Chapter 15 - Unless You Forsake All
Jared sat alone beside his boat, unknotting tangles in his net. The late afternoon sun baked his back through his loose tunic. Besides the lapping of the waves on the shore, all was quiet. Many other fishermen had long since left for home.
When the cool of a shadow fell over him, he turned and looked over his shoulder. Against the bright sky Jared could see the dark form of his uncle Lemuel. He swallowed. Lemuel hadn’t been around since his awkward encounter with Jesus at their house nearly a month ago.
“Hello, Jared,” Lemuel said quietly. He stepped around the nets spread at his nephew’s feet. “I heard I could find you here.” He peered into the empty boat, trying to make conversation. “The fish were scarce today?”
Jared nodded his head. “Yeah, but that’s not so unusual these days.” He paused, then looked up. “So, how are you, Uncle Lem? Mother and Nana have missed you a lot. They’re worried about you.”
Lemuel made an awkward stab at lightheartedness. “Just them, eh?”
“Nah. We’ve all missed you,” Jared chuckled. “It just isn’t the same without your stories of stampeding camels in Syria, or rock slides in the Negev.”
Lemuel grinned. He sat on the edge of the boat and took a deep breath of the fresh breeze coming in off the lake. “Yeah, well, I guess things haven’t been interesting enough for a good tale of late. I’ve mostly been in Galilee. And you? How’ve you been?”
Jared shook his head as he laughed at the thought of his own recent experiences. “I’ve done pretty well entertaining everyone with my own stories, I guess: how to row to shore with just one oar, how to lose half a catch of fish while falling out of the boat, how to fish in the dark when you’ve forgotten your torches.”
Lemuel shook his head too, but he wasn’t smiling. He seemed…sad.
“Yes, well, it isn’t surprising—seeing that you’re alone. I hear Ezra went to Jerusalem, too, with your father. You’ve been left with a rather difficult task.” He stood, trying to decide how to proceed. Then, he pulled something from within his cloak. “Here, I brought a little something.” He stooped in front of Jared to gently drop a bag, heavy with the sound of many coins.
Jared was astonished.
“I realize your father doesn’t want my money, but Jared, surely it is okay to at least provide for my mother. Will you get her a good doctor?”
Jared’s heart ached. He had always adored his uncle. But Lemuel’s rejection of Jesus had made things painfully complicated. Yet, it also hurt to see him hurting.
“Use what it takes to care for her,” Lemuel continued earnestly, “and the rest for whatever you might need.”
Jared shifted his weight uncomfortably. He looked down at the moneybag.
“Take it! I know you need it,” his uncle said gravely. “Jared, I saw Ashira in the marketplace last week. She looked like a pauper. Surely even your father’s Jesus doesn’t want things to just fall apart at home.”
Finally, Jared picked up the moneybag. Pulling himself to his feet, he faced Lemuel. He placed the moneybag back in his uncle’s hand. “I’m sorry, Uncle. I agree with father. I just don’t think we should take your money when you’ve taken such a stand against Jesus.”
Lemuel sighed heavily. Reluctantly, he slipped the moneybag back in his cloak. Then he looked at Jared intently. “So what is your plan? Surely you aren’t going to take off following Jesus around Judea and Galilee. Shouldn’t you get started on finding a decent occupation?”
Jared looked up, squinting, trying to predict the direction of his uncle’s words.
“You never were a fisherman,” his uncle said. “You have the mind and talents of a merchant. I’ll train you, Jared. Whatever you choose to believe about Jesus is fine with me. But you can still be a merchant. I’m heading to Greece tomorrow. Will you join me?”
Jared’s mind was reeling. This had been his life-long dream! The time had finally come. I have to decide. He sat slowly down again amongst the tangled nets.
His uncle squatted before him, waiting for an answer. His eyes looked hopeful.
“Uncle,” Jared began slowly, “all my life I would have eagerly followed you anywhere—especially on one of your trading ventures! I’m so clumsy with the nets—and I’d sure like to provide better for everyone.” He paused, groping for words. “But since I heard Jesus talking in our courtyard, I’m starting to think differently.”
Lemuel, listening, forgot about his fine clothes and sat back in the sand.
“I’m realizing I’m not who I thought I was,” Jared said, groping for words. “I thought I was a good person—that I cared about God and others. But I wasn’t. I’m not. All that mattered to me was my future and what I wanted. But now, I think Jesus is asking me to give up all of that.”
“Jared, hear me out.” Lemuel’s voice grew louder with desperation. “You can still do God’s will—by seeking what is best for both you and your family! A one-month journey could provide for your household for a full year! One month and you’d be back here—and you’d have some money to work with!”
Jared’s eyes widened. Could that actually work?
Grasping Jared’s arm, Lemuel looked earnestly into his eyes. “Surely Jesus doesn’t want you to choose between him and caring for your family. A man can do both. You can have an honorable trade and serve God.”
Something rushed upon Jared’s mind like a wave. Love the Lord your God and serve Him only. He said it aloud, as understanding dawned on him. “Love the Lord your God and serve Him only!” Lemuel gave him a confused look.
“Uncle, if I’m going to serve God, the passions of my heart can’t be divided. I can’t hold onto my own dreams! It’s not about that—or even about the physical well-being of my family. I’m coming to see that God has a far greater purpose in mind for each of us. I don’t understand much yet, but I do want to follow Him. And I don’t want anything to distract or stop me. I don’t care if I have to fish until the day I die! Some other trade or occupation may be fine, too. And having more money is probably okay as well. But, if I understand Jesus correctly, it is why I do things that matters. And you are asking me to compromise, to ‘have’ both instead of seeking Him with all my heart. So, who knows? Maybe being a merchant some day will be in God’s plan for me. But for now I am going to stay here…until I know for sure.”
Lemuel was speechless. He rose, stiffly, as though pained. Jared jumped up from his position. Then the two men stood face to face on the beach. Lemuel’s face was flushed with frustration; Jared’s aflame with fresh conviction.
“So now you, Jared! Throwing your life away so young, so promising.” He drew in a long breath and let out an exasperated sigh. “I had such hopes for you.”
Jared caught the glint of tears in his uncle’s eyes.
“He’s no Messiah at all,” Lemuel whispered bitterly. “He doesn’t save Israel. He divides it—destroying families and the lives of young people who could have prospered.” He looked at Jared one last time. Then, in great sorrow, he walked slowly away.
Jared recalled bits and pieces of something he had heard Jesus say that had confused him at the time: “Do not imagine that I came to bring peace on the earth,” Jesus had said. “No, I came to bring a sword. I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother. Your enemies will be right in your own household. If you love your father or mother more than you love Me, you are not worthy of Me. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow Me, you are not worthy of being Mine.” Jesus’ words were beginning to make sense.
Jared said quietly, almost to himself, “I’m sorry you don’t understand, Uncle.” With Lemuel went all of the hopes and dreams of Jared’s childhood. But the tear that now rolled silently down Jared’s cheek was not for himself. It was for one who would probably never return.
Jared turned and faced the lapping waves of the sea. A breeze blew through his hair and across his sunburned face. What will this new life bring? His future was now as obscure as the shrouded, far-off shore of the lake. But he didn’t care. Though he was sad for his uncle, he knew what he was doing was right, and his heart warmed with a satisfying peace.
Suddenly, a voice startled him from across the beach. “Hey! Jared!” Jared whirled around to see Ezra running toward him.
“Ezra! You’re back!” Jared began running, too. They met and clasped forearms. “You’re alone. My father—and Jesus—are they coming?”
Ezra shook his head, panting. “I traveled back early with some others. I’ve had my father and Elizabeth and the rest of you on my mind all week. I had to get back, and I wanted to tell you all—Oh, Jared—” He stopped himself, at a loss for further words.
They both laughed.
“And I’ve got something to tell you, too,” Jared said. He looked past his friend just in time to see his uncle crest the hill and vanish from sight.