by Vincent Marquis
Copyright ©Vincent Marquis, 2020
(This is the third and concluding part of a re-imagining of the calling of Peter, Andrew, James, and John as disciples by Jesus.)
“It was a terrible night,” answered Andreas.
Shim’on cut him off, “We fished all night and caught absolutely nothing.”
Yeshua looked at him soberly, “So why don’t you put back out a little ways and throw a net back in?”
Shim’on looked at him as if he couldn’t be serious.
“Humor me,” said Yeshua with a warm smile.
Shim’on really didn’t want to put in the better part of another hour’s work just to humor someone he hardly knew, but those eyes and that voice were irresistible. After hesitating, he answered, “Master, since you wish it, we’ll go out again.” Andreas looked back hard at him in disbelief. Shim’on motioned to untie the lines and push the boat off the wharf. They both went to the oars and in a minute the boat was on its way back out onto the lake.
Yeshua stood between them with a hand on the mast and said, “I appreciate a bit of a boat ride.”
Ya’akov and Yochanan, now standing on the wharf, were incredulous. The Shim’on they knew would never agree to put back out right after coming in from a fruitless night. Shim’on seeking to become friends with a rabbi was a revelation. Shim’on was not what you would call a serious religious person.
The two junior partners watched wordlessly to see what would happen. If nothing else, it would make a good story. They could tease big Shim’on unmercifully and watch him squirm about how easily he was talked into something so obviously pointless by a smooth-talking rabbi.
Andreas and Shim’on rowed the boat out about a stadium. Shim’on dropped an anchor to keep from drifting. The likelihood of finding fish in broad daylight, even at this, the closest good spot, was about zero at this hour. Shim’on nodded his head to Andreas to help prepare a net. They made sure the tether-line was not tangled. They shook the net loose and moved to the port side. Shim’on took it himself, readying to cast it so that it opened full and fell into the water at maximum expansion. Might as well do it right as do it at all!
As he was beginning his move to the cast, Yeshua suddenly interrupted, “Try the other side of the boat.”
Andreas looked at Shim’on. Would he take this new suggestion? He knew his brother too well to think he wasn’t already irritated. What difference would it make? There were no fish on either side!
He expectedly a sharp retort about wasting their time. What could a carpenter turned rabbi know about fishing? A fisherman would not dare to presume to tell him how to build a good house or make a proper table. For a moment he saw the color rise in Shim’on’s cheeks, then quickly recede. He shrugged and moved to the starboard quarter. Then, with a “One, two, three,” and an expert fluid motion he threw it over the side. It opened perfectly in its parachute shape and landed on the surface of the lake. The weights carried the bottom down while the cork floats held the top up.
The brothers felt their fatigue. They sat down wearily on the center seat to wait. It had been a long, disappointing night, and now they were playing tourist guide to a quirky new celebrity rabbi with strange ideas about fishing. Shim’on once more thought wistfully of home, a quick wash-up, a nice breakfast with Shoshanah, a cuddle of little Hannah, maybe a nicer cuddle with his wife when the toddler was napping and Grandma was watching her…
Suddenly, the tether line was running out with great speed! What the?? It yanked to an abrupt halt, even causing their sturdy boat to list heavily to starboard with a sudden jerk. They were on their feet fully alert and without pause began hauling on the thick tether-line. Even with their combined strength they could barely move it an inch. Slowly, agonizingly, they pulled it up one little bit at a time. Then, without asking, a third pair of strong arms and hands had grabbed on behind Andreas and the line began to move slowly but steadily back into the boat. Even so, it was back-breaking work. Yeshua had also stripped down to his tunic.
After what seemed like an eternity in an instant, with burning arms and shoulders, the three men in the boat got the net to the surface. Getting it up over the side out of the water with all the dead weight of the enormous catch would be another issue.
What Shim’on saw as the net appeared coming out of the depths staggered him. It was so crammed full of fish that it could not possibly hold more. And they were all deliciously large and plump! Every single fish looked like the most perfect the lake had to offer. It was a catch beyond any fisherman’s wildest dreams! It was, literally, an impossible catch! His net should never have been able to hold it; it should have torn from the sheer weight and bulk of it!
They would never be able to haul this over the side, even with all three strong men pulling with all their might. He told Andreas to yell to Ya’akov and Yochanan to come back out at once. They had to help get this record catch in now or they would lose it. It would take both boats and all five of them to get it to shore.
He told Andreas and Yeshua to secure the line till the others came out as he held it braced against the thwart, ensuring that the net would not sink back into the water. Waiting, he sat down, utterly confounded, looking with awe and wonder at this rabbi-carpenter, full of questions and no possible answers that made any sense.
How had Yeshua known? Was it just dumb beginner’s luck? Just a total, freak coincidence? Or was there something much bigger going on here? One or two or even a few fish caught in full daylight you could ascribe to luck, coincidence, some sort of freak of water current and temperature. But this?? Never, ever, not even in a really good night’s fishing! It had never happened before to anyone in living memory. And it just happens when this man shows up and tells him to go back out when he’s had the worst night’s fishing that he could remember in years?
He sat in shock, and felt the warm, deep eyes of Yeshua on him again. He dared a look at him. Yeshua stood there calmly, returning his gaze. Shim’on couldn’t look away, although he felt as if the other was seeing right down into his soul, reading the very depths of him even to the most hidden things. Shim’on trembled, still unable to avert his eyes.
He heard his own voice asking, “Who are you?”
Yeshua’s eyebrows lifted. The answer left Shim’on no farther ahead. “Yeshua ben-Yosef, carpenter of Natzeret.”
Ya’akov and Yochanan pulled their boat alongside on the opposite side to the net. They tied the bow and stern lines to Shim’on’s boat and came over. As the Bar-Yona boat was listing, they moved gingerly, with Yochanan enthusing, “What’s going on? What do you need us for?”
Andreas motioned with his head, “Come and see, but don’t lean too far over the side. One at a time.”
Yochanan moved before Ya’akov, ignoring the precedence of age. As he leaned carefully and saw the incredible haul suspended in the net, he whistled softly and exclaimed, “By all that is sacred, that’s incredible! Ya’akov, you have to see this! You won’t believe it!” He moved back to let his brother look.
Ya’akov approached cautiously. When he saw the almost bursting net he simply froze, mouth half-open, eyes wide. He looked around at Shim’on, still sitting in his own shock. Ya’akov’s face registered the same emotion as Shim’on’s. He looked at Yeshua, wondering, questioning, “You made this happen?!”
Andreas had no doubt. “There’s no other explanation. We all know what kind of night we had and how foolish it seemed to go back out. Then, when we got out here, he told Shim’on to throw the net on the starboard side instead of the port side. Within a minute, the tether line ran out so fast it jerked the boat over like it is now. We couldn’t even haul it in so we had to call you.”
Yochanan’s awe was all over his face as he looked from the net to Yeshua and back again. His legs felt weak, and he sat down.
Yeshua’s gaze swept over the four of them with amused affection. Then he took a couple of steps toward Shim’on, still sitting where he had been. He said, “C’mon, Shim’on. Let’s get those fish into the boat.”
As if coming out of a dream, the big man rose and, without any need of direction, the five of them formed a line and systematically hauled the bulging net aboard. As it hit the deck boards, it opened and the heap of beautiful fish slid out all over around their feet, forming a pile thigh-high. With five in the boat and all these fish, the gunnels were low in the water.
Yeshua suggested, “Let’s get some of these in the other boat and head to shore.”
Using baskets, they shoveled half the catch into Ya’akov’s and Yochanan’s boat. The two sons of Zavdai hopped over and untied their lines. The two boats were heading to the wharf in a few minutes.
When they docked the boats, there would still be a good bit of work to do sorting and cleaning the fish. But there was already a group of people waiting to buy and the customers did not want to wait. Fish were a staple in the Galil and this was the biggest catch of the day. Other boats had had little better luck than they, and nothing was for sale.
Within half an hour, there were no fish left but what they had set aside for themselves. Yeshua stayed for it all, even serving some of the customers himself. Their collective purse was very full.
Home beckoned, but the four fishermen were reluctant to leave their new friend. Words were inadequate and none of them were sentimental. Shim’on knew that he should invite Yeshua home to feed him as a small gesture of gratitude, but he was still confused about what was going on in his heart. Why did this man affect him so deeply?
Yeshua seemed to sense all this, and he said to him, “Follow me, Shim’on.” He turned to the others and repeated, “Follow me.”
Suddenly, Shim’on understood. He had been waiting for this for his whole life! His confusion was that he knew he was totally unfit for this call. His sense of uncleanness, unworthiness, and inadequacy overpowered his yearning. He hardly realized that he had dropped to his knees as he said, “Leave me, Master, for I am a sinful, unworthy man.”
Yeshua leaned over and lifted him up by the elbow. At the rabbi’s touch Shim’on felt the weight of his shame and guilt lift and slide off. He felt freer and cleaner than he had ever imagined he could. Trembling, he rose to his feet like a new man.
“He sees it all,” Shim’on’s inner voice told him. “He knows it all, and he forgives it all. None of it matters to him. He accepts me for what I am and he wants me to be his friend.” Tears filled his eyes as he looked with wonder and gratitude at his new friend. He understood right then that he would follow him to the ends of the earth.
Yeshua looked at him with great affection. Once more he said, for all to hear, “Follow me!” Then, to let the others know that they too were being called, he added, turning to them as well, “and I will make you fishers of men.”
He took Shim’on by the shoulder and, facing around, said to the four of them, “Now let’s go have some breakfast.”