Here is Chapter Twenty-Four…
Chapter Word Count: 3343
Monthly Word Count: 48,705
Ambigo waited outside widow Alphaeus’ house. James and Andrew had gone inside to make the appropriate apologies. He looked uncomfortably at her son. “I… I just met James. Have you known him for long?” The man shook his head. “I vaguely knew him and his brother when we were kids, but…” He shrugged. “…that was before…” Ambigo searched awkwardly for a topic of conversation. “Are you hungry? We could go get some food…”
The young man looked at him with surprise. “I know a place…” The two of them walked to a dingy area of the town that Ambigo hadn’t seen before. “Are you sure you want to eat with me?” Ambigo shrugged. “Why not?” The son didn’t answer and the two of them got some meat from the vendors and sat down with a group of men.
One of the men spoke to the son of widow Alpaheus, “Levi, who’s this?” Levi looked at Ambigo and introduced him to his friends. Ambigo nodded politely and sat with them to eat. “Are you the healer that saved the divers?” He shook his head. “I was there, but it wasn’t me that saved them. There is a woman who lives on the shore. She told us what to do to help the divers through the night.” The man snorted. “Yeah, and we usually lose a couple each time. This time, everyone survived. I collected at Lucio’s last week. He couldn’t stop talking about how much you did.”
Ambigo shook his head again. “It’s an exaggeration. All we did was carry them to the woman on the shore.” The men mulled the idea over in their mind and ate quietly. “So, Levi, how are you friends with the healer that DIDN’T save the divers.” The man smiled at his little joke. Levi shrugged. “He’s friends with the Thunder Brothers.” The group laughed. “That doesn’t answer our question. You’re not friends with the Thunder Brothers.” Levi looked to Ambigo for an answer and he answered, “I believe James wronged his mother long ago. He called on her to apologize… I don’t know why I came along.”
Lucio walked by the group and was shocked to see Ambigo with the group of men. “Dr. Thomas! What are you doing eating with the tax collectors?!” Ambigo looked up from his food and around at the pleasant men he had been enjoying the meal with. “I’m eating, Lucio. I’m glad that you are healthy. Come eat with us.” Lucio shook his head. “You don’t eat with tax collectors.” Ambigo shrugged. “I do. I’m a healer, Lucio. I eat with anyone. Anyone can be sick, and healthy people don’t need me.” Lucio shook his head and walked on.
The group of men looked at him differently. Levi explained, “Most won’t eat with us because they consider us sinners.” Ambigo shrugged. “That means nothing to me. Plus, if they were truly good, they would eat with you. It just seems…” He couldn’t think of the translation for the word “hypocritical” in Aramaic. “It just seems wrong. I don’t visit healthy people; I visit sick ones and make them healthy. Religious people should be the same way.” Ambigo continued eating.
One of the group asked him, “How long are you staying? The healer said you were leaving soon.” Ambigo smiled and realized that the tax collectors collected gossip as well as Caesar’s due. “We are supposed to leave tomorrow if my friend is healthy enough. We are going to see John the Baptist and then going on to visit a man who heals cripples.” The men nodded. Levi commented, “I suppose that as a healer, a man like that would be very interesting to you.”
Ambigo shrugged. “If he’s real, then yes.” He sighed. “The only problem is that I think he might be a con artist… either that or a madman.” The group laughed. Levi responded, “That’s all we deal with: con artists and madmen.” Ambigo laughed loudly with them. “Ah, but can you tell them apart. That’s the hardest part.” The men nodded knowingly. Levi said, “It doesn’t matter to us. They both have to pay.” Ambigo looked at his new friend with surprise. “It doesn’t matter to me either.”
A wave of comfort and relaxation washed over Ambigo. “They’re right,” he thought to himself, “Whether he is the Son of God, a charlatan or a madman, he still has to pay. It doesn’t matter what kind of man he is. He still has to pay the price. There’s nothing I can do to change it… In fact no matter who we are… we all have to pay the price. None of us gets out of this place alive, no matter who we are.” This thought brought a feeling of divine peace to Ambigo. “Hey, Levi. You should follow us. Come with us.” Levi looked at the men gathered and ate the last of his food. “I think I will, Dr. Thomas.”
They said goodbye to Levi’s friends and walked back to his mother’s house to collect James and Andrew. “Where were you?! Oh…” They sounded disappointed. “You didn’t eat with HIM, did you?” Ambigo nodded happily. “Yes I did and guess what?! He’s coming with us to see the man who heals cripples.” The looks on their faces showed how unsavory they thought the prospect. Levi spoke, “Maybe I should just stay home.”
Ambigo grabbed his arm and pulled Levi closer to him. “Absolutely not! You’re the first man I’ve met in this land who can tell a charlatan from a prophet. We need you with us!” He looked sternly at James and Andrew. “Father Garcia will agree with me, I’m sure.” Andrew replied, “Not when he learns that Levi is a publican.” Ambigo shook his head. “He won’t care. If I say Levi is a friend, he will be allowed to come with us.” James shrugged. “Who cares what Father Garcia says? I’m not traveling with a publican.”
Andrew shook his head. “What Father Garcia says is law.” James looked to Ambigo to verify it and Ambigo nodded. James shrugged. “Well then, let’s take it to Father Garcia.” James squinted at Levi, but Levi stood up to him. “You don’t scare me, thunder boy. I’m going to find this man who heals cripples. If he is a con artist, I’ll be able to see right through him. You’ll be glad I came along.”
Father Garcia was kneeling and packing supplies when the small group came upon him. James spoke first, “The healer wants to bring a tax collector with us on our journey! Tell him how inappropriate that is.” Father Garcia looked up at the four of them. “Sit down.” They sat down next to Father Garcia and he continued wrapping up the essentials that they would need on the trip. Father Garcia looked at the new man. “Is it Levi or Matthew?” They were all surprised. Levi stuttered out an answer, “B-both, actually. My given name is Matthew, and my nickname is Levi.” Father Garcia was quiet and Levi continued, “I think… I think it might be because I levy taxes, but I’m not sure… Nicknames… nicknames are strange things.” Father Garcia nodded, answering, “The worst thing about nicknames is that we don’t get to choose them. What would YOU like me to call you?”
Levi looked at him and seemed to grown two inches in height. “I… I would prefer Matthew… It’s not that I am ashamed of my nickname…” He looked at James. “…or my profession. It’s just… It’s the name my father chose for me. I would prefer to honor him.” Father Garcia nodded. He looked at James and Andrew, “From this moment forward, everyone will call you Matthew. Welcome to the team, Matthew.” James and Andrew started to argue, but Father Garcia held up his hand.
“Dr. Thomas, was Jaime or Madi with you when you met Matthew?” A dull panic filled Ambigo’s chest. “No.” Father Garcia nodded, continuing to pack. “I’m going to ask you to keep one of the two of them around you at all times. When we first came to this land, Jaime didn’t trust you, so he watched you carefully, but you’ve gained his trust and he has stopped following you about. Considering your healing talents, it is essential that you keep one of the two of them with you. No more wandering off alone, understood?” Ambigo felt the shame of his actions and mumbled, “Yes, Father.”
Father Garcia looked up from his work. “I want you to introduce Jaime to Matthew. I have a feeling that they will feel like… brothers. I want you both to tell him how you met and how you,” He pointed at Matthew. “decided to join our party. Is that understood, Dr. Thomas?” Ambigo nodded and stood up, lifting Matthew. He nodded and whispered to Matthew, “He’s right. You and Jaime are going to really like each other.”
Ambigo and Matthew described their meeting to Jaime. Ambigo directed the conversation to include as much detail as he could. He had no idea why certain things were significant or why Jaime clenched his lips angrily, but Father Garcia had told him to describe the meeting so that Jaime could document it. “Oh yeah… um… Father Garcia said I have to stick to you like glue.”
Jaime burst into English, “No shit?! He thinks that might be a good idea?! You go with James and Andrew to the ALPHAEUS house,” he pointed at Matthew, “and you don’t think to bring one of us along?!” Ambigo held up his hands, continuing to argue in English, “I was chosen for my medical skills, not my Biblical knowledge. I had no idea he was Matthew. He told me his name was Levi.”
Matthew’s gaze went from Ambigo’s to Jaime’s during the argument. “I thought you said he’d like me.” Ambigo and Jaime stopped arguing. Jaime responded in Aramaic, “I do like you. I’m just mad at Dr. Thomas right now.” Matthew didn’t believe him. “Why?” Jaime looked at Ambigo and sighed. “I guess…” He looked back to Matthew. “I guess because I wanted to be with him when he met you…” He shrugged. “He didn’t know that, so he went without me…I’m just… I just felt left out.” Jaime smiled at Matthew. “I am very glad to meet you. We are going to be great friends, I promise.”
Jaime looked to Ambigo. “Does Petros know we are bringing a tax collector?” Ambigo shook his head and Jaime continued, “Considering his fear of the Romans, he should find out as soon as possible.” He turned toward Matthew. “Don’t let Petros get you. He doesn’t trust anyone. Ambigo had to save Petros’ mother-in-law before he trusted him. He will have to be just as scared of you as he is of us.” Matthew nodded. “I’m well aware of Petros’ nature.”
Jaime asked Ambigo, “We were going to have a… conversation with Petros. Do you know what became of that?” Ambigo shrugged, shaking his head. “I think all of that went out the window when Simon…” Ambigo looked away. “…when Simon changed his vote to yours.” Jaime turned to Matthew. “Let’s get you packed. I hope you have a good pair of sandals. We have a big walk planned.” Matthew smiled at Jaime. “I’m a tax collector. All I do is walk.” The two of them went back to Matthew’s home, while Ambigo looked for Petros.
“The Thunder Brothers beat you here.” Petros looked at Ambigo. He was also packing for the trip. “They already told me that you invited the son of Alphaeus. They expected me to be angry or fearful.” Ambigo looked at the items Petros was hoarding away. “Are you?” Petros shook his head and smiled. “I asked them if Father Garcia approved and they said that Father Garcia already knew him and it wasn’t a question.” He stopped packing and looked at Ambigo. “You are not Romans?” Ambigo shook his head. “You are not from the land of Tamaros?” Ambigo sighed, “I don’t think so. When you first mentioned the name, it sounded familiar to me. I talked with everyone at the group. We weren’t able to come to a decision about where this land may be. In the end, everyone decided to leave it in God’s hands.”
Petros laughed skeptically. “Everyone? You included?” Ambigo shrugged. “All I can do is my best. I make mistakes. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, I do great things. Frankly, I make mistakes a lot more often than I do great things, but that’s not going to stop me from trying.” Petros took a deep breath, pondering the issue. “If you, the man who does not believe in God, has decided to leave it in God’s hands, then I can.” Ambigo shook his head. “Ahh, Petros… Don’t say that. It’s not like I’ve decided to leave it in God’s hands. It’s more like I’m going to do the best that I can and not worry about these men who gave you a mysterious warning. Sometimes worrying about things wastes so much energy that you fail because of the worrying.”
Petros shrugged. “It doesn’t matter what you call it, Dr. Thomas. Whether you decided to stop worrying, or you decided to let God take care of it. Either way, it’s the same action. If you are willing to take this action, then so am I…” He started packing again. “As far as Levi is concerned, I don’t care if he comes along. It doesn’t matter to me how he earns a living. It doesn’t matter to me if he associates with the Romans. If he wants to see the man who heals cripples, then we are brothers…” He sighed and looked up at Ambigo. “Let’s just hope this man is the Jesus fellow you’re looking for. If he is not, I will not help Simon interrogate every citizen of every town from here to Egypt. I will return to my fishing, and my boat, and my wife…” Ambigo nodded. “Understood. If I wasn’t called to this mission, I would be tempted to just join you.”
The next morning, they gathered to leave. Father Garcia looked confused. “I feel as if we’re missing someone.” Simon nodded. “Philip.” Father Garcia nodded and then shook his head. “No, I know Philip isn’t here. I feel like we’re missing someone else.” Just then, Philip ran to Petros’ house with a thin young man in tow. “I’m sorry I’m late. I thought if it was alright for Dr. Thomas to invite Levi,” Father Garcia interrupted him, “Matthew.”
Philip rolled his eyes. “Matthew… then it would be alright for me to bring Bartholomew.” Father Garcia nodded. “Oh yes. Welcome, Bartholomew.” Petros looked at him surprised. “Did Philip tell you he was bringing another friend?” Father Garcia shook his head. “No, it just didn’t feel right somehow. I felt like we needed another traveler.” Petros shook his head. “Too many, if you ask me. Any more than eight people and things get too confusing for most people. It makes me think that people can’t count higher than eight sometimes.” Father Garcia laughed, “I assure you, Petros, that I can count far higher than eight.” He chuckled. “In fact, I have been known to count as high as twenty before I start losing track of myself.” The team laughed quietly to themselves and started walking on the road to John the Baptist’s cave.
Ambigo was used to Simon leading the group, but the Thunder Brothers took the lead. This was their show. They were taking their friends to find the man who heals cripples. Simon walked slowly and methodically with Ambigo at the rear of the group. “Petros is right. The group is too big now.” Ambigo laughed.
“You’re just bothered because James and John found him before we did.” “I guess I am. You know… we would have found him if I hadn’t had trouble with my tooth.” Simon smiled to himself. “I’m just glad we got it out in one piece. I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to get you home with it.” “Yeah. Well, I’m not going to worry about that. You know, last night, Petros said a really nice thing to me. He said that worrying wastes too much energy. I have to save all my energy to get better.” “That punk… He stole that from me.” Ambigo looked at Petros at the front of the group with the Thunder Brothers. “Well, you should have said it to me instead of him. He’s still worrying and I’m the one that needed the advice.” Simon sighed. “You know, he asked me again if we’re from Tamaros.” “What did you tell him?” “I told him that we decided to let God take care of the people from Tamaros.” “I told him the same thing.” Ambigo confessed, “Lucky thing our stories checked out.”
They walked along slowly and silently. Had Simon been at full health, leading the group, they would have walked at a much brisker pace. With John and James at the head, they strolled leisurely, which was exactly what Simon needed in Ambigo’s opinion.
“You know, the day I joined the team, Father Garcia said that you had enough religious conviction in your little finger for the whole team.” Simon breathed heavily. “Is that a question?” “You just seemed down when you learned that I had to pull your tooth. I guess… I don’t know…” Ambigo didn’t know how to say it. He struggled with the thought. “Are ya worried that I’m not keeping up your share of religious conviction?” Simon guessed. Ambigo laughed, trying to hide his underlying fear. “No…” He snorted. “Yes… I don’t know. I just didn’t like seeing you down. I… I kind of depend on you to be the strong guy who will protect us. Seeing you sick and unhealthy is nothing compared to seeing you…down.”
Simon shook his head. “First thing, Doc. Everyone has trouble with their faith. I don’t care who it is. I don’t care if the Pope himself says the opposite. If you are a thinking man, there are going to be times when you question things. There are going to be times when God doesn’t seem as real or present in your life. It’s not knowledge, Dr. Thomas. It’s called faith for a reason. Only a halfwit can say that he has never questioned the existence of God.” They crunched on the road and Ambigo tried to ignore the reproach of his sandals.
“Second thing, I’m not a superhero.” Simon lowered his voice to a whisper, drawing Ambigo close to him. “We are going to be seeing some pretty scary stuff… things that I can’t control. I don’t know about anyone else, but when they come for Jesus, I’m giving the good fight. Even though I know that I can’t change history, I’m not letting him be taken away without dropping a few of their men, you hear me?” Ambigo nodded. “You know what else?” Ambigo kept walking, but kept looking Simon straight in the eye. He shook his head. “I know I’m not going to be able to stop them no matter how hard I fight. I know that I’m going to lose. It’s not going to keep me from fighting, but it’s a fact that I can’t escape. You need to face it too, Doc.”
They walked in silence for a few more steps while Ambigo absorbed Simon’s thoughts. Simon sucked in a large breath of air and started walking quickly. “We got a lot of ground to cover and these bozos are just dinking around.” He hurried to the front of the team, pulling ahead of James and John. “Get a move on. We’ve got to get to the cave before the party at the shanty town. I’m not missing one minute of the bonfire.” He called back to them and everyone on the team stepped up the pace a bit after seeing Simon at the front of the pack again.