Gaff could hear Wally as he stepped from the walkway onto the beach. “Those damned Jehovah’s Witnesses are at it again. Stopped me while I was jogging this morning. Giving me their pitch. Maybe I should wear some kind of symbol to let them know I’m a minister with a congregation. Don’t need them to tell me what to believe.”
“You could wear a collar on your tee shirt.” Gaff was laughing.
He could tell that Wally wasn’t amused as he plopped onto the cooler. “Then they’d think I was one of those Roman Catholic mackerel-snappers.”
Gaff checked the tip of his rod to see if he’d a fish on the line yet… nope. “You’re mighty ‘het’ up this afternoon, Wally. Maybe you’d better cool down … give your blood pressure a rest.”
Wally wiped sweat off his face. “Where do they get off saying that only 144,000 will be saved?”
“I think I read that somewhere in the Bible, maybe Revelations. But I don’t believe they’re the only ones saved. You know the translators didn’t understand all the symbolism in the numbers… that phrase may have a different meaning altogether.” The old fisherman ended his sentence by pushing himself out of the chair. He walked to check his rods.
“In the Bible, you say?” Then Wally mumbled, “Have to look that up when I get back home.” He got up to follow his friend to stand at the rod holders pushed into the sand.
Gaff took the first from its holder. “Even if it is there, is that the important thing? I mean, after all these centuries, is that the only thing that people think was important in Yeshua’s life?”
Wally spit out his answer, on the attack. “Jesus died to save our souls from sin.”
Gaff reeled in the first hook to find it empty. “Can’t catch fish without bait to get them to bite the hook.” The second hook had a small bit of fish on it that he removed to throw into the waves. “For you, Wally, the bait is the possibility to save your soul by accepting Jesus as your Savior. But other people see his passion and pain as modeling the way they should live this life… to pay their way into heaven with the suffering.”
Wally sputtered, “But, but…”
“Wally, we’re all different. I read about the good things that man did for others and the way he treated everybody the same and that’s what’s important to me. He showed me how important every single person is… every one of us.” Gaff pulled a fish from the cooler and cut pieces from it to use as bait.
Wally jammed his fists into his waist. “Of course he did good works to show that he was the Son of God. Proof of pedigree, you might say.”
Gaff cast the first hook into the deep water beyond the sandbar, set the hook, and returned the rod to its holder. “So you fight the Catholics and the Jehovah’s Witnesses and lots of others to see who’s right. You fight to see how many people you can get to come to your side in the argument.”
Wally stomped around in the sand, hands on hips, blood coloring his neck red on its way to his face. “I want to help people understand…”
Gaff cast the second hook into the water and set the rod into the holder. Then he turned to look his friend in the eye, “To understand your interpretation? Or to understand the Way of Love… His commandments to love everybody? I’ll bet you sometimes bash other religions from the pulpit, too. Not just here on the beach with me.”
Wally stopped moving to glare at Gaff, anger-meter nearing a dangerous level. “I talk about their shortcomings sometimes… And at Easter, it’s easy to see that the Jews killed Our Savior.” He jerked his chin to one side to underscore his point.
Gaff glanced at the tip of his rod once more before heading back to his chair. “Seems to me that Jesus’ ministry was all about how to create a heaven on earth by living in love all the time. Said it again and again.”
Wally lowered himself to sit on the cooler. “Unh, huh. I see that. I’ve studied the Bible.”
Gaff sat in his chair and dug his feet into the sand. “What would you say, Wally, if a man got cancer and went to the doctor. The doctor told him there was a cure and then explained in detail how to do it. What if he told his patient how to change his diet and get more exercise and get rid of the stress in his life. Told the man to calm down and be more loving to his wife and children … to everybody he met. Told him these changes in his life would keep him healthy.”
Wally dug his hands in the sand, waiting. “They’d cure him? I’d say the man was lucky there was a cure. I think he should go right out and do some of these things.”
“What’d you say if the doctor gave the man written instructions about how to do this, how to live his life to cure his cancer? Instructions on how to be happy and healthy.”
Wally looked at the fisherman, confusion lining his brow. “That’d be great, I’d say. Filled with hope, I’d say.” He let sand trickle from one hand to the other.
Gaff smiled and looked to the ocean. “Days passed and the man didn’t make any changes in his life and he got sicker and sicker. But everyday he would take out that paper and read how there was a cure for his disease. And when he read it he would be happy just knowing about the cure. Hopeful, as you said.”
Wally dumped the sand back on the beach and wiped his hands on his shorts. “Man’s stupid. Has the cure right there, but doesn’t do anything about it. Just let’s himself get worse? Stupid.” He shook his head in disgust.
Gaff looked at the sky and then toward Mother Water. “You just said that Jesus told us how to create heaven on earth all those many years ago and yet you condemn other religions because they differ from yours. Is that curing the hate that’s fueled persecution and wars for centuries? He gave you example after example of how to include and love your fellow humans and yet you point to his story in the Bible while you encourage separation… exclusion. You tell everyone that your way is the right way, the only way.”
Wally shot to his feet. “Are you blaming me for all the hate in the world?”
Gaff shook his head slowly, “No, but the change has to start somewhere. Might as well be with us. ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself.’ Doesn’t say you have to agree with everything he says… only respect his right to an opinion.”
Wally sputtered, “Well… well.”
Gaff smiled at his friend. “It’s not good enough to read about the cure, we have to live it… to kill the cancer before it kills us… before it kills our planet. You’re wasting time fighting over the meaning of specific phrases when you can see the important part of the message. Why not live that?”
Wally jumped off the cooler and stormed down to the waves’ edge. He stomped his feet, splashing as he went. He kicked the waves and stooped down to pick something up… a shell maybe. He threw that something far out into the water. Gaff could see red in Wally’s face that wasn’t the gift of the sun. He shook his head in dismay.
Gaff watched and whispered, “Have I gone too far, Mother Water? I just wanted for him to finally see … and maybe even to make some changes in his life. He has a big congregation. Be good to get them on the boat, wouldn’t it?”
Suddenly, Wally marched up to Gaff, standing over him, angry. “I’m going to look up that reference to 144,000. Then I might write a sermon about ‘love thy neighbor.’ Might be good to remind my congregation about that part of the message.” He abruptly walked toward the walkway, determination pushing him along.
Gaff yelled after him, “You might give Father Reilly a hug the next time you see him, too. Call him ‘brother’ maybe.”
(The simile used in this article is from W. Alexander Wheeler © 1994.)