“Andrew!” Mama came running from the back room as he entered the courtyard. “Are you all right? Thanks be to the angels! Is Simon with you? You wouldn’t believe all the stories I’ve been hearing!”
[For convenience, first six chapters are now combined into one link: https://inpraiseofangels.wordpress.com/2015/01/31/a-boys-tale-introduction-and-chapter-1/ ]
“And, Dear Sister Mary, most of them true, I’ll warrant,” he said as he gave her a long, enveloping embrace, “But no time to talk about that now. I’m sorry, but, yes, Simon is here, too, and we’re with a whole group over at Joseph and Priscilla’s who are expecting me back. I just stopped by to see if Jonathan has an extra donkey we can use tomorrow for the trip to Cana.”
“Well, now, I’m sure we can help you out with that,” Uncle Jonathan said as he joined us. “I need to head over to the shop to check on the boys, anyway, so why don’t we go together and see what we can do. John Mark, don’t you want to come with us?”
I was happy to have something to do, and even more pleased that it included Uncle Andrew. I was already thinking of questions.
Mama gave her brother another hug and a wary eye as we prepared to leave, but he tried to reassure her, saying they would have more time to talk at the wedding and there really was nothing for her to worry about. “Everything is just wonderful,” he actually said, “You will see.”
She was pleased, at least, to hear from his own mouth that we would see them in Cana. She had wondered just that morning if we really would: “If they have taken as much time away from their fishing as Aunt Tabby says, can they really take another whole week for a wedding?”
Soon my uncles and I were turning onto the road leading to town, and I took my chance. “Uncle Andrew, is it true, what they say?”
“And what do they say, my quickly sprouting nephew?”
“Well, Aunt Tabaitha told us about your visit, and what you told her about John the baptizer and how you and Uncle Simon thought he was a true prophet and wanted to work as his disciples,” I said.
“So far, all true, young John,” he said. “And what else did our elegant Auntie tell you?”
“She told us this weird story about how the baptizer is really a cousin of your friend Joshua, who also works for Zebedee, and that when John baptized him in the river, a voice spoke over his head and said Joshua was his son, and, so, now some people are saying he must be the Messiah,” I tried to get it all out without sounding completely silly.
“Well, John,” Uncle Andrew said, “I wasn’t there in the river with them. I was only watching from the bank, but I can tell you that whatever happened out there really shook them up pretty well, but in a good way, you might say. It was as if they were possessed when they came back on shore, but not by demons. Possessed by angels, maybe. They walked right past Simon, me and both of the Zebedee boys as if we weren’t even there. The three of them, all but Jesus, did open up to us later when they returned to camp, but Jesus seemed the most affected of all. It must have really stunned him. He said nothing after it happened, not a single word to anyone. Just kept walking from the river, to the bank, and on up the slope until he disappeared into the undergrowth.”
“But, what happened to him?” I continued undaunted, “Aunt Tabaitha said that was weeks ago and he hasn’t been seen since.”
“That was true, John, but no more,” he replied, “He finally reappeared yesterday afternoon. Came right back down to John’s camp by the river and, well, he’s here in Nazareth right now. A whole group of us are staying with him tonight at his brother’s house.”
“What!?” Uncle Jonathan and I said in unison
“We are all going together to the wedding,” Uncle Andrew said, “but let me bring you up to date. Everything you said is true, young John, but much has happened since we visited with Aunt Tabby. There is much more to tell you.”
Once again I realized just what a difference it made to be accepted as an adult. The last time I had been with Uncle Andrew, I was a child in his eyes, and though he was never less than kind and always had time for me, he had treated me as a child. Now, he spoke to me as if we were equals. It felt well-deserved, somehow, and I found myself growing into my new height.
“It was early yesterday when he finally came down from the hills east of the river,” Uncle Andrew continued. “He had been sheltering in a cave up there the whole time, but somehow James and Johnny had just missed him.”
“What was he doing?” I asked.
“He told me he was praying. Or, more specifically, that he was ‘spending time with his Heavenly Father.’”
My excitement was rising. “Do you think he really is the Messiah?”
“Well, we had a good, long talk, my nephew, about many things,” he replied.
“Oh, please, Uncle,” I said, “I want to know. Tell me everything!”
“Very well,” he said, “I’ll happily tell you what I can, though things are moving so fast that I’m not even sure what I know, at least not yet. So much seems to be mere happenstance!
“You see, yesterday, just as Jesus was returning, heading into the crowd surrounding John’s encampment, there was an incident. A boy – one not quite as old as you – had climbed a tree to get a better view of everything, but fell out and broke his arm.
“Now, as the fates would have it, he fell very near to Jesus just as he passed by, and, of course, he stopped to attend to him. I saw all this only because I had taken a few moments apart to attend to nature and was just heading back when I heard the boy yelp, and glimpsed his fall a short distance away from where I was. I immediately moved his way as best I could, but the crowds were thick, and by the time I got to them, Jesus had already reset the bone and bound it to the boy’s chest with a drying cloth that had been left lying about.
“I offered to help, but when I realized there was not much else that could be done for the boy, all our frustrations of the last month just rushed out and I nearly shouted at him, ‘Jesus, where on earth have you been? We’ve been beside ourselves!’ Of course, he just smiled at me and said, ‘You need not have worried, my dear friend. I was about my Father’s business,’ as if that was that. Then He said there was much more for us to discuss and asked me to walk along as he returned the boy to his parents in Pella.
“So, John, as you can see, I’ve been with him a lot, actually, in the last few hours. We had more than enough time to talk about the voice in the river, about the angel Gabriel and, more importantly, many other questions about the Eternal Being and faith and the days to come. And, I have to tell you that his answers stirred my soul. Stirred it so deeply, in fact, that, by the time we were back at John’s camp, I was quite a different person. It’s all still very new, so I don’t really know how to put it, but I feel like I’ve been completely reborn, like a locust that has shed his hard, brittle self and left it on the tree trunk of things forgotten. I’m a new man with a new energy, a new purpose and a new expectation entirely based upon the fact that Jesus has, himself, become new, even something more than a man, in ways beyond my ability to convey.
“I wish I knew how to describe it, John, but even if I could, you would still have to feel the power of his personality to really understand what I’m saying. By the time we were back in camp, I knew that the rest of my life must be, will be, somehow tied to his. At first, I resisted when John insisted that Jesus, and not he, was the anointed one – heck, how do you accept that the Messiah could really be someone you’ve been fishing with for years? – but it only took that short walk to Pella to settle it. Yes, he is still my old friend Jesus, but now he has become something much more than that; still a man, yes, but a man transformed by a grace and, I don’t know, tangible spirituality that embraces and uplifts, that saturates all who come near him. He is quite beyond any other man I have ever encountered in ways that I don’t really know how to explain, John, but you will see him soon. You will be able to judge for yourself.”
“I’ve seen him before,” I said, “many times, in Zebedee’s shop.”
“And I, too, have known him for most of my life,” Uncle Andrew said, “but he’s different now. Stronger, bigger, oh, I despair for words! This is all so absurd and strange and wonderful at the same time. It’s like a dream. I know better than to be so pliant, and I don’t think I’m gullible, John, at least not as bad as your Uncle Simon, but these things are really happening and my soul is being transformed – was transformed – during that walk on the road to Pella.”
“Did you tell him that?” I asked.
“Well, of course. How could I not? Just before we rejoined the others, I told him that I had always been impressed by his skills as a boat-builder and fisherman, had greatly admired the way he had risen to the occasion when his father died, and had always looked up to him as a remarkably gifted, good man. But, I went on to tell him that I had begun to realize through the glow of our conversation that afternoon just how much godliness – how much spiritual substance – resides within him and shines through his every gesture. Indeed, I told him, only a true child of destiny could be as compelling as he, and my dilemma, now that my eyes had been opened, was whether to continue my work with John, or shift my allegiance to him.”
“What did he say to that,” Uncle Jonathan chimed in.
“He looked into my eyes without hesitation and simply said, ‘Follow me,’” Uncle Andrew replied. “And he didn’t have to ask twice. Only a man sent by the Divine Father, Himself, could be so rare, and I told him I would happily sit at his feet to partake of his wisdom for as long as he wished me there.
“With that, we embraced and he assured me that the work we had to do was both right and important. Then he congratulated me on being ‘the first of his chosen apostles.’”
“And, Uncle, this is really the same Joshua that we all know; that builds boats and catches fish and goes on caravan adventures?” I asked, still somewhat incredulous – maybe even a little more so now that the depth of Uncle Andrew’s conviction was so fully on view.
“Yes, John, it is Joshua ben Joseph, the same name, the same son of the same father, but, no, John, he is by no means the same man. He is something more than ever before. I really can’t explain it. There really are no words.”
“So where was Simon all this time, while you were off to Pella?” Uncle Jonathan asked.
“Oh, I don’t think he even missed me,” Uncle Andrew said. “The Sabbath is always our busiest day, and yesterday was no different. Simon was so busy working with the newly immersed that he didn’t even know about the boy and his broken arm. In fact, I was the only one who even knew that Jesus had returned. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and it wasn’t until after we got back to camp that we were all reunited, and I was able tell Simon about everything.”
“What did he say?” Uncle Jonathan asked. “Martha said he is very intense about this John fellow. He must have been upset if you just decided to change your allegiance like that without talking to him first.”
“Well, to be honest, I was worried about that, myself,” Uncle Andrew replied, “but I needn’t have been. I went straight to him when we got back to camp and told him everything, but I was astonished. He was not put out at all. He said that ever since Jesus had come back to work for Zebedee, he had sensed there was something different about him, something divine in his eyes that was hard to express. ‘I think he comes from God,’ he told me, and that was that.
“Of course, we’ve both been very active for John these last few weeks – he’s become like a brother to us – so that was a real concern, as well. Simon asked if we wouldn’t be breaking our promise to John, so we finally decided to go to the baptizer and ask him outright what we should do.”
“I imagine he wasn’t so pleased,” I said.
“Well, to be honest, John Mark, it was hard for all three of us. His eyes grew watery when we told him, but then he said the most extraordinary thing. He said, ‘My brothers, this is but the beginning of something grand and wonderful. It will not be long before we are all his disciples. Go to him, by all means, and give him fully your hearts, your minds and your souls. I can think of no better gift to send my cousin than two such worthy and able men as you.’
“And, so, with those far-too-flattering words, the road we were taking took a turn to the west, toward a wedding, and, quite unexpectedly, here we are in Nazareth.”
“Who else is with you?” I asked.
“Well, Simon, of course,” he replied, “plus the Zebedee boys and two more new disciples who joined our group just this morning. It has been a busy day, young John, and things are moving very quickly. Counting Jesus, there are seven of us already. Fortunately, Priscilla is being a very good sport about our sudden arrival on her doorstep.”
“Already six disciples?” Uncle Jonathan asked. “That was fast!”
“There is divinity in it, Jonathan,” Uncle Andrew said. “For a thing to be so right, to fall together so quickly, it must be divine. There is joy profound in my soul that I cannot hope to explain, nor deign to resist.”
“So,” I ventured, “Manna thought the Zebedee boys were still up in the hills searching for Jesus. They must have been glad to see him back.”
“Well, ‘glad’ is not exactly the word for it. They really made fools of themselves last night, but all is now forgiven.” Uncle Andrew replied.
“And, unfortunately, they weren’t the only ones looking foolish. After receiving John’s gracious permission to realign ourselves, we went to tell Jesus that it was all settled, but Simon, of course, just couldn’t contain himself. He was fairly bursting and just went on and on to Jesus about how pleased he was, how wonderful he felt, and how exciting the future was going to be. In fact, it was such a display that I was beginning to get a little embarrassed, but Jesus just sat quietly and listened attentively until Simon finally had to come up for air, then he turned to him and said the perfect thing. ‘Simon,’ he said, ‘your enthusiasm is commendable but it is dangerous to the work we have to do. You really must learn to be more sober in your speech. I think we shall call you Peter.'”
“Ha!” Uncle Jonathan let out a single, hearty syllable.
We all got the joke – Peter means ‘Rock’ and rocks are three things: silent, strong and still. Uncle Simon was very strong, but also very passionate about life and I had never, ever seen him either silent or still for more than a moment. Joshua had known and worked with him for years, so the irony was certainly intended, but the name he bestowed on my uncle that day was also wise and prophetic. We become as we are known, I have found through decades of observation, and Uncle Simon-Peter grew, in time, to reflect his new name in many ways.
“I laughed, too,” Uncle Andrew said, “but not Jesus. He smiled but he was also perfectly serious, so we’ve all been calling him ‘Peter’ ever since.”
“And, you were saying, about the Zebedee boys?” Uncle Jonathan prompted.
“Well, when Jesus and I delivered the boy with the broken arm to his parents, they wanted to repay his kindness and insisted that he return to spend the night with them. So, after your Uncle Simon, uh, Peter, and I had spoken with him, he asked us to be ready to travel early this morning, and then departed the camp in time to get to Pella before dark. I’m sure he expected a comfortable night’s rest, but it was not to be.
“Almost immediately after he left the camp, James and Johnny came rushing into it, all in a frenzy, having heard that Jesus had returned. As Aunt Tabby told you, they have spent the last month and more, day after day, searching the hills, so when they heard he had returned to camp, they wasted no time in heading back to the river.”
“Well,” Uncle Jonathan said, “Jesus has lived with Zebedee, on and off, for years, so this must be very strange – beyond strange – for all of them.”
“Strange, perhaps,” Uncle Andrew responded, “but when they finally settled down and we had the chance to tell them everything that had happened in their absence, they completely agreed with our decision to follow Jesus, although it was impossible for them to hide their disappointment when we said something about being his first two apostles. Then they became even more upset when we told them that – after he had asked us to be packed and ready to leave this morning – Jesus had left the camp to spend the night in Pella. After forty long days of searching for him, it was all just too much and, in spite of our protestations, they decided they could not wait even another hour and headed off east to find him.”
“In the middle of the night?” Uncle Jonathan asked.
“Yes,” Uncle Andrew replied, “well, at least, it was after dark by then, and, of course, Joshua was sound asleep when they reached the house of those poor people in Pella, but they woke him up anyway and, of all things, lashed out at him for not naming them to be the first of his disciples!”
“Oh, no,” Uncle Jonathan said. “That couldn’t have gone over very well.”
“The truth is,” Uncle Andrew said, “they were mad at themselves for not being around when he came back, and not a little put out with him for being gone for forty days without so much as a word.
“But like I said, he’s good. He told them that their concerns were but shadows in their minds and that what they sought, they already had in their hearts; that they were already his apostles and had long been pillars of the Father’s kingdom, they just hadn’t realized it before. Then he suggested they rejoin us by the river and be ready to leave at sunrise.
“Of course, they were much too excited to sleep when they returned and we talked long into the night about what it all may mean. None of us really knows, of course, so it was a lot of conjecture and slapping at figments, but we are all ready to do our part, whatever that means.”
“And the other two?” I prompted.
“Ah, yes, my impatient nephew,” he said with a look to remind me that he was, after all, still my elder. “As planned, Jesus rejoined us at dawn, and it was just as we were leaving the camp, even before we crossed the river, that we ran into Philip, our Capernaum neighbor and a fellow fisherman, walking toward us on the road. He and his friend, Nathaniel, having heard the talk about John, had walked all night to hear him for themselves and see why people were making such a fuss.
“Well, as soon as he saw who we were, Philip left his friend to wait under a tree and rushed to meet us. We all said our hellos and then Simon, Peter, pulled Philip aside. He told him about our decision to devote ourselves to Jesus’s mission, and encouraged him to join us.
“This was all very sudden, of course. I mean, Philip and his friend had walked more than a day to hear John and see if they were inclined to be baptized, and suddenly there we were, asking him to turn around and go back the other way, and all this even before he or his friend had so much as laid eyes on John, much less heard him.
“He resisted at first, mostly, I think, because he didn’t want to look foolish in his friend’s eyes, but whatever was motivating him to say ‘no,’ it didn’t take long before Johnny Zebedee and I joined Si-, my brother, in trying to persuade him. Finally, someone suggested that Philip ask Jesus outright what he should do – after all, they are neighbors, too and have long known each other – and so he did.
“Well! Jesus looked him right in the eyes and simply said those same two words: ‘Follow me.’ It was the shortest sell in history. Philip later told me he just knew in his heart it was the right thing to do, and he must have, because right there and then he declared his allegiance. Then, just as Simon and the Zebedees had done, he, too, went a little over the top. Filled with joy and the passion of the moment, he suddenly turned and ran back down the hill to his friend, his arms waving wildly the whole way like a chicken trying to fly, shouting over and over, ‘I have found the Deliverer! I have found the Deliverer!’ He may have been a little punchy from staying up all night, but it was an unfiltered, spontaneous outpouring of pure human delight.”
“So much for not looking foolish,” Uncle Jonathan said.
“Well, at the very least, it got Nathaniel’s attention,” Uncle Andrew said. “We waited a short distance away while they talked, and though we couldn’t hear much, we did hear Nathaniel say, ‘Really, Phil? Can anything good come from Nazareth?’”
We all chuckled.
“Finally, Philip convinced him that he should talk with Jesus, too, and they approached him. You could see that Nathaniel was openly skeptical, but Jesus’s words completely wiped the doubt from his face. ‘Behold a genuine Israelite,’ he said, ‘in whom there is no deceit. Follow me.’
“You should have seen him! It was definitely not what he expected, and he stood stock still for a really long time. Finally, he smiled, turned to Philip and said, ‘You are right. He may be from Nazareth, but he is a master of men. I will also follow, if I am worthy.’ And so, young John, now you know the whole group: your Uncle Simon-Peter, James and Johnny Zebedee, our neighbor Philip from Capernaum and his friend, Nathaniel ben Bartholomew – who we now know, quite conveniently, lives in Cana with his parents – and me.”
“I know all but one of you!” I said, getting more excited with every step.
“Indeed, you do, John Mark.” He responded, “We are all fishermen of Capernaum, save Nathaniel, and lifelong friends.”
“And, so, what brings you to Nazareth?” Uncle Jonathan asked.
“Well, for one thing, your donkeys,” he laughed, “ But also, as it turns out, all seven of us were invited to Johab’s wedding, and since Jesus said he had reasons for stopping by his old family house on the way, we’re staying with Joseph and Priscilla just tonight, and then tomorrow will stay at Nathaniel’s house in Cana.”
“Can we come see you? Can we see Joshua?” I didn’t feel like I knew him well enough to call him Jesus, even if everyone else did.
“Once we get to Cana, of course you can, young John. I’m sure you will,” he replied.
“But that won’t be for two more days! What are you doing tonight?” I made bold to ask.
“I’m sorry John,” he said, “but it wouldn’t be right to burden his family any more than we already have. And since Jesus has decided to accompany his mother and Ruth from Capernaum to the wedding, he is leaving at first light tomorrow to fetch them, and won’t be rejoining us until late Tuesday evening. Don’t fret, nephew, you will get to speak with him soon enough.”
“I notice you called yourself a ‘disciple’ of John,” Uncle Jonathan said, “but an ‘apostle’ of Jesus. Why the difference?”
“It is the word of Jesus’s own choosing, not ours,” Uncle Andrew said, “and he has used it consistently. I haven’t asked him about it, but I think I understand it. He is not just looking for followers – disciples – but for true apostles, ‘messengers,’ if you will, who can work with him to help get the word out, can be an extension of his own voice. It will take more than one man to establish his Father’s new kingdom, and that is just what we are going to help him do.”
© 2015 George Thomas Wilson, All rights reserved.