Jesus, Thursday May 11
I slept more than the previous night but my dreams seemed to be about nothing but water and food, always tantalisingly out of reach. Satan turned up again and this time challenged me to ask God to turn stones into bread. I told him again that you shouldn’t put God to the test, but when he’d gone I gave it a try anyway. It seemed to work, but however many stones I turned into bread and ate I never became any less hungry.
When I awoke I set off again in my vain search for food and drink. As the sun rose into the sky on its journey round the earth, and the desert once again became a furnace, I saw a massive pool of water in the distance. My heart leapt at the thought that God was watching out for me after all, and I staggered off towards it.
When I finally got there the water had gone. It must have been a mirage, a vision sent to test my resolve, another work of the Devil. I continued to wander aimlessly, knowing that if I didn’t find water soon I could die. When the sun reached its peak I gave up the struggle and curled up on the ground, using a dried out log as a pillow and pulling my cloak over my face. The log was much more comfortable than a stone and I drifted off to sleep. When I awoke the sun was lower in the sky. I must have been asleep for hours, and I felt better. I had been dreaming that the log was alive and moving, but it looked pretty dead to me. Then I had a thought. Something I’d heard as a kid. It was worth a try. I threw the log down against a large rock and it split open. There inside was a massive fat white grub, expanding and contracting as if breathing. I had heard tales about how you could bite the end off and suck their insides out for food and water, but I didn’t know if I could bring myself to do it. It looked disgusting, but it was my only hope. I had no choice. I held it up and lowered it towards my teeth…
“I shouldn’t do that if I were you.”
“Waaaaaaaaahhh!” I had never been so terrified in all my life. The Devil had actually materialised behind me and was talking to me. This was no dream. I fell to my knees. “Spare me,” I cried. “You can have anything you want.” The reality was too much for my weakened spirit. “I’ll even put in a good word with God for you if I can.”
“That’s very kind,” said the voice, “but I’m from Samaria and you sound like a Galilean. I don’t think the likes of us will be very high on your God’s list of favourite people, somehow. Here, have a sip of this.”
I turned round to see a friendly-looking Samaritan holding out a leather water bottle in one hand and the bridle of a bored-looking donkey in the other. I seized the bottle and drained it gratefully. I handed it back but he didn’t take it. I realised I had handed him the grub by mistake. I gave him the empty bottle instead, which he slung by the strap across the pile of goods on the donkey’s back. I dropped the grub and the man smiled.
“It could have saved your life, but the taste and texture would have stayed with you for life. Trust me, I’ve been there. Not that I deliberately exposed myself to the elements without taking any basic precautions or even mugging up a few survival techniques as you appear to have done. Let me guess. Finding yourself? Testing your faith? Thought so. Trouble is, it’s OK when the occasional genuinely inspired prophet who also happens to know his way around the desert does it, but it loses its power to impress if it’s reduced to a standard rite of passage for every wannabe holy man – especially when you end up needing to be rescued. I call it the Gap forty days; people feel the need to take the time out before starting their mission, whether they can fill it usefully or not.
“Not that I don’t sympathise, mind. Now that everyone in the world is coming round to expecting the end of the age and looking for a leader, it’s getting a lot harder to get established and stand out from the crowd. Anyway, you didn’t come here for a lecture from me. It’s just nice to have someone to talk to. I’ll leave you to carry on proving yourself. I’ll look out for you on my way back next week. The vultures should help me find your body. That is, unless you fancy a ride…”
I don’t make a habit of throwing myself at other men but I knelt before him and held his legs tightly in my arms, pleading to be saved.
“I’ll take that as a ‘yes’ then. I won’t charge you anything but if you want to buy any of my goods I’d be much obliged. And all I’m going to do is get you to the next town along my way and leave you there. You’re on your own after that, OK?”
I told him I owed him my life and would be grateful wherever he took me.
“Except Samaria, I expect,” he laughed. “Actually I’m on my way to do a bit of trading in Magdala, on the shores of Galilee. I should be able to shift this lot at a tidy profit in a couple of days, then I’ll buy some produce to sell when I get home. The travelling’s quite hard but in between trips I can put my feet up for a couple of weeks. I’ve got one to two other sidelines to stop me getting bored too. It certainly beats labouring in the fields all year round. How does Magdala sound?”
Magdala sounded very good indeed, and I accepted the offer. He even gave me a crust of bread to eat and let me ride the donkey while he walked by its side. I didn’t have the energy to say much, but he seemed quite happy to do the talking. Before nightfall he found an area with a couple of trees and a nearby spring. He lit a fire and soon fell asleep by it. I had been too embarrassed to let him see that the only thing I had brought with me was my diary and pen and a small flask of ink, but once he was asleep I was able to get them out and write by the fading firelight.