Friday, November 04, 2016

Prester John, Chapter 7 (Part 1)

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Chapter 7
            After the service, John the Elder brought Lucius to the home of the officiating elder, a man by the name of Justus. Both Justus and John were Jews, Lucius learned, born in the wild backwater provinces of the eastern Mediterranean, but Justus was younger than John by a full generation. Polycarp too accompanied them back to the house, keeping a gracious silence in order to let the elders have their lead in the conversation.
            Justus’ home was a rustic, simple affair, but Lucius appreciated it at once. It was nothing compared to the luxuries he had known in the Caelius house growing up, but after the past few weeks of staying in a ship’s hold and a public inn, it was a delight. There were three small rooms, of which one was the main area, with a small table set off to the side and a few cushions on the floor for seating. Justus’ wife, who had preceded him home from the service, was introduced to Lucius before she retreated into one of the inner rooms.
            “Please have a seat,” said Justus, motioning to the cushions on the floor.
            Lucius took up the invitation, and while the others took their places, he spent a few moments looking over his host. Justus was a short man, but powerfully built, which added a subtle undercurrent of strength to everything he did. In all his habits, gestures, and expressions he seemed to be a gentle soul, but Lucius had the sense that this was a man of action, who could burst into vigorous deeds of courage if ever a situation demanded it. He had a wiry beard of black interlaced with gray, and a bald dome that he would rub with his whole hand whenever he was in thought.
            “Now, Elder Justus,” said John when they had all been seated. “I’m not going to be with you long here in Smyrna, but I want you to keep going with the good work that the Lord let me start here.”
            “What good work is that?” asked Justus.
            “Why, this young man! Thirsty for the mercy of God, so let’s give him all that he can drink of it, and more! I commit him to your instruction.”
            Justus nodded and turned his attention to Lucius. “What’s your name, young man?”
            Lucius wrestled inside for an agonizing moment. Should he tell the truth? His story would shock them, offend them—especially Polycarp, to whom he had already lied about his identity during their talk at the magistrate’s jail. And if there was one thing he was sure of, it was that he didn’t want to estrange these Christians, not now. He had seen in their service that they had something that he needed, and needed desperately. But to tell them that he was a murderer, on the run, living under a false identity? To tell them that he had slain the son of one of their own martyrs, bereaving a Christian young woman of her brother at a time when their pater familias was already gone? No, they would be shocked by it. They would throw him back out on the street, or worse, turn him over to the magistrates.
            “Lucius Horatius Tiro,” he finally answered. “From Rome. Actually, I was on the same ship as Polycarp.”
            “Ah, so you saw his unfortunate arrest!” John shook his head. “But released quickly, yes, Polycarp? Arrests like that are common ground for us. I’ve had far more than just arrests in my time, though!”
            He chuckled and shook his head, and Lucius couldn’t help but smile at the old man’s erratic train of thought.
            “Yes, I saw what happened. I’m glad they let you go, Polycarp.”
            “Thank you,” said the young Christian, with a gracious smile.
            “So…Tiro, was it?” Elder Justus proceeded. “Your name suggests you were a slave once.”
            “My father was, yes. I’ve no family left in Rome now, so I came here to try my fortune. I’m quite good in teaching Latin if you know of any families who might pay for a good tutor.”
            John wagged a remonstrative finger at Lucius. “Don’t try to run from the pain of seeking God’s grace, Tiro. You know we’re not here to talk about jobs.”
            Lucius smiled again, but didn’t quite know what to say. The raw, open emotion he had felt at the service had subsided a bit now, and his inclination—as John had rightly noticed—was to steer clear of a vulnerable conversation, to try to retain a bit of dignity.
            John regarded him with eyes full of understanding. “Beloved son,” he said softly, “you are in need of a home and a father while you learn about our Lord Iesous. We can give you that here. Will you consent to live with Elder Justus, to let him raise you as his son for these next few months, until your faith is strong and sure?”
            Lucius scratched at his cheek in thought. Something inside him wanted to go back into hiding, to walk out the door and forget his experience at the Christian service. But there was another voice inside his heart now, and it melted the glaciers in Lucius’ heart into a flood of affirmation at John’s question. A home. A father. With a flash of pain, Lucius remembered all that he had lost.
            “I will stay,” he said after a few moments. “Thank you.”
            “Good! Yes, good. Now, let’s see. I still have one thing I’d like to do before I return to Ephesus. I can’t tarry too long, though, or my friend Papias will come and track me down. Ha! I want to go up into the hills for a bit, and visit my old friends there, the assembly that meets by the lake.”
            Justus shook his head. “You can’t go alone up into the hill country, John, you know that. Not at your age.”
            “I didn’t say I was going alone, did I?” John laughed. “My strategy from the beginning was to make you feel obligated to come along. And it’s working to perfection! Polycarp, how about it? You know their language up there better than either of us.”
            Polycarp nodded. “I’d be honored, Elder John.”
            “And what about Tiro?” John said with a smile and a wink. “Care for an adventure?”
            Lucius grinned. “I’d love to come.”
            John slapped his hands together with pleasure. “Then what are we waiting for? Let’s go!”

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