The next morning, after a simple breakfast, Paul sent the two of them out to find work.

“What about a day of rest?” Timothy complained. Silas wanted to hit him.

But the need was too urgent. Sewing hides all day took its toll. And the last few Sabbaths had completely drained him. The dread of them sapped his strength. His fatigue afterwards lingered for days.

Paul’s body was sending constant, rebellious messages about the stress. He ignored it, of course, as he’d trained himself to do for years. Not much longer. He could push for a few more weeks. But he knew it was a pace he could not sustain. He’d spoken the plain truth to Timothy and Silas—their timing, God’s timing, was perfect.

Now that they were in Corinth, he could afford to take more time away from the shop. Aquila had urged him to do so all along. But he wouldn’t be a burden to his new friends. His old friends were a different matter. Being burdened by Paul was what they signed on for. Between the gifts from Macedonia and their earnings, there would be enough coin to support the three of them until he was ready to send them back to Thessalonike.

Lately, even the days between Sabbaths had become more demanding. People from the synagogue dropped by Aquila’s shop, interrupting Paul’s cutting and stitching to ask questions and talk with a frankness that was impossible at the synagogue. To give himself fully to their questions, to be available to help them reach for faith, was a luxury Paul craved.

A few of the visitors, stopping by the shop with furtive glances up and down the street, were Hebrews like himself, touched by the story Paul told and hungry to talk without the rancor and animosity that heated the Sabbath debates. Crispus was a frequent caller and often invited Paul to spend long evenings in his home. In the synagogue ruler, Paul found a good student and, in time, a better friend.

But most of Paul’s visitors were Greek or Roman, the God-fearers who felt drawn to the ancient faith and the rituals of the synagogue. They sat through the emotional confrontations each Sabbath, and though they did not know enough Scripture to follow the more intricate arguments, they found Paul’s story and Paul’s demeanor convicting.


II

“I am Gaius.” The younger man extended a hand. “Gaius Titius Justus. Son of Marcus Titius Justus who is a past aedile of Corinth and a sitting member of the Corinthian senate.”

Paul indicated a pair of stools set in the shade in front of the shop. “I’ve seen you in the synagogue, haven’t I? What does an illustrious father think about his son’s interest in the Hebrew religion?”

Gaius shrugged. “My father is not a religious man. Nor does he care much about my religious leanings so long as they don’t damage the family name and dignitas. Better the synagogue than the rites of Bacchus and Aphrodite.” He smiled.

“And how long have you attended synagogue?”

“For over a year now. I had a Jewish tailor—an excellent man, a rare gift with fabric. What he could do with a needle … well, that’s beside the point. He died quite suddenly last fall. A great disaster for my wardrobe, I assure you.”

“An even greater one for his, I imagine,” Paul said straight-faced.

Gaius didn’t seem to hear. “While I had his services, we talked about his people and his faith. I would come in for a fitting and while he measured and tucked, he would tell me stories about the Israelites, about their one God, about his power and reach. Frankly, I’ve always been suspicious of this notion of a god hiding under every rock. I like the idea of there being just one God, with all power and all knowledge.”

Paul worked hard to suppress a smile. “And what is it about that idea you find appealing?”

“The economy of it!” Gaius beamed. “Most people in this city are running around from one temple to another, covering their bases, sacrificing to this god for good health, that god for good business, another god for good sons. It’s exhausting. And expensive. But if there is only one God, and he has it in his power to grant every blessing, to watch over every concern, then you only have to keep him happy. One set of prayers. One set of rituals. One set of rules.” Gaius opened his hands as if to say, It’s obvious.

Paul chuckled and shook his head. “Gaius Titius Justus. I don’t think I’ve ever heard an argument for one God based on frugality!” He looked at his visitor and decided to push him a little. “And what if I told you that worshiping this one God is, in fact, very costly. That he will require your whole life. That nothing you have, nothing you are, can be withheld from him. That he will make demands not just on your Sabbaths, but on how you conduct your business, how you treat your wife, on your morality and your attitudes.” Paul lifted his eyebrows at Gaius, inviting a response.

The visitor’s brow wrinkled. “I confess I do find that aspect of the Hebrew faith perplexing. Our gods—the gods of Greece and Rome—expect to be honored. They require us to appease them from time to time. But they don’t dabble in our private lives. They certainly don’t care what goes on in our bedrooms. But your Hebrew God, he’s … well … he’s so nosey! Apparently there is no time of the day, no part of the mind, that he is not watching. And, if what I hear in the synagogue is true, he is just as concerned with how we treat our neighbors as with getting the rituals right.”

“More,” said Paul, hugely entertained.

“Of course, I’m not convinced that one God, no matter how powerful, has the resources to keep up with all of us. And even if he had the resources, why should he have the interest? My life might be deeply fascinating to me and most of the people I know, but why should any god give it much attention?”

“And what if I said that God loves you, that he cares for you as much as for himself? That nothing in the vast universe is as interesting to him as our days and our hearts and our struggles?”

“I can’t understand that, Saul. It’s impossible to imagine a god, with all his privileges and powers, being obsessed with us and our well-being. What can we do for him? Where’s the advantage?”

Paul grinned. “It’s not impossible to imagine, Gaius. Merely difficult. But if you can grasp that one idea, it makes the cost of faith bearable.”

Gaius considered that for a moment and then changed the subject. “You know they won’t permit you to stay in the synagogue much longer. You threaten them too much. These Hebrews make good Corinthians. They’re just as worried about status and influence as we are. They can’t allow you to keep undermining their control of the Jewish community.”

Paul grew serious. “They may not have much choice in the matter.”

“Perhaps. But they don’t have to make it easy. I predict that the synagogue will be closed to you soon. And then what will you do? Take your preaching to the Corinthians?”

“That’s precisely what I’ll do, when it comes to it.”

Gaius studied Paul carefully for a long while. “It has become obvious to me that, no matter how long I’m with the synagogue, no matter how generously I contribute, I’ll always be a second-class member there. Since I don’t have the right parents and won’t give up my foreskin, I won’t be allowed any influence. For someone of my standing, you can understand I find that intolerable.”

Paul smiled again. “I imagine you do.”

“In this new congregation you establish—because mark my words, it will come to that—will there be any distinctions made between Jews and Gentiles? Can a man like me play a significant role in your new synagogue?”

Now it was Paul’s turn to study his visitor carefully. “Gaius, your role in a new synagogue will be limited only by your willingness to take up a cross and follow in the footsteps of the Messiah.”

Gaius rolled that thought around in his head for a time. Abruptly, he stood and extended his hand once again to Paul. “You are a man who bears watching, Saul of Tarsus.”

Paul stood also and took the proffered hand. “And so, I think, are you, Gaius Titius Justus.”

To which Gaius raised an eyebrow and responded, “Yes. Of course.”