23- A PROPHET IN HIS OWN LAND

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That morning, when Jesus read the words of the prophet Isaiah in the small synagogue of Nazareth, his neighbors got mad at him. Immediately, there were shouts of protests and malediction. The uproar grew so intense that when the Rabbi tried to maintain order in that mess, it was already too late….

A Neighbor: You, a prophet? Ha, ha, ha…! A prophet in tatters!

A Woman Neighbor: He says he’s gonna liberate us. Who the hell does he think he is? Hey, son of Mary, beat it, and leave us in peace!

Old Man: Get this troublemaker outta here! Out with him! We don’t lose anything by getting rid of him.

The Nazarenes rushed at Jesus with their fists high. He felt four strong arms over him that brought him down from the lectern. In-between shovings they took him out through a narrow door at one end of the synagogue. Everybody followed behind, screaming and whistling…

Neighbor: To the garbage dump!… Throw him into the garbage pit!

Woman Neighbor: Right! To the garbage dump!

The neighbors pushed Jesus toward a low cliff where the women burned their garbage every Friday…

Ananias: It is only when I become old that I hear such stupidity!

Ananias, the wealthiest man in the neighborhood, raised his cane into the air and with all his fury, charged at Jesus:

Ananias: …This is what you get for poking your nose!…

Everything went bad, and I tried to calm them down, but…

John : Hey folks, please, listen to me for a minute, don’t be…..

Before I could finish what I was going to say, a fat Nazarene took off one of his sandals and hurled it toward my direction with all his might…

Neighbor: Lick this, friend!

The sandal hit my face and my nose started to bleed. Jesus was also bleeding and his tunic was torn into pieces.

Woman Neighbor: To the dump! To the garbage dump! The charlatans into the garbage!

I remember that scuffle very well. Now I can laugh at it, but at that moment, we all got the scare of our lives. Jesus’ neighbors were really furious and didn’t want to have anything to do with him. Well, that was already obvious. When Moses went to talk to his countrymen in Egypt, he was also branded as meddlesome and kicked out. The same thing happened to David, who was persecuted by his own compatriots. Joseph, likewise, was sold by his own brothers. Well, this always happens. No prophet is well-received in his own land.

Neighbor: We don’t need anyone to solve our problems for us! Much less do we need you, storyteller!

Neighbor: Hey, you creep, don’t push!

Neighbor: Wha’d you say?

Neighbor: You heard it… that you’re a creep!

Neighbor: You say it again and I’m gonna punch you in the mouth!

Neighbor: You’re a creep.

Nazareth was a notorious and violent neighborhood. The sun never set without a Nazarene spitting out curses and getting embroiled in fights for any simple misunderstanding.

In a few seconds, they forgot about Jesus and his pronouncements in the synagogue. The fight became a free-for-all.

Neighbor: Imbecile! I’ll make you swallow those words!

Neighbor: Pay what you owe me or I’ll chop off your head!

The boys also got involved in the melee. Some picked up a few stones and gave them to the old men who couldn’t use their fists. The women, on the other hand, pulled away each other’s head scarf and bun, and scratched each other’s face…

Susana: I’m gonna crush you, you filthy devil!

Susana was knocked over the floor, while fighting with the girlfriend of the butcher, Tryphon…. I also saw Mary, Jesus’ mother, whose eyes were red and her hair dishevelled, trying to come near us…. Then we heard that stentorian voice behind us….

Judas: Stop fighting! That’s enough!

They were two men, one was clambering over the other man’s back, like a jockey on a horse. The man under was a burly, and freckled, blond man, named Simon. The man on top was also young and strong. He had a yellow scarf tied around his neck and was brandishing a knife in his right hand. His name was Judas of Iscariot. The two zealots went near the Nazarenes…

Judas: That’s enough, fellows. What is it that you really want? To kill and destroy one another?

The fight is all over now.

Neighbor: And who are you, if I may ask?

Judas: I’m someone like you, my friend, like him and like everybody else.

Neighbor: And who gave you the right to interfere?

Judas: Nobody. But I’m meddling, because it hurts to see that the mice are killing one another while the cat is smiling and licking its whiskers.

Neighbor: What’s that supposed to mean?

Judas kept his knife under his sweat-drenched tunic and never got off Simon’s back… The Nazarenes forgot about their bickerings and listened to the man who had just arrived…

Judas: Listen, my friends: Once there was a hungry cat and there were three mice – one was white, the other was black and the third was colored. The three were well hidden in their caves. So the cat began to think: “What must I do so I can eat them all? My legs are too big to fit in the cave. What am I gonna do?” Then the cat quietly went near the first hole where the white mouse was sleeping and whispered: “Little white mouse, the black mouse says that you’re a rascal.” Then he went to the black mouse’s cave and said: “Little black mouse, the white mouse says that you’re a coward.” And finally, to the colored mouse, he said: “Little colored mouse, your other two companions say that you’re the most stupid of all.”

Neighbor: So what did they do?

Judas: Exactly what we did. They came out of their caves and began to fight among themselves. They ended up so tired, they didn’t even have the strength to run nor hide. Then the grinning cat came, held each one by the tail, and zas! swallowed all of them. This is what the Romans want: for us to fight each other so they can swallow us whole. Folks, they wanna divide us. “Divide and rule,” thus says the two-headed Roman eagle. Do you see this scarf around my neck? This was given to me by Ariel, the legitimate grandson of the Macabees. They were good patriots, who didn’t waste their strength fighting each others.

Woman Neighbor: What Judas of Iscariot says is true! Our enemies are other people!

Judas: Exactly, woman. Reserve the knife for the throat of the foreigners, and the stones for Herod’s head and his men. Save your strength to fight them when the time comes.

Then Judas took out his knife. With one hand he took a lock of hair and cut it with the other. Then he threw the hair into the air swearing:

Judas: We wanna be as free as these strands of hair… May the Lord of the Army cut my body into two if I don’t fight for my people’s freedom!… for the freedom of the people of Israel!!!

The Nazarenes already had a lot to talk about and amuse themselves with that afternoon. Each one returned home, shaking the dust from their cloaks. The melee had enlivened them. Judas and Simon, the two zealots, came to us…

Judas: How is the reckless son of Zebedee?

Simon: We recognized you from afar through your beard, John!

John: And so did I! What a surprise to see you around, Judas! Blazes, Simon, I haven’t seen you for a long time!

Simon: How’re you doin’, John? And the rest of the boys? Still casting nets for crabs?

John: Look, let me introduce my friend: This Moreno was born here in Nazareth, but right now he is staying with us in Capernaum. His name is Jesus and he’s got good ideas in his head. Look, Jesus, this freckled giant is Simon, the most fanatic zealot in the movement. He gave a punch to a Roman guard, and before he could turn the right cheek, he gave him another blow to the left. And this guy with the yellow scarf is Judas, a patriot like no one else. He was born far from here, from Iscariot, but he can already spit in-between his teeth like we Galileans do.

Jesus: I’m happy to meet you, Judas…. and… and I also wanna thank you.

Judas: For what?

Jesus: For saving our lives, my friend. Had you and your friend not come, they would’ve killed us with their beatings…

Simon: But, didn’t John say that they were your neighbors?

Jesus: Exactly. Didn’t you know that he who eats from your hand is the first one to bite you?

Simon: You’re right. That is how it is. Well, Judas, it’s getting late. Let’s go.

John: Are you going to Cana?

Judas: No, to Sepphoris. There’s been a squealer in the group over there and we wanna find out who he is. We can’t allow treachery among the zealots.

John: Very well said, Judas. Be hard on traitors.

Judas: Hey, Jesus, I’d like to have a longer chat with you. Maybe you can help in our struggle.

Jesus: Probably you and Simon can give us a hand too. We also have plans.

Judas: Of course, my friend. That’s what we’re here for, to help one another. Well, so long, John. See you in Capernaum, Jesus.

John: See you soon, Judas. May the scarf of the Macabees bring you luck!

Simon: Goodbye, boys. See you!

Jesus: Goodbye, goodbye!… Come, John, let’s go see my mother at once. She must be more worried than the bricklayers of the tower of Babel!

Jesus and I walked to the house of Mary…. Meanwhile, in Nazareth, tongues kept on wagging….

Old Man: Can you imagine that, friend? And he claimed himself to be a prophet, this Moreno whom I’ve seen since birth and whose nose I’ve cleaned 40 times!

Woman Neighbor: These false agitators really make me furious. They talk of peace but they also bring in the sword! They talk of love and bring in stories, but look at the mess they get us into!

Neighbor: To hell with Mary’s son! He’s always been such a good fellow, so complacent… and what has he got into… well, he had it coming… bad company…. and the mother is too soft on him….

Mary: For God’s sake, son! How embarrassing!

Susana: Better: What audacity! I can’t believe it, Jesus!

Jesus: Okay, Mother. I’m going back to Capernaum. Don’t worry about me.

Susana: I warned you Mary. Tell me who your friends are and I’m gonna tell you who you are. Have you seen this hairy man he came with…?

John: Look, Mam, I don’t……

Susana: You are one of them, one of those agitators in Capernaum. There’s Peter, the stone-thrower, Andrew, the skinny one, and James, the red- haired… Such friends you have, eh? And didn’t you see those two who came, one of whom was clambering over the other like a horse… Oh, what very mischievous youth they are.

Jesus: Come on, Susana, please stop it. You’re also troublesome at times. I saw you when you were holding Tryphon’s girlfriend by her bun!

Mary: I beg of you Jesus, for my sake, please don’t get yourself into any more trouble.

Jesus: But, Mother, I did nothing but explain the Scripture, and they began to throw stones at me… Is it my fault? Tell God not to speak so clearly. It seems to me that it’s the Lord who wants to get himself into trouble….

The next day, very early, Jesus and I started our way back to Capernaum. We returned with beating marks and welts on our body. We were happy though. We had started using our voice to proclaim the good news of liberation of the poor.

*Comments*
The opposition of Jesus’ countrymen which started by not accepting “that one of them” should introduce himself as a prophet and speak about liberation, was reduced to a collective struggle. This unleashing of violence, where quarrels and revenge surface, is typical of small towns. One must also take into consideration that in Oriental countries this type of tumult, the result of aggressiveness, is common.

Jesus’ words in the synagogue make him into a symbol of contradiction and scandal among his countrymen, the rich, as his words reclaim justice and equality. Initially, a scandal for the majority of the poor, too, because they refuse to accept that a poor man like themselves can become a leader. Long periods of suffering sometimes breeds skepticism among the poor. Since the price that one has to pay to attain freedom is the risk of starting without knowing how well things will turn out, one is met with all sorts of resistance. At this moment, the prophet’s task becomes difficult because opposition comes from the oppressor and the oppressed at the same time, as the latter has not yet shed off an attitude of passivity. (Ex 5:22). Christian faith, as proclaimed and lived, is always a sign of contradiction. The Gospel is not an effective balm in attaining universal unity through love. It unleashes conflicts. Jesus said he came to bring war not peace. If the evangelical word is double-edged, it is because it divides, cuts, wounds, and exposes hypocrisy concealed by false religion, inequality among people, injustice maintaining such inequality and the fear of freedom in the hearts of the oppressed. Judas of Iscariot is introduced in the episode. Some claim that this monicker made reference to his place of origin: “Iscariot,” a small village in the region of Judah. However, experts in the matter of zealots see in “Iscariot” a deformed version of “sicario.” The “sicarios” were a group of fanatic nationalists from the zealots’ party which used the “sica” (dagger) in committing acts of terrorism against the Romans. Judas was accompanied by Simon, the “zealot,” one of the twelve apostles. All this indicates that in Jesus’ group there were men of various political tendencies.

Even the extremists who never appear in the Gospel invited Jesus as a “partisan” – to put it in modern terms – to be a leader of a popular movement unrecognized by official institutions.

The fact that Judas betrayed Jesus has put him in a very bad light in the course of history. He has become a good example of perversity, of evil incarnate. The historical figure of this man has been mythified to the maximum, and generations of Christians have used him as a form of catharsis for their feelings of guilt, thus converting Judas into a kind of a “scapegoat.” There are some towns and villages, where the effigy of Judas is beaten, burned or hanged every year. It is imperative that we remove this barrier that impedes us from looking at him as one who was more than a friend of Jesus, certainly more politicized than the rest, and therefore more practical, perhaps, and more efficacious.

In the account, Judas narrates to the people of Nazareth a story with all the characteristics of a parable. Explaining an idea and teaching a lesson by the use of images as in a parable was a manner of speaking not exclusive to Jesus. It is an Oriental mode of expression, and very common especially among the popular class.

To show his political personality, Judas appears with a yellow scarf belonging to a grandson of the Macabees brothers, heroes of the Jewish resistance against Greek domination in the country about a hundred sixty years before the birth of Christ. The Macabees were organizers of the guerrilla struggle in Israel which achieved important victories against the powerful Hellenistic empire. In the people’s mind, they were a symbol of courage, patriotism and freedom.

(Lk 4:28-30)

23- A PROPHET IN HIS OWN LAND

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