Man of No Reputation
by Jenni
Andrew sat anxiously in a booth inside a small cafe.  A bell chimed each time someone entered and Andrew briefly glanced up only to look away and back to his newspaper.  A strange noise, something akin to a horse's neighing, caused Andrew to look up even though the bell had not sounded.  He smiled at the scene in front of the window. 
A man in his mid-thirties was galloping back and forth on the side walk, a small boy hung onto his back and several other gleeful children scampered behind them.  The man neighed again, threw back his head and mimicked shaking his mane and then knelt so the little boy could climb off safely. 
"My turn!  My turn!" came the chorus of small voices.
"Everyone's had a turn.  Right now I need to meet with a friend but I'll see all of you later, I promise."  The man smiled reassuringly at each of them.
The children sighed with disappointment but quickly set off in search of a new adventure until their friend would again be able to join them.  After ensuring they had safely crossed the street, the man turned into the cafe.  He waved hello to the waitress and then approached Andrew.
"Hello, Andrew!  Dad* said you were headed here.  Great to see you!"  The man shook Andrew's hand and then pulled him into a hug.
"Joshua," Andrew began, careful to use the man's least conspicuous name, "I'm really glad to see you."
Joshua noticed a slight tremor in Andrew's voice and indicated for him to sit down.  "Andrew, what is it?"
Andrew shrugged.  "Maybe it's stupid..."  He began stirring the cup of coffee that was in front of him.
"Andrew, if it's important to you then you know it's not stupid to me.  Please tell me."
Andrew set down his spoon and looked up at Joshua.  As usual, his warm brown eyes reassured him.  "Does it ever get to you when people say or write untrue things about you?"
Joshua slumped against the booth cushion.  "Sure.  It hurts me when people say I hate a certain group or that I want people to suffer.  Because I know those words hurt my people, people I love."
Andrew reddened slightly.  "Now I really feel stupid.  Because that's really something to be upset about.  But I meant things more like... relationships."
"Andrew, don't feel stupid.  I happen to know you weren't created stupid."  Joshua smiled knowingly.   "But what do you mean relationships?"
"Uh, romantic ones."  Andrew's face turned a shade darker.
"Oh you mean like people writing that you fathered children with one of your followers and a vast murderous conspiracy resulted?" Joshua spoke in a hushed tone and winked at Andrew.
Despite his discomfort, Andrew laughed.  "Something like that.  It's just that lately I've noticed people writing stories about Monica and me and, umm...  It just makes me feel weird."
Just then the waitress came by with a glass of grape juice and placed it in front of Joshua with a smile. 
"You remembered!  Thanks, Sally!" Joshua beamed at her.
Sally laughed.  "It's easy.  You're the only grown man that comes in here and orders grape juice, Joshua.  Can I get you gentlemen anything else?"
Both shook their heads and thanked her before returning to their conversation.
"Grape juice?" Andrew asked with a raised eye brow.
"I'm feeling nostalgic.  And they don't sell Nazarene wine in Massachusetts."  Joshua whispered and then took an appreciative sip.  "But you were saying you felt weird about those stories.  Please, go on."
"I just don't understand why people write those things.  I've always made it clear that God's love is the most important love to me.  I have my friends I love but... not like that!  Why can't more people understand that?"  Andrew bowed his head then.  "Maybe I wouldn't care as much if I was the only one upset..."
Joshua nodded.  "I know what you mean.  When those 'theories' came out, Mary was upset about it.  She was there when I..."  Glancing up Joshua remembered how crowded the cafe was and simply ran his thumb over one of his wrists.  "Having stories floating around in which that didn't happen and she'd had a child wasn't easy for her.  I know that your friends in Dyeland aren't happy with some of those stories about you, either."
Andrew shook his head.  "Some of them even quote you when they speak against them.  Which is why..."  Andrew shuffled uncomfortably.  "One of them told me about this new story that showed up on one of the web sites.  A few were very upset by it.  I, um, wasn't sure if you knew."  Andrew shoved a few papers across the table to Joshua and then drew away his hand as if the papers were toxic.
Joshua raised an eye brow then picked the papers up. 
Andrew ran his hand through his hair as Joshua read.  He tried to prepare himself for what Joshua might say but no matter how long he'd thought about it, Andrew would never have come up with the man's reaction.
First there was a twinge of a smile.  Then a chuckle.  "All I can say is fake me really gets around!"  Joshua rolled up the papers and crammed them into his pocket.
Andrew was so taken aback by the light-hearted reaction that he would have sent coffee spewing out across the table and onto Joshua if not for the latter's touch to his arm.  He immediately felt his throat untense and swallowed. 
"Come on, let's get you some fresh air."  Joshua chugged his grape juice, stood up, set down enough money to cover his juice and Andrew's coffee and a generous tip for Sally, and looked expectantly at Andrew.
Smiling sheepishly, the angel of death followed.  Joshua walked down the street and into a nearby walking and bike trail.  As it was only 2 PM and a workday, the trail was mostly deserted.
"I guess I thought you might be upset about that story.  But I'm glad you weren't," Andrew began.
Joshua shrugged.  "Not for myself but I don't like that your friends and others were upset by it.  And I'm a little saddened that someone would choose to write a story in which I contradict myself.  I'm resurrected, Monica's an angel.  It doesn't exactly flow with 'When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.'  Does it?"
"No," Andrew responded, a bitter cast to his tone.  "Those stories just make me feel so misunderstood and disrespected.  And now you're being written about and..."
Joshua stopped walking and turned to Andrew, putting a hand on the angel's shoulder.  "The thing is these stories come from a very small group of people.  So many, many more people recognize us for who we are and our love for what it is: something greater than any romance or marriage.  The Father's love!  One day maybe the others will recognize that, too.  In the meantime, just keep doing what you've always done so well, Andrew.  Tell them about My love.  Tell them I'll always love them."  Joshua's eyes were gentle yet brimming with determination and passion.
Andrew nodded and began to brush at the tears that were rolling down his cheeks.  "I know, Joshua, I know.  But sometimes I think maybe I'm not doing a good enough job if people are still confused enough to write untruthful things."
"You're an angel, Andrew.  You bring the truth to people but you can't make them believe it.  And you're like me now, in a way.  You've entered the culture and people who never met you will think they know you.  Usually that's a beautiful thing but then there are also these problems.  There will be times when you will be misunderstood, taken for granted, disrespected, and even hated.  No matter what remember who you are.  And there's something you need to always remember: I know who you really are and I love you.  I smiled when you were born, Andrew."
As Joshua spoke, Andrew's mind traveled back through centuries and then millennia.  And in his mind's eye, he saw that smile as clearly as he had on the day he was born.  The angel smiled and opened his eyes.  Joshua was no longer standing in front of him so the angel lifted his eyes to the heavens and whispered "Thank you.  I love you, too."
A slight rustling drew Andrew's gaze away from the sky and to the ground.  Where Joshua had stood was only a small stack of paper.  The story.  As Andrew watched, the uppermost sheet metamorphosed into a dove and those below it into a dozen white butterflies, reminding him that God's love is all around and that even from painful things can come beauty.
The End
*My translation of "Abba."  I'd been told that to translate it as "Father" is actually more formal than the original Aramaic would have been.

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