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The Old Mann and the Sea
Written June 9, 2015

It was almost noon when I got home, and the first thing I wanted to do was to check on my elderly neighbor.

I went over to his shack and knocked.  “Mannias?  Are you awake?”

“Sure, I’m awake,” I heard him answer.  “Up at dawn!  Not dead yet.  Give me a moment.”  There was some rustling around.

Eventually the door opened, and there he stood, kind of rumpled.  “Ethan!” he exclaimed.  “Welcome home.”

“Glad to be back,” I replied, hugging him.  “Sorry I haven’t been around lately.”  I looked Mannias up and down.  “How are you, Mann?  Have you been getting along all right?”

“I’m fine,” he said.

“No trouble taking care of your sheep?”

“Been tending animals all my life.  Think I know how.  I’m just a little slower nowadays.”

“Why don’t you let me help you get dressed?” I offered.

“Well, it is kind of a struggle for me to put on my clothes.”

“And then I can hitch up the donkey cart and take you into town to see your sister.”

“I don’t want to see that woman!”

“But you haven’t visited her for weeks.”

“Don’t reckon she wants to see me, neither.”

“Now, Mannias,” I scolded, “family is important.”

“Humpf,” he snorted.  “I’m happy enough without a family.  Live here by myself.  Got this nice little piece of land.  Six head of livestock.  There’s that beautiful sea just down the hill.  Also, I’ve got a good neighbor.  That’s you, young Ethan.  I don’t lack for nothing.”

  Encountering an Oddball

“Don’t you sometimes find yourself wanting just a little more help?”

“Sometimes, I suppose.  You know, earlier today I thought I was about to get some help.”

“Oh?”

“Met this guy Simon down by the seashore.  Tried to talk him into coming up here and doing my chores.  But he wasn’t interested.  I tell you, young Ethan, he was a weird one.  Kind of crazy.  And so were his friends, if you ask me.”

“Where did these people come from?”

“Don’t know.  They were already out fishing before the sun came up.  It looked like it was going to be a beautiful day, so I walked down to the beach.  Brought some food with me.  Built a charcoal fire to cook breakfast.

“So there I am, standing over the fire, and I see a boat offshore, about a hundred yards away.  Six or seven guys in it.  I call out to them, ‘Morning, friends!  Caught anything?’  They yell back, ‘No, nothing all night!’

“Well sir, I see their problem.  They’re too close to shore.  Around here, fish avoid the shallows.  I yell, ‘Try throwing your net off the far side of the boat.  Bet you make a catch.’  Next thing I know, they commence whooping and hollering.”

I observed, “The water is a little deeper farther out.”

“You said it.  Before long, their net’s full.  It would rip if they tried to lift it into the boat, so they have to tow it to shore.  They keep crowing, ‘What a haul!  Praise the Lord!’

“Then one of them interrupts.  ‘The Lord, did you say?  Surely it is a sign!  That is the Lord, standing on the shore!’  And he points at me!  He points right at me!”

“Huh?” I interjected.  “What did he mean by that?”

“No idea.  I’m some stranger giving fishing advice from the beach.  Turns out to be good advice, and suddenly the pointy guy thinks I have special powers.  Like I’m the Messiah or something.  Fishermen get lucky all the time, but the pointy guy thinks his lucky catch is a miracle.  Anyway, he claims I’m his ‘Lord.’

“Another guy screams ‘The Lord?  I love the Lord!’  This was the weird one, the one whose name turned out to be Simon.  He grabs his coat and jumps in and starts swimming and wading towards me.”

“That’s going a little overboard,” I joke.

“Hah.  Couldn’t wait, I guess.  When he reaches land, he runs up and hugs me like a long-lost friend.  I think this fool really must love me.”

“You are a charming old codger.”

“The others drag the net ashore.  They count 153 fish.  Biggest catch I’ve ever seen.  I say, ‘Bring some over here, and we’ll cook breakfast.’”

The Credulous Men from the Boat

“So did the fishermen introduce themselves?”

“No, they thought I knew them already.  They claimed they’d seen me in Jerusalem, twice recently.  I’ve never been there in my life.

“But I did overhear a few of their names.  Simon went by the name Simon Peter or Simon son of John.  He called one of the others Nathanael.  And two of them were ‘Zebedee’s boys.’  I didn’t catch the pointy guy’s name.”

“Wait a minute,” I said.  “Those names sound familiar.  They could be the ones who joined up with that young preacher Jesus.  You’ve heard of him, right?  There was speculation he might be the Messiah.”

“Better him than me.”

“These guys were really devoted to Jesus and followed him all the way to Jerusalem.  He ran into trouble with the authorities there and got himself killed.  But his closest followers claim he’s still alive.”

Mannias had heard of delusions like that.  “Well sir,” he said, “some folks can’t accept the truth.  They worship a hero, get all invested in him.  Then he leaves and their life is empty.  Don’t want to admit he’s gone.  Tell themselves he’s still around somewhere.  Like the King.”

“The King?”

“You must know about the King.  A big celebrity years ago.  Strutted around, wore his hair kind of long, made a lot of noise.  Lot of folks adored him.  Especially women.  He died all of a sudden.  Left the building, so to speak.  Folks couldn’t handle it.  One Sunday, some woman named Welling saw a man at Felpausch’s place who looked like the King, so that was a ‘King sighting.’  That proved to her that he was still alive.”

“It’s exactly like that,” I replied, “with these Jesus people.  After their leader was executed, one woman went to the cemetery.  She couldn’t find the body, so she asked a gardener.  Then she decided the gardener was Jesus.  She ran off and told everybody Jesus had come back to life!”

“Amazing.”

“Then a couple of his followers fell in with a stranger on the road.  They didn't recognize him, but they invited him to dinner.  Then during the meal, it suddenly occurred to them that the man sitting across from them must be Jesus.”

“Such foolishness!”

Trying to Get Through to Simon

“Some folks just have to believe,” I said.  “They so desperately want to believe that they lose their common sense.”

“I tell you, this guy Simon lost his.  He thought I was his beloved Lord, come back to life.  I don’t look anything like Jesus, do I, Ethan?”

“Not at all.  The Lord must be very skillful with disguises.”

“I can’t imagine anyone would mistake me for a young man.  I’m not, not any more.  But I’m not complaining.  I tried to explain old age to the dimwit.  ‘Truthfully, Simon, you have no idea what it’s like to be elderly.  When you were young, you dressed yourself and walked wherever you wanted.  But when you’re old, you’re going to stretch out your arms and someone else will dress you and carry you to places where you don’t want to go.’”  Mannias paused and looked at me.  “‘For example, they’ll carry you to your sister’s house.’”

“We are definitely visiting her, Mann,” I insisted.  “This afternoon.”

He pretended to ignore me.  “Anyway, since Simon was so madly devoted to yours truly, I thought maybe the meathead could help me out with some manual labor.  You know, when you’re not around, Ethan, it’s getting to be such a chore for me to fill the trough for the animals every morning.”

“I realize that.”

“So we finished breakfast and then I asked him, I said, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?  More than these others?’  ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’  ‘Then feed my lambs,’ I said.  He just stared at me.”

“He didn’t know you had lambs.”

“So I asked again, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’  ‘Yes, Lord, you know I love you.’  ‘Then tend my sheep.’”

“Must have thought you were crazy.”

“I stood up to signify my lordly authority.  Interrogated him a third time.  ‘Simon!  Son of John!  Do you love me?’  He was miffed that I kept questioning him.  ‘Lord, you know everything.  You know I love you.’  ‘Then feed my sheep!  They’re up this way.  Follow me!’

“I started leading him up the hill.  The pointy guy tagged along behind us.  Simon looked back and asked, ‘Lord, what about him?’  I said, ‘Why do you care?  If I want him to stay here by the sea until I come back, what is it to you?  Follow me!’”

“So did you convince Simon to do your chores?” I asked.

“No, I did not, young Ethan.  We never even made it back here to the house.  Simon stopped to confer with the pointy guy, and they decided they had to hurry off to Jerusalem to report they had seen the Lord.  They closed their eyes and started praying and praising.  I just walked away shaking my head.”

“Good move, old Mann.”

 

(a retelling of John 21:1-22)

Click here for other Bible stories I've retold in the first person.

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