I didn’t really know where he came from, at first. I mean, I know he was born in Bethlehem, and he occasionally let slip little bits about his childhood in Nazareth, but he didn’t talk about himself much. No, that’s not the right way to begin. I don’t suppose it really matters, because this is my personal account, not the one that everyone will read, but it’s worth doing this right anyway. I am Yochanan bar-Zebadiah, fisherman and accidental saint, and this is my story.
It was just before sunset, and Shimon bar-Yonah, my brother Yaqov and I were hauling the nets in for the last time, ready to row back to the shore.
“Make sure you don’t let any fall back in,” said Shimon.
Father hired Shimon after his brother Andreas ran off to follow Yochanan bar-Zechariah, the Baptizer. He was older than Yaqov and me, and he acted as though he was in charge, which made Yaqov furious. I didn’t mind so much, since it meant I could just watch the birds in the sky while I worked.
With the catch safely stowed, we set off for home. When we were half way there, Shimon gave a shout.
I shipped my oars and looked over my shoulder. Sure enough, there was a tall figure standing on the shore, waving to us. When we reached land, Shimon ran to his brother and embraced him.
“I was worried sick!” he said. “How could you run off and leave me like that?”
“Yochanan was only in town for one day—the Baptizer I mean,” said Andreas. “It was important, Shimon. I’m sorry.”
Shimon didn’t seem entirely convinced, but he said nothing.
“Shimon,” said Andreas, “it really is an important thing that we’re doing. The Baptizer always said he was only preparing the way for another, greater than he. Well he thinks we’ve found him. Come and see.”
We followed Andreas through Bethsaida to the house where bar-Zechariah was staying. It was summer, and everything was dry and dusty. The houses were mostly single storeys, the same yellow colour as the ground. As we walked, Andreas told us how the stranger had come to be baptized the previous day. What was strange was that he hadn’t come from the town like all the others. He had walked straight out of the wilderness, obviously fatigued, hungry and thirsty, and wouldn’t tell anyone what he had been doing there, or much else apart from his name, Yeshua bar-Yoseph. Andreas’ story seemed unbelievable, but I was curious to meet this man.
We reached the house, Andreas knocked, and we were ushered into the single room, which was packed with men and women. I could spot the man Yeshua without being told. He was of average height, and obviously used to manual labour, even with the starvation. He wasn’t the centre of attention—bar-Zechariah was, surrounded by his disciples asking him questions—but the room, indeed the world, seemed to revolve around him all the same. I pointed to him discreetly.
“Yes, that’s him,” said Andreas.
The stranger had noticed us come in, and came over to greet us. Before Andreas could make any introductions, he looked straight at Shimon and said, “You are to be the Rock.”
I looked at Yaqov, who was as mystified as I was, but it seemed to mean something to Shimon. I realized later that Yeshua’s message wasn’t the same to everyone, but I didn’t know that then.
“You are fishermen?” said Yeshua.
“Yes,” I said. I couldn’t get more than that out of my mouth.
“If you come with me,” he said, “I will make you fishers of men.”
At that moment, food was brought out, and the gathering broke into small groups. The four of us and Yeshua ended up eating together, and talking long into the night. Yeshua didn’t say much, but his contributions were always the most profound. Somehow, by the end of the night, I had decided that I would go with this strange dreamer, if he would have me. I was surprised that Yaqov and Shimon—most of all Shimon—said the same.
Nothing was ever the same after that.