The John Wesley Fellowship began in 1977, with Steve Harper and yours truly being two of the first John Wesley Fellows chosen. I have told the story of Ed Robb and AFTE this past Fall on the blog so I will not repeat it. Here are some of the senior fellows attending the meeting. […]
CHAPTER EIGHT: SIMON AND CEPHAS
He sat by the lake skimming stones across the placid water. It was early morning and only the fishermen had been out on the lake thus far, and with little results as the air and the water were so still. Jesus had had a quiet night at the house of Simon’s mother in law in Kefer-Nahum, and had slipped out early to think and pray by the shore before the events of the day overtook him.
The first exchange the previous evening between Jesus and Simon had gone well enough, and Simon had introduced Jesus to his family in his effervescent, loud manner. He was a man of definite opinions, for example he had a very low opinion of tax collectors and others who worked for Herod Antipas. At the same time he was suspicious of ultra-holy men as well, prophets, priests, sages and the like. He was a believing Jew, but not always a scrupulously observant one. At the end of the family meal, and after some hours of conversation, Jesus had come up to his host and said–“thank you for your kind hospitality. I have a name for you—-you will be called Cephas” (Aramaic for ‘Rock’). At the time Simon simply laughed a bit, thinking Jesus was yet another peculiar prophet of some sort, but it was not a nickname he minded having. But why had Jesus said “you will be called Cephas”–when, and by whom?
The word had gotten out about the healing of Miryam of Migdal, indeed the towns people in Migdal, Bet-saida and Kefer-Nahum talked of little else. How had a woman full of unclean spirits suddenly regained control of her life, suddenly return to her right mind and a state of cleanness? She had told all who would listen it was Jesus of Netzerit who had healed her, and now here he was back on the shores of the Kinneret. Simon’s mother in law had told the neighbors, and so it was that when Jesus turned around from gazing at the sea, there was already forming a small crowd of people, not wanting to bother the healer, but still, hoping for some help, at least some healing words.
Within fifteen more minutes the crowd had gotten larger, and Jesus realized he had better do something. He looked over his shoulder and saw Simon and Andrew rowing two small boats back towards the shore where he now stood, Simon grousing that they had caught next to nothing after several hours of early morning fishing.
“Simon can you take me on board please? I’d like you to row a bit off shore so I can speak to all these people without the crowd pressing in on me.” Simon obliged, though he was still in no good mood after the paltry catch that morning.
Jesus began teaching the crowd in parables— one after another. Some of these were just brief analogies, others more like story comparisons, but in all cases Jesus said they were about the coming Dominion of G-d. The one that stuck in the mind of Simon and Andrew, naturally enough, was the parable of the net. Jesus said
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
The story made Simon uneasy, and he began shifting back and forth in the boat. What pile of fish would he end up in when the angels came to sift humanity? He was not sure, and the more he thought about it, the more uncomfortable he became. The problem with prophets and sages was they not only comforted the afflicted, but they tended to afflict the comfortable as well. After about a half an hour of teaching, Jesus said to Simon “Put out into the deep waters, and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon was instantly exasperated: “Master, as you know, we have worked the better part of the night, and have basically caught nothing worth keeping. Yet, if you say we should try again, I will let down the nets once more just to please you, but don’t expect much!”
Simon and Andrew had stretched out the nets between the two boats and began rowing in tandem back towards the shore, hoping to catch a few fish by trawling. Andrew was anxious, wondering what Simon would think if there was still no catch. But suddenly, without warning, the nets began to fill with fish of all sizes–small ones, big ones, young ones old ones, fat ones, thin ones and fish of several sorts. So many fish swam into the nets, a whole school of fish, that the nets began to bend with the weight, and the boats began to tip towards each other.
Frantically, Simon called in a loud voice for two of his fishermen friends on shore standing next to their own boat to row out to their boats, for they were now only a few yards from land. Jesus just continued to sit in the back of the boat, very quiet and watching all that was happening with a small wry smile.
Dragging the nets into Simon and Andrews’ boats, the boats began to fill up with fish, so much so that the boats threatened to sink. When Simon saw this, his eyes got big, and a light went on in his brain. Wading through the fish to the back of the boat, Simon fell on his knees saying to Jesus “Please go away from me… for I am a sinful man!” The two other fishermen who had come to help were the sons of an old fisherman named Zebedee. These two were called James and John. They too had seen the miraculously large catch and were stunned.
Jesus turned to Simon, and said to him “Do not be afraid Simon. From now on you will be fishing for and catching human beings, a much more slippery and elusive creature.” Simon had a sick feeling in his stomach. He realized he had been reeled in by Jesus, and would need to do what he commanded, hereafter. Andrew said to him as they were pulling their boats ashore “We won’t be needing these for a while.”
“I guess not,” said a suddenly serious and somewhat glum Simon, “I guess not.” Simon was not the kind of person anyone would call contemplative. The fact that he was quiet the whole time he and Andrew and the Zebedees sorted the fish, and placed them into small containers, and then hauled them back to their houses, spoke volumes. But when they got back to the house of Simon’s mother in law, Simon’s wife came to the door to tell him that her mother had come down with a fever, and she did not want to let anyone in, for fear of spreading the disease. The fever was a high one, and as soon as Jesus heard about it, he said to Simon–“let me see her for a moment. I can help.” It took some convincing, but Simon persuaded his wife to let Jesus into the house. The sun was going down and Shabbat was coming, and so there was some urgency to the situation.
Entering the small sleeping room where Simon’s mother-in-law, Naomi lay, Jesus could see from how greatly she was perspiring that the fever had to be a high one. Standing over her, he reached out and took her hand in his own, and lifted her up. At once the fever left her, and she said something about needing to prepare supper for them all and she walked into the cooking area at the back of the house, as if nothing out of the ordinary had just happened! There was a small crowd standing outside the door, but Jesus sent them away so the family could return to normal. They needed to eat, and then go to the Shabbat service at the local synagogue.
The local synagogue ruler, Jairus, had come to the house to ask Jesus if he would do them the honor of teaching at the service, which Jesus gladly consented to. Jairus had heard about Jesus from Andrew just that morning. When dinner had been consumed and the time came to go to the synagogue, the whole family got cleaned up and went, but when they got there, there were already many town’s people, including many who had heard Jesus in the morning and heard about the big catch of fish, and some who were seeking healing. Jesus had a captive audience, and he did not disappoint.
After the introductory remarks of Jairus and the reading of a scroll of one of the prophets, Jesus sat down, as was the custom of teachers and began to proclaim “the time is fulfilled and the Dominion of G-d is at hand. You must repent, turn your lives around, and believe in the good news of the salvation and healing G-d has brought into your midst.” The thing that impressed the congregation on that Friday evening was that Jesus did not cite other Jewish teachers, but simply proclaimed things on his own authority.
While apparently Jesus could do miracles and tell parables like the prophets of old, especially the famous northern prophets, Elijah and Elisha, so revered in Galilee, yet unlike many of the ancient prophets, he spoke on his own authority, seemed to know things about what G-d was doing now, in their midst, and what beckoned on the near horizon, hence the exhortation to repent. This message sounded rather like John the baptizer, except Jesus kept telling them they must believe the good news. Since when was coming judgment ever good news, they wondered? But Jesus spoke of salvation. Unexpectedly a young man had worked his way up to the front of the congregation where Jesus was sitting, and he began screaming at Jesus “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Netzerit? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God!”
Jesus replied in a strong and angry voice “Shut up, and come out of him!” The young man convulsed and there was a further loud cry, then brief whimpering, and the young man called for his father. After he sat for a moment on the synagogue floor recovering, he stood up and walked out of the synagogue, apparently well. Both the teaching and the exorcism had left the congregation in stunned silence at first but then they began talking amongst themselves asking one another “What is this? A new teaching with authority, and he commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.” There would be no way to keep all of this quiet, indeed the word spread like a brush fire in a dry Galilean olive grove.
Jesus realized he was going to need to get out of town, and quickly. The problem was clear— he wanted to spread the good news of G-d’s salvation breaking into their midst, but the physical needs of so many people were so pressing that the healings and the exorcisms became front and center in the word of mouth about Jesus in Galilee, and his teachings were seen as less important. The call to repent and receive the good news and be changed, transformed, would fall on deaf ears, ears which only wanted to hear about miracles and see signs and wonders. And Jesus knew there was a large difference between on the one hand healing someone for the time being who would go on to live and die as all people do, and on the other hand changing them not only for a lifetime but for an eternity. He knew there was a large difference between an amazed crowd, and a believing, changed group of persons.
Very early the next morning, while it was still quite dark, Jesus got up and left the house of Simon’s mother in law, and went up into the hills above Kefer-Nahum to pray. Things were moving quickly, and Jesus wanted to hear what Abba would have him do now, in view of the circumstances. Having prayed for a while, he heard voices coming up the path to where he sat. Simon, Andrew, and the Zebedees found Jesus and Simon said “Everyone is searching for you!”
Jesus looked right into Simon’s eyes and said “Let us move on to some of the neighboring towns so I may proclaim the good news there also; for that is what I came to do.” And so it was that Jesus went to Migdal, and Bet-saida, and Chorazin proclaiming the coming Dominion of G-d. After a week and more of travel, Jesus told his disciples that he needed to go to Qana as well, for he knew the time had come for a family wedding, and he wanted to once again make contact with his mother. Several of the disciples decided to go with Jesus, who had promised he was returning to Kefer-Nahum thereafter.