He is 54, and is starting to feel it.
His body creaks a little now, like an old fishing vessel, rocking by the shore. He gets out of bed and stretches. His house is still the same as ever, he is still in the family home, though the family have long since moved on, some to family homes of their own, others to that distant country beyond death. Above him the roof bears the scars of the patch up job from that day when four men tore their way through the ceiling with a stretchered man in tow. As he glances up he can still their wild faces peering through, sweating from their frenzied ripping and the weight of their disabled friend. He had smiled then as he smiles now, healed and forgiven the friend and given the roof-rippers some cool water to drink. They’d all of them walked out of the door, left with living water in their revived bodies. He makes himself some breakfast, cooks fish so that the smell takes him back to a meal on the shore with his friends. Peter so passionate and focused. Full of dreams about conquering the world. The smile on his lips faded, leaving a gap for the sorrowed scowl. Peter had died with the others. Brave men battling Roman cohorts in a fateful uprising. Once again he is haunted by an almost overwhelming feeling that it should all have been so different. He eats the fish, barely tasting it.
A knock at the door. He opens it, wondering whether it’s a chair or a body brought here for repair. Today would no doubt be like all the others, full of carpentry, construction, healing and forgiving.
The old man limps in, but he hasn’t come about his leg. He twists his head whenever Jesus speaks to him, his hearing is clearly failing. The carpenter reaches out a powerful, scarred hand, touches the ear with his gentle grasp and closes his eyes. And suddenly he is back in that garden, squinting through the night. Peter is swinging that sword, there’s a spray of blood, streaking like red lightning across the dark canvass. The sliced ear falls to the ground and there is more sword swinging as the temple soldiers scatter. Bright figures join the battle as heaven opens and a small army floods the place. The battle is brief, the soldiers melt away and Jesus and his friends are left in the quiet. James and Peter grab Judas, attempt to scuttle his throat as they demand to know what he was doing leading the enemy here.
There are threats exchanged and much argument and in the end Judas slips away into the night. Later Jesus will meet him and repeat what he once told Nicodemus about the need for a new birth within him. There is more fighting in the days that follow, more bright divine reinforcements. It was said that Caiaphas had attempted a prophecy back then. ‘Better that one man die for the people…’ But the angels had come and the one man had not died, his prayer for another way answered. The cup taken from his lips. Instead the one man had lived and brought new life to many in Galilee, Jerusalem, Sepphoris and other places around and about. But something gnawed at him. The news had not travelled. The tidings of great joy had not been declared to all people. It was all still so localised. And decades had passed. His first followers had continued to travel around the villages, announcing his imminent arrival, but after a few years they had drifted, frustrated, feeling no ownership of the message, wanting more. In the end they had risen up against the common enemy and died in various uprisings and skirmishes. His profound warnings unheeded. And now as his thoughts travel back to that night garden he knows the truth. Whatever great age he may reach, it would not be the achievement predicted by the prophets of old. The Romans and Chief Priests must have their way, the angels hold their breath, keep their distance and guard their swords.
The old man before him now laughs and clutches his new ear, and then hugs him lightly; he nods, smiles and watches him leave. There is no other way. He can see that now. The world had long ago soiled itself and only one course of action could start the work of cleaning it up. The cup could not pass him by. Sacrifice, scourging and death: the vessels that would usher in the new dawn. A stone would role and the ground shake, and death would die. Then the news would travel and the mantle would be passed. He would leave the family home with its scarred ceiling and distant memories and his new followers would multiply and pass on the great tidings. Going beyond every single border life could throw at them. Caiaphas’s prophecy would at last come true. One man would die for the people. And the earth would be reborn.
He sighs and tidies his workshop for the last time.