Salome: So what now?… Ain’t you goin’?
John: Where to, old woman?
Salome: To the house of Simon, the Pharisee, where else? His son was introduced in the synagogue today, and he’s givin’ a party to celebrate.
John: I’m not a party-goer, much less if the party’s in the house of this fellow.
James: Come on, John, cheer up. Simon always serves good pastries…. What about you, Peter? Aren’t you comin’ either?
Peter: Am I gonna be missing anything in the house of this stingy old man?
Salome: You say he’s a miser, but look Peter, he’s invited the whole family. Y’know how it is here in Capernaum, everyone’s a relative of everybody. Imagine, half the city is going there to eat.
James: Yeah, let’s all go. Don’t be a kill-joy… Go tell Rufina, Peter. Hey, Andrew, don’t just stand there like a scarecrow… What’s the matter, Jesus? Ain’t you comin’?
Jesus: I’m coming, James, although I’m not a relative of this fellow, Simon.
James: It doesn’t matter, Moreno. You’re our friend, and friends of the family are relatives too. I tell you their house’s gonna be teeming with so many people, like a barrel of olives… Come fellas, let’s all have fun!
The redhead insisted that we all go. Soon, we found ourselves in the streets of the moneylenders, in front of the house of Simon, the Pharisee. While we were waiting outside the door, we saw two women beside the wall. We knew them and in fact, the younger one was making some gestures to Jesus….
Mary: Psst…! Hey, Nazarene…! Pssst…! How’re you?… This is a friend of mine, Selena, so leave him alone.
Selena: Who’s he?
Mary: He’s a nut…
Jesus: Hi, Mary! I was thinkin’ about you. How’s life?
Mary: It’s a job, compadre. One must take advantage of the times. Isn’t that right, Selena?
Jesus: And how, because I could smell your perfume from the other street!
Selena: Yeah, compadre, and since we’re night owls, you don’t see us, you just smell us!
Mary: You may laugh now, silly girl,… later, you might spend three hours waiting here for nothing.
Selena: Well, you shouldn’t complain, because with this Moreno around, your problem is solved for the night.
Mary: That’s none of your business, Selena. I already told you this is something else….
Jesus: Mary and I are friends, you know.
Selena: So I see. The trouble is she’s so well made-up and I can’t compete. It’s alright, friend, you won… I give up.
Mary and Selena had a bottle of jasmine oil hanging around their necks. This was the perfume prostitutes always used…
John: Come Jesus, they ’re gonna open the door now!
Jesus: I’m coming, John… wait…!
Mary: Why do you always go with this kind… Go, join your friends, or you’ll be left out!
Jesus: I don’t mind. Aren’t you coming inside?
Mary: Who, us? Ha! Didn’t I tell you, Selena? This guy’s crazy!
Jesus: No, Mary, I’m serious. Why don’t you come inside with the rest?
Mary: How we would’ve wanted that! To be able to eat some pastries, at least! But this is where we belong. How do you expect us to enter? “This is a decent house, the house of Simon, the Pharisee.” May the devil swallow him up, the damned old miser!
Jesus: Why do you speak ill of him? What’s he done to you?
Mary: To me, nothing. But to all the unfortunate who owe him money…! That’s how he became rich; by lending ten and collecting twenty, and squeezing necks if they fail to pay on time!
John: Hey, Jesus, what’s the matter? Ain’t you comin’?
Jesus: What about these ladies, John, can’t they go inside?
John: Who, these two whores here…?
Mary: Oh yes, let’s go in… After all, business is bad… At least, we can gobble up something warm inside…!
Jesus: What do you think, John? Can we let them in?
John: Well, I don’t think anyone will notice… Come on, and mix with the group…
Mary: Wow, this is gonna be fun!… Well, as they say, better be on time than be invited! Let’s go, Selena, move on…!
Selena: No, no Mary. I’d better stay here and wait for a customer. You go ahead. If you get bored, then come out and let’s exchange places…
Mary: Well, you’re gonna miss something… see you soon!
Selena: Don’t forget to bring me some of the goodies!
We joined Peter and the rest of the group. When we were already passing through the entrance, one of the servants with a serious face cut through to Mary, the Magdalene…
Servant: And where d’you think you’re goin’, huh? This is a decent house, d’ya hear?… Out, out, outta here!
Jesus: Hey, friend, has this woman done you any harm? If not, leave her alone….
Servant: Look, Nazarene… Of course, you ain’t from here, so you don’t know. But this woman beside you is a “whore.” So…
Jesus: So, we who are with her are also indecent. Do you have anything else to say?
Servant: To hell with you, stranger! Well then, you can go inside with her, but I warn you, insolent woman, don’t make trouble. And you, make sure you give yourselves a nice bath later, so you won’t smell like jasmine oil!
Mary: Sonavabitch… Puah…! “This is a decent house”… Yeah, he won’t make his eyes impure by looking at me… But when he goes to my house tomorrow, he’s gonna be the first John at my door! What a filthy creep!
Jesus: Leave him alone, Mary. If you don’t want them to mess around with you, then don’t mess around with them, either… Come, let’s go inside!
The house garden was very spacious and there were many people. We from the barrio were seated towards the end, on straw mats, and were served dates to fill our bellies. The tables in front, well decorated and full of the best food, were reserved for the businessmen and the rich relatives of Simon, the Pharisee… One of them came near us…
A Man: Well, well, Mary, what a good catch you got! How did you get the Nazarene?
Mary: Damn you sonovabitch! Get outta my sight! I ain’t workin’ now!
Man: That’s alright lady. Don’t get mad. I was just kidding…!
Mary: Didn’t I tell you, Jesus? I don’t belong here…
Jesus: You asked for it, Mary. Who ever told you to put on so much perfume? Not even a carpenter’s brush could remove the smell!… C’mon, forget it and eat something…
Then came Benneth the cripple, who was wobbling and carrying a half-finished jug of wine…
Benneth: Look who’s here, a siren on our shore! Mary, my dear one, I’ve been lookin’ all over the place for you… At last, I’ve found you…! Hik…!
Mary: Go away, dirty old man and sleep it off!
Benneth: Don’t treat me that way, precious one. I may have drunk too much wine… but you’re overdressed too! Hic! Ain’t I right, my friend?… This woman’s better without so many clothes on…!
The crippled Benneth rushed toward Mary, and suddenly tore off her dress. Then Jesus pushed the drunk man who slipped and fell on his back. Soon a commotion ensued in that corner of the garden… To make matters worse, the bottle of jasmine that Mary was carrying around her neck rolled on the floor, broke into pieces and the whole place began to smell like a carnival…
Servant: What the hell’s goin’ on here?… I warned you, bitch; I don’t want no trouble!…
Jesus: You started it…
Servant: Will you shut up, stranger! Now, you’re gonna know who I am, you whore!
The servant raised the tray he was carrying in a threatening gesture. Mary leaned over and threw herself at the feet of Jesus, as if asking for protection….
Servant: Stay away from her, ’cuz I’m gonna teach her how to respect a decent house!
Jesus: James, John, help me!
My brother and I rushed over to the servant, but the other neighbors fell over us…
A Man: Here, take this for being such a troublemaker!
The matter would have gotten worse, if at that moment, Simon the Pharisee had not come, having been warned of the trouble. Simon was the owner of the house…
Simon: What’s goin’ on here? Can’t we have our celebration in peace?
Jesus: There’s nothing here… We were just conversing.
Simon: Conversing? What’s this woman doing on the floor? Is she conversing too?
Servant: She’s one of the women from Jasmine Street..
Simon: Oh? And what is this whore doing in my house? Who let her in?
Jesus: I did, Simon. She came with me.
Simon: And who are you to dirty my house?
Servant: He’s the man from Nazareth. I’m sure you’ve heard of him…. He’s known as a prophet.
Simon: So you’re a prophet! I didn’t know that the prophets of today allowed themselves to be cuddled by whores… Now, now, get this woman out of my house! I’d rather smell a cat’s urine than the perfume of a sinner!
Mary remained on the floor. With her hair disheveled, she cried shamefully at Jesus’ feet.
Simon: I said get this woman out of here! My house is a decent one!
Jesus: Simon, if you allow me, may I ask you something?
Simon: What do you want, stranger? Come on, make it fast. This perfume is making me dizzy.
Jesus: Listen to this story, Simon: There were two men who were indebted to a moneylender. One owed him fifty dinars and the other, five hundred dinars. But both of them lost their harvest and did not have a single centavo to pay him.
Simon: And the moneylender sent them to prison accordingly.
Jesus: On the contrary, he felt pity for them and so he wrote off their debts. Now, tell me, Simon: Which of the two men should feel more grateful to the moneylender?
Simon: What a question! The man who owed him five hundred dinars, of course. He was pardoned for a greater amount, so he should be more grateful. What’s this got to do with this prostitute?
Jesus: A lot. But I doubt if you’ll understand, since you’ve never forgiven anyone, neither have you ever felt the need to be pardoned. But this woman needs to be forgiven, and therefore, knows how to feel grateful.
Simon: What does she have to be thankful for?
Jesus: Of course, she has nothing to thank you for. When we, the barrio folks, entered your house, we were put here at the back, you didn’t even come to welcome us, nor did you give us water with which to wash our hands. She doesn’t have to thank you for anything. But the Lord, yes, because He has forgiven her for all the debts she owed Him.
Then Simon, the Pharisee, firmly gripped the handle of his cane and looked at Jesus with hatred….
Simon: Crazy man! Get this woman out of here! And the Nazarene too, and everything that smells of jasmine. I prefer to smell a cat’s urine to a sinner’s perfume!
Jesus lifted Mary from the ground and left with her. We, too, went away from there, and so did the rest of the barrio people. I think it was after that party in Simon’s house when Mary of Magdala started to change.
An old proverb of the rabbis in Jesus’ time went like this: “Don’t speak too long with a woman in the street.” This meant with any woman and not only with a prostitute – which was worse. On many occasions Jesus violated the customs of his people with respect to relationship with women. Within this freedom toward tradition, he showed special treatment to the “bad women” who profoundly scandalized the “good” people of his time.
Jesus continuously reiterated God’s preferential interest in sinners, that they were closer to God than the pious ones and the observers of the law. This provoked angry protests, especially among the Pharisees. One must bear in mind that these Pharisees were not always from the upper class. They also came from the simple class. What characterized one and the other was the pride which they flaunted, being members of a communiity of the chosen people of the Lord. And this was because they fulfilled the laws and the religious practices with many scruples. That is why they despised the “immoral” and “damned” creatures of God. All throughout the gospel, Jesus told of their hypocrisy to their face, and tried to make them see how they, more than anyone else, alienated themselves from God because of their pride.
Even today, we are not wanting in Pharisees. There are many people who gloat over their “decency,” their good education, good family – and in most cases, the money they have – which separate them from the lowly. They not only think of themselves as superior and more important, but they have also come to identify Christianity with social class, and their morality with appearances. All this is pretension which has nothing to do with the gospel. Christian virtues are primarily attitudes of solidarity and equality among people, in contrast to feelings of pride or discrimination. On no occasion did Jesus claim special treatment or preference for himself, as great men and women surrounded by servants, luxury and distinctions do, just to highlight the importance they want extended to themselves. What Jesus claimed was treatment with respect, and deference for the poor and the marginalized. He did not want any privilege for himself but equality for all.
Jesus told Simon the Pharisee a short story: that of the two debtors. It was a parable about forgiveness. Through this story, Jesus pointed to the sinner as the one who really “knew” how to forgive, and therefore the only one to be grateful. The Pharisee, proud and despising, would never understand this, since he did not believe he should be pardoned for anything. Neither did he know what it meant to be grateful. Gratefulness for having been forgiven – a basic dimension in a person’s relationship with God – is not within the reach of a self-righteous person.