Copyright ©Vincent Marquis, 2020
by Vincent Marquis
(Note: This post and the next two will be different from the usual fare in worldvyoublog.com. I am sharing a short-story based on the first meeting of Yeshua/Jesus with several of his first disciples. The story is a re-imagining of those encounters based on the New Testament. Literary licence accounts for a my not totally strict adherence to the accounts in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.)
Shim’on was dog-tired and discouraged. The dawn was breaking and the night’s fishing had been pathetic. Nothing to show for twelve hours work except sweat, a chill in his bones, sore muscles, and bad humour. His stomach growled with hunger. He had long since eaten his midnight lunch of bread, dried fish, and figs. Their water jar was almost empty, although there was Kinneret to dip into. As he carefully coiled his net, he was looking forward to a cup of wine at home along with his morning meal.
He barked at little brother Andreas to get a move on in pulling in the other linen-weave net. The sooner that got done, the sooner they could dock the boat, get ashore, clean the nets, and go home to eat and rest.
Ya’akov and Yochanan had had no better luck. In their boat about fifty cubits to starboard, they too were hauling in their empty nets. Time to call it a night.
The last few weeks of late spring had been pretty slim, and that would make for a hard summer if it kept up. With the nets finally in the boat and placed in their spot behind the mast, he and Andreas put their cloaks on over their tunics and sat at the oars to head for shore. Their destination was the fisherman’s wharf in the center of their home town, K’far-Nachum.
K’far-Nachum boasted a large market district where most anything could be bargained for, even pigs from the Decapolis for the Gentile residents. Right next to the market was the fine new synagogue with its boundary wall, its colonnaded courtyard, and well-tended garden. The congregational assembly hall was large enough to accommodate hundreds at prayer. The interior decor included a finely tiled mosaic floor laid out with colorful natural scenes to glorify Adonai as Creator. It was complemented by the fine craftsmanship of the ark where the sacred scrolls were kept. Unlike poor villages and towns whose synagogues could afford only the most essential scrolls of Torah and a great prophet like Yeshayahu, K’far-Nachum’s had many.
Although the town fell under Antipas’ Tetrarchy rather than the Roman Governor of Syria or his subordinate, the Procurator of Y’hudah, the great shadow of Rome was never far should trouble arise. While the majority of the locals were Jews, there were Greeks, Syrians, Nabatæans, Bedouins, and a few Phoenicians. Most Romans only passed through, but there was a small contingent of Roman auxiliary troops camped on the outskirts. Antipas was glad to have them there. They ensured the roads remained free of bandits. Troops marching south to Y’hudah from Syria were not an unusual sight either.
Most residents of K’far-Nachum, as throughout the Galil, spoke at least two languages. Shim’on and his partners spoke Aramaic among themselves and were conversant in Greek. They could all read the Hebrew scrolls in synagogue as well, although Hebrew was not a daily language.
Shim’on and his partners had prospered since settling here. Fish were always in demand and the lake was usually generous. The P’rushim and Scribes disdained the Jewish Galileans as unclean and ignorant, but Shim’on was a good man who followed the Law as best he could. His irritating younger brother had lately been going off for days at a time to go listen to that rabble-rouser, Yochanan the Immerser. The man was considered a prophet by many, the first in over four hundred years. His message was mainly about repentance, telling people to undergo mikvah and prepare for the coming of someone greater who, he said, would baptize with fire! Presumably he meant the long-expected Mashiach.
What in the name of the Blessed One did “baptizing with fire” mean? He could understand undergoing a ceremonial mikvah to symbolize a desire to live a pure life for Adonai. He hadn’t done mikvah yet, but he sometimes felt a tug in that direction. He was well aware of his faults and that, as an example of Adonai’s chosen people, he fell far short. About this baptism by fire he had no clue. It sounded downright unpleasant! But prophets were always rather cryptic.
He was a man with responsibilities, with some property, with a place in society in this part of the Galil. He was the respected heir to a family business that his grandfather and his father, Yona, had worked hard to establish in neighboring Betsaida. After Yona had retired, Shim’on had moved to K’far-Nachum, a more strategic location, and the move had proved a good one. Andreas had followed him. Shim’on had a decent house, a good wife, and a charming little girl. His wife Shoshana’s mother had recently come to live with them because she was now a widow and her health had been deteriorating.
Brooding, he pulled on his oar. “Life is basically good,” he told himself, “so why do I feel unsettled, as if I’m missing something? What is this? I’m not like this! I’m a joyful fellow. I love what I do. A few weeks of bad catches are part of the game. It will all balance out in the end. Besides, this is what Adonai has given me, so it is wrong for me to grumble and be unhappy.”
But still he brooded. He made no pretention about trying to live a perfect life like the P’rushim who paraded around all day in prayer-shawls with long t’alit, making sure everyone heard them and saw them as they went to synagogue or scolded someone for violating some minute rule. Who made all those rules anyway? He could remember few such minutiae from the hearing of Torah in synagogue, or even in the rabbi’s teaching for his now long-past Bar-Mitzvah.
The nature of his work and the people he dealt with exposed him to “uncleanness” every day. He did his best not to build up resentment or hold grudges, to let his eye wander after pretty young maidens or, worse, the sensuous women of the night that lived in a certain part of town. They could be seen walking around the market to advertise their availability. There were occasional days or nights when he had been tempted to sneak off. He shook his head to clear it. Shoshana was a good woman and mother and all he could desire. Little Hannah was the delight of his eyes.
“Stop it, idiot!” he mumbled aloud to himself.
Andreas, sitting on the seat at the other oar on the opposite side of the mast with its folded sail and tied down spar, looked over at him quizzically. The morning breeze was up now, making the rowing a little stiffer. “What are you mumbling about, Shim’on?”
“Nothing important,” he answered. Then, to change the subject, he asked, “So do you think the Immerser is the Mashiach?”
Andreas was emphatic. “He’s a real Prophet, and when I listen to him, I feel like I’m hearing the words of Adonai! I like to listen to him, and you should come sometime. We could do mikvah together with him. It would do you good. I’m planning to do it soon – next time we have a few days without fishing to do.
“And he says very clearly that he is not the Mashiach. He says that Mashiach is already among us, and bringing an axe to cut down the trees that don’t bear fruit. Really, Shim’on, you should come to hear him. He knows how to put those arrogant P’rushim in their place. Sometimes he really gets them mad, tearing a strip off them about their hypocrisy. And he lays into Prince Herod too about his sleazy behaviour with his sister-in-law.”
Shim’on laughed, his humor improving. Andreas had a knack for lifting his spirits. He was blessed to have such a brother who was also his best friend. He had always wondered why his father had given Andreas a Greek name. Yona had only said that it was to honor a close friend who had died in the time of his youth. There was a story there which he longed to know. His father had had some sort of adventure with a Goy friend as a young man, but no one ever talked about it.
Family and neighbors had gossiped about Yona naming a son after a Gentile ever since. It made Shim’on self-conscious. He and Andreas had to be extra careful so as not to bring more shame on the family by being accused of compromising.
He glanced behind him. They were still at least eight hundred cubits from shore and the morning breeze was getting stiffer by the minute. The sun was over the horizon and now giving some warmth. His quick glance to shore had shown him a bit of a crowd gathering. What could make that happen at this hour? Andreas had seen it too. He had especially good eyesight and piped up, “Say, I think that new rabbi from Natzeret is on the beach. He has quite a group there with him.”