“Tired, little brother?”
“A little, and it sounds as though we need to start work at dawn.”
“Then it is time we retreated to our booth for our last night in there during this Feast.”
“By this time of the Festival, everyone feels tired,” John chuckled.
“If no one wants any more to eat, then we shall remove everything,” Naomi said, looking around the table.
‘It would be foolish to overeat before going to bed,” Samuel said.
As Naomi and her helpers rose, John said, “Thank you for an excellent meal.”
“I am glad you were here to enjoy it,” then seeing the look on her husband’s face, she added, “all of you. It is good to share food and fellowship.”
John stood up, “Samuel, do you have time to hear my report?”
“Yes, of course. Shall we go to the small meeting room?”
“Benjamin, will you come too?” John asked. “And fetch some writing materials to record this.”
“Is there anything I can do to help?” Persis asked Naomi.
“No, please just rest. The men will be about early, making noise. Try to go to sleep.”
Persis watched thoughtfully as Naomi and the girls carried platters and bowls out of the room. She was concerned about Naomi. To others it might look as though she had recovered from her fear earlier, but not to her. She would take her concern to God, she decided, and made her way to her booth in the garden.
“You wanted to talk to me, Jason? I could see something was troubling you this evening.”
“Why did the soldiers arrest John?”
“Do you want the long answer or the short answer?” Alexander smiled as he unrolled his pallet ready to settle in his booth.
“I guess the short one, for now.”
“The Roman Emperor, Domitian, has declared himself to be ‘lord and god’. To us, there is only one Lord and God. So, Saba, all of us in fact, refuse to make the act of worship they demand.”
“Does that mean the same can happen to you?” Jason asked anxiously.
“Yes, little brother. All who refuse to acknowledge the emperor as ‘lord and god’ are liable to be arrested, imprisoned, or executed.”
“Would you refuse?”
“Yes, Jason, I would.”
Jason flopped down on his pallet, turning away from his brother.
“When God grants us understanding, we are responsible to live according to that understanding.”
“Don’t you care about me? If anything happens to you, I will have no one.”
“I do care about you, Jason, you are my brother and I love you.”
“But love for God comes before any earthly relationship.”
“It’s not fair... your god isn’t fair," Jason spat, a mixture of anger and hurt in his voice.
“No, He isn’t fair,” Alexander replied, astonishing his young brother.
“If God were fair, He would punish us for our wrongdoing. He would not have sent His Son to die for our sins.” He left Jason to consider his words.
After a long space, Jason said, “I haven’t sinned. I don’t steal, I don’t lie...”
“Jason, how do you feel about our Abba?”
“I hate him. He doesn’t want us, and I don’t want to speak to him ever again.”
“If he came to Samuel’s shop, or here to this home, and asked to talk to you, would you go and listen to what he had to say?”
“No. I would hide. I don’t want him anywhere near me.”
“Then you are sinning. One of the commandments of God is that we honor our father and mother...”
“But he doesn’t deserve...”
“Oh, Jason, His commandment doesn’t mean ‘honor your father and mother’ if they are worthy of honor. Our parents gave us life; God wants us to honor them. Our only reason to ever disobey them is if they tell us to do something that is against God’s law.”
“Sounds complicated,” Jason muttered grumpily.
“I remember thinking the same thing, but now, living it is quite simple for me.”
“Would you honor our Abba?”
“I have done. I was as angry as you about what he did, but when I left the house the time we went there before the Feast, I wished him well.”
“If you were arrested, what would happen to me?”
“Samuel and Naomi would look after you.”
“Even if I don’t join their fellowship?”
“There would be rules, the same ones as you are keeping now, but they don’t force people to join the fellowship. God chooses the people He wants.”
“How do you know if someone is chosen?”
“Jason, do you want to talk all night or can you just trust...”
“I just wondered, because when Samuel was talking the other day he said God wants His people to seek holiness, and that it is a way of life. I suppose that means being like he is... like you are. I have noticed this week that what you talk about you also do. You don’t pretend you like someone and then say nasty things about them when they aren’t there.” Jason was still raw from some of the hurts he had felt living with his uncle and his family. But he didn’t want to talk about it, not even to Alexander.
“You seem to understand very well, young brother.” Stretching out on his pallet, he said, “Now, let us settle and go to sleep. As well as our teaching tomorrow, the women will be making a lot of extra food so they don’t work on the Eighth day. And we have to take these temporary dwellings apart. Tomorrow night we sleep in our beds.”
Jason lay on his back staring through the branches at the night sky, thinking about all he had heard and wondering about his future.
Normally, the end of the day was the time Jason most liked... when his older brother explained things and answered his questions. Tonight, he was not so sure. He had not liked the answers he heard, and he figured what his brother had said was true... Not only because of what he had said about living according to his understanding, but also because he had seen for himself that Alexander’s loyalty was to these people. He had gone to help at Adam’s family meeting when he was needed.
“You are not sleeping,” Alexander said quietly.
“I missed you last night,” Jason choked back a sob.
“And I missed you, but I had to go. We will talk again tomorrow, but now I must sleep, it has been a long day.”
“Good night, Alexander.”
When Rhoda and Lois made their way to the booth they shared, Persis waited a few moments, before preparing to leave her booth. She had prayed, now she wanted to sit and think, and there was nowhere in the temporary dwelling she could do that.
“Good night, Lois.”
“Shhh,” was the reply. “Persis might be asleep.”
Persis was not about to tell them she was not. As she paused outside the entrance to her booth, she looked up at the sky. At this time of year, the moon always seemed brighter. She wondered if God had planned it that way, for this time of the year when the Holy Days came to a culmination. She looked around the garden. There was an oil lamp burning in the house. Otherwise it seemed she was the only one awake.
John’s bench beckoned her. It was unlikely that he would want to sit there now. Walking carefully, so she did not slip, she made her way along the path and sat down with a sigh. This time of year was special, and she had always enjoyed it, but nowadays her old bones objected to sleeping on a pallet on the ground.
After Rhoda and Lois had left, Naomi put the finishing touches to a stew she was making, and set it aside for tomorrow. Although the families brought something to eat and share for their noon meal, she wanted to provide something special for them. A hot meal would be a treat. She sighed. How she missed the Feasts they had enjoyed in the past. All of them in their booths outside the city, cooking together, their children playing together, young people meeting members of other fellowship groups...
Persis coughed, and covered her mouth, hoping she had not disturbed anyone.
Naomi heard the noise, doused the cooking fire, and went out to investigate. A lamp was on in the passage, but no one was there. She went back to the kitchen, snuffed the kitchen lamps and looked around to make sure nothing was still alight. All was well, so she made her way out to the peristyle and the outside stairs. She wondered if Samuel, Benjamin and Saba had finished talking. She would soon find out. If Samuel was not in their booth, he was still with Saba and Benjamin.
There was someone sitting on John’s bench. “Saba?” Naomi whispered and went toward the figure.
“It is me, Persis.”
“Are you alright?”
“Yes, my dear. I wanted to sit and think for a while.”
“I know. In a booth there is nowhere to sit. But are you comfortable enough?”
“Yes, it is very comfortable... but after five nights... my old bones are protesting.”
“Let me find you an extra pallet. You should have said something.”
“I will be fine Naomi, and it is only for tonight.”
“Are you sure?”
“I am.” Then patting the seat beside her, Persis said, “Sit for a moment, I have been praying for you.”
“We should settle for the night, it will be morning all too soon.”
“I will not keep you long.”
“Is something troubling you?”
“Yes, Naomi. You are troubling me.”
Naomi sat down with a thud. “Me? Have I upset you?”
“I am not sure how to say this without disturbing you, but I feel I must.”
Reaching out and taking Naomi’s hands, Persis said softly, “Your family love you very much, we all do. Whenever someone is in trouble, you are the first to offer help. When someone is sick, you use your skills with herbs...”
“I do not understand,” Naomi interrupted. “Why would telling me this upset me?”
“I am sorry, it is my poor way of reaching what I feel I need to say.”
“Persis, please just say whatever it is.”
“Your husband is concerned about you. Every time soldiers or Romans are mentioned, he looks apprehensively at you. Your fear of them has worsened in the last year...”
“They imprisoned Saba; they starved him, and the year before, when the new governor came how many of our people were sent to the lions!”
“You forget what you would have taught your son when he was taunted by the Jewish boys at the rabbi’s school. Pride prompt us to act like them.”
“I am not trying to act like them!”
“No, and that was an unfortunate example. But the way you feel about the Roman soldiers is becoming a root of bitterness in your life. You are in bondage to your fears.”
“Persis, you know what they did to my parents.” Naomi pulled her hands away.
“Yes, my dear, I do. My husband was injured in those riots, and yes, I know it was the soldiers who inflicted the wounds, not the pagans.”
They stared at each other. Naomi considered the far-reaching effect of a root of bitterness. She had tried, she had repented before.
“You had overcome those fears...”
“Till they started attacking Saba. Remember the time they broke all the bones in his hand to stop him writing, then more recently...”
Persis held her hands out to Naomi, hoping she would take them again.
Forlornly, Naomi took the old woman’s wrinkled hands. “I do not want to feel the way I do about them, but I do not trust them. Look what has happened to our Festival this year!”
“Do you think that God does not know? He commanded all these Holy Days, He knows what is happening.”
Naomi was lost for a response. She knew that, in her head, but another part of her mind told her she was not living her belief.
“Do you trust God?”
“Of course I do!”
“Except when it comes to your family.” Persis knew she was taking a risk, but having seen the state Naomi had been in earlier, and Samuel’s anxiety for her, she had prayed. Then had come this opportunity.
“But Saba is writing the story of our Messiah.”
“Who told him to write it?”
Naomi hung her head, and Persis saw that Saba was standing nearby. He shook his head and put his finger to his lips.
“One day God will take him,” Persis said softly.
“But not by the Romans!”
“Naomi, who are we to tell God how to rule His Kingdom?
Tears dropped on their clasped hands. “No, surely not. I would not presume...”
John walked forward, “But that is exactly what you are trying to do.”
John leaned over and kissed Persis’ head. “Go to bed, and rest. Thank you.”
Persis slipped her hands from Naomi’s loose grasp. “God bless you Naomi. And never forget He loves you.”
Naomi watched as the old woman made her way carefully back down the path, and into her booth.
“The moon is still high, she will see well enough,” John remarked.
“How long have you been there?” Naomi asked.
“Long enough to know that she is a very wise woman. Think on what she has said.”
“It just seems the threat from the Romans is increasing.”
“That may be true, and there may be worse to come, but will you lose your faith over them?”
“I hope not, oh Saba, I hope not.”
“Then consider our Savior. The Romans crucified Him.” As always when thinking of it, John’s voice broke. He took a moment to focus, then continued, ‘You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.’ Those were our Messiah’s words to the Roman governor. It is the same for us. Jesus said the Father would love us as He loved His Son. He also warned us we would have tribulation in the world…”
“What we believe is costly,” Naomi interrupted.
“Yes, Naomi. Remember, it cost the Father His Companion... for a while. It cost His Son a life of obedience without sinning, then it cost His life. It has cost many of our brethren their lives, including your parents, my brother and the other apostles, and it may be that it will cost us our lives. But what is that compared to all eternity?”
“I am sorry.”
“It is God you need to say that to my child. But do not be cruel to yourself. You have lived a faithful life, it is just rocking a little at present, like a loose wheel on a cart. Go to God and you can tighten it up.”
In spite of herself, Naomi laughed. “You have a comical way of describing it.”
After a brief pause, John continued, “You are correct though, Naomi, our faith is costly, and for those whom God is calling it could be extremely costly. I would like you to pray for someone...”
“Someone in one of the other groups?”
“Not exactly... Do you remember the woman who came here with her two daughters?”
“The woman who said you had prayed for her daughter?” Naomi recalled clearly. She had been very busy making things ready for the Holy Day... and probably had not been as hospitable as she should have been.
“Yes, the same one, and praise God her daughter is still well.”
“You saw her again?”
“She and her older daughter turned up at the afternoon meeting.”
“You had an afternoon meeting? That is why you were late returning?”
“Now Naomi, you know I do what I feel God is prompting me to do.”
“Sorry, Saba,” she apologized. “How soon I forget.”
“It was not the meeting that made me later leaving than Benjamin was comfortable about...”
“I am glad Benjamin was not the one who delayed you.”
“I was later leaving than we intended because the woman caught me outside and asked me to pray for her baby nephew.”
“So you are thinking it might be that God is working with her.”
“Perhaps. Her daughter was with her, the older one who works with her grandfather where we buy the writing supplies.”
“And the family is Jewish. Her husband is the one that Benjamin met at the wedding of Levi ben Nathan’s son.”
“So you know what would happen if God is calling her to His fellowship.”
“She would be cast out of her home and family.”
John patted her hands and smiled. “What were you saying earlier about what we believe being costly?”
“Thank you, Saba.”
“If you ever doubt that God loves you, remember this evening. Undoubtedly, Persis was ‘meant’ to talk with you, and then I came along. God will never leave you or forsake you.” He smiled and stood up, “Now my child, bed. Tomorrow is a busy day.”
“But one I feel more settled about now.”