“I’ve been scouring the city for you. Where’ve you been?”

Paul and the others turned in the middle of the Lechaion Road to find Gaius hurrying to meet them. His cane stabbed at the marble pavement as his sandaled feet picked a way through the garbage and vendors and pedestrians separating him from the Apostle.

“This morning was unbelievable! Better than the theater!” Gaius was breathless, though whether from ‘scouring’ the city or the excitement in the synagogue, Paul could not tell. “They’ll be talking about it for years. Crispus—you were superb. What courage! What a confession!

“And Saul!” Gaius turned to him, shaking his head in admiration. “‘I’ve been beaten by better men than you?’ Oh, what a delicious moment. I thought Berekiah would have a stroke!” He shook with laughter until he felt Paul’s hand on his arm and saw the sober looks on the faces of his companions.

“Gaius, I’m sorry. But this morning is no laughing matter. It cost us more than you can know.” Paul’s words were gentle but there was iron in his voice. “Especially Crispus and Hester.” He looked proudly at the couple. “Although you’re right about Crispus. He did show great courage.”

Gaius squinted his eyes at Paul, a questioning look, and then shrugged off the rebuke. “Well, that’s in the past now and we have a future to think about.” He ushered the group across the road to a table placed in the shade of a taverna’s awning. They followed meekly, too stunned by the day to resist.

Gaius gestured for wine and sat down. “I’ll wager the next few days will see more people leaving the synagogue to join you.”

“I imagine so.”

“And you’ll start a new synagogue, won’t you. Just as I predicted.” Gaius was obviously pleased by his foresight. “So, how do I join? Is there a fee?”

Paul’s head began to ache. “So you intend to come with us?”

“Certainly.” Gaius seemed surprised by the question. “I told you before that the synagogue was a dead end for me. I can’t keep their food rules—too many friends in high places. And I won’t be circumcised.” He bestowed another questioning look on Paul. “Those things aren’t important to you. Right, Saul?”

Paul glanced at Crispus and Hester. So much for you to absorb. So many lessons to learn … and unlearn. Fortunately, they weren’t paying much attention to the conversation. They needed the wine more than the talk. He turned back to Gaius and shook his head.

But the young man was not done. “And you said there would be no distinctions between Jew and Gentile in this new congregation, right? No barriers to participation … or to leadership, right?”

Again, Paul shook his head.

“Well then, obviously, this is the place for me.” He sat back and poured himself a cup of wine, the matter decided.

Paul had to smile. Try as he might, he could not suppress a sense of amusement, even wonder, where Gaius was concerned. He was such a different creature, a true child of Corinth.

“And what about the small matter of faith in Messiah Jesus, Gaius? This new congregation will honor his life and teachings. Only people who call him ‘Lord’ can truly become a part of us. It’s not a worship club you’re joining. You’re accepting the rule of Jesus in your life.”

“Yes, of course.” Then he shrugged his shoulders, drew himself up, and gave Paul what he wanted. “Jesus is Lord.” He let the words hang for a few heartbeats. “There, I said it. I believe it. Is that what you need from me?” He tapped his cane impatiently against the marble paving stones. “Of course I believe your message, Saul. It goes without saying.”

“Quite the contrary, Gaius. It has to be said. You need to say it, and keep saying it.”

Gaius, however, was not about to let Paul’s quibbles dampen his fine mood. He brushed them aside with a wave of his hand.

“Now, Saul. Don’t get all serious on me. I’m not like you and Crispus. You’re the scholars. But I’m a more practical man. Of course you’re concerned about Scripture and preaching and the character of this new congregation. That’s as it should be. But I’m bent in another direction. How will this congregation be organized? How will it support itself? And, to come to the most pressing point, where will it meet?”

The others looked at him with interest now, knowing the question was a good one.

He met their eyes in triumph. “Ha! Hadn’t given that a single thought, had you? Hadn’t even considered where we’ll worship and teach new people now that we don’t have the synagogue!” He rubbed his hands gleefully. “And that’s why you need a man like me. You focus on the big picture, Saul, and leave the logistics to Gaius Titius Justus.”

He beamed at Paul and the others. They stared back at him, trying to decide whether to be amused or alarmed.

“I happen to own a house—a rental—that I would be honored to put at your disposal. Use it for as long as you like. It’s large enough for our purposes. And best of all, guess where it is?” He sat back on the bench, grinning, timing the news for maximum effect. “Right next door to the synagogue! Right next door!”

Paul couldn’t help smiling again. “That’s generous of you, Gaius. And you’re right. We will need a place to meet.” He paused and raised an eyebrow at Crispus. “But is being so close to the synagogue a good idea? Won’t that just tear off the scab whenever they see us gather for worship?”

Crispus agreed. “And not just when we worship. Seeing us going in and out, meeting us in the street, it’ll be like poking a stick in their eye every time.”

Gaius just laughed. “Saul, Crispus! After the poking you’ve been doing the past few weeks, they’ll not even feel this. And, frankly, after what they did today, who cares?”

Paul and Crispus exchanged a look. We do, the look said. Even if Gaius didn’t understand why. Still, the offer of the house was generous. “I’ll pray over it, Gaius.”

“Yes, yes. You do that, Saul. But in the meantime, come and look at it.”

“Now?”

“Of course! Opportunity knocks!”

“No, Gaius. Not now.” Paul smiled, but there was no room in his voice for debate on the matter.

Gaius frowned and looked down at his cup. He didn’t like being refused. He looked at the others around the table. Especially not in front of witnesses. Saul needs to be more careful with the hand that offers to feed him. Gaius determined to speak to him about the matter later.

For the first time, he noticed that Crispus’s and Hester’s robes were damp. They still dripped at the hem. He glanced at Timothy who explained where they’d been before meeting Gaius.

When Gaius heard about the baptism, he grew quiet. Conversation flowed on without him. He wondered if this were like circumcision—a threshold separating insiders from outsiders. He wondered what the washing was supposed to accomplish. It wasn’t as repulsive as the thought of circumcision, but still …

After a few moments, he came to a decision. He interrupted Aquila to ask, “Have you also been baptized?” The couple from Rome stared and then nodded. “And you?” He looked from Timothy to Silas to Paul. They also nodded.

“Then I want to be baptized too.”

They looked back and forth from Gaius to Paul, waiting.

“That’s wonderful,” Paul told him after a pause. “If you really understand what you’re doing.”

“Teach me then.”

So they spent the rest of the afternoon talking. Gaius’s attention, they all agreed later, waxed and waned—flaring at certain parts of the discussion, flagging at others.

It worried Paul. Gaius seemed to pause at all the parts he found appealing and hurry past the rest. It was a characteristic that Paul would come to know well.

But the man was insistent. He wanted to be baptized. Only not in the Lechaion Harbor. Too public. There was a fountain in his villa that would serve the purpose well. When Silas slipped off his sandals to join Gaius in the fountain, Gaius made it clear that it was Paul he wanted to do the baptizing.