Here’s a story I wrote recently after I read a post by N. J. Lindquist, a great Canadian author. The post can be found here: http://www.njlindquist.com/church-is-really-not-about-us/ .
Nine-year-old Josiah scuffed at the dusty ground in frustration. Being nine in Bethsaida was difficult for a boy. He wasn’t old enough to work with the men like his older brother Nathaniel, and he felt too old to be playing the childish games his younger brothers and sisters and cousins played. He spent a lot of time sitting by the shore looking out over the water. He was often there early in the morning to watch his father and uncles, along with other fishermen, come back with their catch. Sometimes he was able to help straighten out the nets on the shore so they could dry in the sun. It was at those times that he felt that he had something to contribute; something to do.
But often the days were long. Outside of fishing and the market, there was little of interest that happened in their small village. His mother found lots to gossip about with the other women over laundry and other chores. But Josiah was not interested in which girl was marrying which man, or who was expecting a baby. “Girl stuff,” he thought with disappointment as he kicked at the stones on the path on the way home.
Josiah’s ears did perk up at some gossip, though. Some of the women were chattering about news of a new prophet who was teaching the people and healing many who were plagued with various diseases. As he played around the neighbourhood, Josiah tried to listen in as the women discussed the latest gossip about this man, and where he was and where they thought he was going next. It was a bright spot for him in an otherwise boring day-to-day routine.
“Nothing ever happens in Bethsaida,” Josiah thought to himself. “It’s always fishing and farming. I wish I was old enough to go to Jerusalem to see the temple!” That would be interesting! That would be an adventure!
One day, Josiah was playing by the shore of Galilee when he saw a boat approaching. “That’s odd,” he remarked to himself. “All the fishermen are at home sleeping after fishing on the lake all night. Who is that in the boat?” He watched as a large group of men got off the boat and walked to a large open space just outside of town. As they went onto a hill overlooking Bethsaida, many other people followed them and began to gather around. As he watched, this thought came to Josiah: “That’s the man who I heard everyone talking about!” No longer scuffing the ground, his feet nearly flew as he ran all the way home.
“Mom! Mom!” Josiah shouted as he ran in the door. “That man is here, talking to the people out on Sundown Hill!” (It was called Sundown Hill because it was a great spot to watch the sun set over the Sea of Tiberias)
“What man?” asked Josiah’s mom.
“The teacher I heard all the women talking about with you! Can I go see him?”
“No, there’s too many people. I don’t want you getting lost,” his mom warned. “Besides, what were you doing listening to our conversations?”
“Awww mom, what else is there to do? Anyway, how could I ever get lost?” Josiah said. “We’re related to practically everyone in Bethsaida!”
“Well-ll-ll-ll, okay, but only if Nathaniel will go with you,” his mom said.
Nathaniel will only go if there’s food to eat, thought Josiah. “Is it okay if I take some lunch, mom?”
“That’s a good idea!” his mom answered. “There’s some fresh bread I baked this morning, and some pickled fish you can take.”
Josiah woke up Nathaniel, who was a little grumpy after such a short sleep. The promise of food and opportunity to see this new teacher was just the ticket to get him moving, however. Josiah tugged on Nathaniel’s arm to try to get him moving faster, but moving a sleepy 12-year-old was not easy. They finally made it to Sunset Hill, in spite of the delays. Boy, was it crowded! Josiah saw lots of people he knew from Bethsaida, but there were many people from other villages as well. There were extra boats in the harbour, indicating that some people had followed the teacher across the lake. Josiah was glad that Nathaniel was along, after all. He stuck close to Nathaniel, but Nathaniel met up with some of his friends and didn’t really want a younger brother tagging along. So Josiah found himself virtually alone in the large crowd of people. He had never seen so many people together in one place before!
Josiah tried to listen to the teacher, but it was hard to hear everything that was said. What he did hear he understood a little. This teacher taught in a way that was different from the rabbis in synagogue. When he explained something, you could almost see it in your mind. There were lots of farmers in the crowd, so the teacher talked about farming and how seeds were planted. Josiah wasn’t the only one to not quite understand; others murmured among themselves about the meaning of the teacher’s words. But it made everyone think about what was being said. And in this teaching, God sounded close and warm, not like the picture he saw in his mind when he listened in the synagogue.
As he looked around, Josiah suddenly saw Peter and Andrew, two fishermen he recognized from Bethsaida. They caused quite a stir in the village when they left their profitable fishing business, hauled their boats out of the water, and began to follow the teacher. He edged closer, trying to get as close as he could. He began to get hungry, but thought he’d save his food for a while longer. Besides, Nathaniel would be upset if Josiah didn’t share his food with him.
All at once, Josiah overheard the teacher talking with his followers about feeding everyone. At that, Josiah looked around and saw that no one else seemed to have brought any food with them. “They don’t have moms like mine who think ahead!” thought Josiah with a grin. Then he noticed Andrew close by. Andrew was quiet, not like his loud-mouthed brother Peter. A little shy, Andrew liked talking with children, so Josiah felt safe approaching him.
“Hakham Andrew?” Josiah said hesitantly. He used the title or respect taught to him by his parents.
“Who’s that?” Andrew replied. After a moment to study the child’s face, a grin broke over him. “Josiah! You’re Judah’s boy, aren’t you?”
“Yes sir,” Josiah replied shyly.
“Are you out catching fish with your father and brother yet?” Andrew asked good-naturedly.
“No, father says I’m not old enough yet, and mother says it’s too dangerous. But I help spread out the nets to dry,” Josiah said proudly.
“Good boy!” Andrew clapped him on the shoulder. “You’ll make a good fisherman real soon!”
“Hakham Andrew, I heard the teacher asking for food. I have a little lunch that I brought to share with Nathaniel, but if the teacher needs it, I’ll share with him too,” said Josiah quietly.
“That’s very thoughtful of you,” said Andrew. “I don’t know if it will help, but I’ll take it to the Master.”
Josiah watched Andrew walk away with the only food he had brought with him. He wondered if he had done the right thing. Soon, he saw the teacher’s followers asking people to sit down in groups on the grass. Wondering what was happening, Josiah stayed standing and craned his neck to watch. The teacher took his lunch, prayed the meal blessing over it, and began to break up the bread and the fish. Josiah looked around at all the people and wondered what the teacher was thinking, but as he continued to watch, the teacher kept breaking off pieces and handing them to his followers, who took them to groups of people sitting down. Josiah’s eyes got bigger and bigger as he saw everyone get fed, even himself! When everyone was finished eating, the followers went around and gathered up the leftovers and each follower had a basketful of bread.
Andrew brought his basketful to Josiah and said with a big smile, “Take this home to your mother, Josiah, and tell her she still makes the best bread in Bethsaida!”
Josiah nodded and grinned, then turned and skipped all the way home, forgetting that skipping was too babyish for an almost-grown-up nine-year-old boy. “Mom! Mom!” Josiah shouted as he ran in the door. “You’ll never believe what happened today!”
Let me know if you enjoyed this story, or have any questions about it. I wrote it for a message I preached at our church.