I sometimes revert to my Seminary self and write stories of John the Baptist and Jesus growing up together. Afterall they were cousins and we have little of their stories before they are grown men.
The summer had been a long hot one. John and Jesus had played, worked, prayed, argued, and stayed in each other’s company for most of it. Elizabeth and Zechariah had felt John would do well to spend time in the country. He was becoming a leader already and he was too young for that. Besides Jesus could use some help running his father’s carpentry shop. It was Sabbath and they were returning from a most uneventful synagogue service. They were grateful to be out in the open air sitting in a shade tree next to a small creek. Occasionally they would skip rocks but mostly they lounged in the shade.
“John, I am no good at being religious. I am too poor to buy myself into spiritual respectability. My heart is not in the ceremonial laws of washing and cleansing. The only reason I do them is the hassle I would receive if I did not. I appreciate the laws that are about interactions with others and the world but the rest of it does not mean much.” John laughed,” Now you know Jesus my father is a Levite. I have been trained all my life to be a priest and here you go making light of it”
‘No John. I would never make fun of our religion.’ Jesus said with shocked dismay.’ You are such a devotee to our faith. You never roll your eyes at the rabbis or say they are full of camel dung. Not you John you take it hook, line, and sinker. Why they even call you John the Devout” They laugh.
Jesus in a more solemn voice announced, ” The most religious person I ever met was a prostitute.” John gasped,” Now I know people who claim they have glory hallelujah moments when they visit prostitutes but I have never heard anyone say they are the righteous of Israel. You need to explain yourself brother.”
Jesus paused and began with a serious tone, ” You remember when I was sixteen and my father died? It really hurt inside. there wasn’t a better man than him. You know people are always calling me the bastard of Nazareth, that didn’t matter because Joseph was always there and such a good father to me. The day I found him in the carpenter’s shop about where you are he was slumped over his work table. I held him in my arms for at least an hour crying before I told anyone I had found him dead. When word got out that my father died, the professional mourners came but when they realized we could not pay they soon left. A priest came but when he realized I had touched a dead body and had not made myself ceremoniously clean he refused to talk to me. I needed a word from that priest but he was more concerned about ceremony than the hurting child I was. I could not take it anymore.
Mary was sad but her friends had gathered around her to support her. I was now the man of the house; I needed to act it. Yet I felt like a child. I wanted air to breathe to be away from all of this death. I left the house and I wandered aimlessly through Nazareth. I searched for something or someone to console me until I was exhausted. Tired I flopped on the ground and cried in the middle of Nazareth. People passed me and stared but did not stop. Finally, a good neighbor woman sat down beside me and asked if she could help. When I looked up I saw someone whom everyone proclaimed a prostitute.
We sat there for maybe ten minutes before I started talking. I told her of my father, the mourners, the priest, the bastard of Nazareth (which she told me was mild to what she had been called). We laughed. A part of me said I should not be speaking to this woman because of her reputation but she was being kind when no one else was. She did not care I had no money or was unclean. She saw a hurting boy and she held him in her arms. She held me by the face and said, ”Tell the priest to go to hell. I tell you he has spent many an unclean night with me. He cannot counsel you about life because from what I know he is pretty lifeless in the netherworld. Honey I know how it is to be dead and how it is to be alive. I know when you feel dead inside you need someone to wrap their arms around you and whisper sweet nothings in your ear. But I have also found if you go home, lock yourself in a room with God sometimes God speaks. God will hold your deadness and your good father will hold you tight in his arms for good people always are there in the shadows holding us in our time of need. Your relationship will be different with your father but not lost.’
So that is what I did, John. I locked myself in my room and cried all night until I passed out. When I woke up I do not know how to explain it but I realized I had a new father and he would never be taken away from me. That was the day I realized all our ceremonies, our right words, our right theology, our rightness did not matter. If our rightness prevents us from holding people in need in our arms our religion is dead.”
A silence followed. John finally broke the silence,’ I agree but I still am not going to hug you,” he said as he slapped Jesus hard on the back. ‘Now come along Mr. Morose and see if you can beat my ten skips across the pond.’ “It was eight,” Jesus replied. “What a shame you seem to have so much soul and yet you cannot count.” They ran to the lake and skipped stones across the lake but they knew their faith was changing them in ways that left them fearful and hopeful.