I’m writing this at the inn on the way from Magdala to Nazareth. I’m about to sleep with my wife for the first time in a while. I’m exhausted but relieved, almost exhilarated. All the anxiety, the waiting and yes, the doubt, are over. Tomorrow my family and I will be safely home in Nazareth, with the old world order very much in place.
We stood there without food or water for over twenty four hours, from before sunset on Tuesday to after sunset on Wednesday. Some passed out from hunger or exhaustion, but others revived them and lifted them up. The long night passed, dawn came, the sun scorched all 1,728 of us and the sand on which we stood. When the sun finally set on Wednesday, Peter was still exhorting us to hold our ranks and stand firm. Then about an hour after sunset the spell began to break. Once a few had broken ranks everybody joined in, and it soon began to sound like a bustling market place as men and women tried to come to terms with their fate in whatever way they could.
Some cried, some shouted accusations, some just shrugged and some stood in stunned silence. Most were wondering what on earth they were going to do with their lives now. All were extremely hungry and I feared a raid on the house and its storerooms, so I did what I should have done more often before: I stood up and took charge. Mr Mouthpiece Peter was by now dumbstruck and no use to anyone, and Jesus clearly felt more than a little let down by events.
I apologised for the inconvenience caused by the non-arrival of the Son of Man and announced that there would be bread and fish for everyone in the morning if they would only be patient and go back to their tents, adding that I would ensure a good flogging, if not the death penalty, was administered to anyone caught stealing. It was a convincing combination of threat and promise, and people slowly began to calm down and drift back to the camp, aided by a bright moon in a clear sky.
Then I told the fishermen to get their illiterate gullible arses out onto the lake and get fishing for all they were worth, and to take a couple of dozen suitably qualified men with them who could use any available boats and nets to swell the catch. After that I went back to the house and told the servants they could all have a day’s paid leave, something they had never before been given, provided they stayed up all night making dough and cooking bread. I guessed there probably still wouldn’t be enough to satisfy everyone’s hunger so I made Judas give me a bag of coins from the cache of confiscated cash and sent groups of men and women into Magdala and nearby towns to buy all the food they could as soon as the markets opened in the morning.
Mary and Hannah told me how strong I was being. Strong? I was utterly furious at my weakness in going along with all this preposterous nonsense, much as I still loved Jesus as my best friend, and was just trying to make the best of the situation and prevent people rioting.
The plan worked, and this morning we served up the biggest breakfast I have ever seen. This was the real feeding of the five thousand, or at least almost two thousand.
During the day a curious thing started to happen. While many people were completely demoralised and left as soon as they had eaten, and others like me felt both angry and vindicated, some began to recover some of their belief and to attempt to justify why the Son of Man had not arrived after all.
Perhaps Peter had misunderstood his voices. Perhaps the precise timing had been misunderstood. Perhaps God had simply changed his mind, or hadn’t wanted to be put to the test, and was already working on a new date and a new location. Perhaps the Son of Man had decided he wasn’t quite ready yet. All these people needed to do, it seemed, was get back out again, preaching and exorcising harder than ever, ready for the final deliverance that could come any day, any week, any month now.
“Have you still got that gold coin?” Hannah asked me innocently as we were getting our things together to leave. “It will give us the start we need. It may be hard for you to find work but we’ll face the world together and sort things out, just like we always used to.”
I would have wept at her loyalty after I had done so little to deserve it, but Peter had overheard her and interrupted our reconciliation scene.
“What gold coin?”
That was it. Suddenly the fact that I had half an ounce of gold on me became the reason that the entire camp’s salvation chances had been poisoned. We had a massive row. Now Peter too had his excuse, his scapegoat, his sole reason for the end of the age being cancelled: Thomas. Doubting Thomas.
We left there and then, after a hurried goodbye to a still-dazed Jesus and heartfelt thanks to Mary, who had been screwed over more than anyone, and made it as far as this inn. One last thing I did before leaving was to change my gold coin with Judas for a smaller gold one and a bagful of silver coins. It made the treasury easier to handle for him, and it made it easier to pay the bill at the inn or when shopping for bread on our return.