The story about Zerubbable came to an end, and the younger boys, realising another was not going to follow any time soon, drifted off to play at hide-and-seek. Jesus, just that much older, stayed. ‘Dad?’ he said, his voice wavering a query, ‘That was clever. Because Manasseh thought Hezekiah got it all wrong. He loved the serpent idea.’ There was a pause. Joseph, seeing the pondering on Jesus’s face, let the silence mature. Joseph believed in silence.
‘I love the serpent idea, too’ announced Jesus firmly (the very spit of his mother, thought Joseph affectionately). ‘But the point is, is this. Manasseh is good in your story. But the Rabbi doesn’t like him. And Zerubbable thought Hezekiah was all good, and … you turn it all on its head!’ In sudden triumph Jesus pounced on the thing. He was still so young in many ways, thought Joseph affectionately. He had just found his father out doing something shocking and he was quite delighted.
‘Yes son,’ said Joseph, very very solemn, with laughter hardly disguised behind the solemnity, ‘You see, I don’t think many people are all good or all bad. And I never have thought, well not since, anyway, … for years now I have thought too much purity might not be that brilliant – now, don’t flair up, you don’t need to tell me the Rabbi disagrees. I know.’ More silence, in which Joseph thought regretfully of the Rabbi and of his influence on Jesus.
‘I tell stories, son,’ Joseph said, ‘I tell them about all sorts of things. Those men and woman who made us? Who they say were our parent’s parents? They fascinate me. Not because they were perfect, but because they – had all sorts of interesting things to say, if you listen really hard. But you are right. I like to stand things on their heads. I like to put in puzzles. That way people listen. They come back for more. One day you will tell stories – well, I already hear you telling them to the young ones sometimes, and you’re good. But you keep remembering. Put in a puzzle, or stand things on their heads, and people listen. They come back for more.’
Joseph thought: ‘I won’t hammer the purity thing. Not just now. I’ll just keep putting it in the stories. He’ll see it for himself one day.’
Joseph was the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born