JUDE remains glum about the numbers. He wants more turning up to listen, more obvious success. He mentions Menahem, from Capernaum, who gets a bigger crowd than me. I do not know Menahem.
“He’s local, of course, and his family help,” says Jude. “Could not your family do the same? If each of them came and brought a friend. . .”
“You are my family, Jude.” He looks shocked.
“No, I mean your real family, teacher — your mother, brothers, and sisters.”
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters — yes, even his own life, they cannot be my disciple.
“They cannot, for they will always be looking round and about. You must be free of attachments, Jude — free even of the desire for success, for large crowds around us! And anyway, as I say, you are my family, Jude.”
Jude is speechless, though he finds one none the less. “You can’t say that, teacher. I know you jest but you really can’t say that. That will not win friends. Family is everything! And the Temple, of course.”
“He doesn’t mean it,” says Rocky to Jude shortly after. He takes him aside to reassure him. “Obviously he doesn’t mean it. He’s just tired.”
I hear him. He tries to defend me; he always does. He has believed I need defending ever since he left his fishing boat and family in Bethsaida in order to journey with me. They were not pleased, but Rocky said it was only for a while.
I had asked him to come along, adding “though I promise you nothing”. And he said, “That’s good enough for me!” as if I had offered him a palace.
“You will now be a fisher of men, Rocky . . . a more difficult catch by far.”
Rocky still liked to talk of the sea and its different ways. Everyone likes what they know, and he knew about the sea; knew more than anyone. He told me a strong wind could turn the sea upside down. “Literally upside down, teacher! The warm water on top is sent to the depths; and the cold water below comes to the surface. You can feel it. And the fish don’t know where they are! But we do.” He winks.
And so I said that we would do the same, we would turn the world upside down and bring those at the bottom to the top; bring the cold into the sunlight and send everyone else plunging down! It’s the poor who need raising up!
“Not all of them, I hope,” he replies. “I’ve met the poor. And some of them are little shits . . . wouldn’t want them raised up.”
And he imagines himself the leader of the band. When he is not sulking, he jollies and jests people along; and speaks of fish as often as possible. “Things shall build, Jude,” he says. “Just wait and see. Fishing is all about finding the right spot, and only true fishermen know that. You can have the best net in Galilee but if you aren’t in the right place, you catch nothing.
“So, we need to be in the right place and people will come, believe it — and we shall change Judaea! Turn it upside down!”
Jude bows to his enthusiasm and force. He cannot take Rocky on; he is not built for that. He is quick and clever and full of ideas, but I do wish he would laugh more. I try to make Jude laugh, to become less serious. He calculates for me — adding our income and subtracting our costs — but I wish him to laugh with me. And I wish him to melt a little; and for his smile to reach his eyes.
“So, you are a clever man, Jude.” I say, “Are you not clever?”
“Jude — clever?” It is Rocky. “Clever with words, perhaps — but you can’t eat words.”
“Though you must often eat yours, Rocky!” says Levi. He is a new arrival, and welcomed by some, particularly Joanna.
“At last! Somebody with some sense,” she says. Levi was the least popular sort when he joined: a tax collector. You cannot get lower. He had collected taxes for the Romans and with a sharp eye for gain. Two for the Romans was always one for him, until I said to him, “Levi, there is better gain in the world than a pile of coins.”
And now his passion is to give it all away! He made his money; and now he lets it go. It confuses people, of course, and some do not trust him, including Rocky who offers him no welcome at all. He calls him “Caesar”, to make a Roman of him. “Hail, Caesar!” he says, in angry jest. But Levi does not fear Rocky.
Maybe tax collectors fear no one; there is no threat they have not faced or curse they have not heard or knife they have not avoided. But he has a battle on his hands. They are up there with Samaritans in these parts, routinely reviled; and Rocky, for one, does not want him here.
AND I remember I played a game with them. It seems a long time ago, but how would they ever be friends if they did not play games? They had so little in common and much to divide; a game seemed good idea. So hear how it went.
I say: “‘-ible’ or ‘-able’ at the end of a word — what does that mean?” They all look blank so I repeat it: “‘-ible’ or ‘-able’ at the end of a word. What does it mean?”
“Jude doesn’t know!” says Rocky, grabbing him and putting his hand over his mouth. Jude fights in vain to free himself; his hands are not as strong.
“It implies expectation,” says John quietly, while Jude brushes himself down. People sometimes forget John is there. He likes the shadows best.
“I was going to say that,” says Jude. Mockery ensues. “No, seriously, I was — I was just thinking. And then Rocky. . .”
“John is right,” I say. “As Jude would have been, had he not been assaulted. Expectation implied. So let’s try it out. ‘Laudable’. What does ‘laudable’ mean?”
“The expectation they or it will be praised,” says John, precisely.
“Teacher’s favourite,” says Rocky. He says John is my favourite and so attacks when he can.
“Someone about to be blamed?” says Thomas.
“Spoken from experience, my friend?” says Levi. He doesn’t suffer self-doubt himself.
“There speaks the rat from Bethsaida, of course!” Rocky’s words silence everyone. Levi stares at him. “Once a Roman, always a Roman, as the zealots say. Jewish money taken by “Caesar” here and sent abroad, sent to the Romans. Not good, Caesar, not good. I mean, you say now that you give it away, but what’s done is done!”
Rocky tries to smile as he speaks, as if he jokes and banters. “Or am I being too harsh, Caesar boy? Probably I am, way too harsh. Don’t listen to me. I don’t listen to myself sometimes! It just comes out, I’m joshing, I’m joshing — nothing meant!”
Levi is furious. “An accusation made cannot be withdrawn.”
Rocky tries to put his arm around him but Levi shrugs him off. “As I say, I meant nothing by it, old fellow! You don’t want to listen to me! It was just a thought, and probably a bad one!”
“I paid back what I owed; though it’s not to you I answer. You spill too much for one so eager to lead.”
“Lead?” says Rocky, as if bewildered.
I return them to the game.
“Admirable,” I say into the difficult silence. Sometimes you must just row into the wave and trust the boat.
“The expectation they will be admired,” says John firmly. “We need not argue, everyone. Why must we argue?” He looks at Rocky.
“Unloveable,” I say. And no one speaks, as if I have spoken out of turn or touched a nerve. “Unloveable,” I repeat and hold the silence until Jude responds, his throat tight. “One who expects not to be loved.”
“Exactly,” I say. “One who expects not to be loved. Like a tax collector, perhaps?”
“Or a fisherman who leaves his family.” It is not a question from Levi; though neither he nor Rocky look at each other.
“But what if we could change that, my friends?” And here is my purpose. Every game has a purpose. “What if we could help the unloveable expect to be loved? Tax collector? Fisherman? Samaritan? Scribe? What if no one is unloveable? What if Yahweh is a father who sprints towards us in love whoever we are and whatever we have done?”
Jude corrects me: “It is not decent for a man to sprint, teacher.” And when I don’t respond he adds: “It lacks gravitas and is for boys, not men. None of our leaders or elders sprint, it is not the custom, nor would it be respected. It is not decent.”
“Oh really?” I say and Jude nods. “So perhaps Yahweh is not decent?”
“We should not talk like that, teacher.”
I like Jude for I see his soul; though he cannot; and lives from somewhere else. And so for all his calculation and all his knowing, he knows nothing.
This is an edited extract from Gospel: Rumours of love, by Simon Parke, published on 1 February by White Crow Books at £11.99 (Church Times Bookshop £10.79); 978-1-78677-147-6.
Listen to an interview with Simon Parke on the Church Times Podcast