“We need to look at training someone to replace you, Lois,” Naomi said as they prepared the midday meal.
Lois blushed and said, “It won’t be for a while yet.”
Nervous, and embarrassed, she had been reassured when Giannis had arrived with Matthew and had smiled at her. Her heart had raced at the reassurance in his smile. Then he had followed it up with words.
“I hope to talk to Samuel about our plans,” he had said before going upstairs with Benjamin.
“Lois?” Naomi prompted, seeing she was not paying attention.
“Yes, sorry Naomi. You were saying you wanted to train someone to replace me, and I said it would not be for a while yet. Did you say anything after that?”
“No, I had not said anything more. I could see you were thinking of other things.”
Lois blushed and hung her head. “I think it will not be for a while,” she repeated.
“But your replacement will have a lot to learn.” Naomi sighed, “I will miss you so much, you are like a daughter to me... yet at the same time I am happy for you. Giannis will treasure you as we do.”
Embarrassed but pleased, Lois wiped away a tear before saying, “What about Alexa? She seems to be doing well today and has helped us on a few occasions.”
Coming back after taking a jug of watered wine into the meeting room, the girl in question remarked, “There are a lot of men meeting here today.”
Naomi held her breath, trying to calm her feeling of alarm.
Lois stepped into the breach and replied “It is Saturnalia. All the men are on holiday.”
Alexa smiled and asked, “Is there anything else you want me to do?”
Naomi would have said, “No” and sent her on her way, worried that she was a spy for the Romans.
Lois, sensing Naomi’s rising panic, intervened, “If you grind the grain for us, you can leave when it is done.”
“Oh no, I thought I was to work all day,” Alexa said, worried about losing wages.
“You have done all we asked for, working quickly. When the grain is ground, you will have earned a day’s wages, Naomi assured the girl. Taking a deep breath she left the indoor kitchen and went into the cooking area of the courtyard and began preparing the ingredients for the broth.
After seeing that the girl was working steadily, doing as she had been told, Lois went in search of Naomi.
“See what I mean?” Naomi said shakily. “Replacing you will not be so easy. How can we trust these girls?”
“Ask among the brethren,” Lois answered sensibly, as she reached for the bowls to mix the bread they would need. Having the men home all day, plus the extra people for whatever Samuel and John were planning, meant more cooking.
Naomi put her knife down, reached out and hugged Lois, “You have been such a blessing to me; you still are, and I will miss you so much.”
Both had tears in their eyes when Naomi released Lois.
“You took me in when I was young and in great need. I will always be grateful to you, and praise God for you… and those special people who rescued me and brought me to you.”
“I remember,” Naomi mused.
“There might be another young girl you could train. Not abused, as I was, but there are few good positions for members of the fellowship. Someone would appreciate working for you.”
“I would need someone to live in, as you do. Rhoda would have been good, but it seems that she will marry Alexander quite soon.”
“Did he find the courage to talk to her parents?”
“Yes, he did. They have yet to work out the details. There was his young brother’s circumstances to consider. Samuel told me last night that Jason has said that he will stay here.”
“So that means that Alexander’s plan to buy a house near Rhoda’s parents can proceed.”
“Yes, and I am sure it will be for their good.”
“You always told me that God brings good out of every situation, no matter how bad it seems to us.”
Naomi looked at her quizzically, wondering what she meant.
Lois explained, “All those years that Rhoda was maidservant to young Deborah, Rhoda only saw her parents on Sabbaths, and even then, she had to spend her time with Deborah. She did not know how ill her mother had been, or how frail she had become.”
“And her parents would not let any of us tell her.”
“So although she lost her job when Silas married his daughter off to that false minister, and they all left our fellowship, Rhoda went home...”
“And was able to support her parents.” Naomi thought of the other consequences of Silas’ decision, the consequences her son had suffered. But that too had worked out, although his response had frightened her for a while.
“Alexander knows what it is like to have a mother who is not well, so he is understanding,” Lois said thoughtfully.
“He is finding out about a suitable home near to them.”
“Samuel said that Alexander hopes to have everything arranged so that they can marry before Passover.”
Naomi glanced at Lois, who would soon be in the same position, “Neither Alexander nor Rhoda are young; they have none of the ‘traditional’ preparations to make… and once a suitable house is found...”
“It will seem very strange when Alexander no longer lives here.”
“You will soon follow. Giannis will need to make further preparations, and prove to Samuel that he can support you. But he told Samuel yesterday that he is going to start looking for a home and workshop after these days of Saturnalia are over.”
“Which brings us back to the matter of finding a replacement for me.”
“There is no point having a young girl live here, she will only want to marry.”
Thinking for a moment Lois said, “Probably not wise to have a young girl move in. You have an unmarried son, and you say that Jason will stay with you and Samuel.”
“It might give the appearance of evil,” Naomi said.
“Then you need to look for a younger widow, or older unmarried woman,” Lois suggested. “Perhaps there is someone in one of the other fellowships who wouldn’t mind coming here.”
The broth bubbling, the dough mixed for the bread, Naomi pushed the pot to the cooler side of the cooker. The women walked back to the kitchen, the matter at least partly resolved in their minds.
Giannis was in John’s bedchamber with Benjamin, looking at all the work that had been written since he had left Ephesus a little over three months ago.
“You have no idea how exciting it is to be here again, and looking at these words,” Giannis said enthusiastically.
“I would have thought you had more reason to be excited,” Benjamin smiled.
Straightening up, Giannis’ cheeks colored slightly, “Well, yes... but this is different. Your great-grandfather has written the words of our Savior. And look at this,” he carefully moved the parchment pages. “Here... where he says that Jesus entered the city on Nisan 10, the day the lambs for the Passover had to be chosen.”
“You see the significance?”
Nodding excitedly, Giannis continued, “When the people hailed Him they called ‘save now’... that is what Hosanna means, is it not?”
“Yes. In a sense, they were choosing Him as the Passover Lamb although they didn’t know it.”
Giannis nodded, pleased he had understood correctly.
“The Passover lamb sacrifice was a type and shadow of the true Passover Lamb, so what the type pre-figured would be fulfilled exactly,” Benjamin told him.
John, who had come up to his room when the men had taken a break to think and pray about their decisions, paused outside his door, giving thanks to God. The truth would be safe. His great-grandson was passing it on accurately and the man who was listening understood!
Singing a psalm, he entered the room, and the two men turned to greet him. “Giannis, Matthew tells me you have a specially-made garment that you used to carry a great deal of money.”
“Yes, Saba. A seamstress in my hometown made it for me.”
“I need to transfer money belonging to the fellowship of the Way from here to Matthew’s keeping. Tithes and offerings have been stored here, but this is changing. Income from the shop, our personal savings… all need to be moved. Although Benjamin and I also have such garments, and we have begun the process, I suspect your garment would carry more. Would you be willing to wear it again, to help us transfer the last of money?”
“Of course. Shall I go fetch it now?”
“You might ask Matthew if Ednah will be home. If she is, then yes, it would be appreciated.”
“I’ll do that now.”
“If you do go now, would you please take this bundle of parchment,” John asked, his hand resting on it.
“Is that for Matthew, too?”
“Yes. It is a copy of some of the writing. We are having to be careful and take the pages out a small number at a time.”
“I didn’t notice any Roman soldiers when Matthew and I came here this morning.”
“I know. That is something that concerns me. It seems as if they are leaving us in peace... but I think it is to lull us into a false sense of security. They will come for me, and when they do, want nothing for them to find. They must not destroy these records of God’s words, or appropriate any of the money to do with Samuel’s business, nor that which belongs to the fellowship.”
Giannis would have stood and talked longer, trying to find out what had happened since he had left, but he was aware that John wanted the money moved as soon as possible.
Benjamin wanted to talk with his great-grandfather about these statements he had started making, but there was so much going on, it was not possible.
Giannis went to check with Matthew whether Ednah was home, Benjamin turned to John, “What about all the scrolls in your storeroom? Will they also be moved?”
“That is one of the matters we are trying to work out. Most of our discussions have been on what to do, who to use, and how to safely send the copies to other fellowships. Until then we need a safe place for them. All the elders are too well known to the Romans, and although Matthew seems to have escaped their attention, it is not safe to put everything in his care.”
“They probably know most of the members of the fellowships,” Benjamin said thoughtfully.
“They probably do, but they won’t think the ordinary member would have important documents. We need a storeroom or a shop somewhere...”
“I could rent a shop, Saba. I could set myself up in the market as a scribe and when no one hires me, I can make copies of all the scrolls.”
“Thank you, my boy, but that wouldn’t work. You are known to the Romans. Not only are you my great-grandson, but you have twice argued with the soldiers when they arrested me.”
“What about Alexander then? He could rent a shop of his own...”
“He has lived in this home for years. He also is well-known.”
“Then who? It cannot be someone who doesn’t know the value of the knowledge in the writings, but all those who do know their value are probably people at whose homes we have had meetings.”
John studied him and said carefully, “Your father and I have been talking. We wondered about Giannis. He is buying a home and workshop. Matthew said there is a suitable property near him.”
“But Giannis is associated with us.”
“He has only just come back from Cyprus. If the purchase of the property goes through as quickly as he seems to want, he won’t be staying long with Matthew and Ednah.”
“Wouldn’t it arouse suspicion if he started building a storage room?”
“Benjamin think! Giannis has come here to set up his business. What would be more natural than for him to build what he needs to store his supplies, his tools, and the finished goods? He will probably need several storerooms.”
“When this storeroom is built, without coming here, how would he be able to move the scrolls?”
“Your father said he overheard Giannis tell Jason he could have some space in his workshop to set up a bench and have some space to experiment on making lamps.”
“Jason lives here.”
“He’s not one of our fellowship, at least not yet, and he is an industrious young worker. I am sure we could both trust Jason, and rely on him.”
“I agree, Saba.”
Jason, who had been passing the door smiled. He hadn’t heard what they were talking about but was pleased to hear what they had said about him.
“Then when Giannis comes back, we will put it to him and see if he agrees.”
“He would have wanted to help with the copying, and he will be sad not to be able to visit here and see Lois… and us,” Benjamin mused.
“We will meet on the Sabbath.”
“I suppose, to Roman eyes, he will be no different to many others who come to our meetings and live orderly lives.”
“Samuel has decided to consent to a betrothal. Giannis has shown his determination. He will have a home in a few weeks at the most. When he has his business working, he will be able to save and provide for Lois,” John told Benjamin as they stacked up the parchment.
“I’d better go to work making the copy of your new writing then. You will want at least one complete copy to send for the other fellowships to copy from.”
Nodding approvingly, John said, “And I need to spend some time in the prayer room before I rejoin the others and continue our meeting.”
Stretching his muscles before he sat down at the scribe’s desk, Benjamin watched his great-grandfather go. He couldn’t imagine life without him. Yet, as Paul the Apostle had written, ‘It is appointed for men once to die...’ Difficult as it was to imagine, he knew that his great-grandfather was a man, and would die. Sometimes people speculated that because he had lived so long, he would not die before the Messiah returned. But from his conversations with him, Benjamin knew his great-grandfather expected to die physically. This new talk of being taken to the emperor worried him, and he wondered what Saba would say to prepare the women.
“Is Saba in here?” Jason asked, coming partly into the room.
“No, Jason. He went to the prayer room before going back to the meeting with the men.”
“Oh,” he said, then left before Benjamin could say any more.
Fetching what he needed - ink, pens, and fresh parchment Benjamin sat down, moving the sheets he needed to copy to the side in order to have more room to work. He understood the need to finish before all the scrolls were removed from the storeroom downstairs, but it was a lot of work. It was a pity that Giannis would not be able to help.
Jason came back into the room. “I met Saba, and he said that I could help you.”
“I had forgotten that you can write... but do you know how important it is that the words are copied exactly?”
“Yes, I do, and I would like to do something. Everyone is busy, and I miss being at work with your father and my brother.”
“Where is Alexander?”
“He went to talk with Rhoda and her parents.”
“Are you settled about their marriage... and you staying here?”
“Yes, Benjamin. I am now.”
Standing up, Benjamin said, “It is a pity that we did not have time to restore the upper room. There would have been a lot more space for us both to work.”
Jason surveyed John’s bedroom. “What are those scrolls up on that high shelf?”
“They are the ones I have already copied from. They need to be taken from here, but as yet we have not made arrangements.”
“And what about the copies? What are you doing with them?”
Benjamin studied him carefully. They were all sure they could trust him, but it was not good for someone who was not part of the family, to have too much information. “They are sent to other fellowships. Now, if you truly do want to help, let me make a space on that table and you can start copying this scroll.”
“Is it about the one you call ‘savior’?”
“No, although it is…” he had been going to say ‘a prophecy about Him’, but changed his mind. It would lead to more questions. “Jason, we need to work, not talk, so let me help you set up. It is important they are done as soon as possible, but do not rush. Copy the words exactly. If there is anything that puzzles you, ask me. But if it is about what something means, wait until we have finished, then we can talk.”
Sorting through the remaining scrolls, Benjamin chose the small one, a copy of what had been written by Obadiah.
Jason cleared a space, set up some parchment, took the ink, pen, water and cloth, and said, “I am ready.”
“We need to unroll the scroll and fix it in place,” Benjamin said, impressed that Jason really did seem to know what he was doing. Returning to the scribe’s desk, he opened it carefully, not wanting to disturb his own work, and found some stone weights. “Here, these will anchor the scroll,” he said and fixed the scroll in position for Jason.
“Thank you,” Jason said, then bent his head over the work.
Settling himself back at the scribe’s desk, Benjamin watched Jason for a while. When he realized that the lad did seem to know what he was doing, he found the place in his own work where he had left off and started copying again.
Saba had written, “But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: ‘Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’
As he carefully copied the words Saba had written, Benjamin was saddened to read… ‘Even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they didn’t admit it in case they were put out of the synagogue.’ He remembered discussing it with him. But seeing it again, he thought the most distressing part so far was… ‘for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.’
He and Jason worked on in silence, focused on their tasks. Benjamin had a lot to copy before he would catch up with Saba’s last writing.
Stretching his long legs, Benjamin shifted on the chair and his stomach rumbled. Realizing he hadn’t eaten since breaking his fast early in the morning, he put the stopper on the ink, cleaned the pen and set the pages aside in order.
“Time to stop, Jason. I am hungry, are you?” He left the page he had written last on the desk to dry.
Jason nodded and cleaned his pen.
Companionably, the pair left the room and went downstairs in search of sustenance.