Thomas, Tuesday May 16
Set off early and followed the shore before turning inland. As the donkey plodded idly forward I thought back over yesterday evening. Jesus and Mary clearly love each other and she has a lovely place there by the lake. Never mind his duties as a husband, he has to be mad not to want to be with her and share his life with her. Maybe he’ll stay, but I have a strange feeling that spreading the message of God’s impending visit will turn out to be more important to him.
I recognised Simon and his brother Andrew, the grilled fish sellers, sitting chatting in a group of fishermen on the beach, sorting their catch and mending nets. I made a note of where to find them for another time. If I was right about fishermen making good followers, those two would make a good foundation for building a team. The morning was hot and I stopped at an inn a mile or so further on for a drink of water. The innkeeper spotted my accent and asked if I was from Nazareth. I said yes.
“Have you heard of Jesus of Nazareth?” he asked. “I know it’s a bit of a long shot, as there must be scores of men called Jesus even in a small town like that. The one I’m talking about is the new miracle worker who some say is the Son of God.”
I didn’t quite know what to say, but as an innkeeper he was used to the sound of his own voice and carried on before I could compose a response.
“One of my customers, Simon he’s called, has been telling everyone about what happened a couple of weeks ago when he went to be baptised in the River Jordan by John the Baptist.”
“Fisherman, is he, this Simon?” I asked. He looked mildly surprised, as if I were in possession of a minor divine revelation. “I mean, this is a big fishing area, so I’d expect a number of your regulars to be fishermen.”
“Of course,” he said. “Anyway, as I was saying, Simon and his brother…”
“Let me guess…was the brother called Andrew?”
The innkeeper almost dropped the cup he was wiping and stared at me, his eyes uncertain whether to widen with surprise or narrow with suspicion.
“Just a lucky guess,” I said. “Sometimes it seems that every other fisherman is an Andrew. Apart from the Simons and Johns of course.” I shrugged and motioned to him to carry on.
“So where was I? Oh yes, so Simon said that John baptised this man, who turned out to be Jesus of Nazareth. And Simon swears this is true, honest to God: as Jesus arose from the water the heavens opened, and glory shone all around, and God announced from his throne five thousand feet up in the sky that this was his only son…there was another word he used too, about what kind of son he was.”
“Begotten?” I ventured. His eyes went from wide to bulging.
“Standard wording in the scriptures,” I explained. “You must have heard it: A begat B, B begat C and so on. Given that all scripture is inspired by God, it’s the kind of word you’d expect him to use when making an official announcement.” I kept a straight face. He cleared his throat and continued.
“Anyway, yes, only begotten son, who he was well pleased with. And then, according to Simon, lame people in the crowd threw down their sticks and walked, and the blind began to see, and all sorts of miraculous things began to happen, and John announced that Jesus was truly the Saviour of the Jews. There’s even a rumour going round that he’s the most sought-after rain maker in Nazareth. What do you think of that?”
“I only wish I’d been there,” I managed to say. “So is he in here every day?”
“No, like I said, he’s from Nazareth. Never seen him in my life.”
“Sorry, I meant this Simon you were telling me about. Does he drink here often?”
“Not as such,” he said with what I took to be a mysterious look. “Simon doesn’t drink, you see. Not any more, anyway. No, he’s gifted. He hears voices, and he says that if he drinks, it interferes with his gift and confuses the voices. But he still comes in with the others and regales us all with his tales. I suppose you could call him the fishermen’s unofficial leader. Anyway, if you do come across this Jesus when you’re back in Nazareth, maybe you could get him to come out this way sometime and do a few works. He’d be very welcome.”
I told him I would keep an eye out and set out on the road again. I had plenty to think about as the donkey resumed its plodding progress. I was beginning to think that a fishing theme might be a good way of making our mission stand out from some of the others. It was something the local people would connect with. I mulled over a few possible catchphrases: ‘Don’t be the one that got away’, or ‘catch the end of the age’, or ‘net yourself a prophet’. Maybe that last one would need too much explanation.
I can navigate by the sun as well as any man, although Hannah sometimes says I should ask for directions more often. You can normally rely on a donkey’s sense of direction too, because they’re so lazy they won’t go a cubit out of their way if they can avoid it. But with the sun high in the sky, the surrounding land a featureless glare and the path barely visible, after a while I had to admit to not being exactly sure where I was, so it was a pleasant surprise to see another rider in the distance coming in my direction, his donkey’s feet stirring up little clouds of dust.
Our paths crossed near a small tree, and we sat in its shade for a few minutes and exchanged greetings and stories. He was a travelling trader on his way from Nazareth to Capernaum, further round the shores of Galilee from Magdala, and he reassured me I was on course. I would be able to follow his footprints now anyway. We talked about this and that, and he urged me to come to Capernaum in two weeks’ time, when he said the famous exorcist Eleazar was rumoured to be appearing.