On the other side of the wharf of Capernaum was a street full of jasmine flowers. It was named thus because in one corner of the village were dirty houses with faded paint which smelled of jasmine flowers. It was the perfume used by prostitutes. Jesus met one of them at the Jordan. Her name was Mary, who was born in Magdala. A couple of months before, she came to Capernaum to do business with the seamen of the village… One evening, Jesus left Peter and Andrew’s house, and passing in front of the wharf, the synagogue and the market, headed in the direction of Jasmine Street. He was alone….
A Woman: Hey, you, stranger, over here!… Come, come… I may not be the youngest here, but I charge the least!
Jesus looked for a rundown little house of adobe and black stones where, he was told, Mary the Magdalene lived. He pushed the door open and found a narrow and damp porch, where several men were waiting, in a squatting position. All eyes were glued on the bamboo curtains, behind which the young whore was arguing with a bad client…
Magdalene: Get outta here, you devil, and don’t you ever come back if you got no money. Rubbish! Go do your thing with another!
A Man: May the fires of hell devour you, bitch!
Magdalene: You first, you filthy man! Puah…! Who’s next?
An old man with yellowish teeth stood up from the floor and went toward the prostitute. Mary had her dress unbuttoned, and her hair was dishevelled. The lamp on the porch illumined her face… a mirror of youth that was fully made-up. The old man pushed her and entangled himself with her behind the bamboo curtains…
A Man: She’s a wretched woman! One unguarded moment and she bites you!
Another Man: She’s one helluva whore. Not even the devil can produce a better one!
Man: Hey, stranger, what’s your name?
Man: Is it your first time here?
Man: Lemme give you some advice, man: Since you’re new here, she’s gonna charge you double. Pay only half. If she yells at you, take out your knife. These creatures take advantage of strangers, Y’know. Always keep an eye open and don’t leave your clothes near her reach….
One after another came and left. Jesus was the last in line. At the end of an hour, he was the only one left on the porch…
Magdalene: Hey, you, what’s the matter? Are you comin’ inside or not? C’mon, let’s get it over with for today. Damn these sailors!
Magdalene: Who are you?
Jesus: Mary, don’t you remember me? We were together at the Jordan, in the old woman’s house. She even gave me those doughnuts!
Magdalene: Jesus! Is that you, Jesus?
Jesus: Yes, I am. Bring the lamp closer…
Magdalene: With so many men I know…. But… why are you here?
Jesus: I’m staying in Capernaum for a couple of days. I came to visit my friends.
Magdalene: But of course. I was told there was a new face in the village, a peasant who was half carpenter or a bricklayer… but I never imagined it was you… C’mon in…. Gosh, am I glad to see you again!
Jesus: I am, too, Mary. Yesterday, I was told that you live here, so I came.
Magdalene: So, what do you do? Are you working on the wharf, in the market, or …where else?
Jesus: I’m doing odd jobs here and there. Just lemme know if your roof caves in, or if you have broken stairs… or you might need some doorlocks….
Magdalene: Where do you stay here?
Jesus: In the fishermen’s village. I’m staying with my friends whom I met at the Jordan, remember?
Magdalene: With Peter, James and their kind?
Jesus: Yes, we’re good friends…
Magdalene: Oh, what friends you have! I told you to avoid them. They’re a bunch of cheats. They talk a lot, yes, this is what they know. I know them very well!
Jesus: Okay, let’s not talk about them. I came to greet you. They told me you were staying here…
Magdalene: I was so surprised to see you here that I forgot about my job. Please excuse me. You wait… I’ll just take off my clothes.
Jesus: No, Mary, I didn’t come here for that.
Magdalene: That’s alright. I’ve come to like you since I saw you at the river. This time, I won’t charge you anything. But it’s my job, so next time, I’m sorry, you gotta pay, so I’ll have something with which to pay my oil lamp. Business is business, you know.
Jesus: But I told you, I’m here simply to greet you… to have a li’l chat with you. Don’t you believe me?
Magdalene: No man has passed through this door “just to greet me.” What do you want? Why have you come?
Jesus: Nothing. I just wanna talk to you for a while..
Magdalene: Say, countryman, is there anything wrong, huh?
Jesus: Nothing, young lady. What’s your problem, Mary?
Here I am, wanting to visit you and you treat me worse than Herod’s bodyguard.
Magdalene: C’mon, out with it… What do you want from me?
Jesus: Well, if my presence is bothering you, then, I’ll go.
Magdalene: No, don’t leave, but… really, I don’t know what to say….
Jesus: Now, will you button up and take a seat… Tell me, how has everything been with you since our meeting at the Jordan?.. Hey Mary, what’s the matter with you?… Why don’t you say something?… Are you afraid of me? I’m not carrying a weapon with me, and I don’t know where you hide your money… Mary…
Magdalene: Huh, what?
Jesus: No. nothing. Lara, lara, lari… Do you know this tune? This is what they sing in my town when harvesting wheat and… I see you are not familiar with this song… Ehem… Listen to this other one… Loro, la, lalaa, la… this they sing when harvesting grapes… when they crush the grapes… You don’t know that song either, do you?… Tell me, you’ve been here for sometime… where can I find a good shoemaker who doesn’t charge much… I need a new pair of sandals. The ones I’m using are worn-out, and so full of holes a camel could pass through them! That’s why I’m asking if you know someone….. Ehem… You know something, Mary? My mother enjoyed the honeyed doughnuts given by that old lady friend of yours from Beth-barah,, remember? Yes, what was her name again? Remember? Wait, it’s at the tip of my tongue… Simphoriana… No… not that… Simphorosa.
Magdalene: What’re you talkin’ about? Her name’s Ruth.
Jesus: Ruth, that’s it, Ruth. I knew it started with an R.
Magdalene: Oh, gosh, the River Jordan!… ‘Twas such a pity, wasn’t it?
Jesus: What was a pity, Mary?
Magdalene: That everything ended as it did…. Any word about the prophet?
Jesus: Nothing new. He’s still in prison. Herod won’t dare release him for fear of his wife, neither will he dare kill him for fear of the people.
Magdalene: How disgusting! The prophets are languishing in jail, while the swine are seated on the throne.
Jesus: This prophet John seems to be a nice man, doesn’t he?
Magdalene: A nice man? Better, a nice foolish man. “The Kingdom of God is near, the Messiah is coming!” And those who came were the soldiers who took him prisoner and silenced him.
Jesus: He sowed a seed. Someone after comes to water it. Then, another one will come and harvest it.
Magdalene: You must be a little fool yourself like the prophet, Jesus.
Jesus: What do you think, Mary? Will the day of justice come to this land?
Magdalene: How’s that?
Jesus: If there’s gonna be justice like the prophet John was saying.
Magdalene: What do I know, and what do I care? Whichever way it is, we’ll always be at the end of the line.
Jesus: What line?
Magdalene: The way to the Kingdom of God, like you were talking about. They say that God covers his nose when someone like me passes in front of the synagogue… Oh, wait a minute…. the light at the porch is about to go out… I need to add a little oil..
Jesus: Do you leave your light on all night?
Magdalene: Do I have a choice? If they see that the house is dark, then they don’t come anymore. With the high cost of living nowadays, you can’t afford to refuse a client who comes during the wee hours. So you see, I wait all night for some disgusting client who will slobber over me…. Why are you so quiet?
Jesus: I was just thinking… Perhaps you’re better prepared than anyone else.
Magdalene: For what?
Jesus: Nothing. Just some stupid idea of mine. Listen Mary, when I was a little boy in Nazareth, I was afraid of thieves. Now, I just laugh about my boyish fears.
What would have they robbed us of, my parents and me, in that hut? Nothing, just a pair of old pots. But I was scared of them. At times, I would spend the night with one eye open, watching for the thief.
Magdalene: And what does that mean?
Jesus: One evening I thought: God must be like a thief, who comes when one least expects. What is important is that the house shouldn’t be dark so he can find the door. Then I told my mother not to extinguish the light during the night, for the Lord might come…..
Magdalene: And what has that gotta do with me?
Jesus: Don’t extinguish your light, Mary. Maybe when you least expect it, someone unexpected might come.
Magdalene: Well, look, I never thought you would come today.
Jesus: I’m leaving now. It’s getting late.
Magdalene: Please don’t go. It’s still early.
Jesus: For you, it’s always early. I gotta start the day early to fix a plow.
Magdalene: Are you sure you just wanted to talk with me?
Jesus: Yes, what’s wrong with that? Has my coming bothered you?
Magdalene: No, no…the truth is…. ever since I came to this damned city, nobody….
Jesus: Nobody what?
Magdalene: …that nobody ever came to…. to… talk to me… and to greet me.
Jesus: Probably because they don’t know you yet.
Magdalene: Or that they know me too well.
Jesus: Goodbye, Mary. Now you can rest a little.
Magdalene: Wait, Jesus…. Will you stay long in Capernaum?
Jesus: I dunno yet. Most likely, I will…
Magdalene: Will you come again?
Jesus: Sure, woman. And when I do, I hope you’ll have your lamp lit. Goodbye, Mary, see you soon!
Mary saw Jesus off, who passed through a dark street, the street of jasmine flowers, as the people would say…. Then she went back to her room, fixed her face make-up and lay down on the mat on the floor. That night she waited, but no one came anymore. The lamp remained lit until the cocks of Capernaum crowed to announce another day.
The prostitutes were marginalized women, despised by all, not only because of the “impurity” of their occupation, but also because of their condition which was one of the lowliest in the social structure of that time. It was not for Jesus’ sake that he spoke of them as models of being open to the message of liberation, and therefore, the first beneficiaries of the Kingdom of God (Mt 21:34). This word of Jesus, as well as his warm attitude toward the prostitutes – Mary Magdalene was one of his followers – constituted a very grave scandal among the religious men of his time. One of the most original things in the Gospel was the good news for the marginal, for those “without morals,” to whom the laws of the period shut the door firmly to all possibilities of being close to God. The God that Jesus proclaims, and this is what constitutes the novel part of it, shows his preference for these “sinners.”
Jesus not only opens the door of the Kingdom to these women; he especially approaches one of them, so much so that the gospels would make of Mary of Magdala the first witness of his Resurrection. Mary’s condition and the relevance given her in the Gospel have given rise to novels and films, even to a new interpretation of her relationship with Jesus from the point of view of a frustrated love affair. Without entering into this hypothesis (whose only basis is a literary one) what ought to be highlighted here is the enormous capacity of Jesus to befriend and rekindle hope in those who, having been despised by everyone, likewise scorned themselves. God’s forgiveness, through Jesus, is not only in words from a distance; it is translated into action which, in this case, is the act of going to the house of a prostitute, talking to her on equal footing, notwithstanding the scandal it would have brought to “decent” people. In doing so, Jesus fulfills the prophets’ promise: God will search for the lost. (Ez 34:16).
In those times, houses were illuminated by oil lamps. They were usually made of clay, with two openings, one for the wick and the other for the oil. At times, these lamps would be lit the whole night: which was a way of driving away evil spirits. That is why many lamps were found inside the sepulchers of the period.
One of the most common topics in Jesus’ parables is that of vigilance. The Lord will come at anytime, and one must be ready to welcome Him. God is an unexpected visitor who surprises people who must always be on guard, who must always be watchful. The parables of the vigilant servant, the thief, and the lamp (Lk 21:35-40) are along this line which Jesus employed to speak of the Kingdom of God. Mary Magdalene, who was used to staying awake on account of her “nocturnal occupation,” understood, better than anyone, such an analogy.