|The Fisherman: A Novel|
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He was impulsive and bold, with feet of clay, yet Christ called him the "rock." He was Simon Bar-Jonah, one of the most fascinating New Testament characters. You'll feel the dust on the roads as you travel with Peter and Jesus and relive gospel events. Fresh, fast-paced, and well-researched, this spellbinding novel faithfully follows Scripture. 256 pages, softcover from Revell.
I have brooded long over what I am about to do. In the end I have chosen to write because so few seem to understand. I am not a writer. Words on paper come hard for me. Even now my mind is filled with a thousand other things I would rather be doing. But if I do not speak, who will? Who knew the Master better then? Who knows him better now?
You see, it was not the way you think it was. There! I have said it. And unless you understand how it was, my friend, you will never be able to understand how it should be now.
I was born Simon Barjona. You know me by a different name—Peter. I am one of the twelve disciples chosen by the Master during his time among us. Several excellent accounts of those remarkable months have been written and widely circulated by others more skilled in such things than I. Those accounts accurately record many of the events we witnessed and shared together. I have nothing to alter or add to those accounts. I write now because so few seem to understand those accounts correctly. So few seem to understand him correctly—the way he was when he was with us and why it changed our lives forever.
Perhaps it would help if I allowed you to see those days through my eyes. I want you to know not just what happened but what it felt like to be there. I want you to know it was real, more real than the hot dust under our feet, more real than the flies buzzing around our sweat-soaked clothing. Somehow I want to help you see the things I saw and feel the things I felt. I have seen what the enemy has done with the record of those days. I have seen what he has done with people's perceptions of me. I have seen the way reality has been twisted into ritual and religion. I have seen the way it sucks the life and vitality out of the people of God. When I wrote my second open letter to the family of God, I addressed it "to those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours." But unless you understand what my faith is like and where it came from, the letter's assurance will be of little value to you.
And so I write with the hope that I can help you to see the Master as a man. For, if we cannot see him correctly as a man, we have no hope of understanding him correctly as our God.
I was a fisherman before I met him. My brother, Andrew, and I fished together. I loved fishing. I loved everything about it. I loved the smell of the sea. I loved the look of the nets neatly folded on the deck of our boat. I loved that incredible sense of freedom I always experienced the instant we pushed away from the land and the world began to roll under my feet. I loved the creak of the wood and the feel of the sun on my back. I loved knowing I answered to no man, that I held the future firmly in my own hands. I loved those days when the catch was good and my wife, Ruth, and I could put a little extra income toward our dreams. I even loved those days when the catch was poor. Even if I brought home only a handful of fish, I knew at least I could always provide food for my family.
Andrew and I did most of our fishing with Zebedee's two boys, James and John. We grew up together—Andrew, James, John, and myself. John could run circles around me in a battle of wits, but the size of both my mouth and my muscles left little dispute about my position as unofficial head of our tiny fishing fleet.
I wish you could have known me back then, before he entered my world. I wish you could have known how . . . well, how common, how normal, how like everyone else I was. I wish you could have heard me blast poor Andrew when a fish or two slipped out of the net. I wish you could have seen me stomp out of the house in a huff when Ruth and I disagreed about something and I knew she was right. I wish you could have sat with the four of us after our nets were put away for the evening and listened to me babble on. I wish you could have known the smallness of my dreams.
"Someday I'm going to have two boats all my own. And I'm going to build a bigger house up there on that little hill overlooking the bay. Someday I'm going to be the most successful fisherman this town has ever seen."
You see, if my words to you now are to be of any value, this one thing you must understand—there was nothing in me or about me that made me any different from yourself. Before he entered my world, my life was an unbroken stream of work and family and eating and sleeping and selfish little hopes and dreams and plans for the future. I was a fisherman. That was all I was. That is all I knew how to be.
I attended meetings on the Sabbath in our synagogue as often as most men. But, to be honest, much of what happened there bored me to death. I knew the history of our people. I followed the feast days and celebrations. But my mind was more often on the festival food than on the great historical significance of the events we were celebrating. I knew some of the young men who held aspirations for leadership in our Jewish community. Sometimes I listened to their endless debates over intricate and obscure passages in the law and the writings of the prophets. I saw their glow of satisfaction when they contributed some comment or insight the others considered significant. I sensed the urgency with which they approached their world of ideas. But it seemed like a waste of time to me. In the end it changed nothing, and it certainly didn't feed my family.
Does it surprise you to hear me speak this way? You call me the apostle Peter. My two letters written to my fellow Christians are read as words inspired by God himself. My presence in the church commands immediate respect and attention. This is as it should be, because it served God's purposes to place me in this role. But do not misunderstand—I do not hold this position because I now know things, because I have accumulated a great wealth of knowledge and insight that qualifies me for such authority. I am no more skilled in the ways of books and learning now than I was as a youth. Even now, when I read some of the letters written by my brother Paul, I find things difficult to understand. No, I do not hold my position of leadership because I know things. I hold it because I know him, and because he has chosen to use that knowledge of him in this way. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
* * * * *
How is it possible for two brothers to be so different? Andrew's restless spirit and hunger for truth never ceased to amaze me. He would spend hours, even days, churning over questions I never even thought to ask. I can remember the two of us, straining at our nets, soaked with sweat and sea spray, hauling our catch into the boat. My mind would be counting fish, calculating their value, dividing the profit. Then suddenly I would hear Andrew's voice saying, "Hey, Simon! Do you realize it has been more than four hundred years since the last true prophet spoke? Four hundred years! How could that be? I wonder why we don't have prophets today. Why do you think that is, huh?"
How in the world should I know? And what difference did it make anyway?
Then the Prophet John entered our world and I lost Andrew altogether. Oh, his body was still with me, but his mind was absent on a permanent basis. The first time Andrew heard John preach, he was hooked. From then on all Andrew talked about was the Prophet John! The Prophet John said this and the Prophet John said that. "Oh, Simon!" he'd say. "The Prophet John speaks with a power and authority that makes you shake inside. And, Simon, nearly every time he speaks he talks about someone who's coming after him. I heard him say he wasn't fit to untie the sandals of the one who's coming. Can you believe that? You have to come hear him, Simon. You just have to!"
But somehow I just never found the time. Besides, Andrew provided me with a word-by-word account of every syllable the prophet uttered. One disciple of John in the family was enough. We had a business to run, and there was no way it would run itself with both of us chasing around the country after traveling preachers.
Then came that morning when Andrew failed to meet me at the boat. The previous afternoon he and his friend Philip had taken off in search of the Prophet John and hadn't come back. I hung around the boat waiting, a little worried, a lot angry. How could he do this to me? I didn't really mind all this Prophet John stuff as long as it didn't interfere with our work. But now he was going too far. We were losing a full day of fishing, and there was nothing for me to do but sit and wait and plan my lecture for the slacker.
It was nearly noon before Andrew returned. As soon as I saw him walking up the beach, I sprang to my feet, ready for my attack. But before I could utter a word, Andrew broke into a grin and held up both hands as if to ward off the blast he knew was coming. He looked different somehow.
For a few seconds he said nothing. He offered no apology for being late, no immediate explanation for his absence, and no new flood of quotations from the great Prophet John. He just stood there staring at me through shining eyes, looking as if he were about to explode.
Then he spoke. "Simon, we have found the Messiah!" He wasn't trying to convince me. He wasn't attempting to bait me into yet another theological discussion. He wasn't soliciting my agreement. He wasn't looking for my approval. It was a simple statement of fact, spoken with absolute assurance.
I didn't say anything. I didn't know what to say. I just stood there in silence. My face must have mirrored my confusion and concern, because Andrew suddenly burst out laughing as he slapped me on the shoulder and said, "Relax, big brother! I haven't gone mad. When you hear what's happened, you'll understand."
The account poured out of him like a flood. He and Philip had found the Prophet John without difficulty, but he wasn’t preaching and answering questions the way he usually did. He was engaged in an intense conversation with a man about his own age. Neither Philip nor Andrew recognized the stranger, but John seemed to know him well. They edged closer to the pair, trying to catch a little of their conversation.
The man's name was Jesus, and Andrew found this newcomer fascinating. The things he said, the way he laughed, the look in his eyes, even the way he carried himself communicated a confidence, an authority, a kind of contagious love for life. I asked Andrew if he was another prophet like John. Andrew struggled with the question for a few seconds, then said no, he was different somehow. When I pressed him for an explanation, he said the Prophet John drew you to his message, but this Jesus drew you to himself. At the time, that made no sense to me whatsoever, but I let it pass and Andrew continued his account.
He and Philip had kept edging closer, but just as they were within range to hear most of what was being said, John and Jesus ended their conversation and Jesus walked away. For a few seconds they just stood there next to John, watching Jesus go. They John turned to them, pointed at Jesus, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God." They had no idea what those words meant, but they were determined to find out. Andrew and Philip followed after him.
For a few paces the little procession moved down the path in silence, Jesus in the lead, his two shadows a few feet behind him. Then, without warning, Jesus stopped, turned around, looked straight into Andrew's eyes, and asked, "What do you seek?" Andrew said it was just as if he knew Andrew was following him. He wasn't angry. He wasn't irritated. Andrew said that as he stood there looking into Jesus' eyes, he suddenly felt as if this man was asking him a question to which he already knew the answer. Andrew, however, had no idea what to say. What did he seek? What he really sought was him. He wanted to know so much more about him. Who was he? What was he doing? Where was he going? Andrew wanted to be near him, to talk with him. He wanted to get to know him. But there was no way Andrew dared put that into words. Jesus would think he was crazy. Andrew said he stood there in terrified silence for a few seconds and then blurted out, "Rabbi, where are you staying?"
As soon as those words came out of his mouth, Andrew knew how stupid they must have sounded. "Oh, Teacher, we're just sneaking along behind you here because we were wondering what kind of house you live in." Dumb! Dumb! Dumb! Andrew said he could feel his face turning red.
Then, just as he dropped his eyes to the ground and began to turn away in embarrassment, Jesus spoke what for the rest of his life Andrew described as the five words that changed everything forever. Jesus said simply, "Come, and you will see."
When Andrew looked up, Jesus was smiling, his eyes filled with kindness, compassion, and an acceptance that made Andrew feel as if this man knew everything. He knew what Andrew had been thinking and feeling. He knew what Andrew was searching for, not just today but for years. He knew, and he welcomed it. In fact, Andrew told me, he seemed to be expecting it.
Andrew never said much more about that first night he spent with the Master. Whatever passed between them touched Andrew more deeply than anything else had ever touched him before. It touched and it healed. He didn't want to share it, and I didn't want to pump him. But he did share one thing more that sent a shock through me. "Simon . . . there's something else too. I don't know how, but . . . well . . . he knows about you. And, Simon, he wants to meet with you."
The Fisherman by Larry Huntsperber, copyright 2003. Used by permission. All rights reserved.