What a relief, to get out of that house.
Ordinarily, Jude would have scoffed at his father’s request to purchase farming equipment from the next city – a three-day journey! But ever since Ethan, that rascal (you might even say that prodigal) brother of his, had returned, Jude could not stand to be in either man’s presence for long.
So he relished the chance to forget about his family tension on this farming errand. But now he was almost home, and the painful thoughts came rushing back.
“Dad has changed. Perhaps it was early-onset dementia that caused him to forget the blessed closeness of our years together, alone, when I was not just the firstborn, but the only son.
Sure, I had never been perfect, but I thought that my father was finally proud of me. That, after years of hard lessons learned, I had become the man he wanted me to be.
And then Ethan threw it all away.
Actually, you know what, as it that weren’t bad enough, dad threw it all away…for Ethan!
He received much more love than I ever did. I used to get punished for much slighter infractions than throwing my entire life (along with our hard-earned savings) away! I never got a banquet when I broke Sabbath…I got a beating!”
At this point, Jude’s unpleasant thoughts were interrupted by the sight of the homestead on the horizon.
The first thing he noticed was the amount of trash bags on the front porch. Not much later, the smell hit him. Odors he’d only ever experienced in faraway marketplaces, and therefore that much more memorable.
Barely believing his eyes and his nose, Jude took a closer look at the trash.
Grilled pork chop remnants.
Crusty booze bottles.
Bacon pizza fragments.
Ashen cigarette butts.
The slimy shells of shellfish.
His blood pressure rising, Jude spit on the refuse-pile and stormed in the front door.
“Dad! Where are you!? He’s done it again! Brought his dirty Gentile friends into our home! Dad?!”
A very obviously hungover Ethan stumbled into the main room, nibbling on a piece of bacon. “Jude! You’re back…”
And Jude broke:
“Damn you, Ethan! You ethnoi, you Gentiles! How can you continually scorn our father’s, the Father’s, righteousness!?
First, you go and throw away your life and our life-savings to run away with swine?! Then, after the Father somehow took you in – adopted you like some bastard, orphaned children – you bring the swine back into this house?!
You think you’re so strong, so powerful, but you’re weak! You think you know who the Father is, what he’s like, but you’re wrong!
We’re strong! We’re the firstborn sons of God! Who in the hell do you Gentiles think you are?!
If you really loved God, you would follow the Law and keep the traditions…
How can the Father love you people? It’s embarrassing, really.
We never should have allowed you back into this house.”
By now, Ethan was boiling over as well:
“Damn you, Jude! You judaioi, you Jews!
How can you continually forget our father, the Father’s grace?!
Don’t you realize by now that all your stupid rituals, all your hard lessons learned, were a complete waste of time!? We Gentiles and God have moved on into the age of grace!
You Jews have forgotten the point of God’s grace, and so He’s practically forgotten you! We’re the firstborn, best-loved sons now. We’re the strong ones, and we outnumber you all at least three to one, so shut up and deal with it!
You’ve screwed up so often, you got kicked out of your land! And you didn’t learn any lessons then, because you got yourselves thrown out of Rome!
How could Nero have let you people back into this city? It’s shameful, really.
We never should have allowed you back into this Church, you…”
[KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK]
Someone at the door.
The Roman Christians – Jew and Gentile alike – froze in fear.
Ethan looked at the other Gentile leaders.
Was it a centurion? Had their gathering been reported? Would they be asked to bow the knee, to offer a sacrifice, to the new emperor, Nero? If they weren’t willing to do so, would this be the end?
Jude glanced at his wife, their children, and the other Jewish families.
Had they already outstayed their recent welcome back to the city? After exile, they’d spent four hard, hard years rebuilding their life in Rome. Would they again be driven from their homes? Where would they go?
The slaves in the room – and there were many – anxiously retraced their steps throughout the day.
Which one of their fellow slaves had discovered their secret? Had followed them to this meeting? Had told their master? Would they merely get whipped again? Or had their master’s patience run out?
Jude whispered to Ethan, “You’re in charge here, get the door.”
He trudged to the threshold and pulled it open.
A hooded figure stepped through, walked to the middle of the room, and pulled the hood back. Long brown hair flowed down.
The woman said “Christ is Risen!”
“…He is…risen…indeed,” they all stammered in reply.
She smiled: “He is risen indeed. For twenty-five years now, in fact! Greetings. My name is Phoebe of Cenchreae.”
Rummaging in her pack, she began to explain:
“I bring something for all of you from Paul, the apostle… It’s in here, somewhere. No, not this theology textbook. No, not this to-do list… Ah! Here it is, a letter.”