Often, when people hear about something they want to believe, like an allegation of a nefarious secret plot, they don't question it. They think it true without bothering to think it through.
Such people really ought to learn the facts first and examine the evidence. Only then can there be a proper judgment. But no, they can't be troubled with those intermediate steps. They jump over the details and jump directly to the desired conclusion.
And they have faith in their conclusion. They boast about their leap of faith, as though persuading oneself without proof were an admirable achievement!
At the Lake
My name is Zebedee, from the region of Galilee. I own a 26-foot fishing boat on the Lake of Gennesaret.
My sons James and John used to be my crew. They weren't happy about it. I'm tired of working every night on this stupid old lake, James often complained. It's so small that a friend of mine walked all the way around it in a single day.
John pointed out that there's a much bigger sea just one day's journey to the west. And there, I've heard, you can sail 2,000 miles farther west until you reach a land called Spain. I wasn't sure whether I could believe this tall tale.
And beyond that is an even bigger sea that has no end! added James. They call it Ocean. I want to see these wonders. I want to see the world!
No, my son, I said, your place is here with me. We are family. We are Galileans. Get in the boat.
A Stranger Arrives
One morning, after a long but mostly unsuccessful night of fishing, it was maintenance time. As the sun began to rise, we returned to shore to wash and mend our nets.
Nearby was another boat belonging to Cephas and his brother Andrew. (In those days, Cephas was known as Simon Peter.) They too had been tending their nets.
Although the sun was now well above the horizon, they let down their nets. And they made a huge catch! The nets were so full that they waved for us to come help them. They had caught enough fish to fill both their boat and ours.
Cephas and Andrew were impressed. In fact, Cephas jumped to the conclusion that their passenger must be a god. When we all got back to shore, he fell to his knees before the stranger and said, Leave me, Lord, for I am a sinner! Luke 5:1-9 The stranger laughed and waved him away.
I'm afraid Cephas had fallen victim to what the Romans call superstitio, meaning excessive awe and fear of the gods. Superstitious people are always performing little rituals to ask Heaven for good fortune. Then if something unusual happens, good or ill, they jump to the unwarranted conclusion that it could only have been an Act of God.
The big haul had to be unloaded from the boats. Once we were done, Andrew introduced their passenger to me. Zebedee, this is a preacher from Nazareth. Nazareth is about 15 miles southwest of our lake. His name is Jesus.
I'm glad to meet you, I responded. He smiled, but his answer was unexpected: The time has arrived! The Kingdom of God is upon you. Repent and believe!
Andrew told us that Jesus had been walking along the shore and had stopped to deliver this message to some bystanders. Soon he had attracted a crowd. The people were pressing up against him, Andrew explained, so he asked to climb aboard our boat and use it as his pulpit.
Then, said Jesus, when I had fnished my message, I told the people I was done. But they wouldn't leave. So, because we were on a boat, I suggested that we should leave them.
We rowed farther out into the lake, said Andrew. And as long as we were now in deeper water, we lowered our fishing nets for one last futile attempt.
Catching fish, Jesus observed, is such an uncertain way to make a living. And it's hard work. That's why I invited you and Cephas to give up your profession and follow me instead. We could be catching people.
We laughed at that, said Andrew, but then we noticed that our nets were starting to fill. And the fish kept coming and coming, Zebedee! Two whole schools of them. You and your boys saw the rest.
Cephas still wasn't sure the stranger was mortal. It was a miracle, he said; I know it. Andrew nodded indulgently, but then he added, We have decided to take Jesus up on his offer. We're going to follow him on the gospel trail.
Really? asked James.
Wait a minute, I said. Follow you where, Jesus? What kind of wages are you offering? Where will everybody sleep? What will you eat?
Oh, don't worry about that, Jesus said. "Think of the ravens. They don't farm; they don't have barns; yet God feeds them. My people are worth far more than the birds! Luke 12:22-24~
He put his hands on my boys' shoulders. Don't be anxious about what you are to eat or drink. Your father Zebedee knows that such things are necessary, but so does your Father in Heaven. No, set your minds on His Kingdom, and the rest will come to you as well. Luke 12:29-31~
I was stunned that my sons were so anxious to leave home that they jumped to accept the newcomer's invitation. Jesus and the four fishermen set out that very day, leaving me alone with the two boats. If this doesn't work out, Dad, John called back to me as the little band of evangelists walked away, we'll be back in the spring. Mark 1:14-20~
It did work out, for a while. Jesus recruited more disciples, even a woman named Mary from Magdala. He travelled throughout Galilee, teaching in the synagogue and healing every kind of illness and infirmity among the people. Large crowds followed him from as far away as Jerusalem and the Transjordan. Matthew 4:23-25 Meanwhile, I managed to stay in business on the lake, renting out my boat to other local fishermen.
Another Floating Pulpit
Before long, Jesus returned to the lakeside to preach, and again so many listeners gathered that he had to climb into the boat Cephas and Andrew had abandoned. He sat there, and all the people stood on the shore, right down to the water's edge. He told them parables, comparing seeds to the coming Kingdom of Heaven. Mark 4:1-33~
Some of his audience thought he was predicting an actual kingdom like King David's, a government of Israel that would displace the rule of Rome. Some of them jumped to the conclusion that this was actually about to happen. They called him the Son of David or the Messiah, and Gentiles sardonically called him the King of the Jews.
My sons shared this delusion. I heard them ask him for a favor: when he ascended the throne, they wanted to sit on a pair of thrones beside him, James on his right hand and John on his left. Jesus solemnly told my boys he couldn't promise that. Then he turned to me, shaking his head at their ridiculous idea. Mark 10:35-40~
Actually, I think his Kingdom of Heaven was a metaphor for the end of time, when the angels will throw the wicked into a fiery furnace and the righteous who remain will shine like the sun. Matthew 13:40-43~
One evening, so many listeners had surrounded Jesus that he decided he'd better cross to the other side of the lake to escape the crush. (Sometimes I think being a celebrity must be harder work than being a fisherman.) He chartered my boat to ferry him and his disciples across to Gergesa.
No, we're not, he answered. Why are you such cowards? I have faith in Zebedee and his boat; why don't you? He stood up, struck an actor's pose, and shouted, Calm down, winds! Silence, sea! For God's sake, be still! There, that ought to do it.
His timing was perfect, because just at that moment the storm abated. The disciples jumped to the conclusion that Jesus had performed another miracle. Who can this be? they asked each other. Even the wind and the sea obey him. Mark 4:35-41~
Possessed by Demons
When we reached the Gergesene coast, a man rushed toward us, an insane homeless man who was living in the cemetery. He screamed at Jesus, begging him to stop tormenting him.
The homeless man wanted to join us. When we refused to let him come aboard, he ran off proclaiming that he had been healed. I don't know whether anyone believed that conclusion. Mark 5:1-20~
The First Communion
Later, when Jesus heard the news that John the Baptist had been put to death, he was very sad. Matthew 14:12 Again he chartered my boat, this time to take him and the disciples to a remote place to rest and reflect. However, the people had seen us leave, and hundreds of them followed our progress and were waiting for us at the landing. Jesus couldn't help himself; he started to preach.
Night was falling, and the disciples suggested that the people should leave and get dinner. But I'm not done teaching, he answered. Give them something to eat yourselves.
What? they said. We brought only a little food with us, and buying enough for this crowd would cost 200 denarii!
How much food do you have? he asked. Take a look. It turned out there were five big loaves of bread. Also, I was able to contribute a couple of fish.
After a blessing, the disciples shredded the fish into sushi bits and tore the bread into little wafers. They passed the food around, and this symbolic meal seemed to be enough to satisfy the crowd. There were even leftovers.
When the disciples told the story later, they claimed there had been 5,000 people at that impromptu supper, and their listeners jumped to the conclusion that all 5,000 had gotten a complete meal. Mark 6:31-44~
As night fell, Jesus dismissed the crowd. He told the disciples to sail to the town of Gennesaret ahead of him, while he went up the hill by himself to mourn the Baptist and to pray. Matthew 14:22-23~
Why do you always pray privately? James asked him. Teachers are supposed to lead all their students in prayer every morning. We had a whole crowd of people here, hanging on your every word. You and the crowd could have prayed as a group, and surely God would have heard the supplications.
A waste of time, Jesus muttered. God already knows what we need before we ask him!
But if all the people together had raised their arms to Heaven, shouting Amen, and if everybody had prayed loud and long ...
We mustn't go babbling on like the heathen. They imagine that the more they say, the more likely they are to be heard. And hypocrites love to say their prayers standing up in public, so everyone will see how pious they are. No, it's better to go off by yourself and pray to your Heavenly Father who is in secret. Your Father sees what's done in secret, and he will reward you. Matthew 6:5-8~
So Jesus left us, and the rest of us got back aboard my boat and cast off for Gennesaret. Facing a strong headwind and a nasty current, we made only slow progress. In fact, it was the middle of the night before we reached the shallow water near the town. Andrew had lost track of where we were, but then he looked up and saw a man coming toward us. Look, he cried, there's someone walking on the water!
Those are words you don't normally hear, especially if you're out on a lake in a boat. Therefore James jumped to the conclusion that it had to be supernatural. For him it was a paranormal appearance. Walking on the water? he exclaimed. It must be a ghost!
No, it's me, the man called from the shoals. Don't be afraid.
Cephas climbed out of the boat and started wading toward Jesus, but the wind was whipping the waves almost up to his chest and his feet were sticking in the muddy bottom. I'm sinking! he cried. Save me, Lord!
By then Jesus had reached him. He grabbed Cephas around the waist and chided him, You still don't have much faith, do you, Simon?
About the time they got to the boat, the wind subsided. Of course, the disciples considered the water-walking another miracle. They decided it proved that their Messiah was not merely a Son of David. He had to be the Son of God. Matthew 14:24-34~
The Conclusion that Will Not Conclude
After two or three years, Jesus left Galilee and took his message to the big city, Jerusalem. It didn't go well there, and he got into trouble. I'm not sure whether he was accused of claiming to be divine, or of claiming to be a king plotting to overthrow the Roman government. At any rate, he was arrested, executed, and buried.
Afterwards his followers refused to face facts. They imagined that he was still alive.
One follower, Paul, wrote that the ghost of Jesus appeared to Cephas and then to the rest of the disciples. Later, he wrote, a group of over 500 people saw him. And finally Paul himself had a vision. 1 Corinthians 15:5-8~
I myself witnessed one of these visions. Well, I didn't have the vision myself, but I saw Cephas experience it. He'd decided he wanted to go fishing like the old days, so once again my boat was chartered. My sons joined us that night along with four others, believers all.
Dawn came, and we saw a man standing on the beach. Catch anything? he called to us. We hadn't. He replied, I've always had better luck on the right side. Try throwing your net to starboard. And it worked. We counted the fish later and found that we had 153.~
The unexpected haul reminded my son John of the first time he met Jesus. He jumped to a conclusion. It is the Lord! he exclaimed.
And that reminded Cephas of his walk on the water. He too jumped to a conclusion, literally. With his face beaming, he leapt overboard and waded the hundred yards to shore.
When the rest of us arrived on the boat, the man on the beach was cooking breakfast. He invited us to join him. The believers hoped he was Jesus come back to life. Two previous manifestations had been reported. However, nobody dared ask him who he was. John 21:1-14~
I think they were afraid of the answer they might receive. A leap of faith is so much more comforting.
Click here for other Bible stories I've retold in the first person.