branches on the roof were full of leaves.”
He saw the smiles and nods of the people in the room.
“Consider this then... in the same way, our lives are temporary.”
He saw the looks that were exchanged as people either understood or questioned what he meant.
“If all we live for is to satisfy our flesh; to feed it, clothe it, look after it, what do we have at the end?” Answering his own question, he said, “Nothing. At the end of our lives our bodies are like the booths we will take down this afternoon. Fit only to be burned.”
Seeing Jason’s anxious movement he remembered that not everyone here had been brought up with converted parents.
Holding his hand up, he assured “I am not suggesting that we are fit only for burning.” He glanced at John. They were both aware that some of the older members of the fellowship would remember the tales of the earlier Roman emperor who persecuted believers. When news had spread around the communities that some of the brethren were used as human torches by him, some had given up, others had prayed fervently.
Jason’s face was set in a look that Samuel recognized as meaning he was struggling to cope with his thoughts.
“No brethren, I do not mean that we are fit only for burning. We are chosen by God… a special treasure, as the fifth book of Moses tells us. What I meant is that, in the end, our flesh is only a ‘booth’, the shell that we live in... that dies. The Spirit of God is in us as we are in our booths this week.”
A baby cried, and the mother, with a look of apology towards Samuel, rose and took her baby out.
“Maybe this simple example will explain what I mean. Before you take down your booths this afternoon, you will take out the contents, your pallets and whatever you put in them to be comfortable this week. So the contents remain after the booths are taken down. The Spirit within us goes back to God when our bodies, a temporary shelter, wear out, then die, and we ‘sleep’ awaiting our resurrection.”
John, in glancing around the room, noticed Benjamin leaning against the wall near the door, listening attentively. He was alone. This was the first year in which he had not been able to spend time with his friends. They were in different fellowship areas, and because of the Roman restriction on large public meetings… With a shock he realized his thoughts were wandering, and turned his attention back to Samuel who was still speaking.
“This is a time of hope for us. Our lives are a time to grow in faith, in love for God and for one another... a time to give, and a time to encourage one another.” Smiling at each of them, Samuel concluded, “And I am happy to report to you that I see your love and encouragement in your actions. Hold fast. We are all aware the soldiers have been watching us closely this week, and as you heard, Saba was briefly arrested. Remember, God is in charge. Nothing will happen that is not permitted by him. Take the love, joy and learning you have experienced this week and keep it alight. No matter what happens don’t be discouraged.” He repeated, “God is in charge of His creation. Trust Him.”
In the brief time between Samuel finishing and John making ready to speak, Naomi hurried downstairs, put the stew on to warm, and went back upstairs.
John was standing, “Brethren, I will not keep you long. I bring you greetings from the fellowships in the farther parts of our city. It seems that all of our assemblies have been fed spiritually as you have been here.” He went on to give greetings, and news of births and marriages, of reports of healings and of the deaths of some old members.
Many of the brethren assembled here had family in the other groups and were grateful for the news. Like Naomi, they were sorrowful because the usual meeting of all the groups had not been able to take place.
“Before I ask a blessing on the meal we will share in a few moments, I encourage you to think about Samuel’s message as you dismantle your booths this afternoon.”
After he had given the blessing, Naomi and her helpers quietly left the room, while people talked among themselves.
Jason, uncomfortable with the feelings building inside him, looked around the room. He could see no one watching, so he made for the inside stairs, heading for the roof.
Samuel noticed his departure and when he had finished talking with one of the brethren, he also went to the roof. Seeing Jason plucking at the branches of the booth he shared with his brother, Samuel said quietly, “You have a question, Jason?”
“What you were talking about. Where does that leave our mother? She didn’t believe in any gods, does that mean she is finished... like this booth?” He pulled one of the branches from the roof.
“This is a big question, Jason... but I will give you some hope until you want to know more. God will raise to life those He has chosen as firstfruits when His Son returns. There is a later resurrection for those who have not known Him.”
Jason interrupted angrily, “And I suppose that is to burn people who did not believe. Like you said would happen to these branches.”
Walking over to the upset young man, Samuel gently put his hand on his shoulder. “No, they will then have the opportunity to know and to understand. Their resurrection is to hope. Judgment will only come to those who, having seen and known, turn away and reject His way of life.”
Furrowing his brows trying to grasp, Jason eventually asked, “So, are you saying my mother will come back to life and be given time to learn?”
“Will she still be sick?”
“No, she won’t be sick then. Disease will be no more. Now, it’s a big subject, as you can see. We will talk about it again... if you want. But now, let’s join everyone for our meal. I am sure I heard your stomach rumbling.”
“I am hungry,” Jason admitted, with an abashed smile.
‘And for more than food,’ Samuel thought as they made their way down the outside stairs to the courtyard.
Rhoda and Lois had told Naomi to relax with her family, and they were busy filling bowls with stew. As Naomi had thought, the treat was received joyfully.
“Jason, there you are!” greeted Malachi, oldest son of Miriam, “Come, bring your lunch and join us.”
Accepting the bowl and the bread from Lois, Jason followed the cheerful youngster out into the area next door where the meal area had been set up.
Large bowls, some containing more bread, others fruit, were spaced on the bench, and the boys’ eyes lit up with delight.
“I wonder who brought the fruit. We have not had any on the other days.”
“Does that matter? Just enjoy.”
As she handed Alexander his meal, Rhoda said, “If you are looking for your brother, he has joined Miriam’s family. He and Malachi seem to be friendly. They are similar in age, both are working, and Malachi came and helped set things up.”
“I am pleased he seems to be dealing with his shyness.”
“Come and join us, Alexander,” Naomi urged. “Samuel is talking with Saba; he will join us soon.”
Following her through the gate, Alexander found spaces on a long bench, having looked first to see where his brother was. He was pleased to see that Jason was talking with Malachi and his brothers.
Following his gaze, Naomi observed, “It has been good that Miriam’s son is an agreeable youngster. Jason would have been very lonely yesterday.”
“Adam was here yesterday,” Alexander pointed out. “They seem to be building a friendship.”
“But Adam will go back to his grandparents’ farm. Miriam and her family meet with our group on the Sabbaths.”
“Any news of her husband?” Alexander asked.
“His ship had to stop at Far Havens, the weather turned against them and they were unable to travel farther.”
“So it will be after Passover before he will be home.”
Naomi looked down the long table; Miriam, her sons, and Jason were talking more than eating. “The last time Barnabus was at home, he made sure they were provided for. He knew it was possible that his ship would be unable to come back before the sea was too dangerous for sailing. Besides,” she said brightly, “Young Malachi started work a week or two before the Feast.”
“Rhoda mentioned he was working. That would be good news for Miriam, especially if her husband is delayed longer than expected,” Alexander observed. “Where is Malachi working?”
“A young man running a stall selling writing supplies in the marketplace hired him. Malachi enjoys the work and likes the person who employed him.”
Alexander was thoughtful for a few moment, “The only stall I am aware of in the marketplace that sells writing supplies is the one owned by Meshua ben Simon. But he is neither young, nor would I describe him as being likable… nor an acceptable person for one of our faith to be employed by.”
“If you are concerned, you must ask Malachi,” Naomi said, and turned her attention to her meal.
“So long as he likes what he is doing...” Alexander said thoughtfully, “but I might ask him another time. With his father away, one of we men should check that all is well with the lad.”
Nodding distractedly, Naomi patted his hand, having barely registered what he had said. She had seen Lois and Rhoda and waved to attract their attention. “Come and sit with us,” she called as they came through the gate from the courtyard.
“We have finished serving the stew,” Lois told them as she seated herself on the bench.
Blushing, Rhoda sat down on the remaining space near Naomi, next to Alexander.
“Where is Benjamin?” Lois asked, “Not back on the roof watching?”
Alexander looked around, “No, he is there, at the other end of this bench, sitting with Persis.”
Samuel joined them at last, “Saba has had all he wants; he has taken the opportunity to go to the prayer room.”
Soon the buzz of conversation filled the air, and the last thing on most people’s minds was the Roman threat. Yet it was still there.
At the Roman garrison
“There is a man outside, sir. He says he is a messenger from Rome,” Calpernus’ elderly servant, Rufus, informed him.
“That is not possible,” Calpernus snapped.
“Sir, I have repeated what he told me.”
“Send him in... and Rufus, I am sorry. It is hard to know who to believe these days.”
Rufus bowed. He had seen his master in worse moods. “I will send the man in.”
“Find Primus and have him wait outside. If the man is who he says he is, we will have to house him.”
“Sir.” Bowing, Rufus went to bring the man in, then hurried to fetch the acting second-in-command. If the stranger was not who he said he was, he could be a troublemaker.
The man, dressed in the clothing of a vagrant, looked exhausted, but he stood respectfully before Calpernus. “Commander, I was sent with a message, from Rome.”
“Ships aren’t sailing at present,” Titus Calpernus said suspiciously, wondering if this was a false messenger.
“There are ways,” replied the weary man. “Small fishing boats venture out short distances. Horses can be bought, and sold at the next port for a fare on another small boat. But now the seas are too rough even for fishermen so I won’t be able to return to Rome just yet. I will spend the winter in Illyricum and journey back to Rome from there.”
Calpernus was not interested in his plans. “Where is the message from Rome?”
The messenger wearily reached for his satchel and passed the clay tablet to him.
“You have some proof you are who you say?”
Taking a seal from around his neck, the weary man passed it to him.
“Primus!” Titus Calpernus shouted.
“Sir?” replied the ambitious young soldier, entering the room.
“Organize some food, and some accommodation for this messenger from Rome.”
“Tertius...” the messenger interrupted.
“When Tertius has recovered from his journey he can tell us his needs for the next part of his journey.”
The messenger smiled, bowed, and followed Primus out of the room. The Emperor’s seal succeeded like a charm. It had granted him safe passage and many favors on his journey, now it would grant him some more.
Reading the message, Titus Calpernus wasn’t sure whether he was relieved or annoyed. The high-handed message told him that Rome would send special messengers, officers of the Emperor’s own guard, to arrest John and take him back to Rome. It also told him to arouse no suspicions, do nothing that might cause the wanted man to leave Ephesus. “Gods be praised,” Calpernus exclaimed when he realized that this provided him with the answer to his dilemma about telling the governor he had released the old man.
Rufus hurried in, “You called me?”
“No, all is well, go about your duties.”
Grasping his chin and staring at the floor, Calpernus sincerely hoped Primus would say nothing about the brief arrest of the old man the night before. He thought for a few moments, then realized Primus was an astute man. The best way to prevent him saying anything to the messenger was to tell him to order the soldiers back. He made his way outside and was surprised to see the messenger leaning against a wall, watching the soldiers assemble before leaving on their turn of duty.
“Why have you been left alone?”
“Your junior officer is making arrangements for me.”
“Will you be going to tell the governor?”
“The message is to you.”
“But the governor wants to make the man give in.”
“You can tell him.”
“A Roman commander does not tell a Roman governor what to do.” Calpernus again thanked his gods. In releasing John, he had nearly been in a position where he would have been forced to do that.
“Then I will see to it when I have rested.”
Primus came hurrying to tell the messenger, “I have arranged for you to eat in my quarters and a room is being prepared for you.”
“Well done, Primus,” Calpernus interjected.
Primus smiled and inclined his head. Praise was rare.
“I will need clean clothing.”
“When you have rested you might explore our market. There are many skillful workers who will make whatever you need. Until then, I am sure we can provide for you. My second-in-command Crispus is about your size. He is not in Ephesus at present, but I am sure he would not mind if you borrowed one of his robes. My servant will bring it to you at the bathing-hall when you are ready.”
“Crispus? Marcus Crispus Antonius, nephew of the governor here?”
“You are well informed...”
“Yes,” Tertius responded, cutting off further comment on the subject of how well-informed he was.
Calling Rufus he instructed, “Take Tertius to the bathing-hall, and while he is there, fetch one of Crispus’ robes and take it to the attendants there.”
“Yes, sir.” Looking at the scruffy man he wondered what message he had brought. He had not been able to overhear the conversation between his master and the messenger. “If you would follow me sir,” Rufus said, and led the way to the bathing-hall.
Thoughtfully, Calpernus watched them leave. Turning to Primus he told him, “The message said we are to do nothing to cause the old man to leave the city, so tell the guards to cease patrolling near his home. But it would be wise to keep a discreet watch on him and his family… but be very cautious.”
“Is that prudent?”
“We need to know if he leaves Ephesus again.”
Primus saluted, called over a soldier, “Find Livius and send him to me.” The sooner he told them of the change in duties, the safer it would be.
With a speed that Roman officers can achieve, the soldiers who regularly patrolled the area near John’s home were recalled to their company and assigned duties patrolling the markets and temple precincts. So although the brethren did not know it, the next few months would pose no threat to them. When they left the meeting for their homes on the last day of the Feast, they did as they had learned to do in the last two weeks, and traveled in small groups.
At John’s family home
Benjamin, Alexander, and Samuel started systematically taking apart the booths. The dried branches were taken to the land next door and stacked neatly.
“Keep them out of sight of the shelter, we will be using it again tomorrow on the Eighth Day,” Naomi fussed.
“Fortunately the shelter, and your vegetable garden are well away from the area where we are stacking them,” Lois said as she watched.
While they were busy, Jason found John and, out of the way of the others, the two sat and talked, John answering many of the lad’s questions.
As Benjamin, Samuel and Alexander worked, Alexander confided “When Rhoda’s parents return, I will see them and ask permission to marry their daughter.”
Addressing the young man that he, like Naomi, saw as another son, said “It’s a significant step, Alexander, one not to be taken lightly.”
“I understand,” Alexander replied. “I have talked with Rhoda and we think that we can have a good marriage.”
Both Samuel and Benjamin stared at Alexander for a few moments, then Samuel said, “That’s unorthodox...”
“Naomi was working nearby. I needed to explain to Rhoda that ...”
“You don’t need to explain further, Alexander, let’s finish this then we can have a leisurely meal to lead us into the Holy Day. Needless to say, you have my blessing. Rhoda is quiet, industrious and kindly. She has an inner beauty and is a good choice for you. And you know how highly I think of you, Alexander. I wish you well.”
“And so do I,” Benjamin smiled and gave him a friendly slap on his shoulder.
On the day after the Feast of Tabernacles, the Eighth Day, the last Holy Day of the year, John settled himself on his couch and spoke to the gathering about Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman.
“We were leaving Judea and going to Galilee. Jesus had much more work to do and since He was drawing the displeasure of the Sanhedrin, He chose the wise course and left the area. He chose to travel through Samaria, something most of us Jews avoided.”
Some of the younger members exchanged puzzled looks.
First he explained, “When the Assyrians conquered the Israelites, the Samaritans were moved into the land, and Israelites moved out. It was the Assyrian practice. Legend has it that when the people first arrived there, wild animals attacked them and they decided they needed to appease the god of the land. They asked the Assyrian king to send them one of the exiled Hebrew priests to teach them in the ways of the Jewish people, which he did. But according to scripture, ‘They feared the Lord yet served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away.’”
“So here was Jesus leading us through a nation that we Jews considered unclean.”
Those who knew the story listened, wondering if he had some comment or additional information that he wanted to share.
“It was the sixth hour and, leaving Jesus by a well outside Sychar, we went into the town to buy some food. While we were gone, a Samaritan woman came to draw water from the well.” By way of explanation, he added, “There were wells inside the town she could have used. It was also an unusual time for women to draw water. Usually they would have gone to the wells in the evening, and discussed whatever it is that women talk about at the end of the day.” He smiled, looking at the women in the room. “The fact this woman was at a well, outside the town... and at noon, suggests that she was excluded from the regular pattern of life in the town.”
Looking around the room he saw varying degrees of interest and agreement. Most were too young to know the level of disgust the Jews had for the Samaritans. “Back in the beginning, the town where we were was called Shechem. The Jews called it Sychar because, in their prejudiced view they considered everything to do with Samaritans was ‘drunk.’” Explaining, he added with a smile, “That is the meaning of the name the Jews gave to the town.”
“Another thing the Pharisees would have criticized is the fact that Jesus talked with a woman. In their eyes, it was wrong to speak with a woman on the public street... Not even a family member.”
Benjamin looked steadily at his great-grandfather. Late afternoon two days before, he had not only spoken to a woman, but he had knelt and prayed with her. Then he realized that he too, had stood and talked with a young, unmarried woman.
“Jesus spoke to the woman. He started the discussion and put her in a position to serve him… He asked her for a drink.”
After a pause, he added, “This was the same One who had fed five thousand on one occasion and four thousand on another. He never used the power God gave Him for His own needs.”
As he continued explaining the meanings... describing the physical import with all the attendant prejudices. Then he told them of the spiritual aspect. It was encouraging to see that most people followed the deeper meaning of Jesus’ encounter with the woman. Some seemed to relate to how the disciples, as young Jewish men, had to trust in Jesus. They had to ignore their upbringing, and disregard any prejudices they had started out with, especially towards Gentiles.
“Please,” he pleaded, “Don't lose sight of the meanings. There are many false ‘christs’ in the world now. The beliefs of the Simonians, abound, deceiving many, and there are others who teach a different gospel. What you have heard from me is what I heard from our Lord and Savior. It is the truth. Don’t let it die with the last of the disciples.”
All in the room turned their full attention on him.
Smiling, he assured them “I am not announcing my death. I am asking you, pleading with you, to walk as we walked. In faith, trusting our Savior, knowing that God the Father is in charge, and walk in love... not only for Them but for one another.”
Samuel, seeing John’s sign that he had finished stepped forward and with a few announcements about the meal they would share, asked the blessing on the food and fellowship and closed the meeting.