Spiritual Fiction posted March 29, 2016


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Ten years after Easter . . . [MG, 2600 wds.]

The Carpenter and the Blessing

by pmait


     Father started pushing the roughhewn cart full of wriggling fish to market. He looked back over his shoulder at us and said to my brother, "Tell him about the blessing."
     "What blessing?" I asked Joseph.
     "In a minute," he said. "First let's treat those hands." He reached for a flask of oil.
     I held out my palms and said, "Does it always hurt this bad?"
     "No. The first week is the worst. Then they toughen up. But if you fish for a living you must make friends with pain."
     "Do I want to be a fisherman?"
     "You tell me. It's the family business, you know. It feeds us."
     "Those nets are awful. They pinch and scrape and stab. Why don't they use linen?"
     "Linen would be slippery, hard to grip, break too easy. Hemp is better, lasts longer. Speaking of which, I won't make you mend the nets today. I'll teach you how when your hands get better."
     "What blessing?"
     "Boy, the only talent you show so far is a gift for asking questions." He dragged one of the nets from the boat, sat down on a rock and inspected it.
     "What blessing?"
     "Your blessing, you dolt. Don't you know you have been blessed?"
     "When? I don't remember that."
     "You wouldn't. You were only two years old." He found a loose knot and retied it. "I was seven. But I'll start at the beginning, just before you were born. Father worked for Simon Peter, then, but we just called him Simon, and we were poor. Just a minute."
     Joseph went over to the boat, cut a piece of the rope that Father kept in the bow for repairs and came back. He was only seventeen, but experienced and self-assured. He sat down to repair the hole he had found.
     He said, "Mother would bring me with her in the morning so she could help mend the nets. One day I was hunting a crab in the shallows when the Carpenter came walking past."
     "The Carpenter? Abba talked about him as we fished last night, but he never talks about him at home. Why not? And who is he?"
     Joseph looked around to see if anyone else was close enough to hear. They weren't, so he looked me in the eyes and said, "Don't call Father Abba when other people are around, Jacob. He doesn't like that. And you are about to be bar mitzvah, so you should not talk like a child. Our parents do speak about the Carpenter quietly after you are asleep, but during the day someone might overhear. They don't want to chance getting thrown out of the synagogue. The Ruler hates the Carpenter."
     "Why?"
     "Are you going to listen or just ask questions?"
     "All right, I'll listen."
     "Then let me tell it. Simon and Andrew had just hauled in the fish and piled them into the cart. Father was washing the nets. James, John and Zebedee were nearby, doing the same.
     The Carpenter called out from the road, 'Follow me! I will make you fishers of men!'
     The most amazing thing happened. Simon pointed to the cart and to Father and declared, 'All this is yours now, Eli, half the profit for you and half for my family.' Then the five of them walked away, leaving just Zebedee and our father behind.
     "That's how we got our family business. Simon and Andrew came back at times to check things out, maybe take the boat out for a night, or cross the lake with their friends, but Father hired more help and kept fishing.
     "One time, when you couldn't even walk yet, we all sat on that hillside over there to hear the Carpenter teach. I was only six. I loved his stories, so I sat near his feet for hours until I got hungry. When I got out my lunch, Andrew said that the Carpenter wanted it. I figured he was hungrier than me, so I gave it up. Do you know what he did?"
      I thought I finally had an answer. "He ate it, right?"
     "No. Well, yes. We all ate it. Thousands of us."
     "What?"
     "Yes, we did. The Carpenter broke it in half, and it got bigger. Every time he broke a piece of bread or a fish, it grew back. Every time his disciples broke it, the same thing happened. When the people they gave it to broke it, it happened again. Each half piece of bread or fish would become a whole one again. When I broke mine, I gave away half and ate the other half, and I kept eating until I was full."
      "No," I said. "That couldn't happen."
     "It did. I swear it did."
     "So I must have eaten some, too. Was that the blessing?"
     "No. Well, yes. That was a blessing, but it wasn't the blessing. That came a year later. See, the Carpenter was back in town, and all the mothers had an idea that if he could bless fish he could certainly bless children."
     I started to speak, but Joseph stopped me. "Not that they wanted more children! They just wanted us happy and healthy. So they lined us all up in front of him.
     "That made Simon mad. The Carpenter had named him Peter by then, so we have been calling him Peter ever since. Anyhow, Peter said, 'The Master has better use for his time than children." Then the twelve disciples made a wall around him.
     "That really upset the Carpenter. I couldn't hear what he said, but they sure did move away fast. When I stepped up, he put his hand on my head and announced, 'I know you well, Joseph, son of Eli, and I love your name. You are my Joseph--courageous and wise, a man of God and a fine fisher of men.'
     "There I was, seven years old, and he was calling me a man!"
     "Wow!" I blurted out. "What about me? Did he bless me, too?"
     "Yes, he did. He grabbed you, hugged you, hoisted you high, and said, "You are Jacob, son of Eli. You will not be a deceiver. No! You will be an honest and good fisherman, full of questions, and also full of answers."
     "Wow, wow! He really did know me."
     "Yes, he got you right."
     That made me wonder. "Why doesn't he come around here anymore?"
     "He's in heaven now."
     "Oh! What happened?"
     "They killed him."
     "What? Why?"
     "He was too good. He made them look bad."
     Joseph dropped the net corner, stood up, walked to the edge of the water and stared out over the lake. He cleared his throat and spoke again.
"When I was almost eight years old Father took all of us to Jerusalem a week before Passover. He said it was time for me to explore our faith, to learn truth in the city of truth, to get acquainted with my soul. We went to the temple every day, where he explained what the things there meant. We saw animals sacrificed, and listened to the teachers of the Law talk. They were boring, nothing like the Carpenter, but the temple was amazing.
     "We stayed in Bethany with Uncle Hosea, and on Sunday after Sabbath, on the walk toward Jerusalem, we suddenly found ourselves in the middle of a big parade."
     That got my attention. "A parade? Really? Like when our village marches down from Galilee for the Feast of the Tabernacles, and we sing those marching psalms of David?"
     "Well, sort of like that, except they were singing the psalms of the Messiah, even shouting them, and cutting down palm branches to lay down in the road as a carpet of welcome to the holy city for the Carpenter. He was riding a donkey."
     "You're kidding."
     "No, I'm not. He was riding this donkey across the leaf carpet, and people were taking off their coats and throwing them down in front of the beast, so it was a many-colored path, like, and after the donkey stomped their coats they would run behind, pick them up, run around front and throw them down again."
     "I wouldn't have done that. I only have one coat. No way!"
     "Yes, you would. I did."
     "Yuck! Did mother need to wash it?"
     "She did, and she didn't mind. She loves the Carpenter for treating women with respect. Besides, she enjoyed the parade. You did, too. You just don't remember."
     "So weird. Why were they doing all that?"
     "They were declaring him King of Israel. They were saying that the Carpenter was actually the Son of David, the Son of God, even, coming to rule over his people."
     "Uh-oh, that must have made Herod mad."
     "Not just Herod. All the rulers, the Jews and Romans both. They all got together to bring the Carpenter down. They couldn't accept that a ordinary man could become a king."
     "So what happened? Did his followers arm themselves and storm Herod's palace?"
     "No. But they did invade the temple. Don't you remember? You were there. No, I guess not. You had just turned three. Just a minute."
     We walked back to the net he had finished, folded it neatly, and put it in the hull of the boat. My hands started hurting again, so while Joseph pulled out the other net we had used last night and washed it, I poured more oil on my hands and rubbed them together. He cut another piece of rope and settled back down for more mending.
     "So," I said, "they attacked the temple with swords and spears and knives and clubs and claimed it for their new king, right?"
     "Wrong," he answered, "although the Carpenter did use a whip, but not on the people. Don't you remember what it is like--tables full of money, cages of doves, cattle and sheep tied to the pillars, and all kinds of other things for sale--noisy, smelly, not really a good place to talk to anybody, much less to God."
     I did remember what it was like from trips we made since then, but I still liked being there, because God lives there.
     "What happened," Joseph continued, "was that he cracked that whip, got everybody's attention, flipped over those tables of money, untied the animals, drove them out into the street, and roared out like God Himself would . . .
               'Is it not written:
               My house will be called

               a house of prayer for all nations'?
But you have made it 'a den of robbers.' Then he sat down quietly on a step to start teaching. A cheer went up from the common people, but the rulers were out for blood."
     I took a deep breath and expelled it. I thought to myself, Didn't he know they would kill him for doing that?
     Joseph looked over at me and smiled. "The best part is that for four days, nobody dared come back to sell anything. We got to hear the Carpenter teach for hours every day. I got to sit at his feet and listen again. In my memory I can still hear his incredible voice and those wonderful stories they call parables. I believed everything he said. I still do."
     "I wish I could have been there."
     "You were, but you kept wandering around looking for more sheep."
     "I like sheep, especially lambs. If things were going so well, why isn't he still there teaching?"
     "Because when we came into the city on Friday, we met another parade."
     "You mean more donkeys and palms and coats and all?"
     "No, this one was as terrible as the other one was wonderful. Roman soldiers were forcing three men to carry crosses down the middle of the street. Mother whisked you away so you wouldn't see. Father and I followed the crowd. The sight was horrible, but we had never seen a crucifixion before, and Father thought I was old enough, and we were curious.
     "These three men were beaten and bloody, and they could barely walk under the wood beams. The priests were hurling insults, the Romans were yelling curses, and the women were wailing. When they pounded the nails into their hands and feet, I shut my eyes. When I heard the crosses jam into their holes, I opened them and looked up at the man in the middle.
     "He looked down at me. He seemed to know me. Then I realized I knew him, too, and I ran away. Father ran after me until I stopped in a graveyard and collapsed against a stone next to the open door of a tomb. Father embraced me and we cried together.
     "The man on the middle cross was the Carpenter."
     Joseph dropped the net again, walked to the shore, and I followed. We both breathed hard for a while, before I asked, "What happened then?"
     "We stayed in Bethany through the Sabbath, then left for home early Sunday morning. Usually the trips home from festivals are joyful. this one was miserable. By the middle of the week rumors were flying around like vultures over a carcass . . .
               The carpenter is alive!
               Simon Peter has seen him!
               He has escaped!

But I had seen him dying. I knew he couldn't have survived what they did to him. Father went back to fishing. A few days later Peter and John and some others came home.
     "The strange thing was they weren't sad at all. They came to the house and got our father, saying, 'Let's have a fishing party for old times' sake.'
     "The next morning Mother brought you and me to the lakeshore to meet them, so we could play while she mended nets and the men took care of the fish. Do you remember that?"
     I thought maybe I did, but I just shook my head.
     "Remember the man who was frying fish and toasting bread over a fire? We went to watch him while Mother closed her eyes for a while, until the boat came in. Remember, he said to me, 'Good morning, Joseph, my own fisher.'
     "Then he lifted you high in the air, twirled you around while you screamed with delight, then set you down on his knee. Don't you remember that?"
     I did. The memory came back, like a dream that becomes real. "Yes, I think I do."
     "Do you remember what he said to you?"
     "Yes, I remember. He said, 'Jacob, my boy, you will make a fine fisherman some day.'"
     Joseph grinned. "That was the Carpenter, come back from the dead. He is alive!"
     "Really? Will he come see us again?"
     "Yes. He went to heaven, but he promised to come back. In the meantime, he just wants you to be a fine fisherman.'
     "All right, then. That is what I want to be." When I rubbed my hands together, they didn't feel so bad any more.
     "Good. I will teach you how to fish. When you are ready you will take my place in the boat, so I can go join Peter."
     "You're going to leave, Joseph? Why?"
     He let out a mighty sigh.
     "Because I want to be a fine fisher of men."


 


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I like to put myself in the Bible stories and think about who I would be. This one came to me especially strong. If I made any mistakes in text or context, please let me know.
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