Friday, May 23, 2014

Watchers of the storm

Giggling, Timaeus and Perez ran through the warmth of the late autumn sun towards the sparkling waters of Lake Galilee. The summer had been dry and the level of the lake was lower than usual, exposing a carpet of rounded rocks on the edge of the water. As they splashed in, their laughter soon turned to shrieks: they always forgot how cold the waters of Galilee could be and the water was like ice on the skin of their bare legs.
Still, they paddled anyway, less because the activity was truly pleasant, than because by doing so they knew they were delaying their lessons with old Isaac. As they ran splashing through the water they came upon the battered remains of an old fishing boat, exposed to the air by the falling depth of water. They paused before it, staring at it solemnly. They were both sons of fishermen. In the normal course of events they would grow up to be fishermen themselves. The broken and battered vessel, her boards scarred from the rocks and coated with a layer of weed and slime, was a stark warning of what their own future might hold.
'I recognise that boat,' said Timaeus.
'Yes?' said Perez.
'Yes. It belonged to Jacob son of Simon from the village along to way. He used to fish with his five sons in her.'
'What happened?'
'She went down in one of those sudden storms. Clear blue skies and then … wind, thunder, rain out of nowhere. Those watching from the shore said it was like a curtain dropped between them and the boat. One minute they could see her, next just a solid wall of rain. When it lifted, the boat was gone.'
'Was Jacob able to afford another?'
'He didn't need to. He and his sons all went down with the boat. They found the bodies near Tiberius.'
Both boys suddenly shivered. As one they turned and ran to the small house near the shore where old Isaac lived and gave lessons to the village boys. Somewhere unspoken in their minds was the thought that the slight education that Isaac offered might be the key to a future other than one that involved trying to scrape a living from the sometimes unpredictable waters of the lake.
'You're late … again,' said old Isaac as they scampered up. He didn't seem angry. Indeed, he hardly seemed to notice they were there. He was staring out at the waters behind them with a slight frown on his already wrinkled brow. The boys turned to look. Timaeus saw nothing unusual: the lake, still sparkling, the mountains beyond. Perez gave him a nudge and pointed to a boat that was just launching from the shore.
'That's what's taken the smile off old Isaac's face,' he said under his breath with a knowing look. Timaeus didn't understand: the boat looked like any other fishing boat. The only difference seemed to be that there was more people on board than was needed for a fishing crew, but even that was not all that strange. The same boats that were used for fishing were also used for trips from one side of the lake to the other. Seeing his puzzlement, Perez explained further.
'That's Jesus and his lot. The rabbi from Nazareth that spends his time going around preaching from town to town. Old Isaac doesn't really approve of him.'
'Why? What harm does he do? There's lots of wandering preachers.' Timaeus looked with interest at the group. He wondered which one was Jesus. He supposed it must be the one at the front, settling himself down on a cushion in the prow. He looked like he was going to have a nap for himself. Timaeus thought it strange that someone would want to go to sleep so early in the day. But then probably all that walking around the countryside, preaching all the time, must be tiring work. You probably slept when you could.
'Yes, but people are starting to say this one is special. That he's something of a wonder worker, healing people and things. Some are even starting to say he might be the Messiah!'
Timaeus shrugged.
'They said that about John the Baptist as well … until Herod chopped off his head. Anyway, isn't it possible that he is? I mean, if he really can heal people?'
Perez shook his head.
'Not according to old Isaac. Jesus comes from Nazareth. And the prophesies say the Messiah will come from Bethlehem. So Jesus can't be him.'
Timaeus shrugged again.
'I guess we'll find out if some one executes him. If they kill him as well, then I guess that'll prove he can't be the Messiah!'
'What are you two gossiping about?' said Isaac. 'First you're late, then you stand around chattering like a pair of old women. Are you here to talk or to learn?'
'To learn, master,' they both said at once.
'Well, come along then.'
They all settled out of the sun on a rug that was spread out under a canvas awning attached to the front of Isaac's house. That was one advantage of living in a fishing village: plenty of men who knew how to work with canvas and put it to others uses than just as sails.
'Now boys,' said Isaac, clearing his throat. 'Yesterday, we were looking at the beginning of the book of scriptures called Genesis. Before we start reading some more, who remembers what we were talking about yesterday?'
Both boys were silent. Isaac raised his eyebrows.
'Really? Neither of you have anything to say? Weren't you paying attention? Am I wasting my time with you two?'
'No, master!' they both said quickly.
'Well then?'
'We were talking about how God created the world,' said Timaeus hesitantly. 'How he created the sun, the moon, the stars, and all the plants and animals.'
'And did he not create anything else?'
'Us,' said Perez quickly. 'He created all the people as well.'
'And what did we say that it meant when we said that God created the earth and everything in it?' said Isaac, smiling a little now.
'It means that everything is his,' said Timaeus. 'That he is in control of everything.'
'And did we mention how he shows his power and mastery?'
'Yes master. You said that sometimes he shows it by how he controls what happens in people's lives … and other times in other ways … for example the weather.'
'Yes,' said Perez. 'For example, at the time of Noah, he unleashed the waters from the heavens, and the whole earth was flooded.'
'Indeed,' said Isaac. 'God's power is limitless. It is not only he who made the world but keeps it in being. He knits us together in our mother's womb … and he watches over us in the world that he gave us to live in.'
'Master?' said Perez.
'Yes, child?'
'I was wondering … '
He broke off his question, as old Isaac sprang to his feet. He was staring out over the lake, a look of fear in his eyes. The boys turned. Behind them, the scene had changed. The clear blue sky had turned a cold, iron grey. The sparkling blue waters were now a thick, ugly green. And from the south, a storm was charging across the lake, hiding the mountains beyond from their view with a solid barrier of rain, churning high waves from the surface the waters of the lake with strong winds. Lightning laced the clouds above them and thunder suddenly boomed, so close and loud that all three jumped.
Perez raised a trembling finger.
'The boat,' he gasped. Timaeus looked where he pointed. The crowded boat carrying the young rabbi was right in the path of the storm. Within seconds it would reach it. He could see the men straining on the oars, terrified at the terrible force that was sweeping down on them. But it was no use. They were too far from shore and the storm was moving too fast. There was no way to avoid it. Timaeus had just time to notice that the rabbi still slept on his cushions before they were all lost to his sight.
He looked at Perez. Both thought of the crushed remains of the boat they had seen earlier on the shore. It was just such a storm as this that had destroyed her and her crew with it. The overfilled boat stood no chance. No boat and no crew could survive such a furious onslaught of wind and rain out on the middle of the lake.
He sighed. Perhaps it was for the best that the rabbi was sleeping. He would surely never know what had happened to him.
'I guess he wasn't the Messiah,' he said softly to Perez.
Suddenly old Isaac gasped. He was staring at that part of the lake where they had last seen the boat. His mouth was open. With a shaking hand he pointed.
'Look,' he said. His voice was a croak. Both boys looked. They gasped also. They could hardly believe what they were seeing. It was as if the storm was being ripped apart from its very heart. As a stone when dropped in still water causes a ring of ripples to roll away from it, so the storm seemed to be flowing away from the centre of the lake. The clouds were disappearing, the waves vanishing, the wind and the rain ceasing. As suddenly as it began, the storm was departing. And at the centre of the spreading ring of calm was the boat, rocking gently on the now placid waters.
Timaeus gazed at it. What was happening? Was such a thing possible, that a storm could die down so quickly? Suddenly he noticed that something was different about the boat. The young rabbi was on his feet now, standing at the front of the boat. He was facing the water, one hand outstretched. The gesture reminded Timaeus of something, something he had seen before, but he couldn't think what.
As the danger moved further and further away from him, Jesus slowly lowered his hand, almost causally. He turned to face his companions in the boat. All the eyes of those on board, still huddled together, still crouching low in the boat where they had fallen to try and protect themselves from the certain death that had befallen them, were upon Jesus.
What had happened? Had Jesus done something, Timaeus wondered? Perez had said he was a wonder worker. But could a man who could heal a person of their disease also cause the wind and the waves to obey him?
'Master,' he said in a trembling voice. 'Have you ever seen a storm end like that?'
Without taking his eye off the boat, old Isaac shook his head.
'I have lived by this lake all my life,' he said. 'For more than 70 years. I have seen many storms like that blow up. And when they did I have seen many good fishermen die. Occasionally, some were lucky. Their boats would hold together. Or they might cling to some wreckage and be swept, half dead to shore. But never have I seen a storm simply cease, as if it had collapsed from the inside. What I have seen today I have never seen before, nor heard anyone every speak of such a thing. I do not think anyone has ever seen a storm end like this.'
Old Isaac's face looked troubled.
'What does it mean, master?' he said.
'I do not know, child. Who can say what such a thing can mean?' He waved them away. 'That is study enough for today. Go home. Remember as you go to give thanks to God that he has saved the lives of those men this day. Give thanks also that you have seen such a thing.' He shuffled away into the darkness of his house.
Timaeus and Perez stared at each other.
'Well, I guess you were wrong,' said Perez finally.
'About what?'
'About Jesus. Maybe he still could be the Messiah.'
As the walked home along the shore, Timaeus thought about what they had spoken about with old Isaac, about how it was the power of God which controlled the weather. The wind and the waves were under his control also. Had he chosen to save the boat? But what of the young rabbi, standing in the prow with his hand outstretched?

Timaeus remembered now what the gesture reminded him of. Once with his family, as they had journeyed to Jerusalem with his family, they had been stopped by a group of Roman soldiers. They were looking for some bandit or other. As the group drew near the soldier in charge stepped forward. Causally he raised his hand, palm toward them. There was a sense of absolute confidence and power in the way he stood, knowing without doubt that he would be obeyed, that they would stop, that he was the one in control.

The way Jesus stood before the wind and rains reminded him of that soldier. That he stood as if he had been ordering the storm to cease. Did he have the same power over that wind and wave that old Isaac said only God had? He must have, if he had stopped the storm. And if had, what, could such a thing mean?
Perez nudged him.
'Thinking about the rabbi?'
Timaeus nodded.
'Me too.'

Timaeus worked hard at his studies with old Isaac. A couple of years later he had learned enough that he was able to go to Antioch to study with far greater scholars. Despite the cost, his father was proud to send him, proud that his son was clever enough for such an honour. Some months after he arrived, a boy called Jude burst into their school room. Jude was from a Jewish family living in Rome and sometimes treated the others as if they were country bumpkins compared to one such has him who came from the capital of the empire.
'Well,' he announced. 'You'll never guess the latest fairy tale from the old country I've just heard.'
The others ignored him. It was best not to encourage Jude. Nonetheless, he went on.
'The Romans executed some country rabbi, someone called Jesus from Nazareth. They crucified him.'
Timaeus felt his heart sink within him. He wasn't sure why. He had never been a follower of Jesus. But after what he had seen that day by the lake he had always wondered if he might have been the promised Messiah. And now they had killed him.
One of the other boys spoke.
'And why does that have your tunic is such a knot? The Romans are always executing people!'
'Ahh!' crowed Jude, delighted to have their attention. 'Because that's not all! His followers are claiming that he has risen from the dead! Have you ever heard such nonsense? Hey, you!' he said, turning to Timaeus. 'You're from Galilee, aren't you? Nazareth is near there, isn't it? What do you think of this? Are all Galileans inclined to believe such wild stories?' He laughed at his own joke. But Timaeus only smiled at him.
'Before you call this story nonsense,' he said slowly, 'let me tell you a story about this Jesus. A story that might make you believe that if anyone could rise from the dead it would be him.'

(C) Fr Levi/Patrick G Burke

(One from the archives ... I din't have time this week to write a new one! But the children enjoyed hearing it again ... )

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