Jesus was waiting for me when I left work. He ignored the ‘Hail Rain Man!’ jibes from my work mates and talked agitatedly as we walked along.
“You’re not having any second thoughts, are you Tom? No lingering doubts?” he said.
“Of course not mate. I’ve already been thinking about how we might get you started. I think it would be a good idea to make yourself known in some of the other synagogues in the area. You’re a natural at interpreting the scriptures and debating their true meaning with the so-called experts, and you’ll soon get noticed. I can help you write some set-piece speeches to start to get your message across. I can even help you work out what exactly your message is and what you intend to do next, if and when you start to build up a following. But I think you need more than that to really get yourself noticed. I was thinking of some kind of launch event. Leave it with me, I’ll think of something.”
He didn’t reply. His lips were tight and he looked down at the ground as we walked.
“What’s up?” I said. “What’s bothering you?”
“It’s those rumours about my being conceived before my parents were married.”
“That was thirty odd years ago…even for the new you it was over 28 years ago. Nobody remembers that far back, and nobody cares even if they do remember.”
“Yes they do. Since that rain thing people have started taking more notice of me, and one or two been calling me ‘bastard’ again. Nobody’s called me that since we were at school, before Dad threatened one of the other fathers with a length of four by two and it all stopped. Even if I do move away from Nazareth when I start the preaching campaign, someone will say something at some point, and that kind of thing doesn’t befit a man of God.”
“I’ll think of something, don’t worry.”
“I know Joseph isn’t my dad. That’s what really bothers me. My mum has always made comments to me about a special person that looks out for me. I look different from my brothers. Look at me: I’m a redhead for goodness’ sake!”
“So what? Jewish families have redheads. It happens. You may have noticed during the last 30 years that I’m a ginger too. I’m proud of it. It’s a sign of royalty. It means you’re special, different in a good way. You’re descended from King David, like thousands of others…OK, we’ll work something out, I promise.”
I sat outside with Hannah after the kids had gone to bed. It was nice and cool and the stars were out.
“Do you fancy going to see John the Baptist sometime?” she said. “He’s baptising people in the River Jordan and getting really big crowds. He says the end of the world could happen any day, and we should all be baptised in readiness for God’s new kingdom. Do you think he’s right?”
“I doubt it somehow, but you never know,” I said.
“I’d really like to see him if you’ll take me. People say he’s a really good preacher. And he keeps saying the one who comes after him will be even bigger than he is. I wonder if he will give any clues about who it might be. It should be really good…”
“Yes, OK, I’ll go with you.” Her face lit up with surprised delight. I’d just had an idea. “I’m not promising to get baptised, mind, but I’ll come along and listen to what he has to say. I’ll try to get some time off work later this week. I’ve not had a day off for three years so they shouldn’t really object.”