Celebrating Release day today for The Zealots by G.K. Johson!
Shim’on couldn’t remember the last time
Shim’on couldn’t remember the last time he had awakened without the heavy weight pressing down on him. He carried it like a bag of stones, dragging the weight through the streets, onto his fishing vessel, to the market, and back home every day.
The afternoon and evening hours, free of distractions and when he most needed sleep, were the worst. He could feel the pressure on his chest, crushing the life out of him, and bruising his heart and ribs. If it were a real sack of rocks, the bag would have been torn open by now and the stones inside strewn in his wake. But it wasn’t real and tangible, it only felt so, and he couldn’t shake the burden as much as he wished he could.
Shim’on lay in bed wishing he didn’t have to get up and go to the lake. In fact, he wished he hadn’t woken up at all. Yes, that’s exactly how he felt. He glanced over at his immah, who made the evening meal quietly attuned to her sons’ much-needed sleep. Shim’on watched immah’s movements. Maybe she wanted to keep her thoughts to herself.
He could never tell her his thoughts
The vision haunted him. Watching the Romans kill his abba happened over and over.
He knew the darkness inside him would scare her, and she was already scared enough. He knew abba’s Miriam needed him now, but she seemed to be grieving alone. Grief absorbed her not only because of the loss of her husband but also because of the depression and silence of her eldest son.
Shim’on sighed, the weight heavier than ever on his chest.
Looking back on that night, he cursed his cowardice. With his dagger, he could have at least tried to save his abba. Now Yitzchak was gone, and Shim’on felt crippled by the guilt and anger he carried. He was letting his immah down. He was letting Hanoch down. Even Yitzchak must be disappointed if he could see him now.
When Shim’on returned to their home that first night without Yitzchak, Hanoch had pushed him furiously. Deep in grief, Shim’on realized his brother couldn’t understand why he’d gone to Bin-yamin and Yeshua rather than to his own brother. Shim’on tried to explain, but Hanoch refused to accept his answer. His brother remained angry and hurt since that day, an invisible wall rising between them. Shim’on couldn’t blame him.
Reluctantly now, Shim’on pushed himself up from his mat and put on his leather sandals. His day as a fisherman was just beginning.
He performed netilat yadayim, pouring the water over his hands using a clay basin and cup. He nudged Hanoch awake from where he slept on an adjacent mat and waited as his brother readied himself. The young men ate a hasty meal before leaving.
Closing the door behind them, they began their short walk to the shore. Months ago, Yitzchak, Shim’on, and Hanoch had chattered loudly and happily as they made their way to the sea. Back then, Miriam laughingly teased that they were like the Shabbat shofar, letting the neighborhood know that night was falling.
Since Yitzchak’s death, the walk between brothers was made in silence
Reaching the shore, Shim’on strode down to the water’s edge and knelt. He scooped handfuls of the cold water to wash his face and wake himself up. Meanwhile, Hanoch commenced unfurling the sails.
Shim’on climbed back up the shore and into the boat, smoothing his hand over the boat’s cedar planking. The vessel was twenty-three-feet long and seven-feet wide and required a crew of five men to operate. It contained room for twelve to thirteen passengers, though they seldom had any though, after Yitzchak’s death, Shim’on had hired another man for their crew.
With a flat bottom allowing it to be pulled ashore, the crew was able to unload a catch quickly and efficiently. He joined his brother and their hired men, Demas, Tertius, and Gaius, as they deftly prepared the nets and hoisted the sails to take them to the middle and deepest part of the lake.
“Ready?” Hanoch glanced towards Shim’on. He nodded.
Hanoch and Tertius jumped from the boat and pushed it back into the water, then pulled themselves over the railing.
The warm wind filled the sails and they moved from shore. Shim’on took a deep breath of fresh air and exhaled. This was truly the one place where the weight lay lightest on his shoulders. He still felt it of course, but the physical demands of fishing distracted him from the constant thoughts battling in his mind. Gusts caused the boat to dip while skipping over the choppy water kicked spray against his face. Light from the full moon above them glanced off the waves, surprisingly bright. His abba had loved it out here too, and Yitzchak always had a knack for knowing where the fish would be from day to day.
“Adonai told me to fish at the north end today boys,” he would say, or “Adonai is good, He sent me a dream that we will fill a net just off the shore.” His sons and the other fishermen had often teased Yitzchak about his heavenly directives but more often than not, Yitzchak was right, and they would bring in a good night’s catch.
Eight hours into the wet smell of the sea, wet ropes, and the dripping sweat of labor, Demas appeared right. They pulled in yet another net filled with musht, enough fish to finally necessitate returning to shore to sort and unload.
The anchor rope glistened as Hanoch and Shim’on pulled it hand over hand into the boat. The sky began to brighten with dawn’s soft hues. One of the men raised the sail to catch the wind at their backs.
Shim’on manned the tiller as he pointed the vessel back to shore. Twenty feet from the shoreline, Hanoch jumped over the side of the boat. The water came to his waist as he guided the boat in with a rope and secured it onshore. Other fishermen were unloading their catches as well, and Shim’on felt pleased to see that their own was one of the largest. A proud smell of his full net was the scent of dinner and a roof over their heads.
Wives, daughters, and young boys not yet old enough to be learning a trade awaited their men on the shore.
The men would sort the day’s catch onto carts, and donkeys would then pull their loads into town to be sold by the women at the market. Since they had been forced to give their donkey to the soldiers before Yitzchak’s death, a neighboring family shared the use of their donkey until Yitzchak, now Shim’on, could afford to buy one.
Miriam stepped forward from where she waited with the neighbor women and walked toward her sons as they jumped off the boat into the sandy gravel.
“Looks like a good catch last night?” She looked questioningly at Hanoch and Shim’on.
“A very good catch, Immah!” Hanoch grinned at her, “Perhaps good enough to have lamb tonight?” Shim’on could see the joy her youngest son’s teasing brought Miriam. “That could be possible,” she grinned, and sobered as she looked at her eldest.
She looked from one brother’s face to the other, “Yitzchak would be so proud of you both.” Her eyes became misty, “He always said you two were going to be better fishermen one day than he ever was.”
Shim’on felt her words briefly puncture the hard shell that surrounded his heart and he could see his abba’s smiling eyes and hear his deep voice. The memories flooded him with grief, and he felt tears spring to his eyes. Abba had no reason to be proud of him now. Ashamed, he ducked his head and gathered up a handful of nets.
“Come, Hanoch.” he said more harshly than he knew was fair, “There’s no time to talk. Your work’s not finished.”
Glancing at Immah’s face, he saw the pain that his dismissal of her kind words had caused, and he felt a wash of guilt.
Hanoch stood awkwardly on the shore between them. Shim’on knew his words cut him as well, a sharp departure from the laughter they had shared a short time before. The other fishermen onshore continued their work, though Shim’on could see that some of them noticed the scene escalate.
Despair gutted him. Angry and bitter, the hungry wolves encircled his soul. Dark thoughts returning, chest constricted, he could hardly breathe. Distracted, he paused in his work. Arching his back, he released his anguish to the dawn.
Despite the beautiful pink and purple streaked sky shouting to make way for the day, darkness hung over Shim’on. Thoughts threaded their way deeper and deeper into the fabric of his being, leading the way to a dark pit. If only I had done more, he would not have died, he thought. But I didn’t, and he is dead. What kind of son am I? I’m worthless. Surely Adonai has turned His back on me. I haven’t even avenged Abba’s death. I should have been the one to die. It would have been better that way for everyone.
No longer able to keep the gall inside, he felt words bubbling to the surface.
“We won’t get to keep the money this catch earns us, Hanoch.” Spitting, he smacked his hand on the side of their boat, “So stop thinking of your stomach. Have you already forgotten the reason Abba died? Have you forgotten the money the soldiers demanded from him and that their gift for his death was demanding even more from us?” He was shouting now, and despite the visible hurt on Immah and Hanoch’s faces, he continued.
“I’m doing the best I can, but your laziness is not helping.” His directed words at Hanoch slapped his brother’s face. He knew it wasn’t true but felt trapped by his pain to continue shouting.
“And, I’m sorry I’m not ‘myself,’ Immah,” he aimed these words at Miriam, sarcastically mimicking her comment to Yeshua a few nights before. She flinched. “How do you expect me to be myself? With Abba dead.” The anger was at its peak, “Or don’t you remember?”
With this last comment, Miriam sobbed aloud, and Hanoch stepped forward, hands balled into fists.
“That’s enough, Shim’on.” He heard a slight tremor in his younger brother’s voice. Though two years younger, Hanoch was slightly taller, yet not as muscular. This was the first time Hanoch had dared to oppose him apart from playful roughhousing. Shim’on knew he would beat his brother if it came to it, but he had no real desire to grouse a fight with him.
“It’s enough to disrespect me,” Hanoch said in a low voice, “it’s another thing to speak against our immah.”
Indifference and disdain his pretense, Shim’on scooped up an armful of nets and dragged them toward an inlet further up the shore. Hanoch and Demas were left to tend to the fish and load the cart Miriam would take to the market.
As he made his way down the sandy shoreline, he tried to avoid the curious looks of the other fishermen. But one face caught his eye.
Lydia stood a short distance away, her eyes netted his pride with empathy. Another wave of shame rolled over him. Lydia’s face fell as his eyes hardened. Looking away from her, he continued down the shore. Tears pricked Shim’on’s eyes, but he refused to let them fall. That would be foolish and weak. No, it was better to cover his anguish and guilt.
He swung the nets over to where the Jordan River made its way into the sea, sat heavily, and threw the nets off to his side.
GK Johnson’s debut novel, The Zealots, has arrived. Will Shim’on’s guilt find acquittal or will it drive him to wrong? Will Hanoch accept Shim’on’s excuses and explanations regarding the night of his father’s death, or will he seek revenge?
Find your copy today on Amazon.
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It was the Sabbath, and twenty-five-year-old Tobias sat in his usual place outside the Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple mount was always busy, and Tobias had long ago become used to the variety of noises that surrounded him. Quick, light footsteps were those of a child or someone running. Heavy, firm footsteps accompanied by philosophical conversations meant that the teachers of the law were passing by.
Occasionally Tobias heard slower footsteps, accompanied by tapping noises. Most likely that meant that an older, or infirm person was walking by on his or her way to the Temple. There were countless other noises of course: the cooing of doves or bray of sheep as they waited to be sold and then sacrificed as offerings to Adonai. The clank of swords on armor as groups of Roman soldiers made their rounds.
Clink. Tobias turned his head at the sound of a coin being tossed into the clay urn he held in his hands.
“Thank you,” he said.
“Adonai be with you,” A man’s voice responded.
Tobias could hear a child speak in a loud whisper. “Abba, why can’t he see? Did he do something bad?”
“Hush.” Tobias heard the man reply and then retreating steps as he and his daughter left.
It wasn’t the first time Tobias overheard such conversations. He himself had the same questions. Why was he blind? His parents told him he’d always been a sweet boy, obedient and intelligent. But for some reason, he was born blind. He could remember asking his parents if he was being punished for something, but they were as baffled as the doctors. He had dwelt in the darkness for the past twenty-five years without answers to his questions.
The day passed by as it usually did, and Tobias was grateful for the few coins that lay in his cup. Since he was unable to work, he was forced to rely on the provision of his family, a humiliating fate. Any money he could bring home helped to ease the sense of worthlessness he felt. He guessed it was late afternoon when he heard a group of men approach, speaking to a man they called Rabbi Yeshua.
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” He heard one of the men ask in a low voice.
Tobias guessed the question was posed by a Pharisee’s student. He was not unaccustomed to being used as a teaching subject on the consequences of sin. To his surprise, the answering response from the Rabbi was unlike any he’d heard before.
“It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of Adonai might be displayed in him.”
Tobias held his breath.
“We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work,” The Rabbi’s voice continued, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
Suddenly, Tobias heard the sound of someone spitting on the ground near him. Before he could protest, he felt a warm, wet substance being rubbed over his eyelids.
“Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” Tobias heard the voice of the Rabbi.
Tobias was overwhelmed. Nothing like this had ever happened before. He felt a ripple of fear. Was this man mocking him? He must look a fool, sitting in the dirt with a mixture of spit and mud on his face. Just as quickly as the feeling came it went, however. The man’s voice was so calm, so filled with peace. Perhaps he was a fool, but he would obey him and go to the Pool of Siloam
Tobias stumbled to his feet, forgetting the cup of coins. He had been to the Pool of Siloam many times because it was used for many kinds of cleansings by his people. He moved as quickly as he could through the streets of Jerusalem, one arm outstretched, grazing the wall and buildings to his right. Occasionally he bumped into people, but most avoided the man with mud smeared across his face. Finally, as he reached the steps to the pool, counted by memory, he knelt beside the pool’s edge. His breathing was fast and shaky. He wanted to believe that when he washed he would be healed. But what if he wasn’t? What if the Rabbi lied to him?
He couldn’t push away the feeling that the man had power in his voice when he told him to go to the pool. Tobias descended into the water.
Holding his breath, he dunked his head under the pool’s surface, using one hand to wash away the mud-caked over his eyelids. Then he raised his head from the water and blinked.
Brilliant light flooded into his vision and he squinted. Several minutes passed and the light slowly became less blinding so that Tobias could see objects moving. They must be people, though he had never seen one before! Hundreds crowded the steps and patio surrounding the pool. Tobias could see dozens of what he guessed were trees surrounding the water, green leaves rustling gently in the breeze. The sky was impossibly blue, scuddled with thick white clouds. It was incredible to see the things that for years had only been descriptions and imaginings in his mind. A deep sob rose in Tobias’s chest and tears rolled down his cheeks. It was beautiful, impossibly beautiful.
He stood to his feet, suddenly aware that he needed to return to the Temple mount. He had to thank the Rabbi. He took a step forward, then stopped. After twenty-five years of relying on sound and touch, being able to see his surroundings disoriented him.
Though he wanted to keep his eyes open, absorbing all the sights around him, was thoroughly confusing. He squeezed his eyelids shut. Familiar darkness. He immediately knew which way to go. He took the stairs toward the Temple, opening his eyes every so often to look at his surroundings. It would take time to come to know his way around the city by sight. He laughed at the thought. But when he reached the place where he sat only minutes before, he realized he had no idea what a rabbi or his followers looked like. He closed his eyes and listened for the voice that told him to go wash. The voices of hundreds surrounded him, but none had the voice of the Rabbi. He opened his eyes.
People around him pointed and spoke to one another.
“Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?”
“It is he.” A man nodded in agreement, staring at Tobias.
“No, he only looks like him.” A woman nearby shook her head.
“I am the man!” Tobias spoke excitedly.
“Then how were your eyes opened?” The woman asked skeptically.
“The man called Yeshua made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.”
“Where is he?” The man looked around.
Tobias shook his head, “I do not know.”
People continued to pass by Tobias as he stood, his senses overwhelmed, pointing at him and echoing the words of the man and woman from earlier. Tobias continued to insist that he was the blind man, now healed, but many looked doubtful. It made him wonder why people prayed for miracles if they wouldn’t believe them when they happened.
Shrugging off his frustration Tobias turned toward home. He couldn’t wait to announce the good news to his parents! Surely they would be thrilled for their son.
Tobias threw open the door to his family home. Once again, he had to close his eyes most of the way to find his way. Surprised, his parents looked at the man in the doorframe.
“Tobias?” His abba stepped toward him.
“It’s me Abba!” Tobias took in the face of the man he had imagined but never seen.
“What has happened?” His immah looked into the face of her son.
“I can see you!” Tobias looked back and forth between them.
His abba took Tobias’ face between his hands and looked into his eyes. Tears pooled and spilled down his cheeks.
“How is this possible?” He choked out, pulling his son into a hug.
“The Rabbi Yeshua, he healed me!” Tobias gripped his abba tightly.
Tobias saw his immah’s face fall and his abba released him.
“What’s wrong?” Tobias looked back and forth between them, confused. Fear flickered across his parents’ faces.
“We are so happy you can see, although I don’t understand it,” Tobias’ abba shook his head. “But the Sanhedrin has ruled that if anyone should confess Yeshua to be the Christ, he is to be put out of the synagogue.”
“But surely he is the Christ,” Tobias said without pause. “Who but the son of Adonai could heal me?”
His parents stepped back from him at his words.
“You must not say such a thing son,” his abba spoke sternly.
“Perhaps we should bring him to them,” Tobias’ Immah spoke slowly.
“To the Pharisees?” His abba was incredulous.
She nodded. “Surely they have heard of what happened by now. They will want to speak to him. It would be better if we went to them first.”
Tobias’ abba was silent, then slowly nodded. “Perhaps you are right.” He looked at Tobias. “Be honest with them, but do not praise the Rabbi. If you respect us as your parents you will do this. Neither, we nor you, want to be thrown out of the synagogue.”
Tobias’ heart sank. Why was such a wonderful miracle being treated with such skepticism and fear? He was intensely grateful toward the Rabbi and wished he could thank him and know more of him.
Discouraged, Tobias went with his parents to the synagogue, though to his dismay they remained outside. As his parent’s guessed, the Pharisees had indeed heard rumors of what had happened.
“How did you receive your sight?” They questioned him.
“The Rabbi put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see,” Tobias answered as simply as he could.
The teachers of the law conferred with one another.
“This man is not from Adonai, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” One said of the Rabbi.
“How can a man who is a sinner do such signs though?” Another asked. The room erupted with conflicting opinions. Tobias stood, silent. After several minutes one of the Pharisees gestured for the others to quiet. He looked seriously at Tobias.
“What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?”
It was the question his parents feared, and Tobias felt the weight of his response.
“He is a prophet,” Tobias responded softly. It was true, but it wasn’t the entire truth. Tobias knew he believed the Rabbi to be much more than a prophet. He felt a pang of guilt.
The Pharisee looked at Tobias for a long moment then gestured toward the door. “Have his parents brought in.”
Tobias’ abba and immah looked terrified as they stepped into the room. Immediately they searched his face for a clue as to their involvement in this conversation.
“Is this your son, who you say was born blind?” The Pharisee who questioned him earlier gestured toward Tobias. “How then does he now see?”
Tobias could see his immah tremble. His abba cleared his throat and said, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. But how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.”
Tobias’ heart sank. He told his parents who healed him and how, yet even they didn’t believe him or refused to stand by him. He didn’t know which was worse.
The Pharisee turned his eyes to Tobias once again.
“Give glory to Adonai. We know that this man, this Jesus, is an unclean sinner.”
Tobias thought of the man’s words on the Temple Mount and the power in his voice. He had told him to wash and now he could see. He believed the Rabbi was the son of Adonai even if no one else did.
“Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”
Another teacher of the law stepped forward.
“What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?
Tobias choked back a sigh of frustration, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” He heard his parents gasp.
Anger filled the Pharisee’s eyes. “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that Adonai has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” Tobias could hear the self-righteousness in the man’s words. He had heard many such prideful lectures as he sat on the Temple mount, holding his clay cup between his hands. He glanced around the room of Pharisees and loathed their hypocrisy. They found it so easy to judge others.
“Why, this is an amazing thing!” Tobias felt a strength fill him. “You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that Adonai does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of Adonai and does his will, Adonai listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from Adonai, he could do nothing.”
Tobias could see the shock on his parents’ faces. He knew it was unacceptable to speak back to a teacher of the law and could see the thinly-veiled rage in the eyes of the Pharisees surrounding him.
“You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” The Pharisee questioning him sneered. “Leave, you are no longer welcome.” The men standing nearest Tobias grasped each of his arms and roughly pushed him through the door, slamming it behind him.
Tobias walked shakily from the synagogue until he rounded a street corner and sat heavily. He didn’t regret the words he spoke-he believed them wholeheartedly. Yet he was filled with grief. Surely his parents wanted nothing to do with him now. He could imagine them desperately pleading with the Pharisees that they did not agree with their son and begging not be thrown out of the synagogue as well. Just hours ago he was given his sight, yet he’d had no time to delight in the miracle. There was no one to rejoice with him or to explain the things he could now see. He felt immeasurable joy, yet at the same time, deep grief. He bent his head, choking back tears.
Minutes later he felt a hand on his shoulder and he looked up.
“Do you believe in the Son of Man?” An olive-skinned man in his early thirties with rough-looking hands stood beside him. His brown eyes held Tobias’ with compassion and kindness.
“And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Tobias asked.
“You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” The man smiled at Tobias. Tobias suddenly recognized the voice as the voice of the Rabbi who had told him to go wash. He fell to his knees.
“Lord, I believe. Thank you for giving me my sight!”
Yeshua pulled him to his feet. “For judgment, I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” By his words, Tobias wondered if the Rabbi knew he had been questioned by the Pharisees. Just then two teachers of the law drew near.
“Are we also blind?” They asked mockingly.
“If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains,” Yeshua replied. The men’s faces darkened and they left.
Yeshua smiled again at Tobias and he grinned back. Tobias could see the Rabbi’s disciples walking their way, and others began to gather around the Rabbi. But for a moment in time, Tobias knew he had been alone in the presence of the Son of Adonai. No matter what happened, he knew The Truth. The Truth was that Rabbi Yeshua had set him free.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this story by Historic Novelist, GK Johnson inspired by the biblical chapter of John 9. Please take a look at the 2021 debut novel by GK JOHNSON on Amazon entitled, The Zealots. This is a remarkable new retelling of the passion of Christ from the viewpoint of Barabbas and Simon the Zealot.
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