44- THE FIG VENDOR

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That day at dusk, James, Peter and I were with Jesus at Joachim’s tavern near the wharf. We were all seated on the floor, playing dice…

James: Five and three!… This round is mine too!

Peter: Hold it, redhead, it’s still my turn!… Bring me that cube.

Jesus: Come on, Peter, save the honor of the sons of Jonas!

Peter: Hold your breath, fellas, here I go… Five and four! I win!

John: Damn this stone thrower! He got it from his sleeve!

Innkeeper: What’s going on here? Who’s winning?

John: At the moment, this redhead and the big-nose. But they say they haven’t gone far enough…

Innkeeper: Because those who are behind drink a lot! Hey, you losers, don’t give up! Right now I’m bringing you a pitcher full of the best wine from Galilee and you can all have a good toast! This will give you good luck in the game, in your fishing and while you’re in bed with your wives!

John: Dammit! There you go again with your gimmicks, Joachim!…

Melanie: Figs, figs! very good, and as sweet as honey!

James: …and there goes that woman again!

It was Melanie, the fig vendor, who came at that moment…

Melanie: Figs, figs, buy my delicious figs!…

James: There goes that woman again…!

Jesus: Who, James?

James: The fig vendor…

Jesus: I see her often in the market.

Peter: She’s everywhere. If you’re not quick enough, she’ll even follow you to the toilet just to sell her damned figs!

Melanie started to linger by the inn, carrying her old and dirty basket of fruit on her head. She was a very thin woman always dressed in black. She shouted her wares in a shrill voice, like a raucous bird, and smiled at every prospective buyer of her ripe figs…

James: What a cheap woman! What with her terrible condition!…

Jesus: Why, what’s the matter with her, James…?

John: The whole town knows about it… It’s something unbelievable, Jesus! She’s different from other women who have their period every month. For many years she hasn’t stopped bleeding….

Peter: That’s it, she’s in bad shape… No doctor has been able to cure her. Apparently, this woman had money before, but spent it all on doctors… Now, she has nothing!

John: All the healers of Galilee know her, but no one has ever found the cure for her!

Peter: But she continues selling figs to earn more money to pay more doctors….

Melanie: Figs, figs, buy my delicious figs! They’re as sweet as honey, figs, figs!

James: No, we don’t want your figs….

Melanie: They are very good. Look… They’re full of honey… look…

James: Go sell them somewhere else! We don’t want your figs.

Melanie: Why don’t you try them, stranger….?

Jesus: I don’t have a single cent with me, woman…

Melanie: Hey, aren’t you the one who…?

James: Stay away from here, we said! Beat it!

The fig vendor continued to hang around the inn, as we kept on making fun of her and her sickness….

Jesus: Isn’t she married?

James: But Jesus, what man would be willing to put up with such a disaster?… She’s not woman nor anything. She can’t even have a child…

Jesus: But she works very hard… I see her around the whole day with her basket of figs…

Peter: Sure, because she pokes her nose into everyone’s business. The only work that women engages in is chatting. I guess the Lord took the women not out of Adam’s ribs but from his tongue. Oh, these women!… The trouble with them is that they’re so weak, and wear themselves out so easily…

Jesus: Rufina’s not weak, Peter. Without her, what would happen to your home, huh?

Peter: Rufina works hard, alright, but… she’s always complaining… You gotta always treat her with affection, you know; otherwise she’s out of her mind. I tell you, women are like straw blown by the wind…!

Jesus: You can’t say that of Salome… She’s a very strong and a very smart woman…

John: Well, she happens to be my mother, Moreno… so that’s something else…

James: Women are weak, dammit… Look what happened to Jairus’ daughter…

Jesus: Why?

James: Well, that girl was already a young woman… Poor creature… a few days ago, she caught a bad cold… and look at her now: she’s dying! And all because of a cold! That’s because women are weak and sickly.

Jesus: Why is she dying? Is she that serious?

James: This morning, I was told she hadn’t gone…

Peter: Women die more often than we change shoestrings! We ought to thank the Lord for making us men, dammit! What do you think?

John : Hey, fellows, the pitcher’s empty! Let’s go to the inn next door… They serve better wine there.

James: That’s right. Let’s drink to our good fortune in being men and not women! Let’s go…!

Peter: That’s a superb idea. Indeed this raisin wine is already burning my throat…

John: Are you coming with us, Jesus?

Jesus: No, but go if you want… I’d like to see this girl…

John: Which girl?

Jesus: The daughter of Jairus. I know her father. He’s a good man. He and his wife must be very worried about the girl… if she’s that bad…

James: Bah, do it next time, Moreno… We’re tired.

Jesus: Tired?… Ah, I thought you never got tired. You don’t have to go if you don’t want to. But I’m going.

Peter: Okay, okay, let’s go there…

We grudgingly decided to go with Jesus. As we were leaving the inn, Melanie, the fig vendor was there again…

Melanie: Figs, figs, buy my delicious figs, they’re as sweet as honey…!

James: There you go again with your figs! We’re sick and tired of them, don’t you understand? Out of our way!

Melanie’s deep and brilliant eyes turned to Jesus.

Melanie: How about you, stranger…?

Jesus: I already told you I didn’t have money. I’ll buy from you next time.

Melanie: Wait, stranger, I was told you have healed many people, that you have the hands of a doctor… I …I’m sick… if you could…

John: Let’s go, Jesus, don’t mind her! Go away with your basket of figs and leave us in peace!

Peter: Hey, what’s that noise?

The mourners of Capernaum, those women hired to weep for our dead, hurriedly crossed the street grieving, with their hair loose. People came out of their homes when they heard their cries and gathered in the street.

A Woman: Jairus’ daughter has passed away! His daughter died!

Jairus was one of the caretakers of the synagogue in Capernaum. We all liked him, and when we learned what happened, the whole barrio rushed to his house. We went too. Melanie, the fig vendor, went too, and she was following us closely… In front of Jairus’ house, people were all squeezing to get in…

James: This woman has been following us from the pub, Jesus, haven’t you noticed?

Jesus: Yeah, I know.

James: She’s a bore, I tell you!

Jesus: She’s a brave woman, James. She’s not intimidated, even if people laugh to her face. She knows what she wants.

James: And what’s it that she wants?

Jesus: She wants to get cured. That’s it. She has no husband nor children. At least, she wants to have good health.

While we were waiting in front of Jairus’ house, Melanie pushed her way towards Jesus, and from behind, called him.

Jesus: Hey, who’s pulling my cloak?

James: Who else?… Look at her… the disgusting woman!

Melanie finally succeeded in getting near Jesus. She looked at him full of hope…

Melanie: You can cure me! I know you can cure me!

Jesus: What’s your name?

James: They call her the “the bleeding woman”! Ha, ha… That’s how she’s known here…

Jesus: From now on, nobody will ever call you by that name, Melanie.

For many years, the woman hadn’t heard her name uttered with so much respect and affection. And for many years, she hadn’t felt as much life in her body, worn out by sickness and suffering. As she stood up, she felt like a tree that wakes up from lethargy ready to share her flowers in bloom….

Jesus: You may now go in peace, woman.

We saw her pass through the crowded street, with her head high and in such great hurry, as if she had wings.

John: What’s happened to her Jesus? Has she gone crazy or what…?

Jesus: No, John. We’re the crazy ones. A woman’s life has as much worth as a man’s in God’s weighing scale… but we men have tipped that balance. Come on, let’s go see the girl!

We went inside Jairus’ house. The mourners’ cry and the smoke from the newly-burned incense filled the little air that we could breathe….

A Man: In a way Jairus is lucky, he still has the boys. If someone had to die, better to be the girl. What do you think?

James: Between two evils, the lesser one.

Peter: Let’s get outta here, Jesus. We’ll all choke to death here… Besides, once a person is dead, he’s dead. Nothing can be done about it, except to weep. There are already enough women weeping here.

Jesus: I wonder why they’re crying, Peter. This girl isn’t dead. She’s just asleep.

The people who were near us heard Jesus and they began to laugh…

A Man: Hey, listen to this man… He says the girl is just sleeping!…

Slowly, Jesus inched his way to the room where Jairus’ daughter lay. Peter, James and I, followed him. The mother was weeping beside her daughter, scratching her face and tearing her garments. Jairus was leaning against the wall, and raised his face when he saw Jesus enter the room…

Jairus: Jesus… Here she is… We thought she was going to live, but now, she’s gone…

Jesus: Don’t cry, Jairus…

Jairus: It’s okay. Men weep too. People console me by saying that I have three boys left, and that women should weep for women. After all, she’s only a girl… but I… I loved her very much…

Jesus: God loved her too, and understands you, Jairus. He weeps too, as much as when He loses a daughter as when he loses a son.

Jesus moved closer and gently looked at the girl. She seemed to be sleeping. No one would think she was dead… Jesus leaned over the girl and took her hand…

Jesus: Come on, young lady, wake up… get up…

And, as if waking up from a long sleep, Jairus’ daughter stood up and smiled…

*Comments*
According to the civil and religious laws, as well as the customs of Israel, woman was inferior to man. The civil laws relegated her to the place of a slave and a minor, who needed a man as master. A woman’s testimony was not valid in court for she was considered a liar. From the religious point of view, she was also an outcast. She could not read the Scriptures in the synagogue, nor could she bless the food on the table. An important detail in the language: The Hebrew words to mean “pious,” “just” and “holy” do not have a feminine form. It is therefore believed that a woman could never be what these words denote. There was a prayer recommended for men to recite everyday, which went like this: “Praise the Lord for not having made me a woman.”

Woman’s exclusion from social life was even more common among upper class society and in the big cities than on the farms and small towns. Nevertheless, in the whole country the little importance granted to the woman was attributed to her ability to perform domestic chores. She was appreciated basically for her fecundity. A barren woman was practically worthless. She was naturally appreciated more if she gave birth to a boy than to a girl. The birth of a girl was sometimes cause for indifference or sadness, as the popular saying goes “Woe to him whose children are girls” would attest. Nurtured by this environment from the time of infancy, Jesus’ disciples were therefore male chauvinists who despised women, more so if the woman was someone like the fig vendor in this episode.

Selling was a common occupation among poor women. In the case of Melanie, it was her only way to survive, and her non-dependence on a man made her even more destitute than most women. Her sickness – the gospel says it is “hemorrhage” – is Menorrhagia. It is an irregular form of menstruation characterized by continuous bleeding. Aside from the inconveniences and bodily weakness caused by the disorder, Melanie was perennially considered “unclean” as all women were considered during their menstrual period (Lev 15:19-30). The fig vendor’s case was, for several reasons, an extreme case of social discrimination: first, because she was a woman; secondly, she was sick; finally, she was sterile and all alone. This also explains why she was shy to ask Jesus’ help. Melanie’s healing and the miracle made on Jairus’ daughter are indications that God does not discriminate between sexes, that man and woman are equal in the eyes of God. The gospel is feminist, since it vindicates the fundamental equality and dignity of both before God (Gal 3:28). This is one of the revolutionary aspects of the message of Jesus.

Only if we take into account the basic chauvinist character of the society in which Jesus was part can we fully appreciate the novelty of the gospel’s message, the profound amazement caused by Jesus’ attitude toward women. In many countries, male chauvinism is a very important social component. The Kingdom of God shall come to the fullest only when women are appreciated as equals of men and given the same opportunities and rights. Only then can a woman develop herself to the fullest as a human being, without any social, economic or religious impediment.

(Mt 9:18-26; Mk 5:21-43; Lk 8:40-56)

44- THE FIG VENDOR

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