Sweat dripping from his filthy brow, Matty bowed fearfully before the Roman guard. The sun beat mercilessly on his bare back.
How much longer before this brute recognizes my existence? Not that I mind. I’d rather be out here than ministering to the needs of the evil criminal inside.
Matty shifted slightly, easing his cramping muscles.
‘I know you’re there. Don’t you think the stink of your foul body hasn’t got so far up my nose that I’m ready to vomit?’
The soldier drew back his foot. Matty closed his eyes in anticipation of the pain, biting back a gasp as the soldier’s boot connected with his ribs.
The door creaked open.
He scuttled in, out of reach of boots and fists. The guard slammed it closed, leaving Matty squinting in the half light.
He knew this house well. His master, Claudius, rented it and his most worthless slave out to travelers, but this was the first time it had been rented by a prisoner under house arrest.
Matty stood by the door, breathing shallowly. Maybe the prisoner would be disgusted by his stink and leave him be. It had worked before.
The prisoner raised his shaggy head.
‘Come closer, into the lamp light.’
Matty edged, crab like, towards the man. He squinted sideways at the crudely built table. It looked safe. A scroll, quills, ink. Bread. Wine. Goblets.
‘Why are you afraid?’
How long have you got? If I don’t please you, you will beat me, my master will beat me. The other slaves will laugh at me – Door Matt – good for nothing; and then they will beat me.
The prisoner crooked his finger. Matty moved further into the light.
Oh, no. Please, God, I know it’s a lot to ask you to turn your attention to one as lowly as me…
‘Is there a place on your body that is not bruised?’
Matty shook his head.
‘What is your name?’
‘Matty, my lord.’
‘I used to know a Matthew, many years ago, before this.’
Matty tried not to flinch as the man raised his chained arms, and gestured at the bare walls of the windowless room.
‘Sit.’ He gestured to the chair opposite.
Is this some kind of trick? Still, he has not laid a hand on me… yet.
‘I will not hurt you.’
Matty hovered over the stool, watching mesmerized as the criminal pushed the bowl of bread across the table.
‘Eat. I can’t have my helper dying of starvation.’
Trap, it’s a trap. My master has set a trap for me.
‘I would gladly partake of food, lord, but I am the lowliest of my master’s slaves and it is not my place to eat in the presence of one so exalted as yourself.’
The criminal’s belly laugh echoed off the walls. It was so unlike the cruel laughter he was used to Matty had to stop the smile that threatened to curl the corners of his lips.
‘Oh, Matthew, I am not a lord, or exalted! I can see that you and I are going to be good friends for I too am a lowly slave, though I serve a different Master. One who loves me.’
How can this be? Surely if his master loves him he would not be reduced to living in this hovel? No, there is some criminal plot going on here and I will be the mat they wipe their feet on.
‘My crime, Matthew.’
Oh, no, he reads minds.
‘Is that I obediently follow my Master. Have you heard of Jesus; the Way, the Truth and the Life?’
Matty shook his head and, without realizing it, settled onto the stool.
‘Even in the midst of my imprisonment and your slavery he has promised to fill our cups to overflowing.’
The prisoner half filled the goblet. ‘Not half full, Matthew.’
He filled the goblet.
‘Not full to the brim, Mathew.’
He filled it to the brim, paused and then kept pouring. ‘But overflowing.’
Before Matty could rise to find a cloth, the prisoner swept his cloak over the table, mopping up the wine.
‘Matthew, I am Paul. I am here to serve you. When I serve you, I serve Jesus of the Way. I serve him because He loves me.’
A servant, loving his master? Life so full it overflowed? How can that be?
For the first time Matty looked into the prisoner’s eyes.
‘I would know more of this master, Jesus.’
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