Chapter 40: The Mission

Abi made the dangerous journey to Hester’s house a few days after their meeting at the kosher market. Though she was eager to see her friend, Abi knew to be cautious, sneaking from the alley through the servants’ entrance and straight to Hester’s quarters.

Hester looked up from her household books, surprised to be interrupted. But then she saw who it was and lept to her feet to greet Abi. The two women held each other for a long time.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” Hester told her, stepping back to hold her friend’s face between her hands.

“I can’t stay long. My husband …” Abi did not need to finish her thought.

They sat together behind closed doors, shielded from the eyes of the domestics, whispering lest they be overheard. Both women knew they could not be too careful. The stakes were too high

“Are you well, Hester?”

Hester put on a brave face. “As well as can be expected, under the circumstances.”

“Haven’t you changed your mind yet?”

“I don’t think that’s going to happen, Abi. We’ve made our decision.”

“The men are meeting almost every night to figure out what to do about Saul. And how to talk some sense into you and Crispus. Obed says it’s not too late. You can still come back, if you will.”

Hester smiled again and patted her friend’s hand. “No, Abi. That’s not possible.”

Abi pulled away in frustration. “But why not? We love you, Hester. You belong with us, not with some stranger who tells strange stories!”

“But I believe those stories, Abi,” Hester said quietly.

“Don’t be silly!” Abi took her friend’s hand again and squeezed it. “Can you do this with a story? Will a story laugh with you and go shopping? Will a story walk into your house, like I’m doing now, and beg you to come back to your family?”

Hester stared down for a moment. “Stories matter, Abi, if they are true stories. If what Saul says is true, it is the most important story ever told. God sent his Son to die for our sins. I believe him. Don’t ask me to turn away from that.”

“But Hester,” Abi protested, grieving. “It’s costing you so much. Is it really worth that?”

Hester smiled as she thought of Paul’s pearl. “So I’ve been told.”

“I don’t think I could do that, sacrifice so much for the sake of a story.” Abi spoke quietly, a note of regret in her voice … a look of admiration for her friend.

“Don’t sell yourself short.” Hester patted her hand again. “You’d be surprised what faith will let you do.”


II

Others began to stop by. In the evenings after sunset, when darkness provided some cover. Old friends who tried to reason with Crispus and his wife. Young men who could not get Saul’s stories out of their heads. Couples and families who came to learn more from someone they trusted.

Crispus and Hester welcomed them all without distinction. To those who came to argue, they gave patient and kind responses. To those who came to learn, they gave time and instruction. But to all they gave love. These were their children. And their children were hurt and confused and questioning. What else could good parents do but bear with them while they floundered. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t painless. But it was necessary. For the sake of the children.

Not many were ready to join Crispus and stand with Saul. A few. But not many. Prisca had told the two of them about Paul’s strange comment—about the Gospel doing its damage—and Crispus could see the truth of that in the eyes of the people who knocked at his door. At the end of a long evening, as husband and wife put away the scrolls, they marveled together at the power of Paul’s story to get inside people’s hearts. And once inside …

“I wish they’d come to you,” Crispus complained to Paul.

“They’re your children. I’ve got my hands full with the Gentiles.”

“But they’re asking tough questions.”

“And I’m sure you’re giving them good answers.”

Crispus fell silent for a few moments. “It’s hard watching them struggle.”

“I know,” Paul said softly. “You love them.”

“Yes I do. But it’s more than that. It’s one struggle after another. It never ends.”

“What do you mean?” Though Paul thought he knew.

“I have to convince them that your crucified carpenter is really their beloved Messiah.”

Our crucified carpenter,” Paul chided gently.

“And then I have to convince them that faith in that Messiah is worth leaving the synagogue and turning away from friends and family.”

“We did it, Crispus. Why not them?”

“But then you want me to convince them about the Gentiles, that we have to embrace them and eat with them and call them ‘Brother.’ It’s too much, Paul.”

Paul smiled. “So you want to make it easier for them.”

“Why not wait on the Gentile part? Let them get used to the break from the synagogue first. Is that too much to ask?”

Paul didn’t answer for a while. When he did, his eyes flashed. “Yes! It is too much to ask!” His jaw tightened as if the words were a struggle. “You’ve met Stephanas. You’ve heard Stauria’s story. I can’t ask those people to wait while we Hebrews decide whether we’re ready to put up with them. Jesus died for them too, Crispus.”

Later, as Crispus walked away, he could still feel the heat of Paul’s frustration. There are limits to his patience, Crispus told himself. And it dawned on him that Prisca was right. Paul just might be the most exasperating man he’d ever met.


III

“Well? Have you heard the latest?”

“And a very good evening to you, too, Berekiah.” Sosthenes did not like being accosted in the street with demanding questions.

“Gaius Titius Justus has gone with Saul.”

Sosthenes did not seem concerned. “We knew the god-fearers would be vulnerable to Saul’s influence. Most of them have a faith that’s about an inch deep.”

“His faith may be shallow, but his purse is deep.”

Sosthenes refused to let Berekiah dampen his mood. “We were doing fine before Gaius came with his contributions. I imagine we’ll survive now that he’s gone.”

“That’s not what I meant. That fine house next to the synagogue? Do you know who owns it?”

“Apparently, from your tone of voice, Gaius Titius Justus.”

“That’s right. Do you know he’s kicked out his tenant?”

Now Sosthenes stopped and turned to face his larger companion. “And …”

“He’s given the house to Saul and Crispus. To use for their new assembly.”

“Really?” Sosthenes smoothed his beard to cover his surprise.

“Right next door! The gall!”

The two men stood together, heads bowed in thought.

“That will be difficult, I imagine,” Sosthenes said at last, turning to continue on his way. “But what can we do about it?”

Berekiah kept pace for a moment. “The good news, I guess, is we can keep a closer eye on them. See who goes in and out.”

“Yes,” Sosthenes responded sourly, his mood spoiled after all. “We just have to look out the synagogue door.”


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[Beginning of the novel]

© 2012 by Tim Woodroof. Reproduction of this material requires permission from the author.