A month passed, and then another. Jesus stayed with us in Capernaum. Every night when work was over, we would gather in Peter’s house to have a chat and make plans. Our friendship grew by the day, like the fruit in the fields of Galilee that ripened at the right time. One Saturday we went to the synagogue with Jesus. Bartholomew, the madman was at the door….
Bartholomew: Pray to God! Pray to God!… Look at theeeemm!… Look at theeeem!…. Glori, gori, gori, uuuu! I want to go inside and pray to the Lord! I want to pray to the Lord!….. Gori, gori, gori, uuuuu!…..
Bartholomew was always dirty and smelled like rancid wine. His eyes were yellowish and his voice like that of a squawking crow, as it crossed the sky. He clapped his hands and wept as he begged permission to enter the synagogue. Everybody in Capernaum made fun of him….
Bartholomew: Let me in!…. Gori, gori, gori, uuuu!
Peter: Here comes Bartholomew again, the one we saw at the market the other day.
Jesus: Oh, yes, I remember…
Peter: A truly cursed man, nobody can stand him when he comes bugging you.
Jesus: What if they let him in, in the synagogue? Would he be pacified?
James: How can you let this crazy man in here? He’s dangerous, Jesus. Once, he stripped a lady naked right in the street.
Peter: On that same day, he wanted to drown himself in the lake….
James: I wonder why they ever saved him. They should have let him go right down the bottom of the lake! Men like him are good for nothing!
After a little chat on the patio, we all went inside the synagogue, which was our temple. Every Saturday, we would gather in the Temple to worship the Lord, singing psalms, asking the Lord of the heavens not to abandon His people. The women stayed on one side, behind the wooden grills, while the men stayed at the center. Everyone focused attention on the sacred Book of Law, which was located in a place looking towards Jerusalem, the holy city of God.
Rabbi: “Lord, who will enter your house? Who will reside in your sacred mountain? He who has no stain, he who is pure, he who has a clean heart, clean hands, he who does not taint his tongue with deceit…”
After the readings and the prayers, one of the men stood to explain the meaning of the Scripture we had just heard. That Saturday, it was Saul’s turn, an old businessman from the village of artisans who never failed to go to the synagogue….
Saul: Brethren, we have heard, very clearly, the message in the psalm, that in order to enter the house of the Lord, one must be pure and clean. Therefore, we must not forget that in the Lord’s house, no slaves nor orphans can enter. Neither are the lepers, nor the lame allowed to enter. Not even the prostitutes nor the adulteresses, nor the women in their period. Only the clean and the pure. The bastard children can’t enter the house of God, not even the abandoned ones, nor the shepherds with their reputation as thieves. Neither can the castrated enter the house of God, nor madmen, nor those possessed by an evil spirit. The psalm says it very clearly: “He who has no stain, only he shall be able to enter the house of the Lord…”
Saul’s homily was quite long and boring. When I looked on my side, I saw that James was already half-asleep, while Peter was snoring. So were the others. Outside, Bartholomew, the madman, continued to scream. At one time, his yelling drowned the nasalized voice of Saul, and we could hardly understand what the preacher was saying….
A Woman: What an impertinent fellow. Will someone please shut him up?
A Man: Jair, will you tell him to keep quiet? We can’t hear a word here!
Saul: As we were saying, the Lord’s house is only for the clean and pure, in body and in spirit, and….
Peter: Let that man in, so he won’t make noise!
James: Keep your mouth shut, Peter!
Rabbi: This man who is screaming outside is impure!… In no way can he be allowed inside. It’s the devil who has sent him to keep us from worshiping God. But the evil spirit will not leave him!
A Woman: Well, with all this yelling, how can we go on praising the Lord, Rabbi?
Peter: If we allow him inside, I think he will be calm!
Jesus: I think so, too. So, why don’t we let him in?
Rabbi: That’s enough. That man is not clean. He’s crazy! Why, he can’t even distinguish his right from his left hand. How can he know God so he can praise Him?
Jesus: But God surely knows him!
Rabbi: The Lord only wants the pure in His midst!
A Man: The Rabbi is right!
Jesus: Well, I believe the Lord wants everyone in His presence. He will take care of cleansing them. He loves all of us…
Peter: Very well said, Jesus! So, let Bartholomew in!
James: You are just wasting your time, Jesus. This crazy man is not worth your effort…. And you, Peter, stay out of this!
Peter: Shut up, James, will you? Jesus is right…..
While we were arguing whether or not to allow Bartholomew inside the synagogue, the door suddenly flew open, as if a hurricane had blown to push it open. Rolling like a ball of yarn, Bartholomew, bathing in sweat and laughing boisterously, gained entrance to the synagogue.
Bartholomew: Ha! ha! Ha!…. I’m here!…. Gori! gori! gori! uuuu!!!
The women started to scream and there was pandemonium in the synagogue…
Bartholomew: I wanna pray! I wanna pray!… Gori! gori! gori! uuuu!!!
His eyes were blazing like burning coals….
A Man: Get him outta here!… Why is everybody not moving? Damn!!
James: Get outta here! Get outta here!
Bartholomew: I wanna pray!…. I wanna…! Gori! gori!
A Woman: This is too much!… We need a rope to tie him up!…
A Man: With or without a rope, we’ll get him out of here!… Gimme a hand, fat man. Let’s kick this wretched man outta here!
Bartholomew: Gori! gori! gori! uuuu!!!
James: But he’s stronger than Samson!
A Woman: Then cut off his hair!
A Man: Tie him up good…! Damn!
James: All you women! Stay away from him! He’s dangerous!
A Man: Give him a punch to silence him!
Another Man: Outta my way, you idiots, and leave him to me!
Julian, the blacksmith, whose brown arms were as hard as steel, grabbed Bartholomew by the nape and dragged him towards the door. The madman resisted, kicking with all his might, on all sides…
Another Man: Out you go, intruder! Devil!
Jesus: Hey, let go of that man!… Leave him alone!…
Jesus finally gained his way through the crowd.
Jesus: Can’t you see he’s a miserable man?.. Leave him alone… and give way… so he can get some air…
Little by little, the crowd began to disperse. Bartholomew was panting like a horse after a race, whimpering, with his face flat on the ground.
Rabbi: Don’t touch him! The man is impure. Stay away from him! I told you, no one is to go near him!
Jesus ignored the Rabbi’s warning and stayed beside the madman.
Jesus: Why should I keep away from him, Rabbi?
Rabbi: Because he’s impure! Such impurity sticks like scabies!
Jesus: He’s not impure. He’s a poor creature, who’s tired of people making fun of him and rejecting him. That’s why he’s acting this way. But God doesn’t want him outside His house.
Jesus leaned towards him….
Jesus: Bartholomew, Bartholomew, do you hear me? What is wrong with you?
The madman opened his eyes and looked at Jesus defiantly….
Bartholomew: Leave me alone!… Leave me alone!
Jesus: Hey, didn’t you say you wanted to pray with us?
Bartholomew: I know you! You wanted to kill me!… I know you!…
Jesus: Will you shut up!
Bartholomew: I know you!.. Gori! gori! gori! uuu!! I know you! You are a friend of God! You are a friend of God!
Jesus: And so are you, Bartholomew!
Bartholomew: Uuuu!!! Uuuuu!!!
Jesus: Come on, man, be calm now…
Bartholomew was weeping, and his body was shaking. Jesus bent over to help him stand….
Jesus: Come on, stand up and come with me… Okay, that’s it…
When he was on his feet, Bartholomew gave a loud cry…. and fell… unconscious.
A Man: Bartholomew’s dead!
Peter: He isn’t moving!… Jesus, what’s happened?…
A Woman: Poor fellow…
Rabbi: God has punished him for wanting to enter His house!… He was a sinner!…. Impure!… All of you, stay away from him!
Bartholomew, the madman, lay on the ground, pale as a sheet. He was motionless.
Jesus: He’s not dead, Peter. Why should he die?…
Peter: Yes, he is, Jesus. Look at his face… He’s gone… When he gave out that loud cry, his soul left his body.
A Woman: Did you hear what the Rabbi said? God killed him…
A Man: That’s right. God punishes the insolent!
Jesus: God didn’t punish him. He’s not dead…
Jesus went near him and shook him.
Jesus: C’mon, brother, get up!… You’ve scared all of us out of our wits, and we have to continue with our praying… Come now, Bartholomew!
The madman got up. He wasn’t pale anymore. He looked tired but was smiling, showing a couple of broken and dirty teeth…
Jesus: Come with us inside, Bartholomew. You can stay with us…
The madman took a seat between Peter and me, and prayed and sang with us. From that day on, he would go to the synagogue, to the market and to the plaza. He was more relaxed. Eventually, we understood that that man whom we had ridiculed and ignored all along had a place among us too. That poor man, wretched and dirty as he was, was a brother of ours.
During Jesus’ time, like in ancient times, the lack of scientific knowledge, and the ignorance about the human body, led to the practice of attributing certain illnesses to evil spirits. This was particularly, true, of various psychological disturbances, mental diseases, in which the form of behavior of the patient (screamings, uncontrollable movements, attacks…) was more evident.
To use the word “crazy” was equivalent to saying “possessed by the evil spirit,” and therefore, it was just like saying “impure” (which meant: dominated or possessed by an “impure spirit,” the devil). A majority of the ancient religions were of the belief that in this world there are impure persons, actions or things, as well as the opposite. One and the other influence each other. Such impurity had nothing to do with what is externally filthy. Neither does purity have anything to do with cleanliness. Nor has it anything to do with what is moral, “what is good” or “bad.” What is “impure” is related to unknown and dangerous forces, and what is “pure” is full of positive powers. He who is impure cannot go near God. The idea of purity-impurity is basically a “religious” concept. Since ancient times, the religion of Israel assimilated this way of magic thinking. In fact, many of the existing laws then dealt with purity, with specific reference to: a) sex (menstruation and hemmorhagia were considered forms of impurity); b) death (corpse is impure); c) certain diseases (leprosy, madness were likewise impurities); d) some food and animals (the vulture, the owl and the pig, were, among others, impure animals). Most of these laws are preserved in the book of Leviticus. As the people were evolving from a magical religion to one that emphasized personal responsibility, these ideas became obsolete. Nevertheless, some groups observed them to the letter, thus the practice of long cleansing or purification to make themselves acceptable to God. Jesus dismisses these magic practices, and through his words and actions removes the barrier between what is pure and impure in the old religion. The good news is that what is really pure is found only in people’s hearts and in just treatment of brothers and sisters.
Jesus’ sign took place inside the synagogue of Capernaum. About five hundred years before Christ, when the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed and the people of Israel were deported, the Jews started to build “synagogues,” houses of prayer, where they all gathered to pray and read the Holy Scriptures. In Jesus’ time, although a new temple was built in Jerusalem, a number of synagogues already existed all over the country. There was a small one built in Capernaum, over which, four centuries later, a bigger one was constructed, and whose ruins, with all its great historical value, are preserved up to the present time. All the people gather at the synagogue every Saturday, to pray and to listen to their Rabbi or to a countryman who wished to give a commentary on the texts of the Scripture being read. The synagogue is not exactly the equivalent of our temple. It was a more familiar place, more lay-oriented, wherein one could express self freely without being interrupted, and where there was really no need for a holy person or minister to be present. The Rabbi was a teacher-catechist (not a priest).
Nowadays, many persons who are sick in mind are situated within the borderline of the community. The sane make fun of them; some families conceal them as a scandal without giving them a chance to be rehabilitated, thus making them useful to society. They are, like Bartholomew, the new impure ones.
Jesus’ sign in this episode is an indication that the house of God, the Christian community, is open to everyone, including the less fortunate. It is a sign of liberation: God appreciates them, and He has a place and a mission for them.
(Mk 1:21-28; Lk 4:31-37)