Campaign manager Thomas is impressed by the effect of their new ideas in winding up the elders in the synagogue. He is less impressed by the apparent exorcism and miraculous cure that follow, but some people can’t get enough of it.
Thomas, Saturday June 24
Half of Capernaum is talking about Jesus after his appearance in the synagogue today. As usual, not all the comments are favourable, but you can’t say he hides his light under a cooking pot. I’ll just write that one in my book of sayings…
He started off by interrupting the discussions of the local elders and scribes, questioning what they said and challenging their interpretation of the scriptures. Then he went one stage further and tried out some of the lines he and I have been working on: the poorest becoming the richest in the new kingdom, the weakest becoming the most powerful and so on. It all sounds very striking and empowering, but I have grave reservations about whether the likes of Thaddeus and James could reign in glory in any kingdom. That aside, the effect of his words on everyone was startling. First they argued with him, then they started shouting him down. I was quite glad to be near the back, close to the door, not that I would have deserted my leader and best friend if he was threatened. I wouldn’t need to be in the first line of defence anyway. Our four fishermen friends were close by him and were enough to deter anyone from thoughts of grabbing hold of him to throw him out.
After a while it all calmed down again, particularly after Simon and Andrew persuaded Jesus to sit down and give someone else a chance to speak. Then, with his usual perfect sense of timing, a wild grey-haired old man burst through the doors. Why couldn’t I have a normal dad like everyone else? And how did he get here? We had left instructions that he was to be kept in the house to rest and wasn’t to be told where we had gone.
“What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” he roared as if possessed. “Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are…”
Jesus rose to his feet, suddenly boiling over with rage.
“Get out! Now!” he yelled, pointing at my father. He didn’t need this kind of interruption to his big debut. Unfortunately, instead of fleeing as instructed, Dad fell to the ground as if he had received an uppercut to the chin and writhed on his back. I knew I should go over and see if he was all right, but as I hesitated he shrieked and replied in a terrifying voice,
“I go as you command! You are the holy one of God! Let me out of the door!”
Dad’s chest arched up and his entire body tensed. Then he went limp and flopped to the floor. Somehow I had the presence of mind to give the door a good hard push. It opened and then swung back and closed with a bang.
Maybe Dad’s demon had come back. Maybe Jesus had just exorcised it again. Maybe I really had let it escape through the door. I may not have been entirely convinced, but most of the people present were in no doubt about what they had seen and were pressing to get a better look at my father. James and John picked him up and I followed them outside. He looked up and gave me a big smile.
“Hello Tom,” he whispered. I’ve been looking for you for days, son. I’ve been everywhere. I’m glad they found you.”
Maybe not completely coherent, but otherwise he seemed fine. James and John said they would take him back to the house and look after him, and insisted I go back inside to support Jesus.
As if he needed it. Although the elders and scribes were talking angrily among themselves in a seething knot, furious at being upstaged, everyone else was convinced they had witnessed a dramatic exorcism by this man who had previously been interpreting the scriptures with almost divine insight. And given that Dad or his demon had clearly identified Jesus’ holiness, it was fair to say Capernaum was convinced. I was perhaps the only one who thought that Jesus had just been angry at yet another troublesome interruption from my dad.
Had it not been for Simon asking Jesus if he minded him leaving to see his dying mother-in-law, I think Jesus would have milked the attention for much longer. Jesus immediately said he wanted to come too, and he slipped out quietly, accompanied by Simon and Andrew and myself, leaving the others to talk to the excited gathering and get back to Mary’s when they could. We met James and John outside, and the six of us strode off to Simon and Andrew’s family home in Bethsaida. It was a few miles further round the lake but it was a pleasant day
Although she didn’t come to the door to greet us, the mother-in-law didn’t look too bad to me. While Simon crossed the room to where she lay reclined on a couch, the rest of us were introduced to Simon and Andrew’s parents, wives and children.
I asked Ruth, Simon’s wife, what was wrong with her mother and was surprised when she said that her mum was a bit of a hypochondriac and was probably only doing it for attention. It did cross my mind that considering the woman was supposed to be dying, it hadn’t prevented Simon deserting her, along with the rest of the family, when Jesus had called him two days before.
“Mother, I want you to meet Jesus of Nazareth, the miracle worker I have told you about,” boomed Simon in his big gruff voice. Without thinking, she stood up, smiled and greeted Jesus with open arms, welcoming him to the house.
“Look, another miracle!” boomed Simon even more loudly. There was great excitement as everyone gathered round to witness the cure, only Ruth staying in the background with me. She leant over and spoke softly.
“She sometimes forgets she’s supposed to be ill. I came home with a new jewel on my shoulder yesterday, and she almost leapt up to get a good look. It was ages before she remembered to be ill again and asked me to help her back down onto her couch. I know I should obey the commandment to honour my mother, but she does take advantage. She’s blown her chances of any more sympathy now though. Everyone’s witnessed her miraculous cure.”
There was no doubt in everyone else’s minds as to what they had seen, and no doubt Simon would add it to his fast-expanding repertoire of tales. I really should show more faith in my friend and leader, but my job is to support his campaign, not follow it. The way he’s going he almost doesn’t seem to need my support, but he will do when the big speeches come. With the following he is building up already, he will soon be making those speeches to some big crowds.
With this in mind I went over and spoke quietly to Jesus, saying we needed to do some work on our writing after sunset, and we really should be getting back to Magdala anyway as it was a good three hours’ walk away. Given the miles we had covered, it was a good job it’s not strictly illegal to walk on the Sabbath.
The family saw us off and seemed quite happy to let Simon leave them again. Ruth had told me that for some time he had talked of little else except wanting to follow Jesus, so they had agreed between themselves to let him work through the mid-life, end-of-world crisis that seems to afflict so many men. There was enough money and food coming in to manage without him and his brother for a few weeks.
On the way back I noticed our number had increased by one more. We had been joined by Philip, a friend of Simon and Andrew’s who had been at the house. He too had been seeking a leader to prepare him for the coming of the Kingdom, and he found the call of Jesus irresistible.
I must stop writing and get some sleep now. I seem to have been scribbling for hours. It’s been a tiring day and there’s work to do tomorrow. By the time we had arrived, washed and eaten it was too late to start working on any speeches with Jesus, and anyway he was too busy enjoying the attention of the others. He’s gone to join Mary now. The four fishermen are asleep already and the others are sitting around chatting.
Matthew, Judas and Bart all showed an interest in what I was writing, and I told them I was just keeping a few notes of Jesus’ mission to give me something to remember it by when I’m an old man. The four of us have a clerical background and are quite different to the fishermen. I can see us sticking together in the times ahead. Philip is pleasant enough and seems to get on with everyone, but in my mind I’m classing him as a fifth fisherman. Having two disciples called James was starting to cause confusion, even though they are both quite different and people generally know which one they are talking about, so by general agreement the newcomer has become known as Jamie, a name he uses himself anyway. Just so long as we don’t get another Simon. I don’t think our friend could cope with the competition.