The old man was the last of his kind.
As a young buck, his back and chest and arms bulged with hard, tanned muscle, hands callused from hard work.
He had been fluently profane, enjoying the sound of words as he directed his hair-trigger temper at whoever or whatever disagreed with him. A fisherman by trade, he’d spend most of his life outdoors on long days and nights in a boat, stooped over, pulling in nets heavy with the catch. He smelled of sweat and fish.
But he enjoyed good food, wine and conversation. He also liked to fight, to get even, especially if someone crossed his brother, with whom he worked. His loyalty to family was legend in his hometown and among fishing crews. Put him together with his brother against outsiders and the brawl made townspeople wince, and smile too. Pick a fight and you’d find double trouble. Back to back, they could whip a crowd.
Their Daddy had taught them well--how to work, how to fight, how to have fun--be brave, face trouble head on, always stick together. It’s a rough world out there--love and take care family and friends. Be strong and don’t let anyone push you around.
My kind of guy.
But then something happened 60 years ago, something the old man, now almost 90, could still see as fresh as yesterday.
He remembered the first time he met the man who would become his best friend--a tanned working man with calluses on his hands himself. A builder, with ideas and a different kind of power. In three years, his friend changed him forever.
He’d spent the rest of his live trying to change others--with words, not his fists.
The son of Thunder became the Apostle of Love.
Sixty years after the friendship, he was old and alone, but no less gutsy. His hair was gray, his skin wrinkled, his hands arthritic, but his eyes and his grip and his voice still grabbed people.
Every day he could still see his friend, his brother, his comrades--all long gone. He could still see the old fishing boat, smell the fish, feel his friend’s hand on his shoulder, taste the last meal and wine, remember the tender touch of holding the arm of his friend’s mother the day he helped bury him.
Life had not been easy. His brother had been beheaded, his comrades jailed and burned and executed.
But the old man fought back a different way. Instead of profanity, he’d used his talent with words to stir people with his writing and speaking.
Even though he was stooped, he still stood up against crowds. He wasn’t afraid to be loyal and to say what was on his mind. He was so old that he referred to almost everyone as his children. The authorities still feared him, and rather than risk his followers’ numbers, just sent him off to a lonely island to get him away from the people.
But he could still see that empty tomb, as though it had been yesterday. He had outrun the others to be the first there. He went in. He walked and talked and ate and fished with his friend one more precious time. Then as the years passed, the letters the old man scrawled burst with the flavor of his friend’s life. He would never forget and made sure nobody else would either.
Have you ever wanted to tell your Mom or Dad or a loved one something after they’re gone? If you could tell them just one thing, it would be simple, wouldn’t it? Just “I love you.”
He spent the rest of his life--the guy who cursed and fought and sought revenge--he spent the rest of his life saying, “I love you.”
The old man knew the power of words because his friend’s words and life changed him. And his words about his friend, written for all to read, help keep his friend alive.
John The Apostle.
Remember him, but especially his Friend, as you read John 1:1, and John 20, when the sun comes up behind the lilies this Easter Sunday.
An adaptation of several of my newspaper columns and radio programs about my favorite New Testament writer.