The governor’s palace – Ephesus
Titus Calpernus, commander of the Roman troops in the province of Asia Minor, marched smartly across the tiles of the audience chamber into the presence of Maximus Vinius Secundus. He gave the governor a formal Roman salute. “You sent for me, your Excellency.”
“Yes, Calpernus, I did,” replied Secundus, lying indolently on his couch. Waving away the scantily clad serving women surrounding him, he asked the commander, “Wine?”
“No, Excellency. Thank you. I still have reports to receive and to record.” He could never enter the governor’s palace without remembering his former second-in-command, Publius, and the soldier who betrayed him and paid the price, Petranus.
Suddenly rising, Secundus startled his garrison commander. Calpernus reminded himself the governor trained every day with the gladiators at a lanista he sponsored.
“I have been thinking of the visit we had from the Emperor’s guards,” the governor of the province replied. He wanted more than anything to leave this outpost of the Empire and return to Rome, to civilization. Putting an end to the sect the Emperor hated, would almost guarantee his promotion back to Rome.
“Excellency, they would not have had time to return to Rome, they only left fourteen, sixteen, days ago.”
“We are talking about the Emperor’s special messengers! They would have traveled by fast ship and had fresh horses at every stopping point.”
“Excellency.” Calpernus bowed his head. When would he remember this man did not like to be corrected? And that is how he would have seen the comment.
“That is not what I wanted to speak with you about. You have taken me off on a distraction.”
Straightening up and bowing from the waist, Calpernus said firmly, “My apologies, your Excellency.”
“Titus Calpernus, you know as well as I of our Emperor’s increasing rage against those belonging to the sect of Christians.” He spat the last word out in a way that left his opinion of the troublesome group in no doubt.
Calpernus wondered if it was safe to remind the capricious-natured governor of the outcome of the recent attempt to make the leader of the sect recognize the Emperor as lord and god.
He decided to wait and see what the governor wanted.
“Have you been watching his movements?”
There was no need to ask to whom the governor was referring. The old man, a leader of the sect, both fascinated and, in an odd way, intimidated the governor.
Inclining his head, Calpernus replied, “Yes, Excellency. My soldiers have been following him. He has traveled each day.” Privately he was amazed at the ability of the old man, a very old man, to go to so many parts of the city.
“I am aware he has been traveling around the city.”
Calpernus had raised his eyebrows before he had a chance to hide his surprise.
“I have spies.” In his position, he needed to know what was happening in the province, in the city, and with the soldiers.
Calpernus explained, “My soldiers had orders to watch from a distance, not to interfere unless there were signs of trouble.”
“And how would they have known if he was plotting an uprising?”
“With respect, your Excellency, it is the Jewish Feast of Booths. That group keeps the same days.”
“They call it the Feast of Tabernacles,” Secundus corrected.
Calpernus bowed his head. He was not about to correct the governor. As far as he knew, they were the same thing. Both ‘booths’ and ‘tabernacles’ meant the same thing, temporary dwellings.
“Were any of your soldiers able to attend these meetings?”
“My spies were.”
“They have heard nothing seditious so far. Some tales, highly exaggerated no doubt, about the man they call their messiah.”
“Your nephew, Crispus, spoke of such a person when he spied on that meeting before we arrested the old man.” His thoughts went on, ‘and we know how disastrously that turned out.’
“The spy I sent to a meeting today has not yet returned. The man is very skilled in detecting if people are talking in some sort of code.”
How could he compliment the governor without seeming to treat him as a child? He chose the safe choice. “I would not have thought that they could be talking in code.”
“That is why I am governor and you the garrison commander.”
More than just the garrison commander, Calpernus mentally corrected. He was responsible for keeping the peace in the whole province. To point that out would not be wise, so he bowed his head, and for good measure, gave the governor another salute.
Smiling, Secundus commanded, “I want you to intercept the old man and arrest him. He has made it clear everywhere he goes, that he is returning to his home here in Ephesus today.”
“Excellency, we have no reason to arrest him again.”
“Excellency, I hesitate to remind you, but my men were unable to make him comply when we imprisoned him just a few weeks ago.”
Turning his back on Calpernus, the governor bent over the table beside his couch and refilled his goblet with wine. He needed time to think. He could hardly say that he wanted to gain the Emperor’s favor by being the one to make the old man capitulate.
A servant girl hurried in with another jug of wine, and Calpernus noted it. So although no one was in sight, the room was being watched. The girl took the almost empty jug and replaced it with the new.
Secundus caught one of her filmy garments, and Calpernus tried to look elsewhere as she giggled and pretended shock as it came away in the governor’s hand.
As she ran from the room, Secundus turned back to the Roman commander. “The old man must be tired, traveling around those different groups, probably not sleeping much. It might be that you shall succeed.”
Calpernus noticed the phrase ‘you shall succeed’. Such was the lot of the commander of a Roman province, and he did not want to end up stuck on someone’s gladius. Involuntarily, his hand went to his weapon. Pointless. His gladius had been removed. His own orders had issued the decree after two of his men had been executed here. It was something he preferred not to think about.
“Excellency, your nephew has taken some troops to Pergamum. At this time of year there is always trouble in that city.”
“Our numbers are depleted.”
Remembering the embarrassing, failed attempt to force the sect leader to make the act of worship, Secundus had wanted his nephew out of the way. He had made sure Crispus was put in charge of the soldiers who were sent to Pergamum. “I believe you have an ambitious young officer, Primus Vitalles.”
Calpernus could not hide the smile that sprung to his lips. “A man to whom both your nephew and I should pay attention. He wants to live up to his name Primus.” Too late, he realized that by pointing out the meaning of the man’s name, he also pointed out the governor’s name. He squirmed inwardly.
Secundus scowled at the garrison commander but chose to overlook a comment that on another occasion, he might have lost his temper over. “Then he is the ideal man for this. He has something to prove.” He hooded his eyes and hid a smile at Calpernus’ discomfort. He knew perfectly well what was happening in the garrison.
“This old man, the leader here, he undertook to be indoors by sunset. The soldier assigned to watch him this morning reported he was going to hold an extra meeting this afternoon.”
“You have no one watching him now?”
“I have, Excellency. He will follow him back to Ephesus, then come and report to me.”
“You have heard of no change? You are sure he is coming back here?”
Calpernus closed his eyes on yet another example of the governor’s capriciousness. He, himself, had just said that his spies had heard the old man make it clear everywhere he went that he was returning to Ephesus today.
“Do not make me repeat myself, answer the question.”
“I am sure he is returning today, Excellency. The soldier who watched this morning was not in the uniform of a Roman soldier, he mixed with the crowd after the meeting. The people were excited because the old man promised an extra meeting before he returned to Ephesus.”
Maximus Vinius Secundus pursed his lips and stared at Calpernus through narrowed eyes. If the soldier had been able to mix with the crowd, surely he could have attended the meeting.
The veteran commander guessed what the governor was thinking, but knew that none of his soldiers would be able to pass as one of these ‘Christians’.
“So the old man is returning to Ephesus after the meeting?”
“Yes, Excellency, but he is traveling by donkey cart. My newest recruit can march faster. Besides, unless it is a very short meeting, it is unlikely the old man will make it back to Ephesus in time. So, he will have broken his word. That will trouble him, and it will also provide a valid reason to arrest him again.”
“Then go set it in motion.”
Calpernus bowed, saluted the governor, turned on his heel, and left the room gratefully.
John’s family home in Ephesus
With the meeting room back in order and most of the brethren gone, Naomi sat in the peristyle with Samuel. “I have to admit this festival has been better than I feared.”
“You worry too much, Naomi.”
“Sometimes,” she admitted.
“Goodbye, Naomi, Samuel. We will be back early to help,” Miriam said as she shepherded her sons up the path.
Malachi, the oldest boy, turned toward Jason and Adam who had followed them out of the house, and smiled, “I will come in the morning and help with setting up, Jason.”
Still shy with people he barely knew, Jason raised his hand in acknowledgment.
“Thank you,” both Naomi and Samuel responded.
“It is easy for us. Because we live nearby we can come early and leave after the others have gone, and help to clean.”
As she watched them hurry up the path to the gate, Naomi realized time was rushing toward sunset, and began to wonder why her grandfather was not yet home. “I wonder if something has gone wrong. All the meetings were to take place in the morning to allow Saba to travel safely before sunset.”
“That was what we planned,” Samuel agreed.
“Then he should have been home by now.”
“Naomi, you always concern yourself too much with Saba’s safety. He is in God’s hands.”
“I know, but look how determined the Romans are to make him do what they want. Strike the head...”
“Our Lord is the Head.”
“Yes, I know. I also know how people feel. Saba is the only direct link we have with our Messiah.”
“And don’t you think our Father knows that?” Samuel grinned.
Jason looked embarrassed and Adam stifled a chuckle.
As usual, Samuel’s comment fell on deaf ears. It was one area where she allowed her feelings to overrule her faith.
“Naomi, you must overcome your fears. You are a very competent, caring woman. You are well-organized and capable... till it comes to your family seeming to be threatened. Seeming to be threatened.” Samuel emphasized. “We do not know that anything has gone wrong.”
“He and Benjamin could have been arrested.”
“Any number of matters could have delayed him. Perhaps he has decided to stay one more night, and a messenger will arrive any time now.”
“No Samuel. Saba gave his word to come home today. He will not break his word, not willingly.”
“You are correct, Naomi. Saba would not break his word so he will be home... before sunset.”
“But look how low the sun is in the sky.”
“It has some time to go yet,” he replied. “From here in the peristyle we cannot see properly, the house and the garden walls protect us.”
“How long should it take to return from that outlying village he insisted on visiting?”
“Bartholomew walked in from there to our elders’ meeting. When we planned his travels during the Feast, we made sure there was ample time for him to return before sunset.”
“He knows how important it is that he returns before sunset,” Naomi continued her fretting.
“No one more than he, since he was the one who gave his word to the Romans.”
“I will go to meet him,” Chloe’s youngest son, Adam said, addressing Samuel. Young as he was, he realized there would be no solution that would satisfy his mother’s best friend until Saba arrived home.
While Samuel was considering what he could say, what warning he could give the young man without confirming his wife’s concern about the rapidly waning day, Adam spoke again.
“I should be leaving anyway, I too need to be home by sunset. I promised my mother I would not be late.” Turning to Naomi he said politely, “Thank you for allowing me to visit and attend with your group today. I wanted to see Jason again.” It had been at Alexander’s suggestion he had come, knowing that Jason would be ill-at-ease.
Samuel looked at Adam, awed by the way that God worked things out. Jason had responded to Adam’s friendliness from their first meeting at Chloe’s home. Forgetting that Jason was a little perturbed about his brother going to help Chloe’s group, Samuel asked, “Will Alexander stay with your family’s group tomorrow?”
Jason frowned and stared at the ground. His brother’s decision to leave him here and go to Chloe’s group had hurt him.
Samuel noticed the young man’s dejection and regretted his question.
“No,” Adam replied. “My father and brother should both be home tomorrow. Between us, we can dismantle the booths.”
“It is a pity they were both called to that accident...” Samuel’s voice tailed off, the accident was the result of a fight between pagans, and he did not want to remind Naomi.
But Naomi never forgot anything that might threaten her family, or the brethren. “It is a pity the pagans do not have their own doctors.”
“They do, but they did not have the skill, and there were too many people hurt.”
“But during our Feast, and both Phillip and Abraham...”
“Phillip is a skilled doctor, Abraham has learned much from his father. Surely you would not have them behave like the priest and the Levite in the story Saba related?”
“The one our Savior told? How both passed by an injured man because they did not want to be ‘unclean’?” Adam asked.
“Yes, Adam. That is the one Saba told,” Naomi replied, a sharp edge to her voice.
Samuel took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Although the story illustrated why it was right for Chloe’s husband and her son to help heal the injured, it would also brought to mind her grandfather’s continuing absence.
“Well, yes, I can see that.” Naomi admitted. “We are to render aid... but look, the sky is a bit darker and Saba is not yet home.”
“He has probably been held up talking to people; you know how many people want to speak to him,” Samuel assured his wife.
“Yes, I know that, and I also know the Romans have been watching our people lately. And yes, Samuel, I know there has been no trouble, but several of our brethren have reported seeing the soldiers watching them.” Naomi raised her hand to still a protest. “Besides,” she repeated, “He gave his word there would be no large public meetings, and as you have just said… that he would be indoors before sunset. He cannot afford to break his word to them.”
“You know as well as I do, that your grandfather would be more concerned about God knowing he had not kept his word, than the Romans.”
“I will go with Adam,” said Jason. He did not want to hear any more of this. His father had predicted trouble if he stayed with the family. Alexander had been away overnight, leaving him alone in a booth on the roof. Now the woman, who had been so kind to his mother, was fearful of what might have happened to two of her family.
The young men hurried away.
“Jason, you too must be back by sunset,” Naomi called after the young men as they hastened toward the garden gate.
“It is rewarding to see the friendship develop between those two,” Samuel said, looking after the pair.
“Considering young Jason is still rather nervous because of all his father said about us, yes, it is rewarding.”
“He has been anxious with Alexander gone. I think he was hoping that Alexander would be home by tonight.”
“Hmm. This has been a very strange Feast of Tabernacles. Small groups in homes, no large meetings, Saba traveling around the different groups in the city... and he should have been home by now.”
“It is God’s festival.”
“I know...” Anxiously, she turned and looked toward the gate.
“Try not to worry, Benjamin is with Saba.”
Naomi’s look said it for her... ‘Benjamin was with him the last time he was arrested at the end of the Feast of Trumpets.’
To distract her, Samuel said, “Alexander seems to have been talking a lot with Rhoda.”
“I had noticed,” Naomi replied, “but either Lois or I are close by.”
“Naomi, I was not criticizing, I was merely saying what I had noticed... and I confess, wondering if something might be developing there. He is in his mid-thirties, and in a position to support a wife and family.”
“He was eight years old when he came to us; Benjamin was about two years old, wasn’t he?” Naomi mused.
Samuel smiled. He had succeeded in distracting her. “Yes, he was, and our son turned twenty-eight years of age this year.”
“So, that means Alexander has lived with us for twenty... twenty-six years.”
“Is it that long?” Samuel asked, keeping her thoughts occupied.
“A bit more than that and he passed the anniversary of his birthday just after the Feast of Weeks,” Naomi replied.
“I think Alexander and the neighbor’s daughter, Iris, might have been attracted to each other at one time.”
“I thought so too. Especially when she was helping with Agnes. But I could not help noticing the way Alexander and she avoided each other,” Naomi observed.
“She was like his parents though, believing there is no God.”
“She knew of Alexander’s beliefs, so...” Naomi stopped. “I see what you are doing.”
“Well, at least you have relaxed. Remember what I said, we are all in God’s hands and that includes your grandfather.”
“I know.” She smiled gently at Samuel, “Thank you. Now I should go and see what Lois and Rhoda are making for our meal. They chased me out of the kitchen earlier, but I think I will go and see if they need any help.”
With his wife out of the way, Samuel turned his thoughts to Alexander. Did he intend to return tomorrow? He remembered now that Jason was feeling rejected because of his brother’s decision to go to the other group. Because the father’s dire warnings about being with them was still troubling Jason, he and Naomi had decided not to tell him why it was important for Alexander to go to Chloe’s group. In case of trouble with the Romans, each group needed to have a man with them.
Persis, who had been praying in her booth, appeared beside him. “Is Saba back?”
“No, and Naomi is concerned.”
“I am sure she would be, but she needs to remember that God is in charge of all things concerning His children.”
Samuel laughed. “Persis, I tell her that regularly.” Then looking at the wise old lady, he said, “I think her concern is that she might not be able to cope with what God allows.”
“If we were to be honest, most of us would admit to having that concern... even you, Samuel.”
“And you, Persis? You are so loved by all the brethren, even your neighbors...”
“I no longer worry about myself, but I do say many prayers for my children and their families.”
He wished he could be as at peace as she was. “They are well?”
“They are.” Then looking around, she asked, “Where are the two young men?”
“They have gone to meet Saba.”