Monday, February 27, 2017

A Broken Net

It was broken. Fishing nets had broken before, and they would break again. Mending nets was simply part of the job of being a fisherman. He had been mending nets since he was a child, long before he had a man’s strength to throw the nets out and haul them in again. But this time was different. He passed the strands through his fingers, and blinked back the tears in his eyes, lest anyone started thinking he was crying over something as silly as a broken net. Not that anyone was likely to; they were as stunned as he was and only had eyes for Jesus. It was the quietest return to shore he could ever remember.

It had all been so ordinary until then. Another wasted, wearisome night’s fishing, with nothing to show for it. They had thrown out the nets and hauled them in, thrown out the nets and hauled them in, over and over and over, until even his strong arms were tired. And not even one tiny fish to show for it! Nights like that were so discouraging. Those were the nights he started wondering why anyone would choose to be a fisherman, and trying to think of another trade.  But his family had fished by the Sea of Galilee for generations, and, really, what else could he do? And they came back, and they washed their nets, because that was what you did next.

And there was Jesus; and there was the crowd pressing in close to hear him. When Jesus gestured to him, he understood immediately what was needed, and helped him into the boat. From that position Jesus could be seen and heard by everyone. And he, Simon, listened while Jesus taught, and something melted inside him, something he had no words for.

Then Jesus turned to him and told him to take out his boat and cast out his net. At first he protested, they had already wasted a whole night fishing for nothing. And yet … this was Jesus, and before he had time to reflect, he found himself saying, “Nevertheless, at your word ..”

And so they went out, and they cast their nets, and came up with so many fish that their nets were breaking from the weight of them, and others had to help them bring in the catch. And the broken nets were not as broken as he was. He had listened to the teaching and marvelled, but there were too many new ideas and he was not a learned man. But this he understood. He knew about fish. And he knew that what had just happened turned his whole world upside down. He was in the presence of something (or someone?) holy. And he was not holy at all. It was too much! “Depart from me,” he said, overwhelmed, “for I am a sinful man.”

And Jesus replied, “Do not be afraid Simon. From now on you will catch men.”

It was enough. He left behind his nets and followed Jesus.

Monday, February 13, 2017

A Question Answered

The question burned in his bones. This had made a mockery of everything he believed, everything he had striven for.  He had always lived his life so carefully, painstakingly carefully. “Ridiculously carefully,” his wife called it. Righteousness before God was a man’s safeguard, his protection from all the great evils of the world – or so he had always thought. Give honour to God and God would give honour to you. That was fairness, that was justice, and if God was not just and fair, then life had no meaning. This had been the lynchpin of his life.

And then his troubles started. In just one day he lost everything: all his children, his herds, his flocks. Outside of some terrible atrocity of war, who had ever heard of such a thing? Only he and his wife were left. How does a man put words to so much anguish? Then, as if that wasn’t enough, as if his soul wasn’t already torn to shreds, his body was afflicted too, with terrible, painful boils, so that even the oblivion of numbness and sleep was denied to him. His wife told him to curse God and die, but he knew that wasn’t the answer. At first his friends sat with him in the silence beyond coherent thought, and he imagined that they grieved with him, and understood, but that delusion did not last long. When their silence gave way to speech, their words fell on his wounds with the bitter sharpness of whips.

They were convinced that he was somehow to blame, that in a just world he must have sinned against God in some way, and this was his punishment. He was devastated. What sort of friendship was this, to turn around and blame the victim? He knew that he was blameless, that his actions would stand up in the very courts of heaven – so who were these men to accuse him?

But the bitter question remained unanswered, tormenting him as much as his outward afflictions. Why? Why should the innocent suffer? How could God do this to him? He had lost everything else, must he lose his faith as well?

Then God spoke, and all his understanding was undone. Who was he to question such majesty? God had designed, with intricate precision, infinite tenderness, every particle of the universe. Every creature, unique and wonderful, was fashioned for His marvellous purposes, reason enough, in itself, for wonder and worship. He, Job, had no knowledge of the great creatures of the deep, he had never heard the morning stars sing together, and had no power to set the limits of the oceans. And if he could not understand the ways of God with brute beasts and mindless rocks, how could he understand the ways of God with man? He knew so little. “I had heard of you with the hearing of my ears,” he said, “but now my eyes see you and I repent in dust and ashes.” It was God himself, and not philosophical speculation, who could answer the riddle of his pain.

And his fortunes were restored. But, centuries later, a greater answer would be given, for God himself would become the innocent victim, lacerated by false accusations, lacerated by whips, and his very life would not be spared. And, as death and suffering themselves were overturned, he would prove to all eternity that the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of man.