Mary was already out on the land when I awoke. I thought I might go out and work with her, and perhaps talk as we worked, but as I left the house I heard familiar voices. I looked up to see Matthew, Bart and Judas approaching. I had been wondering how I would track each of them down, and here they were all together.
They told me that after the non-arrival of the Son of Man they had felt lost and confused, not knowing what to do or where to go. Bart and Judas hadn’t wanted to go back to the families they had deserted and decided there wasn’t much hope of getting clerical work in the fishing towns around Galilee. Matthew had lost contact with his daughter and couldn’t exactly go straight back to collecting taxes for the Romans, so all three were faced with having to find manual work to avoid starvation. Judas had the treasury of followers’ donations but was far too correct to consider spending that, and had locked it away safely at Mary’s house.
First they had offered to clean up the camp in return for food, which Mary’s farm manager had grudgingly agreed to, and had done a good job in the three days he allotted them. Then they had set off for Sepphoris, a large town quite near to Nazareth that I had never visited. I don’t exactly know why, but I suppose I had just never felt comfortable about the thought of visiting what people said was a busy, modern and Godless place, preferring instead the traditional surroundings of Nazareth and the towns around Galilee.
Bart and Judas had eventually found some temporary clerical work there and were able to earn enough to pay for food and somewhere to sleep at night. Matthew had remained troubled by recent events and had wandered into the wilderness to be alone with his thoughts. He seemed to have managed better than I did, finding streams to drink from and berries to eat, but he did have the advantage of making his trip in the autumn when the days were cooler and the bushes and trees had a little fruit left on them.
He admitted that he had slept little and eaten less, but said it was worth it to get his head together and await a response to his prayers.
“Then something happened that made me go to search out Bart and Judas and come back here,” he said.
“What, did Cyrus turn up and offer you food and a ride on his camel?” I asked. He frowned.
“No, I had a vision,” he said. He had obviously had a much more conventional wilderness experience than I had. “I was ready to drop from exhaustion if hunger didn’t do the job first. In fact all I had eaten for two days were a fig that had found its way under a stone and out of sight of birds, and a small mushroom. I know I could have poisoned myself but I didn’t care by then.
“It started during the night. The calls of the wild animals had disturbed me yet again and I was half awake, half dreaming. I felt I was being transported up into the sky. But it wasn’t dark. I was surrounded by wonderful bright, swirling lights, and there were huge fountains of cool water wherever I looked, and the noises of the animals had become the voices of all the nations on earth. I looked down and could see thousands, maybe millions of men, women and children, their heads and arms raised. Then I became aware that I was in the presence of the Son of Man.”
“How did you know, and what did he look like?”
“I just did, and he looked like…he was…you.”
“Me?” I said. “Why would he look like me?”
“I don’t know, but it all made sense, and I knew I had to find the others and come and find you. Then the lights grew brighter and brighter, and I came round to find the sun blazing down on my face.”
“And I suppose you never managed to drink from the fountains.”
“No, they taunted my thirst but never slaked it, as happens in dreams. But actually I think they may have represented spiritual water, and that was what I really thirsted for.”
I almost began to feel jealous again. First there had been Peter with his ability to hear spiritual voices, and now even an ex tax collector was having visions of spiritual water and receiving revelations far better than I had ever experienced. Still, I could use the water idea, and the idea of the Son of Man looking like me had a certain appeal.
“So how did you get back to Sepphoris and find the others then?”
“Well, you might not believe me, but after I had been wandering for a few hours in a confused state, Cyrus turned up on his camel and rescued me. He said he was going in that direction in business anyway. He gave me food and water, took me into town and, by talking to a few of what he called his contacts, managed to track these two down. I owe him a huge favour, but it was hard even to get him to accept thanks. They had to continue working till the end of the week, then yesterday we walked to Magdala and stayed in an inn overnight. And here we are.”
By the time he had finished, with more elaborations, interruptions, wanderings and explanations than I have recorded here, it was late morning, and when the other two had told their more mundane story the sun was in decline.
We chatted in a general way about a relaunch and I invited them to stay a few days, so long as they would sleep outside and pay their way. Then we helped prepare dinner for five instead of the two that had been planned. Mary came in late and was tired, but she was really pleased to see the three guests and insisted they had a room in the house. The time wasn’t right to discuss my plans.