Jesus said to the roughy as he slammed his head into the side of the boat:
“Not yet! Wait until I tell you!”
“What’s that?” Peter asked, turning around as he untangled the thousands of strands weaving his net together.
“Nothing!” Jesus said quickly, settling back into his serene slouch on the back of the boat. “Just going through the prophets—Isaiah, Ezekiel, Malachi, Esther, Ruth, Kings, Jehosaphat—“
Peter wasn’t even paying attention. “You’d think they would make nets of one seamless fabric. Porous, of course. I just get tired of untangling all of this mess. I swear I spend more time untying knots—“
“Patience, fisherman,” Jesus said lightly, returning to the graceful, though taunting, rhythm Peter knew so well.
“Was God patient when he had to erase the world and leave Noah behind? A flood is not an act of kindness.” He cocked his head to the side and squinted at a meddlesome bunch of wire in his hands.
“God was enjoying the right of a composer to decompose.”
Peter paused, looking out into the mist. “I think you mean ‘chuck into the eternal garbage can’”.
“God recycles,” Jesus reminded him, as though first century environmentalism was foremost on his religious campaign.
“Just like an Etch’a’Sketch.”
Jesus tapped the side of boat, bored. He had stopped listening to Peter.
“You know you could help me with these fish. I haven’t caught a single one all day.”
“All in God’s time,” Jesus assured, pulling at his oversized robe as though fashion was campaign issue number two.
“That would be your time, right? So, maybe you could give the fish a little talking to?”
“Oh Peter, don’t you have any faith?”
“Yes, but I also have an appetite, and at this point, it trumps my fragile spiritual discipline.”
Jesus nodded as if he already knew, which of course, he did. He knocked the side of the boat two more times, tilting his head back and taking in the wet air.
“You know that’s bad for you, right? This air is contaminated with Roman smoke. Isn’t it unholy to inhale it?” Peter had decided that untangling the net was too much work, and tossed it to the side of the boat. In the silence that followed his question, the boat began to rock back and forth.
“What’s going on?” Peter asked, reaching out to either side of him as though he could hold onto the wind for support.
“Nothing,” Jesus answered, his head still facing up, his robe delicately placed in neat folds. He was eerily symmetrical when he dressed.
“Every time you say ‘nothing’ it means something. I think I’ve been hanging out with the Son of God long enough to know—“
“Hush!” Jesus didn’t move, but belted the sound so loudly it made his Adam’s apple wiggle. Peter laughed.
“Do you need some help?”
“Just be quiet, will you?” Peter steadied himself with his feet, spreading them out so they pressed against the side of his miserable little dingy. The rocking continued. Then, it stopped.
“Alright,” Jesus said, lifting his head up and smiling. “Toss your net back out.”
Peter glared at him. “Didn’t you just see me untangle the stupid thing? You’ve been watching me pull up empty nets all day, and I don’t have the patience to untie a Gordian knot 45 times in the same fishing trip. If you want to try—“
Jesus wasn’t listening anymore. He slid down the boat on his slippery white robe just far enough to reach the edge of Peter’s net. He tossed it into the water as Peter was finishing his tirade.
“JESUS!” Peter yelled, watching the net catch the water, sink a little bit, then float. “What do you expect is going to happen? Now I’m just going to lose it!”
“You’re a fisherman, aren’t you? Fish.”
“Are you testing me? Oh, you are! If I don’t haul the stupid net back up, I won’t have faith. If I do, there won’t be any fish and I’ll have to untangle a gazillion knots, which will test my patience. You get me either way.”
“It’s not about fooling you, Peter. I’m testing the waters, so to speak.” He leaned his protruding cheekbone on his fist, tilting the boat to one side.
Peter turned his face so he could look at Jesus out of a single, scrutinizing eye. He was trying to read God.
“Oh, I know what you’re about. You want me to pretend like you’re not here! You want me to do what I would do as if you didn’t exist and weren’t throwing my nets in the water and making the boat rock and—what was it?—oh yeah! Walking on water. Trying to see the type of man I’d be without you.”
“Maybe. Do you think I’m so easy to read?”
“When you want to be. The question is, are you just bored, or are you carrying out God’s divine plan? Cuz frankly, I could see you doing both.”
“What do you think?”
Peter started to throw out a witty retort, but stopped himself. His mouth hung open, the edges slowly lifting to a smile. His craggly teeth peered through his grin as he nodded.
“Ok,” he said. “Two can play at this game.” He walked back to the bow of the boat, picking up some fishing twine. He lowered himself to his knees, reaching over to catch the edge of his still-floating net. Tying the two together, he gathered up the ineffectual mesh lying on the face of the water and threw it out further than either he or Jesus could see. The mist shaded the end of the twine.
Peter focused intently on the net. He couldn’t see a thing, but he couldn’t let Jesus know that he was clueless. This was obviously a test. Jesus, content to lounge at the prow, watched on in seeming indifference as he toyed with the hem of his robe.
A few times Peter yanked the net back, feeling nothing. He was beginning to get angry; he was failing the test. But he tried a third time, and a fourth time, and a fifth, each time with a renewed sense of urgency. His skin became hot and his grip on the twine tighter. His knuckles were bone white—from the cold, or from frustration Jesus couldn’t tell.
The sixth time, Peter leaned forward, steadying himself for a massive pull backwards. Expecting the dead weight of the net, he yanked first gently, then with more force. Suddenly the line was taut. And Peter couldn’t pull.
“Need some help?”
“No, I’ve got it. The last thing I want is the Son of God helping me!” Jesus chuckled. Peter turned around with a fierce look; Jesus turned away with a stoic shrug. The laugh suddenly seemed like a figment of Peter’s imagination.
He turned back around, wrapping coils of twine around his hand and pulling with his back. Ever so slowly, the tug of the ocean neared the bow of the boat.
With all of his sweat and groans, Jesus only looked on with a faint smile. He said nothing, nor made any suggestive gestures. He just sat, as you would expect the Son of God wouldn’t do.
Eventually, with Peter’s groans amplified and the boat reeling from the constant weight, the net reached them. It lingered just beneath the skin of the water; hundreds of fish wriggled inside.
Peter collapsed back on the boat, wiping his forehead with his hairy arm. “You planned all this?”
“I don’t plan anything. My Father does.” His answer was as awkward as it was coy.
“Good, another explanation that makes no sense. I’ll add it to the list.”
“Peter,” Jesus said tenderly—almost out of character.
“Yes?” Peter answered through puffs of the heavy air.
“You’re a good man.”
“I was a good man. I’m not so sure anymore.” Jesus laughed, lifting himself up and standing to steady the boat. Slowly, the mist cleared away; they could see the shore nearby. Jesus offered Peter his hand, destroying his symmetrical fashion in the process. Peter smiled.
“I thought you were here to save sinners,” Peter said.
“They have to have a shepherd,” Jesus smiled. “A fisherman will do.” Peter took his hand and hoisted himself up to his feet.
“Will do? Are you settling for me?”
“No,” he said confidently. “But the fish are.”