Thursday, March 17, 2011

Deeper Waters, Part One

It had been a long, frustrating night.  His own reflection in the water seemed to mock him, and he washed his nets in a sneering silence.  The sands shifted around Simon’s feet with each movement, and he let them slowly become entrapped as he worked.  It felt good to be locked in like that, and the sand was cool.  The shallows of the sea lapped at his knees.  The sun had risen now, but remained diffused and hidden in morning cloud.  Its light was pale and yellow.

He had always prided himself on knowing how and where to detect the shoals of fish, knowing where they sought out the warm currents in the cool waters, and his pride had been insulted with each empty net.  In the hull of the boat, now resting in the shallows, was an empty bottle.  The ratio had been two or three swigs for each fishless net.  This was below average for such a night, and his brother, who had spent the long night watching him take those swigs, was thankful that a hangover wasn’t worsening an already sour mood.  

As the morning burned on and the sun rose above the haze, however, his mood did sour.  What did the souring was the crowd of people gathering at the shore.  Most of these people had camped there last night in anticipation of seeing a popular personality, an itinerant preacher that was amassing quite a little following.  He’d heard of him, heard stories about him, knew he was a cousin to the big-bearded baptizer his little brother had lately become enthralled with.  But he had given him little thought beyond a passing interest.  People always had to have a celebrity to idolize, a preacher to follow, a politician to worship.  This man seemed to be all three.  Ultimately, though, he was just another famous name, and his time would pass.

Simon lifted his head from his work on the net, and saw the man the crowd was gathered to see.  He did his best to make sure the preacher knew he couldn’t care less, and continued working on his nets with his back to the preacher as he addressed the crowd.

Andrew, however, was enthralled.  He stood staring, his nets absently hanging in his hands.  Simon was determined to make up for his brother’s lack of detachment with his own unswerving aloofness.

He heard the preaching stop for a moment, and heard footsteps sloshing in the water behind him.  He continued to feign ignorance, studiously minding a knot, until he felt a tap on his shoulder.  He rose from his knot and turned with a sigh, unlocking his feet from the manacles of the sand.

“Yes?” he said.  “Can I help you?”  Help was exactly what he was hoping not to give.

“Hello.  Yes, you can.  There are a lot of people crowding around here, and I think it would be easier for everyone to hear me if I could address them from your boat.  Perhaps you could put it out just a little and I can preach from there?”  He pointed to his right.

Simon huffed.  His little brother had sauntered over now, obviously eager to offer assistance.  

“Of course!” said Andrew.  “That would be fine!”  He ignored the look of death Simon shot him.

Simon stared down the preacher for a moment, still pretending not to know who he was.  “What’s your name?”

“I am Jesus,” he said.

“Jesus, I am Simon.”

“Simon.  You’re a good man,” smiled Jesus.

Simon harrumphed, and gave the slightest smirk.  “Come with me.”

Andrew scampered along next to the rabbi Jesus, as the three made their way to the boat.  

“Been fishing?” asked Jesus.

“All night,” answered Andrew.

“Catch anything?”

“Didn’t catch anything but a buzz,” Simon said with a sigh.  He always loved that line.

“Sorry to hear that,” said the rabbi.

Simon and Jesus climbed into the boat.  Andrew gave it a push and hopped aboard as it drifted from the sands.  Simon’s tired but able arms rowed the boat into place as Jesus stood with one hand on the mast.  

“Is this all right...?” Simon asked, intoning inwardly, “...your Majesty?”

“Perfect,” Jesus said with a smile.  He sat down to address the crowd as Simon dropped anchor.

As the preacher sat down to address the crowd, Simon noted a small scratch below the rabbi’s left eye.  Probably a parchment cut from studying his Torah too closely, he thought.

The preacher started to preach, and Simon allowed his tired thoughts to drift upon the water.    Rabbis, no matter how famous, consistently bored him.

His eyes were following a lone fish, which seemed to taunt him with the flick of its tail, when a phrase caught his attention.

“If your neighbour strikes you on your right cheek, don’t retaliate.”

Simon sniggered.  Another milquetoast rabbi telling men not to be men.  Just what we need.

Jesus turned to Simon.  “Help me for a moment, would you?” He motioned for Simon to stand as he himself stood.  

Simon was caught off guard, but tentatively came to his feet.  The boat rocked a little with his weight.

“If your neighbour strikes you on your right cheek,” the rabbi turned and whispered an instruction to Simon.  “Backhand me.”

Simon was taken aback with the instruction.  But with a nod from the rabbi, he feigned a slap across his face.  The crowd chuckled uneasily at the sight of the human boulder bullying the slim teacher.

“Don’t retaliate,” he said to the crowd.  “Turn to him your left cheek, also.”  He faced Simon squarely, and offered the other half of his face.

Simon held up a fist as if to strike him.  That’s when he noticed again that scratch under the preacher’s eye.  It wasn’t just a scratch.  There was some swelling.  A welt.  It was not so noticeable that the crowds of people could see it, but once he realized it was there, there was no mistaking it for what it was.  

This man had a black eye.  

Simon’s fist dropped.  His jaw dropped along with it.

This rabbi wasn’t giving this advice as an abstract idea.  He had actually done this.  Recently.  Probably within the last twenty-four hours.  He had been slapped across the face, looked a man in the eye, and offered him a free shot, without retaliation.

Simon’s head began to swim with scenarios in which a kindly rabbi could invite such abuse.  He stood there, his mouth still agape, when the preacher addressed him again.

“Thanks.  You can sit down again.”

Simon came to himself and sat down.  More scenes of a kindly rabbi facing down a slap in the face and punch in the eye came tumbling into his brain. With each scene, he felt a sense of awe for this little rabbi.  He remembered himself in the tavern the other night.  He remembered the black eyes he himself had administered to several patrons, and he remembered how such altercations usually began.  They began with his strength, his respect, or his honour being questioned.  His response of a swift fist was meant to ensure that his strength was displayed without delay.  But here was a show of strength, of respect, of honour, that didn’t raise a fist.  Rather, it raised his head.  

Simon listened, enraptured, to the rest of the sermon.  He couldn’t take his eyes off that black eye.  This was a man who had no lack of strength.  He was a man who was strong enough to offer his face to a pummeling and walk away the victor.  That black eye was a mark of authority that surpassed every tassel or gold-encrusted trinket worn by the highest of priests.  When the rabbi was finished, Simon sat still, cocooned in himself and his thoughts.


Simon snapped back to the world around him.  “Huh?”

“Thank-you,” the bruised man said.

“Oh.  Yes.  That’s alright.”

“Didn’t catch anything last night, eh?”

“No,” Simon said, slowly coming back to himself.  “Didn’t catch anything but a bu…  Nothing.”  His eyes were still trained upon the rabbi’s welt.

The rabbi smiled.  “Would you do me one more favour?”

Simon eyed him with a strange feeling in his gut.  He had a bad feeling his heart would have trouble saying No to whatever this black-eyed teacher would ask of him.  

The rabbi Jesus held him in an easy but unrelenting gaze.  “Put out into deeper waters.  Lower your nets for a catch.”

Simon smirked.  A great preacher this man may be, but a fisherman he was not.  “Sir, we’ve been working hard all night and caught absolutely nothing.  They’re just not out there today.”

The rabbi simply grinned as if he’d been fishing his whole life.  Simon grunted, and looked again at that black eye.  His suspicions were correct.  He couldn’t say No to that black eye.

“For you,” he said, pointing wryly at the preacher.  “We’ll lower the nets and see what we can find.”

He drew up the anchor.  “Come on, Andrew,” he said, “we’re going out for one more catch... for the preacher.”

1 comment:

Beth said...

Me gusta mucho.