The story of the wheat stealing in Eleazar’s farm spread like wildfire through the whole of Galilee. Our group was already known in Capernaum and the people whispered about us in the market and square. Rumors spread all over the cities, around the lake and eventually reached Nazareth….
Susana: Mary, Mary,… where are you?
Mary: What’s up, Susana?…. Tell me what’s happened?… Has any one of your children fallen ill, cousin Simon?
Simon: Not mine, but yours. Haven’t you heard yet?
Mary: About what?…. Has anything happened to Jesus?…. What’ve they done to my son?
Susana: They’re gonna do something to him if you don’t tie him up!
Mary: For God’s sake, tell me what’s happened….
Simon: He and his group of bums slipped into the farm of Eleazar, the most powerful landlord in the whole north… Have you seen old Ananias, here? Well, he’s a tame cat next to a lion like Eleazar.
Mary: Why did they have to slip into his farm?
Simon: As you might expect, cousin Mary. To steal some wheat heads. Your son’s a thief.
Mary: What? That’s absurd.
Simon: But he is. And the worse thing’s that they did it on the Sabbath.
Susana: Besides, Jesus said before the tribunal that he doesn’t observe the Sabbath because he doesn’t want to; that the laws were made for people and not the other way around; that he can do anything he wants!
Mary: I can’t believe that. It can’t be….
Simon: He’s crazy, Mary; your son’s out of his mind. Ever since he was hit on the head by Rachel’s son, something’s gone wrong with him.
Susana: No, man, no. This started after he went to the Jordan to see that hairy man baptizing in the river. That’s where he had a slip. I told you Mary, your son’s changed since then….
Simon: He also said that those who’re up would go down and those who’re down would go up. He’s inciting the poor against the rich.
A Neighbor: Therefore he ain’t crazy. Damn! That’s what we need here. Someone to turn the tables and change the situation!
Simon: Who d’ya think would shout this to the whole world? Eleazar’s already denounced him. He’s blacklisted.
Susana: Mary, you gotta do something fast!
Mary: But I can’t believe a single word you’re saying: I never taught these things to my son….
Neighbor: Well, he learned all that when he went away!
Susana: He was also seen in Jasmine Street, the red light district, you know…. Ehem!!
Simon: And they saw him drinking in the tavern by the lakeside, with Matthew, the tax collector, damn him and his pals!
Woman Neighbor: There must be something between him and Matthew’s wife, because I was told he’s often seen in their house up ’till late in the evening, and….
Mary: That’s enough, that’s enough…. It can’t be, it can’t be my Jesus. He must be sick….
Woman Neighbor: Sick? Ha! So he’s sick of brazenness! That’s what it is!
Simon: He talks a lot, that’s why, and he bums around. That’s what he’s been doin’ since he left Nazareth. Tell us, Mary, has he ever sent you some dinars to buy beans?…. He doesn’t even think of his mother!
Susana: Not quite, Simon. The truth is….
Simon: Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Cousin Mary, something’s wrong with your son. Either he’s out of his mind, or he’s become brazen. If until now he’s not yet one, but has joined a bunch of scoundrels, then he’s likely to be one. If you’ll take my advice, go and fetch him right away.
Susana: That’s right, Mary! Bring him back to Nazareth and let him stay here. He was brought up here, so here he should stay. Very soon he’ll forget about this idea of the Messiah and the liberation. He’ll go back to his tools and bricks: his real life. You are his mother and he will obey you. Go, look for him at Capernaum.
Mary: But Susana, I can’t go there all by myself….
Susana: Your cousins’ll go with you, won’t you, Simon?
Simon: Sure, Mary. We’ll accompany you. I’ll go tell my brother, Jacob….
Susana: I’m goin’ too. And when I see that son of yours, I’ll really settle with him, by damn! I’ll give him a piece of my mind, and he’ll remember me for that. He’s no right to behave like this…
The next morning, before sunrise over the plains of Aesdrelon, the group of Nazarenes started their journey to Capernaum to look for Jesus. His cousins went, and so did Susana, including a neighbor who didn’t want to miss any detail of the event. Mary, in tears, was with them….
Mary: But why?… Why does he let me suffer all this shame? My God, why?…
Simon: Don’t worry, Mary, whatever happens, we’ll bring him to Nazareth!… Take it easy; leave everything to us. We’ll teach Jesus how to obey his family. Dammit!… Hurry up, Mary!…
The journey was short by the outrage they all felt. When they reached Capernaum and crossed the Gate of Consolation, they inquired from the first house in the village….
Simon: Pardon, Madam… would you know where this tall, brown and bearded guy lives? He’s half-bricklayer and half-carpenter… who came from Nazareth a few months ago?
A Woman: You mean…. Jesus of Nazareth?
Mary: Exactly. Do you know him, Madam?
Woman: But of course! Every one knows him here. He lives in Zebedee’s house, by the wharf. Salome takes care of him more than a mother does.
Mary: I’m his mother.
Woman: Oh, really? Well, are you here to visit him?
Simon: We came to fetch him. Our cousin is out of his mind.
Woman: No, what happens is that this brown-skinned guy is so frank, he tells the truth to the rabbi’s face and to the landlord’s, and reasons out before the Roman governor. I’d say he’s a prophet.
A Man: What? You mean this peasant is a prophet?
Another Woman: They say there’s a thin line between a prophet and a nut. If you’re his family, you’d better take him with you. Many strange things have happened since he came to this city.
Woman: What are you saying, you meddlesome woman? Jesus is a good man. Didn’t he cure Bartholomew, huh? Don’t you remember anymore?
Another Woman: Oh really? Or better, he cured him with magic! The Nazarene must have made a pact with the devil.
Woman: Oh, yeah? What about Caleb, the fisherman? Didn’t he cleanse him of leprosy? Didn’t he cure Asaph’s hand, the fruit vendor, huh? I swear by God, this Jesus must be a good quack doctor!
Man: A quack doctor? And I swear that the only medicine he can think of is to steal wheat from a neighbor’s farm. If you don’t believe me, then go ask the old man, Eleazar!
Woman: To hell with you! The Nazarene is a decent man.
Simon: Say whatever you wanna say, we’re his family, and we’re gonna get him outta here right now. Could you tell us where he is now?…
Another Woman: Come with me. I’ll take you to Zebedee’s house!
Man: Hey, guys, don’t get lost!… Hurry, hurry up! This is getting interesting!
The word spread around, from house to house. The women left the stoves they were tending and their brooms, to join the group of Nazarenes. The men who were idling their time away in the square stood up and went towards them. As usual, they were preceded by the kids as they shouted through the narrow street that reeked of onions and rotten fish…
John: What’s the commotion about, dammit! Have they murdered King Herod?
A Woman: Hey, John, they’re looking for the stranger!
John: What’s happened? Maybe they’re soldiers coming with fat-neck Eleazar.
Man: These ain’t no soldiers. It’s his mother who walked all the way from Nazareth, with his cousins. His entire family’s here!
Jesus: What’s the matter, John? Who is it?
John: Can’t you hear their screams, Jesus? Your mother and relatives are out there looking for you.
Jesus: My mother? Something must have happened!
John: Go and meet them, Nazarene!
Jesus: What’s all this screamin’ about? Has someone passed away in Nazareth?
Susana: You’re the one who’s gonna kill us of shame, Jesus. I can’t believe you could do this to your mother!
Jesus: What are you talking about, Susana?… What’s all the trouble?… Have you all gone crazy?
Susana: You’re the crazy one. Who ever taught you to steal wheat, huh? And to be inciting the people, huh? To make them rebel against the rich? Since when did you learn to get drunk with tax collectors and associating with prostitutes, huh?… Who ever taught you to live like a rogue and a vicious person? Speak up!
Simon: Let’s do the interrogation later, Susana. You don’t wash your dirty linen in public. Come on, Mary, tell your son to pack his things; we’re going back to Nazareth right now.
Mary: Jesus, son, let’s go. You’re gonna go back to Nazareth with us. Your cousin’s right. Since you left home, you’ve done nothing but foolish things. Come, we’re leaving….
But Jesus did not move; he didn’t even batt an eyelash…
Susanna: Are you deaf? Didn’t you hear what your mother said?
Jesus: My mother?… I’m sorry, Susanna. This woman who claims what we’re doing is silly can’t be my mother. Her face may resemble my mother’s, but she can’t be my mother. My mom never listened to gossip. She was always courageous, speaking of a God who wants to see His children proud and confident. She taught me to become responsible, to ignore what others would say. This woman isn’t my mother. Neither are these people my family. I don’t even know them.
Simon: I told you so, cousin Mary. He’s delirious! Now he claims not to know us!
Jesus: I really don’t know you. My mother, brothers and family are someone else: they fight for justice and are not like you who hinder their struggle.
Simon: Stop all this nonsense! Now, will somebody please lend me some rope…. Our relative is out of his mind. There ain’t nothing we can do but to tie him up!
Jesus: You’re wasting your time, cousin. The truth cannot be suppressed by tying it up with ropes. God’s word is like the wind; it can’t be stopped by chains or ropes. The messengers of this word’s gotta be as free as the wind. What we gotta say, we say it from the roof. And what must be done, we do openly.
But the Nazarenes were not convinced. Fuming mad, they stayed in front of our house and continued the fight… The truth was, during those months and even the following months, Jesus was called many names. They called him crazy, a drunk, a glutton, and a troublemaker. A lot of people never understood him. It’s not good to sew a piece of new cloth on an old suit. One cannot put new wine into old wineskins.
Jesus scandalized his neighbors in the synagogue of Nazareth when he spoke to them with great conviction about liberation and the Kingdom of God. They were not the only ones scandalized, but his own family as well – his mother, his cousins – who could not comprehend his actuations nor his words. They really thought he was crazy. The freedom with which Jesus violated laws and faced authorities to argue about the ancient customs of his people scandalized his family, brought up in a highly traditional peasant society. For them, such freedom was perilous madness.
In their gospel, Mark and Matthew speak of Jesus’ “brothers and sisters.” Four of these brothers are even named: Simon, Joseph, Judas and James (Jacob) (Mt 13:55). Surely, the Greek word used by the evangelists is “brother,” but it’s a literal translation in Aramaic. One must realize that in Jesus’ language, this word “brother” likewise encompasses distant relatives: nephews, second cousins, etc., such that when the Gospel of John says that Peter was Andrew’s brother – son of the same parents – he specifies it by adding to “brother” another word that may allow the translation as “brother in the flesh,” which undoubtedly defines the relationship (Jn 1:41). A large amount of data about the Gospels and tradition unanimously shows us that Jesus was the only son of Mary.
In the episode, Simon appears as one of the cousins of Jesus. If Mary’s objection to her son’s actions is above all emotional, a result of her fear of an impending danger, his cousin’s attitude is a lot more ideological. Simon is a concerned poor man who is moved by financial concerns; materialistic and skeptical, he rejects any change, any novelty, especially if the prime mover of this novelty is a friend or a relative. The very serious conflict met by Jesus with his family must be defined within the level of rumor-mongering. This gossiping is typical of small towns where everything that shatters existing norms is judged with severity, and the absence of more significant happenings magnifies the trivialities.
The evangelical text about Mary’s confrontation with her son has hardly been taken seriously. This is a less known text and is rarely preached. Nevertheless, it is a Marian text of great significance. It brings us close to Mary, as we see a mother who fears for her son who does not understand her, and who even opposes her by taking a step different from what she has desired. Like any other mother, Mary suffers anguish in seeing her son getting embroiled with the authorities for fear of losing him. This is the real Mary. Mary undertook a long and difficult road to faith, during which she experienced uncertainties and vacillations. The beginning of Jesus’activities in Capernaum was, for her, an especially difficult moment which she could not accept. It was so difficult that three of the evangelists took this conflict into account, even if they were aware that their lectors might find it rather disconcerting or scandalous.
The family was a very significant institution in Israel. Family ties were so strong that they lasted for life. The veneration and respect of children for their parents belonged to a deeply-rooted tradition in the country. This notwithstanding, fidelity for justice’s sake is for Jesus the first and foremost of all obligations. He firmly situates it over and above family considerations. If this episode highlights Mary’s human frailty, it likewise focuses the freedom which always characterized Jesus.
(Mt 12:46-50; Mk 3:20-21, 31-35; Lk 8:19-21)