Once upon a time there lived a man named Simon. Simon was from a town called Bethsaida, meaning “House of Fish.” Fishing is what you did, and as part of the fishing culture Simon learned to be a scrapper. As most boys do, he adopted the attributes of his father Jonah, always having an opinion, living life hard; hard at play and hard at work. Simon was always quick to defend, and when he engaged, there was no half-way. Simon was the little boy who would come home with his clothes covered in mud, his hair disheveled, and his knees skinned up, with a vast array of valuable items in his pockets; a few prize rocks, a piece of bone he had found, a dried out frog, and a couple of nails he found. He would later become intimately acquainted with nails.
Simon was raised on the water and this became his arena and his element. Simon and his brother Andrew, loved the sounds of the waves hitting the boat, the mist in their face, but more than that they loved hauling in the big catch. He and his brother were in it together. It was always an exuberant moment when the nets were full. Simon marveled at how he and his brother could go from wanting to drown one another in frustration, to hugging one another once the fish came in.
Eventually Simon fell in love and married. Now that he was a married man, and a family was now a reality, he knew he should go to the synagogue more often, but it always felt like going through the motions. God seemed far away. Simon was like many who believed in God, but was living like He didn’t exist. He knew about God, but he didn’t really know God.
He was very committed to the rituals of his religion, but it was obligation, not heart felt devotion. Even the way Simon would sporadically pray (typically when he was either very angry or very sad) gave some indication as to his level of relationship with God, “Uh, …God, I could use some help here. Where are you? Why are you silent? God, why is it so difficult?” God was remote.
Another thing fishing provided were long moments to sit quietly and think. Simon often looked up and wondered, “Why am I here, how did I get here, and what is this all about? He and Andrew had long talks about the possible answers to these questions. Life had its good moments and its difficult times, but the tough times left him with a lot of unanswered questions. God and fishing seemed to have something in common; toss in a net and hope for something. Hope and wait.
One day Simon went fishing alone. Meanwhile his brother went to see a man that many were talking about. They called him John the Baptist. John was Andrew and Simon’s kind of guy; rough, outspoken, and fearless. He spoke of one to come, which they had heard many times before, but John was saying that He (the Messiah) was here, and on this day Andrew actually saw Him. Some others had claimed to be the Messiah, but somehow Andrew sensed that something was different, and a profound excitement rose up within him. Could it be? Could it really be?
What was more intriguing was that this possible Messiah, called Jesus, came up to Andrew, looked right into his eyes and invited him to his home. Andrew ended up spending the day with Jesus. His life would never be the same.
Andrew was filled with excitement and hope. He was convinced that he had encountered the Messiah. He sprinted to the edge of the water just in time to see Simon tying off the boat. As Andrew began telling Simon of his time with Jesus, Simon, tired after another long unsuccessful day of fishing, threw his arm around his brother, looked him in the eyes and said, “Brother, you’ve always been the dreamer.” Andrew said to Simon, “Don’t take my word for it, come see for yourself.” The home Jesus was staying at was on the way so Simon agreed to stop in. If nothing else, this could provide some entertainment, and it would also shut up Andrew, who was acting like he had just won a fleet of boats.
As Andrew and Simon drew near the house, Jesus was standing outside. They approached and were met half way. Jesus walked up close to Simon, uncomfortably close, and looked deeply into his eyes. Simon was very uncomfortable.
Whenever someone got that close Simon’s defenses would go up, especially a stranger. Simon was known to be one whose space you didn’t invade, but Jesus seemed completely unintimidated. He stepped even closer, put his hand on Simons shoulder, looked even deeper into his eyes for a long time and then said, “You are Simon, son of Jonah.” Simon looked quickly to his brother as if to ask, “Did you tell him that?” Andrew sent back a look implying he had not. Simon looked again into the eyes of this strange fearless man, who carried an aura of power, but had an even more intense unspoken presence of penetrating and authentic love. Somehow it seemed as if this man knew everything about Simon, his past, his present, all his embarrassing and impulsive choices, all his regret; yet knowing all of this it seemed that He was projecting unconditional love and not condemnation. How could this be? Simon felt exposed but invited, revealed yet forgiven. Though he worked hard to cover it up with his tough exterior, Simon was one who believed God, but was ashamed of his past. But Jesus seemed to be offering Himself, in place of Simon’s shortcomings. Simon was bewildered. Jesus continued looking into Simon’s eyes and then said, “You shall be called Cephas.” Simon thought, Who is this? Who is this man who just gave him a new name? You don’t even know me, but yet it seems like he is looking right through me and that he does know me, maybe even better than I know myself. What is happening? Simon went home unsettled.
The next day Cephas translated as Peter, along with Andrew, were fishing close to the shore. Another fruitless day, all night hard at the oars; cast out the net pull them in and get nothing. As the sun was coming up they looked and there on the shore was Jesus. Both fixed their eyes on Him. Peter wondered, what happened yesterday? How did he know who I was, and who my father was? The way this man looked into my eyes was unlike any other. Jesus turned and looked at Peter and Andrew and the words that he was about to say would change their lives forever, “Follow me.” Without hesitation, Andrew and Peter looked at one another, rowed to shore, docked the boat, and began a journey with the Messiah. What would others think? What would our father think, and Peters wife? They didn’t know, but the call was undeniable. They had to follow.