The darkness was cool and a light breeze was already running as the men made their way down to the water's edge.
There was an easy familiarity about the bustle in the darkness, the comforting recognition of patterns made and followed for generations, as well as the stability of other familiar, dependable details.
So much could be recognized in the dark. The limping shadow that could only be Bartholomew, who had been tossed from a horse when he was five years old. Jonah's cough, that through some mysterious habit, lasted only from door to shore. It always stopped when he reached the boat and nobody knew why, least of all Jonah himself. But you could always tell when he came out, and you could always tell when he had reached his boat.
Then there was that other sense that let you pick up Joshua's embarrassment. You didn't see or hear much, but you could tell it as his mother and sister lavished their protection and care. Ever since he had been widowed so young, he had become for them again the baby of the family who needed their care, yet they clung to him so desperately for he was the only support they had. His health and each day's catch was all that stood between them and destitution.
And you couldn't miss the scurrying kids of Philip. While the rest of the town children still slept, these three boys were everywhere. And it would always end in the daily begging to be taken out on the boats, with Philip then patting each one on the head, the taller one and the twins, giving them things to do for mother, chores to help the old rabbi with, and a vague promise of "soon." As he patiently listened to his eldest declare how strong he was now, Philip leaned his shoulder to his boat. The shadow of Simon appeared beside him and crouched to push, too. The three boys added their puny muscles and excited shouts. Simon winked at Philip. "It's almost time for Joseph, you know," he said.
When they were in the water, Joseph called his twin brothers, "OK, now let's get Simon's."
Simon's heart went to his mouth. What was he going to say? What would they think?
"Eh, no, not now."
Curious looks came from the two seven-year-olds and one nine-year-old.
Before the flood of questions started (for Simon was always the first out, Simon had a short temper for anyone who dallied or wasted time or didn't pull his weight, Simon was fun with his fast answers and his arguments with the tax collectors) he quickly added, "I won't be out today, but I need you boys to help me check the nets in the morning, and I'll teach you some of my special knots."
Curiosity evaporated into excitement, and Simon looked up at the night sky. The fishing was going to be good, he knew.
Most of the boats were on the water. Simon leaned on his on the shore, his beard resting on the backs of his hands, looking out at the familiar activity. A part of him was out there on the water. Yes, the fishing would be good, he knew.
Everything said "go" to him. Yet his feet did not move. The slight wavelets lapped around his toes. There was a weight in his heart. There was something happening to him he did not understand.
He spread his hand along the uneven planks. The boat had been his father's before him, but from the age of ten, when his fathers hands began to stiffen, it had been Simon who had scraped, painted, caulked, patched, replaced the dowels, worked the ropes, kept the nets, fixed the mast, patched the sails.
How many surprise storms had they not been through together, this boat and Simon? And that time when he thought the Romans were about to set fire to their whole little fleet? How many times had he not danced on the prow and you could hear his shrieks of laughter across the water as he pulled in a huge load, especially when John and James couldn't match his eye for where the fish were and Peter let them know it? And then how many times had he not smashed his fist in frustration into its side after hours on the water with nothing to show for it, nothing to bring home?
He ran his hand along the side of the boat.
It was his. It was him. He was a fisher, nothing else. Every chip and dent was part of him. For some reason a line of a psalm shot through his mind: They put their trust in horses and chariots. "Am I putting my trust in my boat?" Never had he asked himself that before.
The little flotilla was well out on the water now, with the flap of canvas in the breeze, and Seth's voice as he steered with the oar. Seth always sang. Familiar songs, new songs, nonsense songs, children's songs, working songs. He even knew Greek and Roman songs. And he could imitate any accent. He broke into Matthew the tax collector's voice as he shouted to Zebedee to be honest and report his whole catch today, and the laughter was immediate. Spirits were high. A wonderful day to fish. Peter half-whispered, "Out a little, then north, that's where they're waiting for you. It'll be a good day."
Distractedly, still leaning on his boat, he played with the small pebbles between his toes, picking them up and tossing them a little, his feelings settling as he heard them plop in the water and send out tiny circular waves. For the first time in years, he was not out there in front, joking, provoking, racing, arguing. ..
But everything had changed yesterday - ironically, with the greatest catch of his career.
He sighed. One last look. There was a hint of first light in the sky.
Even before he turned he felt the two eyes boring through him. She had come to see what would happen, if it was true. Mother-in-law. She understood even less than he. Jesus had cured her once, and the practical woman had immediately gotten up to serve them all. She could understand Jesus helping Simon get a great catch. She did not understand what they told her Jesus had said afterwards: "Leave the boats, you will now catch men." She still remembered the icy stab of fear that had gone through her heart. Simon might just do that! What would become of them?
She had come to see. Now she knew. That Man had got to him. Simon would do it.
In fear and confusion, she swirled away, looking for somewhere to be alone...
Simon saw the gesture. Choked. Perhaps he would have preferred an argument, a tantrum. That silent, pitying and fearful look went to his heart.
He trudged up the beach.
What had happened to him yesterday, as he reveled in the greatest success of his life and the excitement of the crowd that milled around?
He had surely seen the abundance that the prophets had promised would come with the Kingdom of God. All those fish, out of nowhere. Jesus had to be the Messiah. The good times were here, there would be food and peace and freedom. Jesus would do it all. And Jesus had chosen Peter to be with him as he established this Kingdom.
But there were so many other things Jesus said about his Kingdom that did not seem to fit. There would be difficulties. And Simon would have to leave what he loved most.
Fishers of men.
There had been something definitive about the sag of his boat yesterday as he pulled it up on the beach and it settled to one side. Somebody had put a hand on his shoulder at that moment. Had it been John?
And now here he was, shuffling along the deserted beach, his thoughts in turmoil. The other boats far out on the water now. The die had been cast. Peter had stayed. No more fish... Men... What did that mean?
He almost bumped into another beached boat. Two figures alongside it. John and James. The three stood silent.
It sank in. It had happened to all three. Yesterday's words had gone to the very depths of their hearts. "Fishers of men?" Fishers of men. Yet, what could it mean?
Not many words were needed between them. For the most part they just looked out to the water and their old life.
Then Peter said, "Guess we better go find him." "Probably at the usual place, he slipped away again last night," said John, unnecessarily. The three of them knew well.
And so, with a last look out to sea, the three turned up the beach, onto the track, and set out.
To find the Master.
Who would make them fishers of men.