5

Ruth - A Mother

On the road from Bethany, Malchus remembered that his mother had sewn a denarius into the hem of his garment. She had begun this practice when Malchus and Justin would go on camping trips in Gaul and Spain. Even though neither Malchus nor Justin felt it was necessary, she had continued doing it in case of an emergency. Malchus tore loose the threads and gripped the single denarius tightly in his hand. In the marketplace of Jerusalem, he would look for a moneychanger to get some Jewish coins.

Ruth, a Jewish woman of the household of Caiaphas, the high priest, arrived in the marketplace that same morning for her regular daily shopping for the large number of family, extended family, and slaves that filled Caiaphas's compound where she and her daughter Rachel lived. Ruth, a sister-in-law of Caiaphas, moved into the compound five years ago when her husband died.

Every day, except the Sabbath, Ruth walked this same route among the shops so that the heavier items of food could be purchased last, since she was the one who would have to carry the purchases back to the compound. The load of a Jewish woman was oftentimes the same as that of a Jewish man. The shopkeepers were glad to see Ruth because she made generous purchases, but more so because she was so cordial and seemed genuinely interested in them.

As Ruth reached her last stop, she could not help but overhear a conversation between a young man and a moneychanger. She could see that the fair, blue-eyed boy certainly was not a Hebrew. Ruth stood in awe as the youngster negotiated with the moneychanger to exchange his Roman denarius for Jewish leptons, speaking first in Greek, then in Hebrew.

When the moneychanger was about to cheat Malchus, Ruth interrupted and said to the moneychanger, "Don't you know from Solomon's teachings that God will judge you harshly if you cheat this boy?" Shamefully the moneychanger looked down and laid out an additional fifty leptons to go with the first fifty he had offered.

In gratitude Malchus approached Ruth, "Thank you for taking up for me. I am a stranger here in this land, and I am not yet familiar with your ways. May I carry your baskets for you?"

Ruth ordinarily would have refused such an offer, especially from a stranger and a gentile at that, but there was something about this boy that she liked, so she responded, "That would be helpful as I do have a half mile walk across the upper city to home. By the way, my name is Ruth. Whatís yours?"

"My name is Malchus, and Iím from Spain."

"If you are from Spain, how is it you know both Hebrew and Greek?"

"At my father's insistence, my mother, with the help of a few tutors, gave me instruction in language, math, and science since the time I was a small boy."

"How did you get here?"

"I was on a trip with my father by ship to Rome and was to have returned after a few days back home to Spain. But in Rome, the ship was diverted to Palestine where I was put off to make room for Roman soldiers who were leaving for Rome to defend Tiberius the new Caesar." Not wanting to reveal any more of his background, Malchus shifted the topic to Ruth. "Tell me about your family."

"Well, I have one daughter, Rachel, who is about your age. My husband Reuben died when Rachel was nine, so we had to move in with one of my brother-in-laws. Rachelís favorite was Uncle Seth because he was most like her father. Seth had chosen to work as a priest among the poor of Jerusalem, so he had no room for us. Her Uncle Caiaphas, as the high priest, lived in a compound with plenty of room, so thatís where we live."

"Does Rachel look anything like you?"

With a smile Ruth replied, "Many say there is a distinct resemblance, but, as you would expect, she is much younger."

"I believe then that she must be very beautiful."

"Why, thank you Malchus."

"What do you and your daughter do during the day?"

"My primary job is to buy the food and oversee the slaves in the kitchen, and, of course, my daughter assists me."

"Are the slaves mistreated?"

"No, they are treated fairly, if they work hard. They have plenty to eat and a clean bed."

"I need a place to stay and food to eat. Would there be work for me in Caiaphas's household?"

"As of late, Caiaphas has been searching for a yeoman. Maybe you would qualify, as the job requires both language and mathematical skills. A yeoman must negotiate with the traders who pass this way for the buying and selling of goods. You must understand that the gentile workers are slaves."

"Do you mean they were carried off after a battle?"

"No, they are indentured. The gentile slave girls that work in the kitchen agree to work for a number of years for an advance payment that usually goes to their poor families. The girls don't mind because the quarters here are better than at their homes, and they know that in a prescribed number of years they are free to go."

"Please take me to Caiaphas so I can inquire about the yeomanís job."

As they approached Caiaphas's compound, Malchus could tell from the main house and the numerous outbuildings and stable that there was room for at least fifty people as well as the necessary livestock to support such an enclave.

After dropping off the baskets at the kitchen on the back of the main house, they walked around to the front where Ruth asked permission of a guard to see her brother-in-law. She and Malchus were seated in the anteroom. Malchus began to scan the walls, ceiling, and floors. He wondered where the beautifully carved cedar could have come from and how a priest could afford such elegant furnishings.

Speaking softly, Malchus asked Ruth, "Are some of those going and coming from the inner room also priests?"

"Yes, you can tell by the length of the fringe on their robes."

"What do the priest do?"

"Some are at the Temple accepting the peopleís sacrifices while others are a part of the business of making sacrifices available."

"Do the people bring sacrifices to appease their gods?"

Ruth turned her head to look into Malchusí face, "Why do you ask so many questions? All of my husbandís brothers are priests, but I donít have a good answer. My husband, Reuben, always said that Jehovah was a loving God."

"My friend Aaron told me that Jehovah created everything in the world. Is that true?"

"I am not schooled as are our priests, but I believe the answer is yes."

"Is your Jehovah just the God of the Jews?"

"Our priests would say yes. But Reuben questioned that tenet and many others."

The guard approached Ruth and Malchus to say, "You may go in now."

Malchus and Ruth followed the guard to the massive door. As the guard pulled open the door to the Great Hall, Malchus looked in and past Caiaphas to the walls covered with opulent furnishings. The tapestries and vases were the elegant kind brought from the East.

Ruthís voice brought Malchus back to the meeting as she said, "This is Malchus who just arrived in Jerusalem looking for work. He is interested in the yeomanís job and would like to talk with you about it."

Caiaphas began, "You are a bit young for the responsibilities of a yeoman. What makes you think you can handle the job?"

"From a young age, I have had instructions in Latin, Hebrew, Greek, and mathematics and am quite well versed in them. I also have experience in trading goods in the market place as I have done so for a couple of years for my father and mother."

Caiaphas asked a few more questions then said, "I shall give you a try. Ruth can show you to a room beside the stable. Haman and I will explain your duties tomorrow morning. You will be paid six hundred denarii in exchange for agreeing to be my slave yeoman for two years."

It had been a long while since Ruth had had such a joyful feeling in her heart. She did not fully understand, but she felt a love for this boy as a mother might for a son. As the two walked toward the stables Ruth said, "I will show you your room."

Malchus followed Ruth along the narrow path. As they passed the stables, he noticed the sleek cattle and sheep housed inside. Added onto the south wall of the stables were a group of small rooms. Since they were made of adobe, they could store the warmth of the sun during the day to moderate the chill of the nights. When Malchus looked inside, he realized how small the rooms were. Along one wall was a bed, a pile of straw covered with a mat. Next to it was a small table, and across from it on the wall were a few pegs for hanging clothes. There was room for little else.

Ruthís voice interrupted his thoughts, "This will be your room, Malchus. Please feel free to make yourself at home. You will need some covers for your bed, but donít you worry about that. Iíll get some for you."

"Thanks."

As Ruth turned to leave, Malchus asked, "Do you and Rachel live near here?"

"We arenít too far away as we share a room off of the kitchen on the back of the main house. It is right next to the large room where all the women slaves stay. As you might guess, men are not allowed in that area of the house."

"Does anyone else live in these adobe rooms?"

"Clement and Elmo live right next door to you."

"Who are they?"

"They tend to the livestock and the grounds and are about your age, so you are not alone out here."

"Do you think they could take me out this afternoon and show me around the city of Jerusalem?"

"Not today as I believe they are busy working the livestock to select some to be sold to the priests that make animals available for sacrifice. But donít give up hope. Iíll come up with someone." Ruth smiled somewhat mischievously then turned to go. "Iíll be right back."

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