Jesus tries out some new ideas on the crowds, with varying levels of success as hecklers help him refine his message.
Jesus, Saturday July 15
We turned up unannounced at the synagogue in Bethsaida today. Tom was still housebound and a few of the disciples had gone away, so there was only a small group of us and I deliberately kept it low key. Even then, word seemed to start spreading as soon as people saw us walking down the street, despite the fact that I thought I was hardly known here. We had rowed across yesterday afternoon and stayed with relatives of Peter’s, so perhaps they had said something. Anyway, I managed to get in some useful debate with the elders early on, but soon there were more people outside the building than inside again, and the ones outside were demanding to hear me. It made me wonder where they had all come from. I had always assumed that everyone, or at least all men and older boys, went to the synagogue every Sabbath anyway, but there was normally plenty of room for everyone.
Anyway, after a bit I went outside and addressed the people there before they became too restless. There were a lot of women and children outside, which explained some of the extra numbers. This was no place for discussion; I had to preach to them. I decided to try out some of what Tom called the ‘Luckies’. I took a deep breath and projected my voice as we had been practicing.
“Lucky are the poor!” I began.
“Not as lucky as the rich,” one man called out, but he was shouted down.
“The poor are lucky because the Kingdom of God is theirs,” I explained. Tom had written these in a way that sounded poetic, but I already felt I needed to give extra explanation. Not that it was enough.
“When’s that going to happen then?” asked a red faced woman.
So I broke off and explained that God, or more precisely, his representative the Son of Man, was coming very soon. It could be today, in which case even I and my disciples weren’t quite ready, or in the next few weeks, or definitely within months. And when he came, he would overthrow the current world order and the poor and the oppressed would take over from the rich and powerful. All of this was so obvious to me I sometimes forgot that I needed to explain it, but that’s one reason I’m doing what I do.
“Oh, so quite soon then,” said the red-faced woman. “And how poor is poor?”
I could have cursed for not having thought of this one. A parable would have come in handy now, especially a nice confusing one.
“The poorer the better,” I managed to say. “The first will be last and the last first!”
That got everybody going and I took the opportunity to whisper an instruction to Peter and Andrew to remember what I had just said, because I wanted to be able to use it again. Tom would have written it down and I felt exposed without him at my side.
“So it’s not just pie in the sky,” called a rotund man. “You mean the pie is about to come down from the sky and feed us all.”
“Yes, if you like, which brings me to my next point. Lucky are the hungry, for they will be filled.” This one came out exactly as Tom had written it, and people were getting the gist of it now.
“So the hungriest will eat first, and the fat rich man will eat last,” someone called out.
The rotund man started to argue that the fat could still be as hungry as anyone, and you could still be poor and fat if you had a slow metabolism. I decided to keep the full list of Luckies for another day and try out some other lines instead.
“Love your enemies!”
This launched us into a further round of heated debate, which I actually found quite helpful. By arguing for and against, and working towards a conclusion, the crowd and I were developing ideas in a much more constructive way than Tom and I had managed to do so far. I looked at Peter and Andrew, who nodded to show they were taking it all in. Although our debate reached conclusions, they were not always conclusions that everyone could accept, and I noticed some people walking away. I began to realise that as time went on, I would lose the wealthy and influential from my following and attract the poor and helpless. This was exactly as it should be of course, but in the short term, until the new kingdom arrived, it would make organising and funding the mission more difficult.
We carried on till the sun began to set, when I sent everyone away. Considering it had not been planned, this had been a very useful day. I came back to stay with Peter’s relatives again and we will row back to Magdala in the morning. Peter and Andrew have been busy repeating some of the more memorable phrases from today to use another time, and now I have access to pen and papyrus I can write them down to share with Tom.