I’ve been a fisherman all my life. My brother Andreia, too. If you want to work hard, be a fisherman: push the boat off shore and hoist the sail or row it if the wind isn’t strong enough, cast the net, wait and then haul the net in, cast the net again if the catch was small, haul it in again and sort the catch into baskets, making sure to separate the unclean catfish to sell to the Gentiles from the fish we Jews can eat, and then row ashore. Then carry the baskets to the place where the others salt or pickle the catch for sale. Check the nets for holes and mend them, or patch the boat, or repair the lines, or mend the sails, and then do it again the next day and the next and the day after that – and so on. Every day but the Sabbath.
I thought that’s what my whole life would be like, like our father’s. But my life has changed. Andreia went to see this Yohannes the baptizer out in the wilderness and when he came back to fishing again, he was different. He kept saying that the Kingdom of God was at hand, that the Messiah was coming. Well, there was always some supposed Messiah in Galilee but in the end the Romans would always crucify him and his followers. One day I had just finished mending the net and threw it out from the shore. Andreia came up and said simply, “The Rebbe is here.” I asked, “Who are you talking about?” and he pointed to a man beckoning to us and calling, “Come with me, and you’ll fish for men.” I looked at Andreia and he nodded so we did, we just left the net without even pulling it in.
The man’s name was Yeshua and he was from Nazareth, son of Yusuf, a carpenter. I don’t know if he was dead or not, but Yeshua never talked about him. We did meet his mother Miriam, though. We walked with Yeshua and he saw some people we knew– Yakov and his brother Yohannes – fishing with their father Zebedee. Yeshua called to them and they rowed their boat to shore, without even checking to see how much their net held. Yakov and Yohannes joined us and soon there were others that joined us, too – twelve of us men all the time and more, including some women, from time to time.
Everyone could see the spirit of the Holy One was in Yeshua in the way he cast out the evil spirits that bound the sick and injured. He even healed my mother-in-law. Yeshua taught some things like Yohannes the baptizer but he mostly told stories that started out familiar but had strange endings that made us stop and think. Crowds came from everywhere, like endless schools of fish, to hear him or to be healed. To take care of the crowds every day was almost as hard work as fishing. And he was always leaving us to go off by himself and pray.
He was always talking about the Holy One’s love for everyone, and that we should live that way too: loving the Holy One with all our heart, and soul, and mind and strength, and then showing love to our neighbors. And when he said “neighbors” he meant everyone – women, Gentiles, even the Samaritans! He would get angry about how the Pharisees were always trying to catch people out for small violations of the Torah instead of trying to help them so they wouldn’t violate a teaching. And the Temple authorities kept asking questions to make him incite the crowds against the Romans . But he didn’t so the Romans in Galilee left us alone.
Once Yeshua, me, Yohannes and Yakov the Greater were on a mountain and right before our eyes Yeshua changed. His face was as bright as the sun and his clothes became as white as the light. Somehow Moshe and Eliyah were there talking with him. I swear I could hear the Holy One saying that Yeshua was his son, his beloved Son, and that we should listen to him. When we came down off the mountain Yeshua asked us who the crowd said he was. Well, that was easy – some said Yohannes the baptizer, others Eliyah, others Yeremiah. So he asked who we thought he was. The voice from the mountain was still in my ear and I blurted out, “Rebbe, you are the Messiah, the Son of the Holy One.” He knew I hadn’t heard it from any person – that I had heard the voice of the Holy One as he heard it. He was as happy as if he’d caught a lot of fish in the net on the first try. But to our surprise he told us not to tell anyone about it.
Right then and there he gave me a new name – “Cephas” – a small rock like what we tie up to use as an anchor – what the Gentiles call “Petros,” and he said he would I would be the leader of the new way he was teaching. Well, we all just smiled at that. I have no patience – I was always the first to speak my mind, or to say what I thought a parable was about whether I understood it or not. Andreia said I acted like I was casting out a net without even checking to see if it was mended! One time, Yeshua got out of a boat out in the Sea of Kinnereth and walked on water – he really did, we all saw it. I thought, I can do that because I’m a fisherman! And I did, for about 10 steps and then I started to sink and had to call him for help. So if he named me Cephas because he meant I was rock steady he had to be joking.
So now Yeshua said we were going to Jerusalem and there would be conflict with the Temple authorities and that they would get the Romans to put him to death. Then he said he would be raised to life again on the third day. Well, this made no sense. Surely the Messiah wouldn’t die before the Day of the Lord would come. I grabbed his arm and said, “No, that won’t happen, Rebbe, you’re the Messiah.” And Yeshua berated me – “Get away from me, you are a follower of the Great Tester, your kind of rock is a stumbling block to what the Holy One wants.” I didn’t understand.
Well, we started to Jerusalem, along with thousands of Jews from all over making their pilgrimage for Passover and every day he said or did something to make us believe that the day of the Lord was at hand. We were so excited. In Bethany he even raised a man named Lazarus from the dead. The crowds with us had gotten larger and larger and we saw more Roman soldiers than I’ve ever seen. Just before we entered the gate into Jerusalem Yeshua mounted an ass, as if he was the king that the prophet Zechariah had foretold, and all of us waved palm branches and shouted, “Hosanna to the son of David! Blessings on him who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the heavens!” Well, I saw the leading citizens remarking on this to each other and the Roman guards at the gate watching this and I thought, This is not good, we could have trouble. And I saw Yehudah of Kerioth noting this too, and he looked very worried.
Every day this week a crowd joined us as we went with Yeshua into the Temple — it was like we had netted a school of men — and every day something would happen. One day just before we entered the Temple he knocked over the tables of the money changers and the dove sellers and every day he had some kind of argument with the Temple authorities and the Pharisees. And every day there were more Roman soldiers on the ramparts of their fortress overlooking the Temple. It made me afraid like being on the Sea of Kinnereth and seeing a storm coming and not knowing if I can make it to shore before the storm capsizes the boat.
The night before the Sabbath, we gathered together for a meal but as we ate Yeshua came to each of us and washed our feet, as if he was a servant! I refused, to spare his dignity, but he said, that unless he washed my feet I would not be part a disciple. So I said, “Wash my hands and head too!” But he refused, and when he finished he said that if he as our Rebbe and master could wash our feet, we should wash each other’s feet.
Later during the meal Yeshua said that one of us, one of us, would betray him. We each asked him, “Is it I?” There was a lot of commotion and I’m not sure I heard or saw who he indicated. But I remembered how worried Yehuda of Kerioth had looked every day and now he was looking at me and I believe he was thinking the same thing about me. Yeshua took bread and blessed it in that way he had and then he told us to eat it because it was his body. What did that mean? And he took a cup of wine and blessed it and told us to drink it because it was his blood, and would forgive us. What did that mean?
After dinner we went over to the Mount of Olives. Yeshua looked at us and said that we would desert him that night, but after he died he would see us again in Galilee after he was raised from death. It really hurt me that he would think I would desert him so I said, “Maybe the others will, Rebbe, but I will never leave you.” He looked at me, and then said quietly, with tears in his eyes, “You will deny being a disciple of mine three times before the trumpet for the Roman watch plays cock crow.” I was stunned, and denied it. And the others said too that they would stay with him. Then we went to a garden in Gethsemane. Yeshua took Yakov and Yohannes and me apart from the others and he went to pray. Well, the combination of the fear I’d felt all week and my stirred up emotions from the Mount of Olives and the wine at dinner was too much, and I fell asleep. I think he came back several times and then there was a commotion and there were a bunch of Temple guards and some hooligans with clubs. And Yehuda of Kerioth was with them. I was so befuddled I didn’t understand what was happening. Yehuda came forward and kissed Yeshua, and then they dragged Yeshua away with them as if he was a fish in their net. The rest of us ran away into the dark like fish frantically escaping the net, but I doubled back and followed the guards to a courtyard, which I was told was of the High Priest. They took Yeshua inside.
It was cold, and there was a small fire heating wine. A serving girl there looked hard at me and then she came up to me and said, “You were at the Temple with Yeshua the Galilean.” Well, I was really frightened, it felt like the time I was sinking in the water. I said, “Who? I don’t know what you mean!” But I went out to the gateway of the courtyard. And there another girl who looked at me and said to the others, “This man was with Yeshua of Nazareth.” I denied it, and said, “I don’t even know him.” I turned away. In a few minutes some bystanders came up and said, “We can tell you are Galilean by your accent. Surely you were with him.” I was so frightened , and I cursed them, and I shouted, “I don’t know that man.” And then I heard the Roman trumpet. I stopped in shock, feeling like my heart had been tied to an anchor and thrown to the bottom of the sea. I have no idea where I went, I was crying so hard.
Early the next morning I heard a commotion, and saw that there was a group of Roman soldiers with a prisoner who was struggling to carry a cross. It was Yeshua. I hardly recognized him. He was bruised and had blood streaming down his back where they had whipped him. He had some thornbush jammed around his head and he had blood and perspiration flowing down his face. The crowd was cursing at him and throwing rocks at him when the soldiers didn’t see them. The Romans took him out the city gate and up to the place where they did crucifixions. I didn’t go with them. I was too afraid and too ashamed that he might see me. I went back to Bethany and hid from everyone. I couldn’t eat and that night, the Sabbath, I couldn’t sleep no matter how hard I tried. The next day I went to the house where we had stayed and there were ten of the others there. Only Yehuda of Kerioth was missing but no one said anything about that. In fact, we couldn’t look at each other so we hardly talked. We had all run away; we had each said we wouldn’t, but we had. I was ready to go back to Galilee and start fishing again.
And then this morning the strangest thing – The Temple authorities had asked the Romans to put a large stone to seal the grave, claiming we would steal the body. This morning some women had gone to the tomb to wash the body but the stone was already rolled back. They came back all in a state, and shouted to us that Yeshua’s body was gone. They were crying so much we could hardly understand them. One of them managed to get out between her sobs that there was an angel inside who said that Yeshua had risen, as he had foretold, and on their way back, they saw him. But could we believe hysterical women? Miriam of Magdala begged me to go and see. It was a hard choice — Did I want to believe he was alive? Could I take him looking at me again? But I decided to go with another man to the tomb. Well, the stone had been rolled away as the women had said. And we looked inside, and the body was gone, as they had said. We looked at each other in silence. And then I said, shrugging my shoulders, “Well, he said he would rise from the dead.” And so we came back to tell the others.
He has risen? He has risen. Oh my God! He is risen! HE IS RISEN!