The home of the Apostle John
John studied the confined space of his bedroom. “I will be pleased when the furniture is restored and we can use the upper room again.”
“I am sure Aima wants the room restored more than you,” Benjamin laughed.
“Perhaps we could start now, and put this desk and the scribe’s chair back into the upper room.”
It was unusual for his great-grandfather to complain, and Benjamin looked around. “I have become used to it being like this, but it is true, you are very crowded in here, Saba.”
“It was only to be for a short time, but with all that has happened, these matters have been pushed out of our minds.”
“Would you like me to go downstairs and tell Aima that she should contact the men who moved the furniture and arrange to have it put back? It is still early. If they have no other work today, they will be happy to come and do it.”
“No,” John sighed, “I should not have complained, I would like to continue writing, and if your mother arranges for all the furniture is to be moved back, a whole day will be lost.”
“Then shall we make a start on your writing?”
“Yes, my boy. And please forgive me for being impatient.”
“It is three weeks since the Feast finished, I can understand why you want more space.”
“We have been able to work, though. I should not have grumbled. When Alexander comes home, I would like it if you and he move the scribe’s desk and chair, which will help in the meantime. For now, let us not lose any more of the day.”
Benjamin left the pile of papers he had been sorting, took up the writing tools and seated himself at the scribe’s desk. “Ready, Saba.”
John nodded. He was unsure if it was the subject he wanted to record that was making him feel uneasy, or if God was prompting him to finish the work. Still, complaining would only waste time.
Benjamin picked up his pen and dipped it in the ink.
“Although we didn’t know it, this was the last few months of Jesus’ life. Write this... ‘Therefore, Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the Jews. Instead He withdrew to a region near the desert, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with His disciples.’” John waited as Benjamin wrote the words he had dictated.
As the morning progressed, Benjamin could sense an urgency in his great-grandfather’s speaking that had not been there when they first started writing these memories.
John wondered briefly whether or not to give additional information. “Benjamin, you have the responsibility of carrying the truth forward, so I will tell you a few things, but it is not necessary to record them.”
Benjamin finished writing, cleaned the pen he was using and waited, listening.
“You have recorded the raising of Lazarus from the dead.”
“As I have said many times, Jesus knew God’s plan. The last sign, the raising of Lazarus, caused such a furor, there was no choice but to retreat, to prepare Himself for what He would face in Jerusalem. He knew that He was going to die there. Remember, I have told you over and over again, He was the true Passover Lamb. That had been the Father’s plan from the very beginning. But, as I explained when we recorded His last Feast of Tabernacles, His death had to happen at the right time. By withdrawing, He removed Himself, so that God’s plan was not subverted.” Although that brief time alone with Jesus, without the crowds, had been one the disciples had appreciated, John could never think of that time without difficulty, knowing what happened next.
Benjamin waited till his great-grandfather composed himself and was ready to continue.
John indicated he was ready and Benjamin picked up his pen.
John dictated, “Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany where Lazarus lived, he whom Jesus had raised from the dead.”
“Ah, this was where Mary took an expensive perfume...” Benjamin spoke without thinking of the interruption he made.
“Yes... Martha served... in a practical way. Mary’s service was ‘extravagant’ in some eyes... especially in the eyes of Judas. Never forget though, both sisters loved Jesus and both served Him. Each gave what they could in order to serve.” John allowed the diversion, because increasingly he was sure it was Benjamin who would carry the truth forward. He went back to dictating.
Benjamin finished recording the section, and John went on to say that Judas was in charge of the money. “He had the money box.”
Knowing the story, Benjamin raised his eyebrows.
“Jesus was not careless in appointing him.” John rebuked. “Judas was the most qualified of all of us in matters of managing our money. However, he became tempted and pilfered the money.” Looking at his great-grandson, John watched to see if Benjamin had noticed any significance.
“I think I am missing something great-grandfather,” Benjamin admitted, looking at him.
“Judas became tempted in an area where he was strong. Looking after the money was something that was easy for him. Perhaps he became careless about it.” Fixing Benjamin with a steady gaze, John warned, “Know your weaknesses, and also know your strengths.” Responding to Benjamin’s questioning look he explained, “We often identify our weaknesses and take more care avoiding situations where we know we have difficulty. We build up defenses to avoid them. On the other hand, we can become proud of our strengths. Be warned, that can cause us to fall because we can take it for granted that we don’t need to watch what we are good at.”
Putting the pen down, Benjamin ran his fingers through his hair, frustrated with himself. “Saba, I doubt that I could ever understand things as you do.”
“Don’t be discouraged, Benjamin, I have lived a long life. It is only by living through the situations… the trials, that we gain the understanding. And, as I said when you returned from your sojourn in the vineyard, you gained much understanding and growth over the situation with Deborah, daughter of Silas of Antioch.”
After thinking for a few minutes, Benjamin realized that what his great-grandfather said was true. He smiled, finally understanding what it meant to be thankful in trials; they produced growth, something he had never understood before. Looking at his great-grandfather, he saw in his earnest gaze that Saba knew he had reached understanding... at last.
“We need to continue,” John appealed.
Benjamin nodded, selected a new pen and dipped it in the ink.
“So the chief priests and Pharisees made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for because of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in Him.” Pausing John asked, “Do you understand that they would rather ensure their own wealth and position than acknowledge the Son of God?”
“Yes, Saba. What I do have problems understanding, is the difference between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Both groups seem to have had much influence in Jesus’ life.”
“Let me explain. The Pharisees were the religious leaders. The Sadducees were the political leaders. Most of the members of the Sanhedrin were Sadducees. The resurrection of Lazarus was a great dilemma for the Sadducees, because they didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead. It would have been easier for them to deny the truth and have Lazarus murdered.”
Occasionally, the unfairness of some of the events in his own life had overwhelmed Benjamin. But listening to his great-grandfather’s story of his cousin’s life, he understood how small his problems were by comparison.
“What are you thinking about, my boy?”
“Like my friends, I believed it must have been easy for you and the other disciples, learning directly from the Savior.”
“You think otherwise now?”
“Yes, Saba. None of us considered the dangers, or, as you are saying now, the lengths to which the Pharisees or Sadducees would go to preserve their positions as leaders of the people.”
“One matter both groups agreed upon. Jesus had to be killed.”
“So, Jesus, and you, His followers, were a real threat to them.”
“Yes. They wanted to maintain the existing conditions with Herod and the Romans.”
Benjamin stared, thinking through what John had just explained. They would kill the Son of God, the Savior, to keep their earthly positions.
John saw realization dawning on his great-grandson’s mind. “We all understand, in time, and by degree,” he remarked. “And this will make it easier for you to follow when we record the other happenings.”
Benjamin realized his great-grandfather was reassuring him.
“Now, shall we stop here and have our noon meal?” John asked.
“Yes, Saba. That would be good.” He cleaned and sharpened the pens he had used and put the stopper in the ink. Laying the pages out to dry on the table he thought how blessed he was. Not only to have the understanding that God had granted him, but also in having the incredible opportunity to hear first-hand from one of His Son’s disciples. The fact that one remaining disciple was his great-grandfather was a blessing, one that he was only just beginning to fully appreciate.
After his noon meal, while John went up to the prayer room, Benjamin went in search of his mother. As usual, he found her in the cooking area of the courtyard.
“Ah, enjoying the dry weather and cooking outside,” he teased.
“Today is fine so I am enjoying it,” she said with a smile.
Sitting down on John’s bench, Benjamin said, “I am only now realizing how blessed I am that my great-grandfather is alive. It is a privilege to hear all that he knows and remembers.”
Naomi paused in her work.
“I realize I have taken it for granted. I grew up knowing this,” Benjamin admitted.
“Or perhaps it is that you have not thought until now, how wonderful it is to be listening to someone who traveled with our Savior. To see it through the eyes of one who was with Him. I know what you mean,” Naomi said.
“As Saba was telling me about the last part of Jesus’ life, I realized earlier how important it is to hear the words, have the opportunity to ask questions and record his memories. I now have a better understanding...”
“And that’s exactly why I am dictating and you are writing this, not I,” John said as he walked through the courtyard and took a seat beside Benjamin. “As I have mentioned before, you are the one to keep the flame and pass on to your children and grandchildren what you remember of our talks and the writing. You shall pass it to the generations yet to come, and that is why your questions are important, to make sure that nothing important is missed out.”
“Are you ready to do some more, or do you want to leave it until tomorrow?” Benjamin asked.
“No, time is short, and I still have much to record. Come on, we will do some more,” John said, standing up.
As Benjamin followed, he puzzled over Saba’s comment ‘time is short’, then hurried after him.
“When you are ready, I would like you to record the time Phillip brought the Greeks, who were seeking Jesus.”
Benjamin sat at the scribe’s desk in his great-grandfather’s crowded chamber and wrote of Jesus’ response to the men. Then John continued with His puzzling message about grains of wheat and walking in the light while they still had the light. “Saba, did you understand all of this then?”
“No, Benjamin. None of us did. We had some inkling of some of what He talked about, but no. We did not understand, and probably that was a blessing from God. Perhaps we would have tried to discourage Him. Peter had protested once when Jesus warned us of His coming death. If all of us had protested, it might have made Jesus’ work harder. He had to be single-minded.”
“You said before that many of the rulers believed, did you mean the Sanhedrin?”
“Yes. Men like Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea... some others. But had they shown their belief they would have been put out of the synagogue.”
When he was younger in the faith, Benjamin would have criticized these men, now, with a little experience of threats and trials, he felt sorry for them. “I wonder what they thought when it was revealed.”
“I would like you to record a bit more, then we will stop for the day,” John said ignoring Benjamin’s wondering. This was of no value to what he wanted to be recorded.
“It is still early.”
“I want to record this part. Then I wish to stop for now. Next time I will have you record the last Passover.”
Picking up the pen, Benjamin nodded to his great-grandfather to let him know he was ready to write and the pair worked on, filling several more sheets with John’s recollections. There was so much more Benjamin would have liked to ask, but he did not want to interrupt his great-grandfather’s flow of thoughts. But it was increasingly apparent that Saba was having difficulty as he neared the events leading to the last Passover Jesus had kept with them.
“I would like to stop and pray,” John said, a little troubled by what he knew he was still to record. “I shall go to the prayer room for a while. When you have finished clearing away here, I will meet you in the peristyle.”
“You are down early,” Naomi remarked when Benjamin came back to the courtyard.
“Yes. Saba does not want to speak any more today. Next will be the record of the Savior's last Passover.”
He saw from her expression that she understood, probably better than he did. He did not know what to say, so he changed the subject. “Something smells wonderful,” he said, sniffing the fragrant odors.
“Lois ground up some fresh spices before she left this morning, and I used them in this broth.”
“Busy as ever, I see,” John said as he joined them.
Benjamin saw he looked refreshed, and moved to the adjoining bench.
“I am not so large that I need the whole bench,” John joked.
“You need to put weight on, Saba,” Naomi chided. “You are too thin.”
“You always say that, but I am fit and well.”
The courtyard door opened slowly, and they turned and looked toward it. Naomi, always fearful it was the Roman soldiers, tensed. John remained peaceful and Benjamin watched to see who it was.
Nervously, Elizabeth and Rachel waited in the open doorway.
“May we come in for a few moments?” Elizabeth asked.
“I have tied the donkey to a branch, and the cart is not blocking the lane,” Rachel assured them.
“Come in, it will be well.”
John wondered why they needed a donkey and cart. It was not far between the home at ‘Old Simon’s’ shop, and here.
The women took a few steps into the courtyard and closed the door behind them.
Naomi, breathing a sigh of relief, rose from the stool she had been sitting on by the outdoor oven, and walked towards them.
“I won’t detain you... at least, not long. I wondered if I could talk to the man, John... and Rachel here has some supplies.”
Bringing them fully into the courtyard, Naomi led them to where her grandfather and Benjamin were seated.
Rachel put the heavy basket down near the bench where Benjamin sat. Her mother approached John.
“I wanted to thank you for your prayers,” Elizabeth started.
“You already thanked me...”
“Oh no, not for my daughter, for my niece’s son Jacob. It was three weeks ago, during the Feast of Tabernacles. You prayed for him when I told you he had the fever.”
Naomi, watching, wondered how she had seen him during the Feast of Tabernacles. The woman was Jewish and would have had her own place to attend. As she listened to them talk, she remembered Saba asking her to pray for the woman and telling her he had seen the woman. It was the evening he had briefly been arrested, and she had forgotten it until now.
“How is the child?” John asked.
“He is well. When we returned to the farm with the medicine, he had already recovered. So, I wanted to thank you.” Had she been bold enough she might have said that she was bewildered. When John had prayed for her daughter, he had been there, in the room with Esther. When he had prayed for her niece’s child, John had prayed with her, miles away from the baby. So why did Jacob live? Was it a chance happening the fever left? She found herself saying, “I know what that fever can do. It killed my baby son.”
Rachel turned and stared at her mother. Her mother rarely mentioned this, and not to people she did not know.
Elizabeth paid no attention and went on talking to John. “I don’t know what happened, why Jacob was healed... but you prayed. I wanted to thank you.”
“It was not me, you must thank God. He is the One Who heard and answered your need.”
“One day, I want to know more. I don’t understand. How is it that God hears your prayer? I have listened to you speak, and you call your God the same as our God, but our leaders say...” she paused before modifying her comment and saying, “Our practices are different.”
“I know what your leaders say.”
Naomi watched, forehead wrinkling.
“Any time you want to ask a question either I, or one of our group, would be able to answer any questions you have.”
While they were talking, Rachel turned to Benjamin. “Your order is in the basket. There is a double amount of parchment.” She raised the basket of supplies, first taking out a large jar and placing it near her feet.
“Why are you bringing it again? Has ‘Old Simon’ started sending orders out?” He was part curious, part teasing.
Embarrassed, Rachel put the basket back down and started to turn away.
“I am sorry, I shouldn’t have said that.”
Looking at him to see if he was mocking her, Rachel paused. Part of her wished he was so she could classify him with Silas and Jonas, instead of being drawn to him.
“I am sorry. Please, tell me why you have come.” ‘Why you have taken such a risk again’, he thought.
“My father came back from his trip with some supplies, not many,” Rachel told him. “Soon, he and my brother Timon will be making up the orders. Abba will give priority to Rabbi Jonas and the other Jewish customers.” Her words came out in a rush.
“So he doesn’t know what you have done?”
“No, not yet. But it is my grandfather’s shop. He and I packed the order last evening after Abba retired for the night. The high-quality parchment you use, that is Saba’s stock, and he made up the order and said to bring it to you before Abba started dividing it up.”
Benjamin glanced at his great-grandfather to see if he had heard, but he and the mother were talking.
“There are going to be many changes in the shop. A young man called Malachi, whom my brother had hired to help him with my father’s booth, will be coming to work in the shop.”
Benjamin thought for a moment. Jason had made friends with a neighbor’s son, Malachi, during the Feast, He had been excited because he had been hired to help on a market-stall selling writing supplies. It would be strange if it was the same person. Then the possible significance dawned on him. Malachi was part of the fellowship, his mother was a neighbor, and friend of his family. The beliefs of Malachi’s family could cause a problem for him. To have hired a heretic! ‘Old Simon’ might not mind, but his son’s opinions on ‘heretics’ was well-known. He looked at Rachel, who was still talking.
“My grandfather will be there when he is well enough, but I will not be in the shop anymore.” Rachel wished she could stop talking so nervously. Each time she was in Benjamin’s company, she always seemed to run on, giving too much information.
“So is your father going to be in charge of your grandfather’s shop?” Benjamin asked as he digested all she had said. If that was the case, Meshua might not want to supply them with the parchment they used.
“No, he will still run his stall at the marketplace.”
Naomi stood and watched with interest. The mother and John were talking still, the daughter and Benjamin were discussing something that seemed important to him.
Benjamin was thinking there might be many changes in the shop. ‘Old Simon’ was old, and in recent times he had not been well.
“There might still be some shortage,” Rachel confided. “My father has not said if he made arrangements for further supplies until the ship comes from Egypt.” She wondered what would happen when it did come... the supplies, and a cousin to work in the shop.
“Thank you for warning us,” Benjamin said. He and his great-grandfather still had some supplies from before the shop closed for the festival. Depending on how much more writing there was to be done, this double amount might be sufficient for their needs. Since the copy would be circulated to the fellowships, and each of them would make their own copies, it was done on ordinary grade parchment.
Rachel bent down and picked up the basket again.
Reaching for it, Benjamin smiled as he took it. Raising his shoulders helplessly, he admitted “I don’t know what to say, how to thank you for your thoughtfulness.”
“It was my grandfather who wanted the order filled and delivered to you.”
Naomi continued watching with interest. The girl seemed kind, and Benjamin conversed with her naturally. ‘Pity she is Jewish’ she thought, then upbraided herself. She reminded herself that God would provide the right bride for her son.
“Do I pay you now, or come into the shop?” Benjamin asked.
“Come into the shop. There will be an account for you; all you need to say is that you have come to pay your account.”
Elizabeth and John had finished their conversation, and when she saw that Rachel had given the young man the basket of supplies, she took the girl’s arm. “We need to go home,” she prompted. “We have been gone a long time.”
“Wait, Aima. The liniment,” and bent down to retrieve the jar.
Benjamin gave the woman a puzzled look. They had not been here long.
“Your grandfather would have been upset if we had left that. But hurry, we have been gone a long time,” she repeated.
Rachel nodded her agreement. They could explain the trip to Rhea because her grandfather had asked for the liniment, but what if they were seen in this part of town? The longer they were here, the more risk they ran of discovery.
Elizabeth’s mind was working furiously. Her father-in-law had sent the supplies, which was the reason they were there. But she knew her interest in what this old man had to say could prove dangerous for her, for her family. She was also exposing Rachel to these people, and perhaps their beliefs.
Smiling at John, Benjamin and Naomi, they took their leave and left without a backward glance.
“I hope the donkey stayed tied to that branch,” Elizabeth whispered as they made for the gate.
John sat watching them walk toward the courtyard gate. He considered the contacts he had experienced with the older woman. It seemed to him that God was working with her, drawing her and he wondered how she would react. The cost for her would be very high. She would be ostracized from the Jewish community, lose her children, her home, and her husband. He remembered his cousin saying that those wishing to be His disciples had to count the cost. It was very difficult for many. Jesus gave the example of a man who wanted to build a house needing to estimate if he had enough to finish the work. This was an area Jesus knew very well from His trade as a carpenter-builder. In using this example, He was exhorting those in the crowds that followed Him to consider the cost of discipleship. Look carefully at what had to be left behind, and look forward to what would be gained.
John wondered if this woman had the inner strength to answer God’s call, if that was what He was doing. John knew that he, his brother, and many of their fellow disciples had given up homes, families; the lives they had planned and the work they had been trained to do. Work which was expected of them so they could take over the family business. Eventually, they had understood what they had gained was far superior to what they had lost. But, it had taken time. The girl puzzled him too. He could not quite ‘read’ what she was thinking.
Benjamin stared after them too. He wondered about the daughter. One of the changes to the shop she had told him about was that she would no longer be working there. She had not mentioned the reason. Had her father arranged a marriage for her?
Naomi also watched until the courtyard door closed. She wondered if God was beginning to open the women’s understanding and she tried to work out if there was something she could do to help the woman with her questions. As her mind went racing ahead, she remembered something her grandfather had warned her about telling her... ‘Be careful that you don’t step on God’s toes.’ This had been his gentle way of pointing out that God was in charge of His Kingdom and would work with people and situations in His timing. She would pray for the woman, as Saba had asked weeks ago.
“Bring those supplies upstairs, Benjamin, and we will put them away. Did the girl say if her father has organized more supplies?”
Naomi smiled as the pair disappeared, and then realized she had not even offered the woman and her daughter some refreshment.