Tom catches up on his diary after a walk of several days. Jesus can’t stop worrying. Peter is on the verge of a breakdown. Tom mentions the gold coin.
Thomas, Sunday September 10
The walk back from Dion was a boring slog. We were made unwelcome at two villages on Thursday evening, so both are on the hit list that I intend to hand personally to the Son of Man to add to his own. We trudged onward in the dark to Bethabara, where a small group of recent converts gave us food and a bed, and then yesterday we trudged some more to Nazareth to stay with our families.
Jesus couldn’t resist the lure of the synagogue yesterday morning, but I insisted I would only go if we sat right at the back and didn’t say a word. It’s enough having the end of the age to prepare for without having synagogue slanging matches too. Actually, I was half expecting some of that Nazareth lot to be looking for an excuse to have Jesus flogged, or even stoned, for some infringement of the law or other, so it was vital to keep him out of trouble.
Everyone knew he was there of course, and it was no surprise when the discussions turned to the end of the world: what the Prophets said about it, what the signs of the end would be, and so on. Jesus was like a pot of water on the stove, gradually getting hotter and more agitated. I managed to drag him out via the nearest door while he was seething but hadn’t boiled over completely.
“You know they don’t believe in you, so just leave them to it,” I said when we were outside. “They were deliberately goading you, and you did very well not to respond to their taunts. Go home, have a peaceful day with your parents, and I’ll pick you up at sunrise tomorrow.”
After an otherwise quiet day, I ate what I realised could be my final meal with Hannah and the children, finishing most of the supplies I had brought with me. It was so tempting to leave her the gold coin we had found, but my conscience wouldn’t allow it. We stayed up to say the traditional Selichot prayers at midnight, which would now be said daily until New Year. This increase in the intensity of the build up did nothing to help my anxiety levels. I slept badly and got up as soon as the night sky started to lighten. I kissed Hannah without waking her and went to wait for Jesus to emerge from his door.
Despite his preachings about not worrying, Jesus fretted every weary, dusty, sweaty step of the way to Magdala. He was worried about how Peter would have coped without him, how the followers would have coped with Peter, how the seventy disciples and apostles would have coped with such a major and important tour in such a short time, how everyone would be coping with the return of the seventy in his absence, how Mary would cope with another influx of unwanted guests, and so on. In his place I’d have been worried about leaving my wife with the charming and worldly-wise Cyrus, but he didn’t mention it.
He needn’t have worried. Most of the seventy had already returned but everything was running calmly and smoothly – much more so than before. The camp had grown even larger but now the tents were all arranged in tidy rows, further from the house than they had been, and there was no litter to be seen. A good distance further away from the house, and downwind, some proper latrines had been dug to deal with the outpourings of so many people. Someone had organised the building of a huge outdoor oven from old bricks and clay, near to which lay a massive stash of dry wood, and the smell from a batch of freshly-baked bread coming from the oven would have made my mouth water if it had not been as dry and leathery as my sandals from the long day in the sun. Others had taken some embers from the oven and were building a fire to grill fish. James, John and Andrew could be seen in the distance mending their nets by their boat, which I guessed was now in nightly use helping to feed the hundreds in the camp.
“And you were so worried about how Peter would cope while you were away,” I said to a smiling and relaxed Jesus.
“I know, I should practice what I preach,” he said. “But where is Peter? Probably in the main courtyard organising everything, knowing him.”
“He’s actually in the house in a darkened room on his own,” said a familiar voice. We both turned to see Cyrus, dressed in clean robes and carrying a large stick. He looked like a man in charge, which he was. He was followed by several men carrying supplies of wood, trays of unbaked bread and other essentials, who he directed to their destinations with a few points of his stick before giving us his full attention.
Cyrus explained that Peter’s behaviour had become increasingly erratic after we left. In his morning addresses to the crowds he hadn’t been able to resist telling them that the current age would end in a few weeks’ time on Yom Kippur, creating a degree of panic. He had also departed from the agreed diet of parables, sound bites and Luckies and had started announcing that Jesus was the son of God, and even the Messiah, a semi-mythical figure that no one, not even the Prophets or the present-day scribes, knew much about, but who might be expected to get involved, along with or instead of the Son of Man, in delivering the Jews from oppression at some stage. We had deliberately kept the Messiah out of our message in order to avoid confusion.
Peter’s voices had also given him more and more trouble, talking to him during Thought for the Day and making his behaviour and pronouncements ever stranger. The followers had become increasingly disturbed and disorganised, until a few days ago when Cyrus had decided to take control himself.
“Cy! Any sign of Jesus and Tom yet?” called a female voice. Mary appeared from the courtyard, dressed in white robes and looking very grand.
“Oh, hi guys!” We both kissed her, and she clung tightly to Jesus, but he looked uncomfortable as if he had intruded in someone else’s home. So much had changed in such a short time. I found it comforting in a way: if one unbeliever could achieve all this, how much more the Son of Man would be able to do when he arrived.
The four of us went inside, where Mary washed our aching feet and found us something to drink. Then we sat down and had an enjoyable evening’s eating and drinking while apostles, disciples, followers and hangers-on did their own thing away from the house. We all had plenty to talk about and any awkwardness soon dissipated. Jesus rapidly regained his old authority and tried out all kinds of ideas on us that he might use in the days ahead.
Jesus was the first to go to bed. As Mary stood up to go to join him, I remembered the gold coin and asked her if she knew anything about it. She looked completely surprised and said it must have been a mistake, and could we talk about it tomorrow?
After she had gone, Cyrus turned to me and said we needed to have a conversation, but it could wait till morning. Then he went off to bed, leaving me sitting here doing my best to write down the events of the last few days before I forget them.