He would never forget this moment – never. Overwhelmed with joy and gratitude, the scraggly fisherman fell to his knees, murmuring a prayer of thanksgiving to Yahweh for the safe arrival of his son and good health of his wife. Screams arrested his concentration, jerking him from the moment of worship and scattering his thoughts. In vain he attempted to finish the prayer, but his mind was now a total captive to the wails gusting in from the other room. Reluctantly, he rose and approached the side of his wife, lying spent but happy upon the bed. “Listen to him!” he exclaimed, humor and exasperation intertwined within his tone, “do you think he will ever learn when it is proper to speak, and when it is right to remain quiet?” Snuggling the tiny babe in her arms, his sweet wife – his dear, darling Libbi – smiled up at him, and, gently rocking the inconsolable child, whispered, “He will learn; one day, he will learn.” “That day had better be soon, or his wails will keep the fish from our nets!” His words were harsh, but his voice softened as he looked down upon the precious duo. Libbi just smiled again, and continued her efforts to console the little one. But when the passing of several minutes brought no relief to the scream-soaked atmosphere, Jonah found he must at last clear his head or else run mad. “I’m going to the docks,” he informed his wife, and quickly ducked out the low-hanging frame. Closing the door behind him, he took a deep breath and let the air whistle out between his lips while he, silently, mouthed again the words: “One day, he will learn.”
As the hours begrudgingly gave way to days, and the days to weeks, however, Jonah began to doubt if the Little One would ever learn. He had returned that evening from the docks to find both Libbi and Baby asleep, but even slumber did not deter the seemingly endless sounds which poured from his newborn son. In sleep, it was grunts, groans, and whimpers, while Baby’s waking hours were filled with gurgles, squeals, and screams. Much as he thanked Yahweh for the blessing of a boy, Jonah sometimes, in the depths of his heart, wondered if it was too much to ask that he be blessed with a son who would allow for a moment’s peace of mind?
“Your young one was born with much to say,” Abigail observed with a smile one evening, a few weeks after the baby’s arrival. She had come by to help Libbi around the house while Jonah was out at sea, and had remained with them for dinner, her husband being gone on a journey to the city. “It certainly seems that way,” Libbi replied with a laugh that was almost a giggle, tickling the cooing baby’s feet. The constant bombardment of sound seemed only to further delight her - she was the epitome of a good mother. Jonah wondered if a good father was one who could be worn out by the never ending sounds of his son. No – he did not think so. And he did not think he was a good father. Not yet. Nevertheless, he did love his little bundle of a son. Scooping him up and holding him at eye level, he mumbled gently, “I will try to be patient with you, my little Shimon, my boy with the need ‘to be heard’.”
As the weeks began to pile and morph into months, and as the months slowly gathered themselves into years, little Shimon matured, and as his body grew, so did his vocabulary. Soon, he was peppering his father with questions about the boats, the nets, the fish, the other fishermen, the great city (which he had never-never-never been to – well, not since he was old enough to remember – why not?), and anything else that popped into his head. He rarely waited for an answer, and even more frequent than the questions were the details of his own self-important discoveries and opinions on everything under the sun. Yes, young Shimon was certainly opinionated. Once he had decided something in his own mind – be it right or wrong – there was no argument that could change that resolve. He had once argued away his entire afternoon with another fisherman’s son on whether or not a stone was smooth enough to skip. The friend said yes, Shimon said no. The boy skipped the rock, Shimon argued that it had it only bounced twice, and therefore he had been right. The discussion would have ended with fists, had not Libbi, on observing the scene, called Shimon away for evening chores. “The Proverbs say,” Jonah had rumbled on more than one occasion, “that ‘with the multitude of words, sin abounds.’ Hold your tongue, Shimon.”
The dark hair faded to grey on Jonah’s head, but Shimon – though more mature in some respects – remained the same. Stubborn as a snagged net, his greatest pleasure lay in debating and over-talking anyone so unfortunate as to disagree with him. And yet, behind the arguments and the stubbornness, Shimon had a good heart. Loyal to a fault, tenaciously dedicated to whatever course of action he settled upon – Jonah still clung to the hope that his son’s intense personality would eventually soften into the character of a strong and dedicated man. When Shimon married Penina, and had more to consider than just himself, Jonah saw the transformation beginning, but there still were times when he wished Shimon was more like his calm younger brother: when he wished for a household of peace and quiet.
And then, suddenly, he got his wish.
For weeks his boys had been just short of crazy – each in their respective ways – over the fanatic teachings of some radical preacher near Bethabara. Rumors spread faster than storm clouds, and one day Andrew kissed his mother good bye and left Bethsaida to hear the man for himself. Shimon might as well have gone too, for all the concentration he dedicated to his responsibilities. Still, he was the firstborn, and it was only right that he stay to care for Jonah and Libbi. Weeks passed, and the family was just sitting down to supper one evening – Jonah steeling himself for another hour of Shimon’s ravings on the Bethabara preacher – when Andrew suddenly returned. Ever sparing with his language, he seemingly ignored his parents’ greeting, and simply walked up to Shimon with the words, “Come. We have found the Messiah.” Shimon bolted to his feet, “The Baptist?” he queried anticipation quivering in his voice, “is it him?” But Andrew shook his head, “The Baptist came to point to the Messiah. You must come.” Shimon was already putting on his coat and gathering his scant travel necessities. “Surely not now!” cried Libbi, and her desperate voice, coupled with Penina’s mournful face, filled Jonah with sorrow. It surprised him. He supposed he should feel angry at his sons for being so willing and thoughtless as to leave them and follow a man they knew nothing about. How could they know it was really the Messiah? Hadn’t there been plenty of rumors before this? Yet, somehow he knew they must go.
They would go.
And they did.
It was three years before Jonah and Libbi were able to have their sons to themselves again. Three years of abrupt, sporadic visits which lasted only as long as their leader (a mere carpenter from Nazareth of all places!) desired. Three years of confusion and concern over the company their sons were keeping – at least one of their group was a tax collector! Three years of wonder and doubts over the authenticity of the man Shimon and Andrew had chosen to believe and follow. Yes, this man Jesus had performed many fantastic feats – he had even cured Penina’s mother of a deadly fever – and his preaching drew crowds from all over the country, but was he really who he said he was? Jonah was not so sure he could believe it. Yet, here they were, all gathered once again around that worn, wooden table, with Shimon, Andrew, and Penina telling them the most unbelievable story yet – that this Jesus had been crucified and then come to life again: that he was God Himself!
…”And mother, though we fished all night we caught not a single fish. We were all worn, and depressed, and tired – you know how it is, father, when nothing comes in – when we saw this man standing on the shore.”“’Children, have you any fish?’ he called, and of course, we told him that our nets had been empty all the night long. ’Cast your net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ He shouted to us, and we were so tired and desperate, we did as he said, though later I couldn’t think why.”
“And then,” Penina interjected, her dark eyes sparkling with the excitement she could no longer contain, “they threw the net to the right side, and there were suddenly so many fish that all of them together were unable to pull it out!” Jonah’s attention was now fully on the tale. Never had he hauled in such a catch as his daughter-in-law was describing. Could it be true? Was it possible?
“Yes,” said Shimon with a smile, “we did as he said, and what he predicted came to pass. So John said to me – you remember John, mother? – that it was the Lord. He always seemed to know sooner than the rest of us, somehow. Well, when I heard that, I knew I had to see him right away, so I swam to him as fast as I could. When we all got to shore, he had breakfast for us…” his voice trailed off for a moment, and his eyes held a far-away, thoughtful look that spoke of memories never to be forgotten. For the first time in his life, Jonah wished his son would keep speaking, would finish what he had to say, would let the rest of them in on what was playing through his mind. Finally, he could stand it no longer, “And?” he urged, unconsciously leaning forward himself to be sure of the words, “What happened next?”
Shimon shook himself, and looking from one parent to the next, said simply, “He told me to feed his sheep.” Jonah sat back, thoroughly confused and not a little irritated. “Feed his sheep? What does that mean?” he flustered. “It means,” Andrew answered, “that all of us – but Cephas most especially – are to tell others of Jesus, to make them understand that He truly was the Messiah, and that he has freed us not from the physical bondage of the Romans, but from the spiritual bondage of our sins.”
Shimon turned to them with passion. “Don’t you see, mother – father, how Jesus fulfilled every prophecy we were ever given? Remember what you taught me of the Scriptures...”
They sat there for hours, the five of them, listening to Shimon speak in a way Jonah had never heard before, understanding things, by his son’s explanations, that he had never thought to be within his grasp of comprehension. When at last they separated for the night, Jonah understood.
He understood that Shimon – the one who needed to be heard – was no more.
He understood that Cephas – a man of great strength because he was filled with the strength of Another – was now the man who stood before him.
And he understood, finally, that this change had been brought about by Jesus – the Messiah – who had chosen to fill the void and be heard through one who had been empty with nothing to say.
It was time to listen.