Samuel, Alexander and Jason arrived home hungry and tired, washed hurriedly and made ready for their meal.
“You look as though it has been a trying day,” Naomi said as she and Lois set out the meal and John gave thanks.
Taking their positions on their couches in the triclinium, Samuel responded to her earlier comment. “A day which mercifully is over,” then hastened to assure her, “We had no problems, it was very busy, and our stock is still low.”
“You did not want to leave much in the booth while it was closed for the festival season,” Benjamin observed.
“I know, but it has meant that we have to work hard to build up stock again. The Jewish Festival of Lights is approaching and we usually sell many lamps and oil then.”
“A shipment of copper came in from our uncle,” Alexander said. “I was kept busy putting that away, and trying to stay out of Jason’s way so he could continue with his work making the lamps.”
“And all the customers seemed to be impatient,” Samuel added.
“The oil supply is running low,” Alexander reminded Samuel. “With all that happened, did you have time to send a message to the supplier?”
Jason, stayed quiet, listening and eating. If his uncle had a busy day, he and his sons usually fought, and somehow the blame for everything was put on him. He wondered if Samuel would lose his temper.
“Yes, I did Alexander. While you were stacking the copper sheets in the small storeroom, I put in an order for the amount we decided on.”
Alexander looked puzzled; he had not been called to take over the shop while Samuel went out.
Seeing Alexander’s expression, Samuel chuckled, “Some things work out well, even on a busy day. The wholesaler sent an agent to see me. It was indeed a blessing because with all that was going on it would have been a problem to have found time to go to him.” He was about to add the other news he had to share, but his wife spoke.
“We, too, had an unusual day,” Naomi said. “After Saba and Benjamin stopped writing for the day, we had visitors.”
Samuel turned quickly and looked at his wife.
“No, Samuel, nothing to worry about this time. It was the Jewish woman and her daughter who have been here before.”
John did not want to enter into a discussion about his recent meeting with her. “Yes, they very kindly delivered some supplies of parchment and writing materials,” he said.
Both Naomi and Benjamin realized that he did not want it talked about.
“What about you, Lois? How was your day?” Samuel asked, his eyes twinkling with suppressed excitement.
“My day was busy also,” she laughed. “It must be something in the atmosphere. Perhaps we are going to have a storm.”
They all laughed, yet there was some truth in it. Often, a day such as they had all experienced had gone before one of the rare storms that rolled in off the now rather distant ocean.
“Miriam and I were busy in her garden most of the day. She is going to do as Naomi does and grow vegetables for her family. Her son Malachi brought what she needed home with him yesterday, and he turned over the soil. Today, Noah, and the little one tried to help.”
Naomi gave Lois a warm, encouraging smile. “You need to learn, for your own garden, and showing someone else is the best way to do that. It was good that you guided her.”
“I have helped you many times, Naomi.”
“Yes, you have, and I valued your assistance, but there is a difference between following instructions and planning your own garden... which you helped Miriam do. Perhaps you will be doing for your own garden by this time next year.”
“I have news on that.” Samuel interjected, “If Giannis has his way, it will be sooner than a year until Lois needs to make her kitchen garden.”
“What do you mean?” Naomi asked, leaning up on her elbow and turning to her husband.
“I have news,” he repeated, smiling broadly.
“Then tell us,” urged Naomi.
“The wholesaler sent an agent to take my order for oil; he brought a message.” Now he had the attention of all of them, even Jason, who, as usual was uncomfortable with any proposed change.
“Giannis sent news with a messenger delivering information to our wholesaler. The agent passed the message to me.”
“What did Giannis say?” Naomi asked, impatiently. “How did he manage to send a message?”
“The message said that he would be here as soon as he could,” Samuel said smiling at his wife, and both of them looked across the table at Lois.
As was usual for her, she blushed. It was still hard for her to believe that Giannis wanted to marry her.
John, Benjamin and Alexander all looked at each other, questions brimming in their eyes. This is not a time for shipping,” Naomi remarked when the news was greeted with silence.
“I have the message here,” Samuel said taking the pouch from around his neck and retrieving the parchment. He read out, “Able to catch commercial ship from Paphos to Attalia. Then small fishing vessel to Myra, another to Patara.’ I am sure there are many stories behind these few words.”
“How did it come to the wholesaler you use?”
“Giannis sent it by a merchant caravan.”
“What a journey!” exclaimed Benjamin.
Looking at the closely written words, Samuel added, “Giannis said that he will rest there, and purchase some goods.” Glancing at Lois, he smiled, “It seems that he wants to set up his home and business as soon as possible. Given how determined he has been so far, I would not be surprised if he intends to travel with the next caravan leaving Patara.”
“Then he could be here within weeks,” observed Benjamin, contemplating his arrival with a mixture of pleasure, and some embarrassment. The last time he had spoken to Giannis was to ask him to take over as scribe for his great-grandfather, without explanation. By the time he had returned from the vineyard, Giannis and the other Cypriot brethren had left.
“He would have had a much shorter journey if he had waited until the seas were safe again. Then he could have traveled by ship all the way, as he and the brethren did before," Alexander said practically.
Samuel and Naomi laughed and John said, “I think he wanted to return so that he could put his plans into operation.”
“Who is Giannis?” asked Jason, breaking his silent watch of the others.
“He is a brother from Cyprus who was here for a few months earlier this year. He is returning to set up his business here in Ephesus,” John answered.
Jason considered possible implications, ‘a brother’? What did that mean? Was he related to the family? Anxious that this Giannis would supplant him in the home he was beginning to feel settled in, Jason shifted uncomfortably. He had been starting to trust that these people did mean what they said. Was he wrong? Would he have to leave, he wondered, holding his breath.
Samuel explained, “Giannis wishes to marry Lois. So he will lodge with Matthew, another member of our group, until he is able to purchase his home and business."
Jason breathed out, relieved... at least until he had more information about this ‘brother,’ Giannis.
Benjamin looked across the table at Lois and smiled. He would miss her peaceful presence in the home, but he was happy for her.
“And what about you, Alexander, how are your plans progressing?” Benjamin asked. Glancing quickly at Jason, Alexander hedged around the question. He hadn’t spoken to Jason about marrying Rhoda because he hadn’t spoken to her parents yet. It was his intention to see them on the day after the Sabbath. On the other hand, perhaps Benjamin was asking about the plans for the partnership with his father. Deciding that was a safe option, he answered that. “Samuel and I have drawn up the partnership deeds and we hope they will be approved next week.”
“No, I meant about Rhoda...”
His mother’s gaze stopped him.
Jason turned to his brother and said immediately, “What aren’t you telling me?”
“I have nothing to tell you just yet, when I do, you will know, little brother.”
“Don’t treat me like a child! Obviously there is something you haven’t told me... and it looks like I am the only one who doesn’t know.” All arms and legs in his haste to rise, he wrestled with the cushion he was reclining on. Now embarrassed as well as hurt and angry, he managed to stand up and left the room in a rush.
“Excuse me, I should go after him,” Alexander said, rising to his feet.
“Give him a few moments alone,” counseled John, as they all stood up, the meal being over.
Benjamin apologized, “I am very sorry, Alexander, I shouldn’t have asked anything. I didn’t mean to cause trouble between you and Jason.”
Alexander accepted the apology, but he too wished that Benjamin had said nothing. “I have yet to talk to Rhoda’s parents. Until I had made the offer and received their response, I wasn’t going to say anything.”
“Jason is still insecure here,” noted Lois, who could identify with the hurt, confused teenager.
“I will go find him, and talk to him, I can’t leave him too long,” Alexander stated, looking apologetically at John.
Jason had been crying and Alexander found him in the darkest part of the courtyard, well away from the area lit by the lamps.
Walking up to him, Alexander reached for him, “Come here,” and pulled him into his arms. Beating his fists against his older brother’s chest, Jason sobbed, “I thought I could trust you! But I can’t. You are just like our father; you are going to leave me too!”
Catching the flailing arms, Alexander pinned Jason’s hands. “Jason, listen. There is nothing to tell you.”
“Then what did Benjamin mean?”
“Come back with me. We can sit on John’s bench.”
Tense, but wanting to be convinced he was wrong, Jason complied. Instead of sitting though, he stood rigidly near the bench with his back to the light from the kitchen doorway.
“When Benjamin, Samuel and I were working together, taking apart the booths, on the seventh day, I told them that I had decided to offer for Rhoda.”
“Have you known her long, or did Samuel arrange this?”
“Rhoda has been part of our fellowship for a long time. She is always kind and helpful to others. Remember, she was caring for our Aima when you were called home.”
“Yes, I remember; she was kind to Aima. Then she came and worked here after Aima died,” he choked back a sob, “and she was living here during the Feast.”
“Yes, she shared a booth with Lois. Her parents always travel to keep the Feast of Tabernacles with their son and his family.” He did not want to go into the reasons why Rhoda had never gone with her parents. It was not necessary for Jason to know about the family that used to employ her. Resting his hand on Jason’s shoulder, he added, “Then Rhoda’s parents stay with her brother and his family for a while. It is the only time they can visit with their grandchildren. Rhoda’s parents are home now, and I intend to talk to them on the first day of the week.”
“You didn’t tell me!” he said petulantly, then he added, “Anyway, I thought our Aima said something about you and Iris, Laura’s daughter.”
Releasing Jason’s hands, Alexander looked sadly at his brother. “I think Aima would have been pleased if Iris and I had married. She liked Iris.”
“Didn’t you like her?”
After a pause, Alexander replied, “Yes Jason, I did like her. But she was not interested in my faith. A marriage between a believer and a non-believer doesn’t work.”
Jason pushed his brother aside and strode away, heading in the direction of the courtyard door. Turning his head back, he threw his angry comment at Alexander, “See. It does make a difference! You keep telling me that I don’t have to believe what you do in order to live here, or to work for Samuel, but it does make a difference! How long before someone would have told me I had to believe if I wanted to stay here. Well, don’t worry about me! I’ll find my own way in life!”
“Jason!” Alexander called after him, “I am not marrying you. You are my brother, not a wife. It’s entirely different.”
Unseen by either brother, Naomi had come into the courtyard. She hurried after Jason, catching up with him before he reached the courtyard door, “Jason, you are welcome to live here. You don’t need to take on our beliefs. Your brother didn’t. He lived here a long time before God stirred him up to join our fellowship.”
Alexander watched, feeling helpless. He should have shared his plans with his brother. He knew how insecure Jason felt. Now, part of him wondered if he was reluctant to follow through on his plans to offer for Rhoda. Her parents had been back for almost a week. His brother had mentioned Iris, and that had opened a not completely healed wound. But there was no future there. Years before, he and Iris had talked all this out. She had asked about his faith but couldn’t see that it was any different from pagan worship. She agreed with what his parents had often said, “It is all dreams.”
Naomi and Jason were talking quietly as she encouraged him back down the path.
“But I don’t understand,” Jason complained. “I listened to all those messages at your Feast of Tabernacles. Some of it makes sense, but others do not.”
“Have you asked Saba? You and he seem to be able to talk about faith matters.”
“Alexander explains some things, but usually it is bedtime when I ask him questions, and there isn’t much time.”
“Why don’t you find Saba now and speak to him?” she suggested gently.
“I don’t like to trouble him.”
“If his bedchamber door is open, anyone can go in and talk to him.”
Giving her a tremulous smile he went indoors.
Naomi walked over to Alexander, took his arm and led him to John’s bench. Sitting down with him, she said quietly “You have nothing to berate yourself about. When you have news to share, we will be happy for you. Jason will be alright.”
“I don’t know why I didn’t say something to him. Then again, when we go to bed he usually has some question about what we believe. He worries that he doesn’t fit in because he hasn’t understood our faith.”
“He will, in time,” then she asked, “Have you considered what will happen to Jason if you and Rhoda marry?”
“I need to talk to her, but I had supposed that he would make his home with us until he wants to marry.”
“That will be a long time off, Alexander. Consider it carefully and talk to Rhoda about it. It takes more than a wedding week to adjust to marriage. The first few months, the first year, can be a challenge for both husband and wife.”
“But what else can I do? He doesn’t want anything to do with our father. Besides, I didn’t mention it before but our father didn’t want Jason living there because he was marrying again. He said it wasn’t fair to his new wife... “He paused. “Oh. I see. That’s what you were talking about.”
“Yes. That is what I mean. Jason is welcome to stay here. I could say he’s like you were, but the likeness is only in some ways. He seems much more vulnerable that you were. Was he unhappy with your uncle?”
“He’s only said a couple of things… I have gathered there was some difficulty with his cousins. I guess when he’s ready he will tell me, but at the moment, it seems he doesn’t entirely trust any of us.”
Naomi looked baffled. “We haven’t done anything to make him feel that way, have we?”
“No. No, Naomi. What I mean is that he keeps coming back to the fact that he doesn’t understand our faith. He thinks that if he doesn’t accept it, he will be made to leave.”
“I think it might be useful if Samuel speaks to him at the shop. There might be a time when they are on their own and Samuel can assure him that we accept him as he is. He isn’t behaving in a way that we disapprove of. In fact, he is very helpful, and he sat through every one of our meetings at the Feast. That shows he wants to understand.”
John looked up when he noticed the movement in his chamber doorway. “What is troubling you, Jason?” He could see by the way the lad slouched he was feeling thoroughly miserable.
Looking from John to Benjamin, despondently Jason muttered, “You’re busy,” and, wishing he had never gone near John’s room, turned to go.
“Come in,” John instructed. “Benjamin and I can take a break.
Benjamin wiped his pen and put the stopper on the ink. “Would you like me to go, Jason?”
“You don’t need to go,” Jason said softly, as if fearing rejection. “I’ve just been trying to understand all you have been talking about lately... about living here... about feeding thousands of people with a few fish and barley loaves. Then recently, I’ve heard you mention this Jesus person, saying he was the Passover Lamb.”
“Do we make you uncomfortable by the way we talk, how we live?” John asked.
“No, it's not that. I just worry that I don’t understand. How could someone do all you say He did?” Sighing, he looked at the floor, embarrassed at his lack of understanding and muttered, “And how can a person be a lamb?”
“You want to know?”
“Yes. I would like to hear what it means.”
“Do you know anything about the Jewish festivals?”
“Jewish? I thought you were different from the Jews.”
“We are in some ways. However, that is too big a subject to go into at this hour. But this might help you understand a little... God gave the commands to Moses for all His people, not just some of His people.”
“I’ve never heard of Moses, either,” Jason said, defeated.
“I’ll let Benjamin explain,” John said, indicating to Benjamin to take over. He was interested in seeing how his great-grandson would explain.
“It started many centuries ago, Jason. The Hebrew nation was in slavery and God sent a redeemer for them. One day you might like to hear the whole story. For now, I’ll just tell you a few facts. Moses was that person God sent. When he led the people out of Egypt and their captivity, there were twelve tribes. Judah, from whom the Jews come, was one of those tribes. This was also the tribe that our Savior came from.”
“Then why are you different? Why aren’t you Jews?”
Alexander, looking for his brother, paused in the doorway uncertainly.
“Come in Alexander,” John said, then realized he should ask the lad. Jason was not used to the way the brethren gathered together to discuss matters. “Do you mind, Jason?”
Unused to being consulted about his wishes, Jason gave a half smile and replied, “It’s alright for my brother to come in.”
Alexander sighed with relief.
“Have you told Jason anything about Jesus?” John asked Alexander.
Before he could reply, Jason spoke, “He told me God wasn’t fair...”
“I did,” Alexander agreed, “but do you remember the reason I gave you?”
“You said that if He was fair, He would punish us for our sins. Instead, He sent His Son.”
John nodded approvingly.
“To understand better, let me explain about the very first Passover,” Benjamin said, taking up the story. “While the people were still slaves in Egypt, God gave Moses instructions for the people to do, so that the angel of death would pass over the homes of the Hebrews.” He quoted, “‘Tell the whole community of Israel, that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household.’ This was four days before they had to kill the lamb.”
“So the men had to go and select a lamb,” John said, wishing to make a point.
“As I have copied recently,” Benjamin said, “‘And when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the crowds that had come to Jerusalem for the Feast took palm branches and went to meet Him...’”
Why?” Jason asked.
“They expected a king and called to Him, ‘Hosanna’, which means ‘save now’,” Alexander replied.
“Jesus, by riding a donkey was saying, ‘Yes, I am your king but I am not coming to make war,” John explained.
“I don’t understand,” Jason admitted.
“When a king was coming in peace he rode on a donkey... a common carrier of royalty... showing peaceful intent. Jesus made a statement by riding the donkey. If He had wanted to make war He would have ridden a horse, like the Roman conquerors.”
“The day Jesus rode into Jerusalem was the tenth day of Nisan, the day that God had instructed His people to choose their Passover lamb,” John pointed out.
“The same day the Hebrews in Egypt were to select the lambs for the Passover sacrifice,” Alexander explained.
“The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect ... Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community must slaughter them at twilight.” Benjamin quoted, then pointed out, “The lambs lived with the family in those four days.”
“Jesus was in Jerusalem for four days,” added Alexander.
“Yes... and that would be another long explanation because a lot happened in those four days. Will this explanation do for the moment, Jason?” John asked gently. Tonight’s interlude had taken away some of the raw hurt he felt about his cousin’s death. It was always easier to explain to the flock than to ponder on it.
“Yes,” Jason replied, “Thank you for telling me. I would like to hear more another time though.”
“Come on, little brother, we will be up early, as usual,” Alexander said, pleased to see Jason appeared be more at peace. “Time for bed,” and with that, the brothers left John’s chamber.
“I should go too, Saba,” Benjamin realized, then with a wry smile, added, “It did not work out, finding time to move the desk... perhaps tomorrow.”
“Things do not always work out as we would like. Reassuring Jason was more necessary than moving furniture. Perhaps tomorrow, yes. I will appreciate if we make more space when we can. For the moment, we will continue the writing in the morning, God permitting.”
Silence settled over the house, prayers were said privately, and everyone went to bed hoping for a peaceful day on the morrow.