On the Road to Lent

The Fishermen

Galit ben Simon and Sivan ben Agam walked the lake’s shore side by side moving steadily toward their boats.  Being of a group of fishermen from Bethsaida, the boats were pulled up on the sand in a row near an inlet.  A much desired spot, the inlet protected the boats from the frequent and severe storms that changed the lake from friendly to the many who made their living by fishing into a tempestuous beast that could easily capsize a small, single sailed boat.  As they walked, they called out greetings to the men on shore mending their casting nets, so easily damaged when sardine gills caught in the webbing.  A few men were repairing drag nets, but the barbels and mushti had been yielding an even poorer catch than the sardines. 

It was very easy to tell those fishermen who were usually successful for they were mending nets of cotton and flax.  The less fortunate mended nets of reed.  The low water level over the past month had been particularly hard on those who had the smallest boats and the smallest families to help man the boat and nets.  Still, the sea level had risen after the most recent storm and rain had increased the flow from the Jordan River so they were hopeful of good catches to feed their families and sell in the market.

As the two walked, they talked of weather and fish most of the way, but as they approached their group’s boats, two boats sitting on the sand side by side, in particular, the conversation changed.

 “Sivan, what have you heard about Yohanan?  I see him by his boat mending nets alone.”

Sivan stopped and turned to face Galit.  “Yes, I noticed that. First tell me what you have heard.”

“I heard that some man came from somewhere in the west on foot and walked the shoreline bidding hello to all   With the poor fishing most of our boats were beached.  Instead of stopping, the man walked straight to Yohanan and his sons who were working on the sails and nets.  The other fishermen agree that the man has never been here before and still wonder why they were passed by.  Of course, they are glad they were.”

“I didn’t hear all that, just that a man came Yohanan’s sons, Simon and Andrew and Zebedee’s sons, James and John.  They talked to the man and then went home, gathered a few belongings, and left with him.  Simon didn’t even explain why to his wife.  I suppose now Yohanan will have to see to her welfare since nothing I have heard mentioned where they were going or when they will return.”

By this time, they were near Yohanan’s boat. “Do you think we should talk about this with Yohanan, Sivan?”

“I don’t know.  Let us see if he mentions it or it comes naturally to our conversation.”

Galit spoke first.  “Shalom Aleichem, “Yohanan ben Jonah.

“Shalom Aleichem,” Galit ben Simon.”

Yohanan turned back to his mending. Galit looked at Sivan, touched his fingers to his lips and gave a brief nod as though to say, “Say something to get him to talk”.

“Are you going out today?”  Galit again looked at Sivan and shook his head slightly up and down in encouragement.

“The sea is higher today.  It might be a good day for you and your sons.  We are going out, and hope to do well.”

Yohanan seemed to be ignoring them although a careful observer would have seen his shoulders stiffen when Sivan said the word sons.

Seeing that Sivan was not getting a response, Galit spoke.  “Those are fine nets.  I hope they will be heavy with fish when you haul them on board.”

Of course, Yohanan was sure why this stilted conversation continued.  “Words can really be like nets,” he thought.  “Cast out to catch information instead of fish.”

“I will be going out later when I have help to haul the nets in and manage the boat.”

Taking advantage of Yohanan’s statement, Galit attempted to move the conversation toward the topic he and Sivan were highly interested in hearing more about.

“Are your sons delayed at market then?”

Yohanan gave a silent sigh.  It was obvious to him that until he satisfied what he knew to be the curiosity of the two men he would not be able to give full attention to his nets in preparation for the day’s sail.

“My sons have will be traveling.  How long I do not know.  I have hired two young boys from the village and will teach them to fish.”

Sivan joined the conversation.  “Oh, where are they off to?  Are they going on business at the market in Capernaum?”

“No.”  The reply was almost curt.  “I do not know exactly where they will be.  Possibly Nazareth or Jerusalem.”

“So far?”

“Sivan, Galit, why don’t you just ask me what happened.  It is apparent you have heard something of what took place two days ago.”

With relief, Galit said, “You are right.  I am sorry we have been indirect, but we were concerned you would be upset with us for our curiosity.”

“Perhaps, but perhaps it is better to just satisfy it.  Certainly there is nothing secret in a community as small as ours and facts are better than half-truths and rumors.  Come, sit in the shade of the boat and I will tell you what happened.  It may sound strange, but it is the truth.  I hope Zebedee does not become angry with me, but he and his sons are part of it.”

Sivan and Galit looked at each other and then looked directly at Yohanan with questioning faces. Even so, they took their places on either side of Yohanan, resting their backs again the boat planking.

“Yes, Zebedee and his sons are part of it.”  Yohanan answered their look.

“You both have very likely heard at least part of the story, but this is how it actually happened.”

“Two days ago, while we were casting from the shore because of the high waves, we saw a strange man walking toward us.  Nothing odd.  Just an average looking, sturdy fellow perhaps a bit taller than most.  He appeared to be in or close to mid-life.  No different than us.  Except perhaps that he carried himself so straight, almost like a soldier.  No, not a soldier exactly.  More like someone with a definite purpose.  He was most pleasant to all he passed, but passed them by and just kept on until he came upon me and my sons.” He paused, remembering.

“He stood a little way from the shoreline and called out, “Simon, Andrew.”  I was taken by surprise.  “Have you met this man before?  If so, who is he?” I asked my sons.

“No, father,” they replied almost in unison.  Simon said, “I have no idea who he is but yet I feel I should.”

The man looked first at Simon, then at Andrew.  “Come with me and I will make you fishers of men.”  I thought he was not of sound mind, so I was shocked when they both put down their nets and walked to stand beside him.  He nodded and the three left together.  I followed far behind.  They walked into the village to our house.  My sons did not say anything, Simon not even to his wife.  They packed a few provisions and some clothing while the man waited outside.  Then they joined him and all walked away.  I have not seen or heard from them since.”

“Aren’t you angry?  Worried?”

“No and I cannot tell you why.  Somehow I feel it is their destiny that has taken them from me.”  You should ask Zebedee what he thinks for he came for James and John as well.”

Siva and Galit stared at Yohanan and then looked at each other.

“Have a good catch, my friends.”  He said nothing more but turned to mend his nets.