Peter: Eh . . . Jesus . . .?
Jesus: Yes, Peter . . . ? [Seeing Peter’s black eye] Peter, what’s happened to your eye? Have you been fighting again?
P: Honest, Jesus. it wasn’t my fault. The other guy started it. He called you names. So I put his lights out!
J: [Shaking his head] Peter, what am I going to do with you? I said turn the cheek, not smash it; be childlike, not childish. When I called you “the Rock”, I meant solid, not stupid.
P: Sorry, Jesus. But he . . . I mean he . . . You see he . . .
J: Spit it out, lad!
P: He called you a . . . He “questioned your birth”, said Joseph wasn’t your real father.
J: That’s no excuse. Don’t let me down again.
P: [Waiting] Is that it?
J: Is what it?
P: “Don’t let me down again” – is that all you’re going to say?
J: What do you want, Peter, my life story?
P: No, but the story of your birth would help. Here we’ve been travelling around with you for months and we don’t even know when you were born . . .
J: Around thirty years ago.
P: Or where you were born . . .
J: Down south.
P: Or the circumstances . . .
J: Mum pushed, out I came, Dad passed around the cigars. What else happens at a birth?
P: But, Jesus, you’re special, you’re a one-off . . .
J: So, thank heaven, are you, Peter!
P: No, really, Jesus. You’re unique.
J: So my birth must have been unique, is that it?
J: Okay, Peter, here it is. I was born in Bethlehem.
P: In that one-horse town? It’s the back of beyond!
J: In the back of the back of beyond – in a stable, in fact.
P: A stable! Minging!
J: With a feeding trough for a crib.
P: A feeding trough! Disgusting!
J: And then things got crowded.
P: Oh, no, not the livestock!
J: No – shepherds.
J: And magi.
P: Magi! [Pausing] What’s a “magi”, Jesus?
J: Magi, Peter. Where’s your Latin? Second declinsion, masculine, nominative plural: magus, magi! Astrologers, Peter. From back east. And they brought me presents: gold, incense, myrrh.
P: [Now feeling really stupid] Eh . . . Jesus . . . What’s “myrrh”? It sounds Welsh.
J: It’s a spice. It’s used for burying the dead.
P: The dead! Don’t be morbid, Jesus. We’re talking about your birth.
J: [Thoughtful] Birth . . . death . . . yes, Peter.
P: You’re winding me up again, aren’t you, Jesus?
J: [Smiling innocently] Who, me?
P: Jesus, why can’t you ever give me a simple answer?
J: Because, Peter, life isn’t simple, it’s complicated. And because some folk have a way of using “simple” answers to shut up other folk who ask hard questions.
P: So you were winding me up. I mean, there weren’t really any shepherds or m . . . ma . . . mag . . . astrologers, were there?
J: I didn’t say that. But let me ask you this. If there weren’t any shepherds or . . . astrologers, would you still be my friend and follower?
P: Don’t be daft, Jesus, of course I would.
J: And if there were?
P: I’d want to know what it all meant.
J: And what do you think that might be?
P: Well, it would be just like you, Jesus, to have shepherds around, common folk despised by good religious people because they’re ritually unclean and work on the sabbath.
J: And the astrologers?
P: They’d be Gentiles, unbelievers – but smart enough to know a good thing when they see it.
J: Exactly! A gold star for you – like the one they saw.
P: [Puzzled] I don’t follow, Jesus.
J: They did, Peter. But the point is that it was the least likely of people who first recognised me and rejoiced.
P: Like children, tax collectors, and sinners do now?
J: And . . .?
P: [Thinks] And me and Andy and the boys?
J: Peter, you astonish me!
P: Not half as much as you do me, Jesus!
J: You’re not far from the kingdom, mate, which has more to do with wonder than with dogma: the wonder of God’s coming to embrace a greedy world with generosity, a tough world with tenderness, a hardened world with hopefulness, and a crying world with a great big cuddle.
P: Hey, Jesus . . .
J: Yes, Peter . . .?
P: [Presenting him with a pair of sandals, tied with a red ribbon] Your Mum told us, and we had a whip-round. Happy birthday! And many happy returns!
J: There will be more, Peter, than you could ever imagine. . . Oh, and Peter . . .
P: Yes, Jesus . . .?
J: You know that guy you had a fight with because he said Joseph wasn’t my real father? In a way, he was right . . .