Arrival at work during the afternoon did not go down well with my boss.
“Six days shalt thou labour, Thomas,” he said, “and out of respect for the Law and your wellbeing I give you not only the Sabbath but all holy days off. Then I allowed you have yesterday off in return for all the overtime you have done recently, and I was even willing to accept you might be slightly late this morning, but what time do you call this? What next? Maybe you’d like an additional two weeks of holy days to go and sit on a beach somewhere and relax like a rich man? Now go and stand at your desk and finish that pile of writing before I find someone else with more appetite for the job.” He had a point.
I had just blown out my candle last night when Jesus came in, unable to sleep and wanting to chat about getting the mission started as soon as possible. If the way he was gabbling was any indication of how his mind was swirling with ideas, it was no wonder he couldn’t settle. He moved agitatedly, unable to keep still, the flickering lamp in his hand casting shadows that flittered around as unpredictably as his thoughts and words. I persuaded him to sit down and put the lamp on the floor so we could talk, and I reminded him there were others in the house who would prefer to carry on sleeping, given the choice.
“So what ideas do you want to talk about?” I asked.
“Um, well, I can’t quite get my thoughts together,” he said. “Obviously I can do exorcism and healing now but I see that as reinforcing the power of the message, not an end in itself.”
“Well, that’s a good start,” I said, “but I think you need to allow things to settle down a bit, and then perhaps we can chat again in a day or two’s time.” I was hoping he would go back to bed and leave me in peace, but he’s not much good at taking a hint.
“But that’s why I want to talk to you, to help settle my thoughts. And anyway, you’re the campaign manager. What do you think we should do next?” He had me there.
“Well, we certainly aren’t ready to get going immediately. Give it a week or two. I can get started on a plan back in Nazareth, and you could come back in a few days’ time and work on it with me. You could make a bit of an entrance: surprise them all with the new you after your trials in the wilderness; make them realise they should never have doubted you.”
“That’s not a bad plan in itself. But you must have had some ideas. What have you got so far?”
“Well, actually, I was thinking of a fish theme,” I said.
I could sense that I wasn’t getting the instant approval I had hoped for.
“I’m trying to save the people chosen from God’s chosen people to live with God in power and glory while the rest of humanity is cast out to wail and gnash their teeth, and all you can offer is sardines?”
“No, listen. It’s something everyone around here can relate to. I was actually thinking themes around fishing, rather than fish per se. Nearly everyone depends on subsistence farming or fishing, and you don’t need me to tell you there really isn’t much mileage in subsistence farming. Fishing may not be glamorous, but it has a certain romance about it, and in the sense that you can own your own boat and even make some spare cash it’s aspirational. How about: ‘Don’t be the one that got away’, or ‘catch the end of the age’, or ‘net yourself a prophet’…?”
Jesus winced. “The first two were terrible, and I don’t get the third one. I think you may have to come up with a new campaign.”
I wasn’t ready to give up yet. “Look, we’ve agreed that a few fishermen would make a really good core group for your band of close followers, so it will be a theme they can really relate to. And you keep telling me you have some weird kind of sixth sense when it comes to fishing. Think about it for a couple of days before you throw it out. How about a recruitment drive where you say, ‘I will make you fishers of men’?”
“That was the worst one so far,” he said. “Any more brilliant ideas?”
He can be quite cutting at times. He liked the sheep idea, mainly I think because the idea of being the shepherd in charge of his flock appealed to his vanity.
“Anyway,” I said, “we don’t have to decide just yet, but you can’t just go out there and say ‘Follow me, the world’s about to end’ and exorcise a few demons. Well you could, I mean I’ve seen worse, but if you want the biggest and best following you’re going to have to sort out your message and deliver a few well-prepared speeches. And you must have some followers to organise the crowds, run errands and help spread the message, and so far you haven’t got a single one apart from me, so there’s plenty to do before we’re ready to take the show on the road.
“On the other hand, you will already be getting a reputation after your show-stealing performance tonight, and the rumours are still going round about what happened at your baptism, so you can’t afford to leave it too long either. But whatever happens, I need to knuckle down at work for a while or I’ll be in trouble.
“Don’t worry about your work Tom,” he said. You won’t need a job in the new age. You’ll be much better off working with me.”
“Hmm, sure,” I muttered, the niggles at the back of my mind giving me a wave to make sure I knew they were still there.
Anyway, we carried on talking for hours. Jesus eventually stopped pacing around the room and lay down on the spare mattress and carried on talking from there. Finally I saw his eyelids start to droop. I said nothing for a minute or two and he fell asleep in the silence. I blew out the lamp, settled down and was asleep myself within seconds.
When I awoke the sun was already up. Jesus was nowhere to be seen. I rushed out and found Mary, who offered me bread and water for my journey home. She said Jesus had gone for a walk and hadn’t said when he’d be back. I was already going to be really late for work, so I thanked Mary for her generous hospitality, asked her to apologise to Jesus on my behalf for not waiting to see him and set out for Nazareth at the briskest pace I thought I could maintain for a long walk in the heat of the day. I expected to bump into Jesus along the way but we somehow managed to miss each other.