Sometimes in life you look back into your past and recognise an unexpected event or a chance meeting that changed the course of your life completely. I have a feeling that in a few years’ time, if for any reason the world hasn’t ended by then, I will identify the events of today in that way. Some call it fate. I call it God’s will. Maybe, looking back a few days, it all started when I was in the desert.
Somehow last night, Mary and I managed to fall out again without actually having a major shouting match. In fact very little was said at all. Maybe we know each other too well, but without knowing how to put that knowledge to positive use. We both just knew I was headed home to Nazareth, but neither of us knew whether it was what we really wanted or how to go about preventing it if it wasn’t what we wanted. I knew that with Tom’s help I would get a successful mission going, but there was still something missing, and not just the support of my lovely wife: the loving, kind, good, tall, slim, graceful, fine-featured Mary Magdalene who I don’t deserve.
She had packed up some bread, water and fish for my day’s walk, and I was just arranging my cloak and hood to block out the sun when I heard the clump of donkey hoofs in the courtyard. I looked up to see the Samaritan.
“Hey, where are you off to, my friend?”
“Back home to Nazareth, to be with my family and prepare to begin my mission.”
“But your family is here,” he said. “You’re a married man with a wife who loves you and who’d support you in anything you want to do, if only you would let her. Your mother and father and brothers and sisters are of little importance compared to your wife. And when you become a great teacher they will have to compete with all your followers too.”
“So what qualifies you to give all this advice?” I asked.
“Ah, you’d be surprised…Look, let me help you prepare for your mission. You’re a great guy, and your friend Tom has some terrific ideas…”
“How do you know?”
“Ah,” he said again, but he noticed my annoyed look and smiled. “Sorry, sometimes I overdo the enigmatic bit. It’s no mystery really, I met him on the road on his way back to Nazareth yesterday. He told me about your plans, and I suppose I was a bit sneaky not telling him I had already met you. I’m on my way to do a bit of business in Capernaum anyway and Magdala’s on my way, so I thought I’d drop by.”
I didn’t comment, so after a pause he continued.
“Tom made it quite clear he wanted to get you out on your mission as soon as possible, after the superb launch he arranged for you at your baptism. That story has spread more than you might realise, thanks to some impressionable witnesses, and it’s already gaining some mythical embellishments in the retelling. He told me about some of his other ideas and I agree that if it was just a career as another John the Baptist you were after, you should be out there now spreading the message in the synagogues and preparing the ground for some bigger meetings outdoors. Once you can pull the big crowds, your mission will take off in a big way. You obviously have the drive and the aptitude, and he certainly has the talent to manage a campaign and write memorable speeches. And parables.”
“Oh, just another idea he was working on. I thought he would have discussed it with you, but he did say you didn’t always listen to what he had to say. You don’t realise what an asset he is, obviously. In terms of ideas and strategy, the man’s clearly a genius.”
I was about to say this was only my friend Tom we were discussing, but he was off again.
“Anyway, there was one area where both of you are obviously uncertain, and more than a little out of your depth. And in my humble opinion, it’s an area that would make the difference between your being a respected teacher and an outstanding spiritual leader, if you could get on top of it.”
“Look,” I finally managed to say. “I appreciate your concerns, but I hardly know you and I certainly don’t want your advice. God will be my guide in my mission, and Tom can help me with some of the sermons and para-thingies…But anyway, what area in particular were you thinking of?”
“Healing. And exorcism.”
“Oh, those. I’m not sure I need them to get my message across, and anyway, if I do, I’m sure God will give me the necessary powers. It’s not something you can learn like a party trick, after all,” I said.
“Oh no? I mean oh no, not a party trick, but there certain techniques you can master to help you on your way. And wouldn’t you like to learn mind reading too? And foretelling the future? Don’t you think that would help to make you stand out from the crowd?”
I told him I didn’t want to become known as some dodgy magician using dark arts instead of God’s power, and we argued for some time. Eventually he said he would give me a demonstration. He held my wrists in his fingertips, looked into my eyes and began to tell me about myself. Everything about myself: my family background, my life history, my ambitions and hopes, my innermost fears, my relationship with my wife and some plausible reasons for why we didn’t always get on as well as we should (as well as our lack of children he identified my discomfort about her material wealth, something I had never consciously been aware of, which was really insightful), my talent for fishing, and so on. I was utterly astounded. It was so accurate. The only time he faltered was when I asked if he could see me leading my people to God’s kingdom at the end of the age. His face darkened for a moment, then his smile returned and he said we didn’t need to worry about that just yet. The thing was, he said, with the right natural abilities and a degree of application, it would be possible to learn the skills to heal and to see into other people’s hearts as he had just done with me. Of course such powers weren’t possible without God, but God helps those who help themselves.
“Look at it this way,” he said. “You’re supposed to be spending forty days in the desert finding yourself, but you’ve only been away from Nazareth for a week or so, leaving you a whole month free when no one will expect to see you. You really have nothing to lose. This is your chance to return to your people genuinely transformed during your time away. Imagine the impression that would make! Imagine what you could learn in a month in the hands of a really good teacher.”
“But where will I find such a teacher?” I asked. It sounded like a cliché but I had never heard it before. I don’t wish to sound arrogant, but I feel it is my destiny to be one of those people who create memorable sayings rather than repeat them. I knew the answer to my question as soon as I had asked it.
“There you are,” he said. “I can see you’ve seen the answer to your question already. A very promising start. Now, we just need to agree a few arrangements.”