Monday, 5 September 2011

The men who work in parables

The fishermen, James and John, set sail from Bethseda accross the Sea of Galilee to confront their teacher whom, they had heard, was staying in Capernaum.  They complained that even from their first meeting with Jesus they had felt a new discontent with life. It seemed to them that they had been satisfied as fishermen before meeting him. They had been content with their work and with life on the shores of Galilee. But Jesus recounted to them the story of their own lives, and this telling changed them to themselves. And since that first day, they had struggled to live according to his stories of them. The work he demanded, that of appearing in his stories, was wearying beyond measure, and was more using of them than any of the familiar physical tasks of the simple fisherman. The ordinary work of fishing had taken on a remote and poetic quality which James and John could no longer grasp. They found they could not fish anymore without the interruption of their work by powerful images of fishing. James said to his brother, ‘I feel  my strength is passing into stories.’ John also felt this and said, ‘a life cast into parables is too hard. There is the work to be done, the story to be told, the meaning to be found, and after all of this, our work must seem fitted to the meaning.’ From the lake they looked at the town of Capernaum before them and felt they would never again return to that familiar shore. ‘The meaning of the story is always drawn out of the work from another place,’ John said. They resolved to ask their teacher how simple fishermen, who were no longer to be considered simple fishermen, could staunch the flow of their own strength into meaning. Above all, they wished to regain a grip upon the simple tasks that once belonged to them. If their lives had not been cast into the stories of their teacher would the meaning of those stories even now become plain to them? If the stories had featured others in their place would James and John now perceive the meanings that eluded them? Some distance from Capernaum, their boat began to drift from its course and could not be turned again in that direction. Jesus was standing on the shore, waiting for them, but he saw their difficulties and understood they would not arrive that day. A flock of white birds circled above the boat and beseeched the men for fish in those eerie voices common to such white birds. But there had been no fish caught that could be thrown to them. The boat's sail caught the evening's sun like a red cloak, and the breeze filled it with its weight. And they turned back for Bethseda. Jesus watched their defeat and sent word so that it would meet them as they arrived home, ‘When the lives of fishermen are cast into parables, then the work is very hard on them,’ he said, ‘Behold, you are of the story and not its meaning. You must work at the meaning but it will not appear to you. You are the told but not the teller. You will be heard but will not hear.’