Andrew Bar-Jonah learns faith

(a fictional interpolation of a Biblical story)

Capernaum, on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee.

There was nothing unusual about that particular evening in Capernaum. We were all exhausted from trying to meet the unending pleas from the desperate crowds.  The disorganized masses of desperate folks; outstretched arms and longing eyes pressed around us from every direction flooding the narrow street and flowing around the corner beyond sight. Everyone needed something and Jesus was responding to each one personally as efficiently and compassionately as he possibly could. We were mostly crowd control, but the twelve of us were also tasked with follow up; assisting those who had just met with Jesus, helping folks who had just experienced something wonderful, and were still in need a friendly face to simply help them understand what just happened to them; an explanation of the good news they just experienced. As the surging crowd pressed harder and harder we were constantly pushed back, inch by inch, trying to put a little space between us and the ones we were trying to help. Eventually we were pushed to the beach; the sea was at our back and our feet were actually getting wet. Jesus jumped up into the closest boat and let out a little rope as the boat receded a few feet off shore. This distance afforded us all a little break while he sat down in the boat and began to speak to the crowd on the beach in bewildering parables. We watched the crowd begin to dissipate as dusk approached and the shadow of the mountains reached out over the water.  Without segue, Jesus looked at us, pointed east over the water, and said “I have an idea. Let’s cross over to the other side”. I looked at my brother Simon, his exhausted head drooped, his chin hit his chest, his eyes closed, and his arms hung lifelessly by his side like a rag doll. John and James were staring into each other’s tired eyes in unbelief. Personally, I though It wasn’t entirely a bad idea because it sure was one way we would get a much deserved break from crowds wrangling.

Then it hit me. “All of us?” I thought. How? If we were going to get thirteen grown men across the water, I knew we were going to have to take the biggest boat we had; we were going to have to take my boat. My elder brother Simon also owned a boat; a smaller, lighter vessel of modern design, with only one set of oars, and a cutting-edge triangular sail. Simon had purchased his vessel with his own money to fulfill a lifelong dream of owning his own fishing boat. Since Simon had his own boat, my father Jonah gave the old family boat to me, after my mother insisted he could no longer go fishing because of his painful joints. My father was a great fisherman. None knew the Sea of Galilee better than Old Jonah.  My mother loved him deeply yet never missed an opportunity to poke a little fun at his ironic name. She referred to his huge boat as “The Whale”, and when he would come home after a long day, she would always say he smelled as if “the Whale” had just vomited him up on shore. Father always smiled politely as if it were the first time she had spoken that joke. Father’s boat is much bigger than Simons. She has a thirty foot keel and boasts a full seven and a half foot beam (width at the widest point). The primary source of power is by a single square sail hauled on a ten foot yard. She is also outfitted with four large eight foot oars, neatly nested beside two sets of face-to-face oarsmen seats with rowing blocks for your feet in between. It’s old and heavy but it is as trustworthy as anything on the water. It has a large draft due to the added weight of a full deck which spanned the entire length of the boat, making it much more comfortable than the new lighter boats which eliminated most of the deck to aid agility and allow them to fish in shallower water. I was really glad Simon’s boat was also there, because while Jesus continued to teach, we had to empty everything out of my boat and stow it in his. Nets, poles, lines, spare rigging, tools, tackle, and large catch-boxes used to keep fish all had to go to make room for thirteen guys. We even took out a small retired mill stone that I kept lashed to the prow and occasionally used as an anchor. I used it as an anchor; Jesus used it as a metaphor, but that’s another story. We left just 4 large wooden catch-boxes on deck for eight guys to sit on, plus we had four permanent oarsman seats, so we should be OK. Once the deck was cleared Jesus abruptly stopped teaching and was the first to board, anxious to get underway. He climbed over the prow and made his way to the stern, where he gathered up a pile of coats and flopped down propped up against the transom to relax. There were only four of us who could sail proficiently; some of the other guys had barely ever been on a boat in their entire life. Simon and I, as well as the Zebedee boys, have no memories of our childhood when we weren’t as comfortable on the sea as we were on land, so the other guys left the four oarsman seats vacant for us. They all sat two by two on the four catch-boxes. It was my boat, so as the captain I climbed in last handing the burning lantern to Phillip so I could cast off.  It wasn’t until we were underway that any of us realized that Jesus was the only one who didn’t have a seat. I guess it didn’t matter now since he had already curled up and closed his eyes for the trip.

None of us paid much attention to the gathering clouds and the quickening wind as we set sail out into deep water setting a course for tiny pinpoints of light on shore at a small Gadarene port. It wasn’t long however before the wind picked up drastically, the water began to churn against the side of the boat and our navigational pinpoints of light were no longer visible. The four of us were no strangers to rough waters, but we were all glad that night that we were in the bigger, heaver boat. We felt no real anxiety; we had great confidence in the soundness of our proven vessel and even greater confidence in our vast collective experience as night time fishermen on this very familiar lake. Almost instantly, a great storm whipped down on us from the north. This nor’easter was driving us contrary to our port and we were going to have to use every trick we had if we wanted to keep from being driven ten miles into the south end. Dense spray was coming over both sides of the boat and I instantly realized we should no longer use our sail. To leave it up in heavy wind was a sure way of capsizing my boat so I gave the order to stow it and I felt it drop like a soaking wet rag onto the deck. Working as a precision team without even speaking, the four of us sailors quickly loosed the braces, hauled in the yard, and secured the buntlines, methodically lashing yard and sail to the boom. That’s when the rain really let loose. Each of us grabbed the handle of a soaking wet oar and began to pull against the driving wind and heaving water for all we had. By now the boat was rocking hard atop the raging waves, as the rain was being driven into our squinting eyes.  Seawater began pouring over the gunnels and running between the decking into the hold making us even heavier and thereby slower. The boat was pushed up high against the dark skies by mountainous waves heaving up beneath us, and then suddenly collapsing, dropping us into deep valleys which hid any lights from any shore. Tipping wildly, one way and then the other, the sides of the boat took turns being raised so high that the long oars failed to reach the water below. Our one flickering lantern, still clenched in Philips paralyzed hand, was swinging wildly side to side, and at one point momentarily lit up Thomas’ petrified face, which looked like a frightened stone statue, white as chalk. Poor Matthew was screaming something about having never learned to swim and the rest of the men were all trying to hang on to something solid as the boxes on which they were seated were sliding around the deck as if they were on ice. Everyone was panic-stricken except Jesus; He was still fast asleep on a soggy pile of coats, curled up like a contented baby, wedged between the sterns transom and a mast cleat. I was rowing as hard as I could, but even I began to wonder if this was going to be my last boat ride. I had never seen the look on Simon’s face that I was witnessing that night. Simon had always been the stable one of us two brothers, the one who always kept his calm, and was never shaken by any difficulty or tragedy. We even called him Peter because he was so rock solid in every situation. Well, to be totally forthright, Jesus called him Peter first for different reasons, but we all thought we knew why at the time. He didn’t look so rock solid that night. I saw desperation in his eyes, a mixture of fear, nausea, blended with sadness and a manly attempt to hide his anxiety from the rest of the men. I had never seen that look on Simon’s face before as he struggled to save the ship, rowing with all his might against an indomitable foe.

I don’t even know who woke Jesus from his nap, since I was facing the front of the boat, my feet pressed hard against the rowing blocks, pushing as hard as I could with each stroke, also trying to save everyone’s life. But, someone did fearfully dare to rouse him.  Out of desperation, someone actually shook his shoulder, and blurted out a terror filled accusation, charging him with apathy “Jesus, Don’t you even care what’s happening to us?” Through tears, another pleaded “Jesus, save us!  Another cried out “Save your breath. We’re all going to die!” I wish I had been able to see exactly what Jesus did next, but before I knew it, I felt him standing right behind me.  A chill ran down my back as he placed His warm hand on my wet shoulder, as if to use me to steady his own footing.  I vividly recall, he wasn’t excited, he didn’t shout, but wiping the sleep from his eyes with his sleeve, he peered directly into the heart of the monstrous storm. Then quietly and confidently he spoke, “Be at peace”, “Be still now” “Hushhhhhhhh”. 

You can’t even imagine what happened next. In an instant, like waking from a nightmare, the wind and the noise dissolved as if it had never been. The sea turned to glass, and the moon spontaneously appeared casting a perfect reflection on the smooth surface.  The dark night sky lit up, looking like someone was shining a bright light though ten thousand tiny pin holes in a thick black cloth. If I hadn’t been soaking wet, I would have supposed I had been sleeping and the storm was only a dream.
What just happened?
Maybe I was dead?
Who is this guy?

Twelve soaking wet guys, not yet comprehending what we all just experienced, sat motionless in a perfectly quiet boat for what seemed like minutes, all staring at Jesus. He was unaware of our collective gaze; having begun looking around the dark boat for one of his sandals that had come off when he was trying to stand up startled and half asleep. He paused when he realized we were all staring at him with our jaws in our laps. “What?” he said with a half a smile on his face as he resumed looking for his sandal. “Why were you so afraid?” “Didn’t you realize you had faith available to you?”

My mind spun and reeled around what he just said. Faith? I thought to myself.  What does any of this have to do with faith? Really? Faith? We had one of the most dependable boats on the lake and that wasn’t enough to keep us safe. We had four of the most experienced fishermen in Galilee and we weren’t enough to keep us all from drowning. And you are suggesting what we lacked was faith? In what exactly was it we were supposed to have faith if not a solid boat and our combined skill? His head jerked quickly around toward me as his eyes locked into mine in the bright moonlight, and I knew at that moment he actually heard what I had only been thinking. He leaned in close toward me and whispered, “Remember what I said earlier?” At that moment it was like the eastern sun rose in my mind; I instantly understood what He meant by faith, and how my confidence had been sorely misplaced. My confidence was in a wooden boat and in mans skill, but it should have rested in the precise words of Jesus. His exact words from earlier that night flooded my mind. He didn’t say, “Let’s all go die in the middle of the sea”, he said “Let’s cross over to the other side”.  I should have known, above all else, that we would end up on the other side and not at the bottom of the sea. Arriving at the other side was one thing that I could be sure would happen; the one thing that I could know by faith. That night I realized, faith is taking God at His word.

Looking back, I have since been in many situations that cause me to remember what happened that night. I now respond much differently to the many sudden storms in life, reactively forcing my mind to recall the exact thing that Jesus has said about the situation. In His word alone I have strong confidence because, above all storms and perils, whatever God has stated, that is the one thing that is sure to come to pass.


It is my hope that this story will strengthen hearts and open eyes, in order to turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, receiving forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Jesus. (Acts 26:18)

A fictional story culled from authenticated facts in less than 2500 words: September 2015Matthew 8:23-27Posted by Kevin Puffer at Wednesday, October 19, 2016

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