I watch the sun dropping down to the hills and the shadows lengthening. Clouds on the horizon catch the orange and red tones of the setting sun. A small breeze, cool against my cheeks, ripples over the water, gently bobbing the boat up and down. It’s a welcome relief from the cloying heat of the day, hotter than any I recall from my years fishing these waters. But then sitting in a tethered boat as Jesus speaks to the crowd, isn’t exactly the same as sailing. I gaze out at the enraptured faces, softened by the last light of the day, and realise that despite the heat, none of us would have chosen to be anywhere but here.
Jesus’s voice still carries across the water but I can hear the tiredness in his words. I glance at him just as he lifts his hands in a farewell and blessing. Voices call back to him—blessings mixed with pleas for healing or invitations to homes.
Jesus turns to Simon and says softly, “Let us go over to the other side.”
“Yes, Rabbi.” My brother is already reaching for the rudder. “Andrew, the ropes!”
I clamber over the side and wade to the shore, careful of my footing on the slippery sea-bed of moss. Where is the rabbi going? Will he be back tomorrow? I shrug at their questions as I undo the knots and stride back to the boat. Levi mutters as I toss my legs over the side and splash water onto his sandals and robe.
“We’ll get some water into that land-blood of yours.” Thomas gives Levi a good-natured jab as he works the ropes to unfurl the sail.
“Impossible!” I laugh, stepping past them to the oar at the bow. “He spent far too long sitting in that tax-booth to make even half a decent sailor of him now.”
Next to us, James, John and a few others of our group—who had listened to Jesus from the shore—are clambering into Zebedee’s boat. Behind them, I notice others wading to Enoch the younger’s boat.
Simon has seen the third boat and scowls. “They’re following us again, Rabbi. Should I tell them not to?”
Jesus shakes his head and asks Simon for the cushion we keep under the seat. I watch as he lies down at the stern with the cushion under his head, his knees bent and his back against the side panels.
As the gentle wind fills our sail, I feel the familiar response of the boat. We leave the shore behind us and I stare at the distant, dark hills of the Gerasenes. I breathe deeply of the air, which carries the smell of seaweed and life, thinking how good it is to be heading to deep waters again.
James soon catches up with our boat and he and Simon engage in a playful race reminiscent of our boyhoods. We call and laugh across the water at each other.
It’s John, standing at the bow of their boat, who breaks the spell. “Squall!” he shouts, pointing to the west. My gaze follows his to the ominous black sky, and the dark water churning beneath it.
“I think we can outrun it!” Bartholomew shouts back, but I catch Simon’s eye and know what my brother is thinking. We’ve seen the fury and speed of these sudden storms before. We know all too well the stories of weathered Galilean fishermen who never came home when the sea storms blew up.
It’s not long before the wind is whipping noisily at our sail. The air has suddenly grown cold and the mood on the boat, sombre. Simon gives curt commands as he tries to keep us on course, but eventually it takes all his effort just to keep the bow pointing into the waves. Thomas and I struggle to lift the sail as we’re tossed up and down. The largest waves break over the boat, drenching us in spray. I cast a worried glance at the increasing level of water sloshing in the boat, and grab a bucket to bail it out, shouting for Bartholomew to do the same. My voice hardly carries over the wind and crashing waves.
“Rabbi!” Levi’s terror-stricken voice pierces through the storm. Jesus still lies in the same place as when we left, and I marvel that he can sleep through a storm such as this. “Rabbi!” Levi calls again. “Don’t you care if we drown?”
Jesus sits up, looking across the waves. He grabs the side of the boat and pulls himself to his feet. His gaze sweeps from Levi to the rest of us. I try to keep my fear from showing on my face.
Jesus turns to the waves and speaks loudly over the wind, as if rebuking a disobedient child. “Quiet! Be still!”
Instantly the wind dies. In the stillness, the waves slowly settle to a sheet of calm and the boat rocks quietly until—like an untended crib—it lies motionless. The silence is so deep, so pervading, that all I feel is the pounding in my temples.
Jesus turns back to us, his gaze searching out each of our own. “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
His softly spoken words pierce into me with force. Haven’t I seen him heal the blind and lame? Haven’t I heard him speak of faith the size of a mustard seed moving mountains? Haven’t my own lips called him Messiah, the anointed one? Yes, to all of these questions—yes! Then why should I be afraid when he is here with us? Why would I think his silent slumber means he doesn’t care? Why do I doubt his protection or his power to act?
I look again at the subdued sea and then back at the rabbi. As he holds my gaze steadily in his own, a wave of awe-filled fear sweeps through me. Who is this man that even the wind and the waves obey him?
And only one possible answer echoes through my heart.
This story, based on Mark 4:35–41, is from a new collection of bible fiction stories called “Questions: Jesus asked of my heart”
Other stories in this collection:
Do you want to get well?
Where are the other nine?
Image from Pixabay