…and Simon the fisherman demands a more catchy name
Thomas, Sunday June 25
Awoken by a loud knocking and then kept awake by some equally loud shouting. A man had arrived at the house who said he wanted to meet Jesus, but the fishermen, who had been up for some time tidying the yard, doing minor repairs and organising breakfast, were not going to admit him just like that.
Jesus was not to be disturbed, and anything the visitor wanted to tell Jesus he could tell them. I found it reassuring that our leader had already acquired such an effective bodyguard. Jesus was of course awoken by the commotion and came out to see the man, who told Jesus he had heard all about him and had seen him in the synagogue yesterday, and wanted to join us before it was too late. He had a long discussion with Jesus about what he wanted to achieve, during which I became increasingly concerned.
From what I could hear, he was a supporter of the Zealots, a group whose aim is to secure Jewish freedom through armed rebellion. He seemed to think that God’s new age would come about as a result of overthrowing Herod and eventually driving out the Roman occupiers, leaving the Jews free again to occupy their land, worship their God and keep their money instead of paying it in taxes and tribute to their oppressors.
Of course I needn’t have worried. Jesus stood firm in his insistence on non-violence, stressing that the main aim was to save people’s souls and let the Son of Man do any overthrowing that had to be done when he came down to introduce the new age. It wasn’t an argument Jesus was going to lose to anyone, let alone someone who desperately wanted to be led by him. To reinforce the point, he reminded Simon that the last Zealot uprising, in protest against the census by Quirinius when we were young, had been brutally put down with many of the rebels executed in a mass crucifixion.
So, the Zealot became the twelfth disciple. We didn’t need interviews or a contest; he claimed the place by being the best man for the job, and more importantly by being there at the right time. His enthusiasm and energy would be very useful, just so long as he could keep his aggressive tendencies under control.
“So,” said Simon, brother of Andrew, holding out his hand to welcome the newcomer, who he had been trying to turn away a few minutes earlier, “what’s your name then?”
“Simon,” said the newcomer.
“Oh dear, that’s going to cause problems. We already have one Simon, namely me. We’ll have to call you something else. What was your father’s name?”
“You don’t want to know.”
“Yes I do, that’s why I asked.”
“I realise that, but what I mean is, it’s not going to help you.”
“Of course it is. Then we can call you Simon, son of…son of?”
“Oh, I see. Well, we’ll have to call you something. I was here first, so you can’t just be Simon.”
I decided to try to help, and said, “Perhaps we could call him Simon the Zealot.”
“Thanks for the help Tom,” said Jesus, who had been watching the two Simons squaring up to each other. He put a calming arm around the big strong shoulders of Simon the fisherman. “Let’s try another approach. Simon, apart from Tom here, you are the first disciple I called, and you are clearly a strong personality and a leader of men. You are an important part of my plans. I’m going to give you an extra name. No, hear me out. You will be called Simon the Rock.”
Simon’s chest had been swelling during Jesus’ little speech, but then he said, “That’s really kind Master, and I really like the idea, but even I know that sounds a bit pretentious.”
I was as amazed as anyone to hear him use such a long word, but I managed to compose myself again and said, “Might I make a suggestion? Why not try it in Greek instead of Aramaic? Then you could be Simon Petros…or…how about Simon Peter?”
The big man stroked his big thick grey beard for some time, then eventually broke into a wide smile. “I like it,” he said. “Simon Peter, or you can even call me Peter for short. Hear that everyone? You can all call me Peter from now on. Peter the Rock.”
I surprised myself by giving a prayer of thanks. I had to admit it, Jesus was certainly good at finding unexpected solutions, though happily yet again he needed me to help refine his ideas. Thus, Simon the Zealot became Simon, and Simon brother of Andrew became Simon Peter, or usually just plain Peter, the Rock.
After that, none of the day’s other events really seemed worth recording. We chatted and planned and organised and ate and drank and eventually found places to settle down for the night. The fishermen turned in first as usual, and as the last of us were preparing to make a move I found myself chatting to our latest recruit.
“Is your father’s name really Mahershalalhashbaz?” I couldn’t help asking. Simon the Zealot smiled.
“No, but well remembered. The longest name in the scriptures, as a man of letters like you will know. No, it’s boring old John. I just wasn’t going to let that loud-mouthed bully get the better of me, that’s all.”
There was one other thing, and I must have a word with Jesus about it in the morning. I can see we are beginning to outstay our welcome. Feeding and housing thirteen men is expensive as well as hard work and an intrusion on the normal routine, and when Mary did show her face from time to time she didn’t look as happy and calm as she usually does.