Beyond the cross, Beside the sea

An extract from my novel, ‘Gospel, Rumours of Love’. Yeshua is Jesus, Rocky is Peter. They are scenes you may well be familiar with.

Perhaps others will write of this, they say they will.

They said all sorts of things on the beach this morning, amid their astonishment at seeing me. Rocky promised a book, ‘I will write a book of all this, this must be a book!’… though he cannot write, as Levi pointed out, ‘You can clean barnacles off the keel and stand steady in a storm. But you cannot write.’

Rocky does say things. He has never been measured with his mouth; no hand on the tiller there and caught by every wind. Some say he speaks before he thinks, though I say he just speaks; there is no obvious thought on display.

Though their astonishment, bright-eyed and frantic, scarce equals mine; I laugh inside so much, I cannot quiet it. I laugh as they leap from the boat, splashing and wading towards me, half-swimming. I cannot believe it, this scene before my eyes. I am making a fire, the fire is all I need, it is everything – smouldering wood, smoke and embers, heat in the morning chill and the splash and the rush toward me, the wet sunlight, these mad idiots, my friends.

‘It’s him, it’s him,’ they shout. ‘Yeshua, is it you!? It cannot be Yeshua! Don’t be so stupid! Yeshua, it cannot be you!’

I am ripped apart by amazement and joy…amazement that I am here, that this is so; and such joy at seeing the sea and these wasters again.

They once ran away, it comes back to me, how they all disappeared, though I have lost my capacity for blame, truly; for we are not where we were, Gethsemane feels a long time ago, and now a different space unfolds. They run towards me, soaked through with Galilee wash and shouting, arguing as they approach and I get up to greet them, to hug and to hold – as close to friends as I shall have, though Miriam is not here. And maybe that is best.

‘So where are the fish?’ I ask. ‘We cannot eat surprise.’

‘Can you forgive me, master?’ asks Rocky, staring at me with wild eyes.


And later he blubs like a child, his head in my lap, beating the ground, his body heaving.

‘You’re bound to hear,’ he said. ‘You’ll hear from someone.’

‘And what will I hear?’

‘I said I didn’t know you.’ He manages to get the words out, between body-shaking gasps. ‘And that’s that. Anyone who asked, after Gethsemane, anyone who asked me that night if I knew you, they recognised me, they knew I knew you – but I told them I didn’t know you. They kept saying it. “You know him – we’ve seen you with him.” They just kept on. And I denied it. I just said they were wrong and I turned on them, told them not to be stupid. I denied you three times…so what am I worth?’


And now he is kneeling beside me, a small boy lost. And I feel no blame toward him – I cannot find any blame at all, though he blames himself with the force of a storm. He sobs again, overwhelmed again, begging forgiveness again. But it is Rocky who punishes Rocky. When finally he calms and becomes still, we speak.

‘Do you love me, Rocky?’

He is surprised. ‘Of course I love you, teacher. You know that, I’d do anything…’

‘Then look after my people.’

‘I will, yes.’

So I ask again. ‘Do you love me, Rocky?’

‘You know I love you. I’ve just said. Why do you ask?…’

‘Then look after my people.’ I stare at him; stare into him. I am wondering who he has, and what he has, inside him.

‘I just said I will, teacher… I’ll do that, I’ll look after them.’

‘And do you love me, Rocky?’

‘Teacher!’ Now he is frustrated. ‘This is ridiculous! Of course I love you!’

‘Then look after my people.’

‘Master, I say I will, I keep saying it! I have said it three times. Why do you not believe me?’

I laugh. What else can I do in the morning sun? ‘It is not for me to believe, Rocky. Words are hollow and our intentions, a shipwreck; though sometimes they float. So I do not believe you and do not ask me to. I say this for your sake, Rocky. Imagine the terror you would know if I believed you – you would die tomorrow of shame. But here on the shoreline, as you give me your heart, I give you mine.’

He looks frightened.