I was brought up going to church. My parents were deacons in our little town. Our church was small too. Most people worshiped the King or various other gods and idols, or even nothing at all. We followed the old customs. We were the minority.
I guess my parents were just big on heritage. Heritage, tradition and family. They always invited our cousins and neighbors over for dinner on the Sabbath. And we offered thanks and blessed the meal every week, even though I knew my cousins did not believe in the old customs.
I wasn't even sure I did. I loved hearing my cousins talk about the goddesses and gods of sun and war and famine and fertility. I loved hearing them share tales of humans who fell in love with goddesses and the passionate exchanges between them. Those tales fired my lonely nights with passion.
Sure my old, tradition-filled religion had tales like those, but they were always human relationships and they were always moral. If they were immoral they were punished severely.
Something never set right with me about a god that punished. I mean, reward good behavior! I can handle being rewarded! Send me treasure! Yeah, I know bad behavior deserves to be punished, but that's what laws are for, right? And good people like me, well, we shouldn't have to deal with plague, nor pestilence, nor poverty.
I learned all the old scriptures at home. My parents took care to homeschool me in religion, reading, writing, accounting, and the family business. I have real-world skills. And cunning. I can smell a good business deal a mile away and I can outfox men with twice my business experience.
I am a great actor. My parents still think I believe whole-heartedly in their god. They'll never find my secret stash of goddess pictures and golden idols.
So today was a typical Sabbath dinner. We blessed the meal, ate, and I snuck off with my cousins to listen to racy stories, half-legend, half fabricated, about the fertility goddesses.
So imagine my surprise when I returned to find the adults all excited about something. Now usually the talk is all about my latest shrewd business idea and how I haven't found a nice girl and settled down yet, and I fully expected the talk to be humming somewhere in a lecturing, condescending tone. Instead the room buzzed and my parents were elated while some of my relatives were frowning and leaving.
"What's going on, Mom?" She looked fit to burst. I knew she would spill the news.
"They say the great prophet has come!"
"What?" I looked just as startled as anyone would upon hearing this news. It was similiar to hearing a rock star's bus had just broken down on your block.
"They say he has been preaching in the big temple, and healing the sick! He's already got followers!"
"Mother, you can't believe everything you hear." I politely admonished her, determined to save face. My relatives only came over to eat because it was a free meal. If she started spouting old religious doctrine at meals, they'd leave, and take my entertaining cousins with them. She contemplated this statement and agreed with it, though not in the way I had hoped.
"Well, you are the least settled of us, son. You go to the city! You see him, listen to him. You tell us if he is the prophesied one!" She clasped her hands together and smiled from ear to ear. If I didn't know better I'd think she was drunk.
I paused to compose my thoughts. I would love to travel to the city. In fact, I had been begging my parents for years to go, for business reasons.They had never let me.
Really, I wanted to go for personal reasons. The city had huge public baths, brothels, and dark alleys where deals could be made for great profit, if you were underhanded enough. I think they knew I would go to the city for personal gain. They didn't want me to get hurt, like the doting parents they were. So they always refused.
Now I was allowed to go, but I had to go listen to a man preach and see if he heals anyone miraculously. I could do this. I could go listen to him and still have my personal goals met as well.
"Mother, Father, I have thought about it. I will go. With your blessing, I will go to listen to this prophet, get close to him, and I'll come home and you can tell the others that I have seen him." Mother swatted at me. She hated to brag, to gossip. She felt it was lowly. Suggesting she would tell others about my seeing a legendary man was me teasing her. She ate that up like compliments, though. She knew she was loved when she was teased. And I've always been able to charm Mom.