Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal Chapter 29

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal Chapter 29

Chapter 29

When it was all finished, Simon looked great, better than I’d ever seen him look. Joshua had not only raised him from the dead, but also healed his leprosy. Maggie and Martha were ecstatic. The new and improved Simon invited us back to his house to celebrate. Unfortunately, Abel and Crustus had witnessed the resurrection and the healing, and despite our admonishments, they started to spread the story through Bethany and Jerusalem.

Joseph of Arimathea accompanied us to Simon’s house, but he was hardly in a celebratory mood. “This dinner’s not exactly a trap,” he told Joshua, “it’s more like a test.”

“I’ve been to one of their trials by dinner,” said Joshua. “I thought you were a believer.”

“I am,” said Joseph, “especially after what I saw today, but that’s why you have to come to my house and have dinner with the Pharisees from the council. Show them who you are. Explain to them in an informal setting what it is that you are doing.”

“Satan himself once asked me to prove myself,” said Joshua. “What proof do I owe these hypocrites?”

“Please, Joshua. They may be hypocrites, but they have great influence over the people. Because they condemn you the people are afraid to listen to the Word. I know Pontius Pilate, I don’t think anyone would harm you in my home and risk his wrath.”

Joshua sat for a moment, sipping his wine. “Then into the den of vipers I shall go.”

“Don’t do it, Joshua,” I said.

“And you have to come alone,” said Joseph. “You can’t bring any of the apostles.”

“That’s not a problem,” I said. “I’m only a disciple.”

“Especially not him,” said Joseph. “Jakan bar Iban will be there.”

“So I guess it’s another night sitting home for me, too,” said Maggie.

Later we all watched and waved as Joseph and Joshua left to go back to Jerusalem for the dinner at Joseph’s house.

“As soon as they get around the corner you follow them,” Maggie said to me.

“Of course.”

“Stay close enough to hear if he needs you.”

“Absolutely.”

“Come here.” She pulled me inside the door where the others wouldn’t see and gave me one of those Maggie kisses that made me walk into walls and forget my name for a few minutes. It was the first in months. She released me and held me at arm’s length, then, “You know that if there were no Joshua, I wouldn’t love anyone but you,” she said.

“You don’t have to bribe me to watch over him, Maggie.”

“I know. That’s one of the reasons I love you,” she said. “Now go.”

My years of trying to sneak up on the monks in the monastery paid me back as I shadowed Joshua and Joseph through Jerusalem. They had no idea I was following, as I slipped from shadow to shadow, wall to tree, finally to Joseph’s house, which lay south of the city walls, only a stone’s throw from the palace of the high priest, Caiaphas. Joseph of Arimathea’s house was only slightly smaller than the palace itself, but I was able to find a spot on the roof of an adjacent building where I could watch the dinner through a window and still have a view of the front door.

Joshua and Joseph sat in the dining room drinking wine by themselves for a while, then gradually the servants let in the other guests as they arrived in groups of twos and threes. There were a dozen of them by the time dinner was served, all of the Pharisees that had been at the dinner at Jakan’s house, plus five more that I had never seen before, but all were severe and meticulous about washing before dinner and checking each other to make sure that all was in order.

I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I really didn’t care. There seemed to be no immediate threat to Joshua, and that was all I was worried about. He could hold his own on the rhetorical battlefield. Then, when it seemed that it would end without incident, I saw the tall hat and white robe of a priest in the street, and with him two Temple guards carrying their long, bronze-tipped spears. I dropped down off the roof and made my way around the opposite side of the house, arriving just in time to see a servant lead the priest inside.

As soon as Joshua came through the door at Simon’s house Martha and Maggie showered him with kisses as if he had returned from the war, then led him to the table and started interrogating him about the dinner.

“First they yelled at me for having fun, drinking wine, and feasting. Saying that if I was truly a prophet I would fast.”

“And what did you tell them?” I asked, still a little winded from the running to get to Simon’s house ahead of Joshua.

“I said, well, John didn’t eat anything but bugs, and he never drank wine in his life, and he certainly never had any fun, and they didn’t believe him, so what kind of standards were they trying to set, and please pass the tabbouleh.”

“What did they say then?”

“Then they yelled at me for eating with tax collectors and harlots.”

“Hey,” said Matthew.

“Hey,” said Martha.

“They didn’t mean you, Martha, they meant Maggie.”

“Hey,” said Maggie.

“I told them that tax collectors and harlots would see the kingdom of God before they did. Then they yelled at me for healing on the Sabbath, not washing my hands before I eat, being in league with the Devil again, and blaspheming by claiming to be the Son of God.”

“Then what?”

“Then we had dessert. It was some sort of cake made with dates and honey. I liked it. Then a guy came to the door wearing priest’s robes.”

“Uh-oh,” said Matthew.

“Yeah, that was bad,” said Joshua. “He went around whispering in the ears of all the Pharisees, then Jakan asked me by what authority I raised Simon from the dead.”

“And what did you say?”

“I didn’t say anything, not with the Sadducee there. But Joseph told them that Simon hadn’t been dead. He was just sleeping.”

“So what did they say to that?”

“Then they asked me by what authority I woke him up.”

“And what did you say?”

“I got angry then. I said by all the authority of God and the Holy Ghost, by the authority of Moses and Elijah, by the authority of David and Solomon, by the authority of thunder and lightning, by the authority of the sea and the air and the fire in the earth, I told them.”

“And what did they say?”

“They said that Simon must have been a very sound sleeper.”

“Sarcasm is wasted on those guys,” I said.

“Completely wasted,” said Joshua. “Anyway, then I left, and outside there were two guards from the Temple. The shafts of their spears had been broken and they were both unconscious. There was blood on one’s scalp. So I healed them, and when I saw they were coming around, I came here.”

“They don’t think you attacked the guards?” Simon asked.

“No, the priest followed me down. He saw them at the same time that I did.”

“And your healing them didn’t convince him?”

“Hardly.”

“So what do we do now?”

“I think we should go back to Galilee. Joseph will send word if anything comes of the meeting of the council.”

“You know what will come of it,” Maggie said. “You threaten them. And now they have the priests involved. You know what will happen.”

“Yes, I do,” said Joshua. “But you don’t. We’ll leave for Capernaum in the morning.”

Later Maggie came to me in the great room of Simon’s house, where we were all bedded down for the night. She crawled under my blanket and put her lips right next to my ear. As usual, she smelled of lemons and cinnamon. “What did you do to those guards?” she whispered.

“I surprised them. I thought they might be there to arrest Joshua.”

“You might have gotten him arrested.”

“Look, have you done this before? Because if you have some sort of plan, please let me in on it. Personally, I’m making this up as I go along.”

“You did good,” she whispered. She kissed my ear. “Thank you.”

I reached for her and she shimmied away.

“And I’m still not going to sleep with you,” she said.

The messenger must have ridden through several nights to get ahead of us, but when we got back to Capernaum there was already a message waiting from Joseph of Arimathea.

Joshua:

Pharisee council condemned you to death for blasphemy. Herod concurs. No official death warrant issued, but suggest you take disciples into Herod Philip’s territory until things settle down. No word from the priests yet, which is good. Enjoyed having you at dinner, please drop by next time you’re in town.

Your friend,

Joseph of Arimathea

Joshua read the message aloud to all of us, then pointed to a deserted mountaintop on the northern shore of the lake near Bethsaida. “Before we leave Galilee again, I am going up that mountain. I will stay there until all in Galilee who wish to hear the good news have come. Only then will I leave to go to Philip’s territory. Go out now and find the faithful. Tell them where to find me.”

“Joshua,” Peter said, “there are already two or three hundred sick and lame waiting at the synagogue for you to heal them. They’ve been gathering for all the days you’ve been gone.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Well, Bartholomew greeted them and took their names, then we told them that you’d be with them as soon as you got the chance. They’re fine.”

“I lead the dogs back and forth by them occasionally so we look busy,” said Bart.

Joshua stormed off to the synagogue waving his hands in the air as if asking God why he had been plagued by a gang of dimwits, but then, I might have been reading that into his gesture. The rest of us spread out into Galilee to announce that Joshua was going to be preaching a great sermon on a mountain north of Capernaum. Maggie and I traveled together, along with Simon the Canaanite and Maggie’s friends Johanna and Susanna. We decided to take three days and walk a circle through northern Galilee that would take us through a dozen towns and bring us back to the mountain just in time to help direct the pilgrims that would be gathering. The first night we camped in a sheltered valley outside a town called Jamnith. We ate bread and cheese by the fire and afterward Simon and I shared wine while the women went off to sleep. It was the first time I’d ever had a chance to talk to the Zealot without his friend Judas around.

“I hope Joshua can bring the kingdom down on their heads now,” Simon said. “Otherwise I may have to look for another prophet to pledge my sword to.”

I nearly choked on my wine, and handed him the wineskin as I fought for breath.

“Simon,” I said, “do you believe he’s the Son of God?”

“No.”

“You don’t, and you’re still following him?”

“I am not saying he’s not a great prophet, but the Christ? the Son of God? I don’t know.”

“You’ve traveled with him. Heard him speak. Seen his power over demons, over people. You’ve seen him heal people. Feed people. And what does he ask?”

“Nothing. A place to sleep. Some food. Some wine.”

“And if you could do those things, what would you have?”

Here Simon leaned back and looked into the stars, as he let his imagination unroll. “I would have villages full of women in my bed. I’d have a fine palace, and slaves to bathe me. I would have the finest food and wine and kings would travel from far away just to look at my gold. I would be glorious.”

“But Joshua has only his cloak and his sandals.”

Simon seemed to snap out of his reverie, and he wasn’t happy about it. “Just because I am weak does not make him the Christ.”

“That’s exactly what makes him the Christ.”

“Maybe he’s just naive.”

“Count on it,” I said. I stood and handed him the wineskin. “You can finish it. I’m going to sleep.”

Simon raised his eyebrows. “The Magdalene, she’s a luscious woman. A man could lose himself there.”

I took a deep breath and thought about defending Maggie’s honor, or even warning Simon about making advances on her, but then I thought better of it. The Zealot needed to learn a lesson that I wasn’t qualified to teach. But Maggie was.

“Good night, Simon,” I said.

In the morning I found Simon sitting by the cold ashes of the fire, cradling his head in his hands. “Simon?” I inquired.

He looked up at me and I saw a huge purple goose egg on his forehead, just below the bangs of his Roman haircut. A spot of blood seeped out of the middle. His right eye was nearly swollen shut.

“Ouch,” I said. “How did you do that?”

Just then Maggie came out from behind a bush. “He accidentally crawled into Susanna’s bedroll last night,” Maggie said. “I thought he was an attacker, so naturally, I brained him with a rock.”

“Naturally,” I said.

“I’m so sorry, Simon,” Maggie said. I could hear Susanna and Johanna giggling behind the bush.

“It was an honest mistake,” said Simon. I couldn’t tell whether he meant his or Maggie’s, but either way he was lying.

“Good thing you’re an apostle,” I said. “You’ll have that healed up by noon.”

We finished our loop of northern Galilee without incident, and indeed, Simon was nearly healed by the time we returned to the mountain above Bethsaida, where Joshua awaited us with over five thousand followers.

“I can’t get away from them long enough to find baskets,” Peter complained.

“Everywhere I go there are fifty people following me,” said Judas. “How do they expect us to bring them food if they won’t let us work?”

I had heard similar complaints from Matthew, James, and Andrew, and even Thomas was whining that people were stepping all over Thomas Two. Joshua had multiplied seven loaves into enough to feed the multitude, but no one could get to the food to distribute it. Maggie and I finally fought our way to the top of the mountain where we found Joshua preaching. He signaled the crowd that he was going to take a break, then came over to us.

“This is excellent,” he said. “So many of the faithful.”

“Uh, Josh…”

“I know,” he said. “You two go to Magdala. Get the big ship and bring it to Bethsaida. Once we feed the faithful I’ll send the disciples down to you. Go out into the lake and wait for me.”

We managed to pull John out of the crowd and took him with us to Magdala to help sail the ship back up the coast. Neither Maggie nor I felt confident enough to handle the big boat without one of the fishermen on board. A half-day later we docked in Bethsaida, where the other apostles were waiting for us.

“He’s led them to the other side of the mountain,” Peter said. “He’ll deliver a blessing then send them on their way. Hopefully they’ll go home and he can meet us.”

“Did you see any soldiers in the crowd?” I asked.

“Not yet, but we should have been out of Herod’s territory by now. The Pharisees are hanging on the edge of the crowd like they know something is going to happen.”

We assumed that he would be swimming or rowing out in one of the small boats, but when he finally came down to the shore the multitude was still following him, and he just kept walking, right across the surface of the water to the boat. The crowd stopped at the shore and cheered. Even we were astounded by this new miracle, and we sat in the boat with our mouths hanging open as Joshua approached.

“What?” he said. “What? What? What?”

“Master, you’re walking on the water,” said Peter.

“I just ate,” Joshua said. “You can’t go into the water for an hour after you eat. You could get a cramp. What, none of you guys have mothers?”

“It’s a miracle,” shouted Peter.

“It’s no big deal,” Joshua said, dismissing the miracle with the wave of a hand. “It’s easy. Really, Peter, you should try it.”

Peter stood up in the boat tentatively.

“Really, try it.”

Peter started to take off his tunic.

“Keep that on,” said Joshua. “And your sandals too.”

“But Lord, this is a new tunic.”

“Then keep it dry, Peter. Come to me. Step upon the water.”

Peter put one foot over the side and into the water.

“Trust your faith, Peter,” I yelled. “If you doubt you won’t be able to do it.”

Then Peter stepped with both feet onto the surface of the water, and for a split second he stood there. And we were all amazed. “Hey, I’m – ” Then he sank like a stone. He came up sputtering. We were all doubled over giggling, and even Joshua had sunk up to his ankles, he was laughing so hard.

“I can’t believe you fell for that,” said Joshua. He ran across the water and helped us pull Peter into the boat. “Peter, you’re as dumb as a box of rocks. But what amazing faith you have. I’m going to build my church on this box of rocks.”

“You would have Peter build your church?” asked Philip. “Because he tried to walk on the water.”

“Would you have tried it?” asked Joshua.

“Of course not,” said Philip. “I can’t swim.”

“Then who has the greater faith?” Joshua climbed into the boat and shook the water off of his sandals, then tousled Peter’s wet hair. “Someone will have to carry on the church when I’m gone, and I’m going to be gone soon. In the spring we’ll go to Jerusalem for the Passover, and there I will be judged by the scribes and the priests, and there I will be tortured and put to death. But three days from the day of my death, I shall rise, and be with you again.”

As Joshua spoke Maggie had latched onto my arm. By the time he was finished speaking her nails had drawn blood from my biceps. A shadow of grief seemed to pass over the faces of the disciples. We looked not at each other, and neither at the ground, but at a place in space a few feet from our faces, where I suppose one looks for a clear answer to appear out of undefined shock.

“Well, that sucks,” someone said.

We landed at the town of Hippos, on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, directly across the lake from Tiberius. Joshua had preached here before when we had come over to hide the first time, and there were people in the town who would receive the apostles into their homes until Joshua sent them out again.

We’d brought many baskets of the broken bread from Bethsaida, and Judas and Simon helped me unload them from the ship, wading in and out of the shallows where we anchored, as Hippos had no dock.

“The bread stood piled like small mountains,” Judas said. “Much more than when we fed the five thousand. A Jewish army could fight long days on that kind of supply. If the Romans have taught us anything it’s that an army fights on its stomach.”

I stopped schlepping and looked at him.

Simon, who stood next to me, set his basket down on the beach, then lifted the edge of his sash to show me the hilt of his dagger. “The kingdom will be ours only when we take it by the sword. We’ve had no problem spilling Roman blood. No master but God.”

I reached over and gently pulled Simon’s sash back over the hilt of his dagger. “Have you ever heard Joshua talk about doing harm to anyone? Even an enemy?”

“No,” Judas said. “He can’t speak openly about taking the kingdom until he’s ready to strike. That’s why he always speaks in parables.”

“That is a crock of rancid yak butter,” said a voice from the ship. Joshua sat up, a net hung over his head like a tattered prayer shawl. He’d been sleeping in the bow of the ship and we’d completely forgotten about him. “Biff, call everyone together, here on the beach. I haven’t made myself clear to everyone, evidently.”

I dropped my basket and ran into town to get the others. In less than an hour we were all seated on the beach and Joshua paced before us.

“The kingdom is open to everyone,” Joshua said. “Ev-ree-one, get it?”

Everyone nodded.

“Even Romans.”

Everyone stopped nodding.

“The kingdom of God is upon us, but the Romans will remain in Israel. The kingdom of God has nothing to do with the kingdom of Israel, do you all understand that?”

“But the Messiah is supposed to lead our people to freedom,” Judas shouted.

“No master but God!” Simon added.

“Shut up!” said Joshua. “I was not sent to deliver wrath. We will be delivered into the kingdom by forgiveness, not conquest. People, we have been over this, what have I not made clear?”

“How we are to cast the Romans out of the kingdom?” shouted Nathaniel.

“You should know better,” Joshua said to Nathaniel, “you yellow-haired freak. One more time, we can’t cast the Romans out of the kingdom because the kingdom is open to all.”

And I think they were getting it, at least the two Zealots were getting it, because they looked profoundly disappointed. They’d waited their whole life for the Messiah to come along and establish the kingdom by crushing the Romans, now he was telling them in his own divine words that it wasn’t going to happen. But then Joshua started with the parables.

“The kingdom is like a wheat field with tares, you can’t pull out the tares without destroying the grain.”

Blank stares. Doubly blank from the fishermen, who didn’t know squat from farming metaphors.

“A tare is a rye grass,” Joshua explained. “It weaves its roots amid the roots of wheat or barley, and there’s no way to pull them out without ruining the crop.”

Nobody got it.

“Okay,” Joshua continued. “The children of heaven are the good people, and the tares are the bad ones. You get both. And when you’re all done, the angels pick out the wicked and burn them.”

“Not getting it,” said Peter. He shook his head, and his gray mane whipped around his face like a confused lion trying to shake off the sight of a flying wildebeest.

“How do you guys preach this stuff if you don’t understand it? Okay, try this: the kingdom of heaven is like, uh, a merchant seeking pearls.”

“Like before swine,” said Bartholomew.

“Yes! Bart! Yes! Only no swine this time, same pearls though.”

Three hours later, Joshua was still at it, and he was starting to run out of things to liken the kingdom to, his favorite, the mustard seed, having failed in three different tries.

“Okay, the kingdom is like a monkey.” Joshua was hoarse and his voice was breaking.

“How?”

“A Jewish monkey, right?”

“Is it like a monkey eating a mustard seed?”

I stood up and went to Joshua and put my arm around his shoulder. “Josh, take a break.” I led him down the beach toward the village.

He shook his head. “Those are the dumbest sons of bitches on earth.”

“They’ve become like little children, as you told them to.”

“Stupid little children,” Joshua said.

I heard light footsteps on the sand behind us and Maggie threw her arms around our necks. She kissed Joshua on the forehead, making a loud wet smacking sound, then looked as if she was going to do the same to me so I shied away.

“You two are the ninnies here. You both rail on them about their intelligence, when that doesn’t have anything to do with why they’re here. Have either one of you heard them preach? I have. Peter can heal the sick now. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen James make the lame walk. Faith isn’t an act of intelligence, it’s an act of imagination. Every time you give them a new metaphor for the kingdom they see the metaphor, a mustard seed, a field, a garden, a vineyard, it’s like pointing something out to a cat – the cat looks at your finger, not at what you’re pointing at. They don’t need to understand it, they only need to believe, and they do. They imagine the kingdom as they need it to be, they don’t need to grasp it, it’s there already, they can let it be. Imagination, not intellect.”

Maggie let go of our necks, then stood there grinning like a madwoman. Joshua looked at her, then at me.

I shrugged. “I told you she was smarter than both of us.”

“I know,” Joshua said. “I don’t know if I can stand you both being right in the same day. I need some time to think and pray.”

“Go on then,” Maggie said, waving him on. I stopped and watched my friend walk into the village, having absolutely no idea what I was supposed to do. I turned back to Maggie.

“You heard the Passover prediction?”

She nodded. “I take it you didn’t confront him.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“We need to talk him out of it. If he knows what awaits him in Jerusalem, why go? Why don’t we go into Phoenicia or Syria? He could even take the good news to Greece and be perfectly safe. They have people running all over the place preaching different ideas – look at Bartholomew and his Cynics.”

“When we were in India, we saw a festival in the city of their goddess Kali. She’s a goddess of destruction, Maggie. It was the bloodiest thing I’ve ever seen, thousands of animals slaughtered, hundreds of men beheaded. The whole world seemed slick with blood. Joshua and I saved some children from being flayed alive, but when it was over, Joshua kept saying, no more sacrifices. No more.”

Maggie looked at me as if she expected more. “So? It was horrible, what did you expect him to say?”

“He wasn’t talking to me, Maggie. He was talking to God. And I don’t think he was making a request.”

“Are you saying that he thinks his father wants to kill him for trying to change things, so he can’t avoid it because it’s the will of God?”

“No, I’m saying that he’s going to allow himself to be killed to show his father that things need to be changed. He’s not going to try to avoid it at all.”

For three months we begged, we pleaded, we reasoned, and we wept, but we could not talk Joshua out of going to Jerusalem for Passover. Joseph of Arimathea had sent word that the Pharisees and Sadducees were still plotting against Joshua, that Jakan had been speaking out against Joshua’s followers in the Court of the Gentiles, outside the Temple. But the threats only seemed to strengthen Joshua’s resolve. A couple of times Maggie and I managed to tie Joshua up and stash him in the bottom of a boat, using knots that we had learned from the sailor brothers Peter and Andrew, but both times Joshua appeared a few minutes later holding the cords that had bound him, saying things like, “Good knots, but not quite good enough, were they?”

Maggie and I worried together for days before we left for Jerusalem. “He could be wrong about the execution,” I said.

“Yes, he could be,” Maggie agreed.

“Do you think he is? Wrong about it, I mean?”

“I think I’m going to throw up.”

“I don’t see how that’s going to stop him.”

And it didn’t. The next day we left for Jerusalem. On the way we stopped to rest along the road at a town along the Jordan River called Beth Shemesh. We were sitting there, feeling somber and helpless, watching the column of pilgrims move along the riverbank, when an old woman emerged from the column and beat her way through the reclining apostles with a walking staff.

“Out of the way, I need to talk to this fellow. Move, you oaf, you need to take a bath.” She bonked Bartholomew on the head as she passed and his doggy pals nipped at her heels. “Look out there, I’m an old woman, I need to see this Joshua of Nazareth.”

“Oh no, Mother,” John wailed.

James got up to stop her and she threatened him with the staff.

“What can I help you with, Old Mother?” Joshua asked.

“I’m the wife of Zebedee, mother of these two.” She pointed her staff to James and John. “I hear that you’re going to the kingdom soon.”

“If it be so, so be it,” said Joshua.

“Well, my late husband, Zebedee, God rest his soul, left these boys a perfectly good business, and since they’ve been following you around they’ve run it into the ground.” She turned to her sons. “Into the ground!”

Joshua put his hand on her arm, but instead of the usual calm that I saw come over people when he touched them, Mrs. Zebedee pulled away and swung her staff at him, barely missing his head. “Don’t try to bamboozle me, Mr. Smooth Talker. My boys have ruined their father’s business for you, so I want your assurance that in return they get to sit on either side of the throne in the kingdom. It’s only fair. They’re good boys.” She turned to James and John. “If your father was alive it would kill him to see what you two have done.”

“But Old Mother, it’s not up to me who will sit next to the throne.”

“Who is it up to?”

“Well, it’s up to the Lord, my father.”

“Well then go ask him.” She leaned on her staff and tapped a foot. “I’ll wait.”

“But…”

“You would deny a dying woman her last request?”

“You’re not dying.”

“You’re killing me here. Go check. Go.”

Joshua looked at us all sheepishly. We all looked away, cowards that we were. It’s not as if any of us had ever learned to deal with a Jewish mother either.

“I’ll go up on that mountain and check,” Joshua said, pointing to the highest peak in the area.

“Well go, then. You want I should be late for the Passover?”

“Right. Okay, then, I’ll go check, right now.” Josh backed away slowly, sort of sidled toward the mountain. Mount Tabor, I think it was.

Mrs. Zebedee went after her sons like she was shooing chickens out of the garden. “What are you, pillars of salt? Go with him.”

Peter laughed and she whirled around with her staff ready to brain him. Peter pretended to cough. “I’d better go along, uh, just in case they need a witness.” He scurried after Joshua and the other two.

The old woman glared at me. “What are you looking at? You think the pain of childbirth ends when they move away? What do you know? Does a broken heart know from a different neighborhood?”

They were gone all night, a very long night in which we all got to hear about John and James’ father, Zebedee, who evidently had possessed the courage of Daniel, the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Samson, the devotion of Abraham, the good looks of David, and the tackle of Goliath, God rest his soul. (Funny, James had always described his father as a wormy little guy with a lisp.) When the four came back over the hill we all leapt to our feet and ran to greet them – I would have carried them back on my shoulders if it would have shut the old woman up.

“Well?” she said.

“It was amazing,” Peter said to us all, ignoring the old woman. “We saw three thrones. Moses was on one, Elijah was on another, and the third was ready for Joshua. And a huge voice came out of the sky, saying, ‘This is my son, with whom I am well pleased.'”

“Oh yeah, he said that before,” I said.

“I heard it this time,” Joshua said, smiling.

“Just the three chairs then?” said Mrs. Zebedee. She looked at her two sons, who were cowering behind Joshua. “No place for you two, of course.” She started to stagger away from them, a hand clutched to her heart. “I suppose one can be happy for the mothers of Moses and Elijah and this Nazareth boy, then. They don’t have to know what it is to have a spike in the heart.”

Down the riverbank she limped, off toward Jerusalem.

Joshua squeezed the brothers’ shoulders. “I’ll fix it.” He ran after Mrs. Zebedee.

Maggie elbowed me and when I looked around at her there were tears in her eyes. “He’s not wrong,” she said.

“That’s it,” I said. “Well, ask his mother to talk him out of it. No one can resist her – I mean, I can’t. I mean, she’s not you, but…Look! Is that a seagull?”