The feast of the Passover was already near. As happened every year, every full moon of the month of Nisan, all of us children of Israel would look toward the direction of Jerusalem, desiring to celebrate within its confines the great feast of liberation of our people. Caravans were organized in all provinces throughout the country, and in every town pilgrimages were formed to visit the Holy City.
Jesus: Why don’t we go together this year, guys?
Peter: I like the idea. When do we leave?
Jesus: In two or three days would be fine, don’t you think so, Peter? John, Andrew, what do you say?
John: There’s nothing more to say. We all go.
Peter: How about you, James….?
James: There will be many of us Galileans going to the feast. That might mean trouble, don’t you think? Things get heated up during the Passover.
Jesus: That means five of us already.
The following day was market day. Peter went to see Philip the junk dealer…
Philip: So you’re going to Jerusalem. What for? To look for trouble and incite a revolution… or to pray? C’mon what is it?
Peter: Philip, we’re going to Jerusalem, that’s it. Are you coming or not?
Philip: Okay, okay, big nose. I’m going. You can’t just leave me out.
Peter: That makes six of us!
And Philip informed his friend:
Philip: Nathanael, you’ve got to go!
Nathanael: But Philip, how can I leave my shop? Besides I’m still suffering from this corn that I got from our trip to the Jordan.
Philip: That was a great trip, Nat. And this will be even better. Make up your mind, man. You’ll regret it for the rest of your life if you don’t come.
Nathanael: Okay, Philip, I’ll go. But bear in mind that I’m doing this for Jerusalem and not for you!
Philip: So that makes seven of us!
In those days our friends from the zealot movement were passing by. They were Judas of Scariot, and his friend, Simon… They were also persuaded to go to Jerusalem for the feast… With the two, we became nine…
John: Hey, Andrew, I heard that Jacob of Alpheus and Thaddeus were planning to go to the capital those days. Why don’t we ask them to join us?
With Thaddeus and Jacob, the two farmers from Capernaum, that made eleven of us…
Jesus: Hey Matthew, are you going to Jerusalem for the feast?
Matthew: Yes, why do you ask?
Jesus: With whom are you going, Matthew?
Matthew: With myself.
Jesus: So you’re going alone.
Matthew: With myself is enough.
Jesus: Why don’t you come with us? We’re planning to go as a group…
Matthew: Puah… And who will form this “group”?
Jesus: Andrew and Peter, Zebedee’s sons, Judas and Simon, Philip… Come with us too…
Matthew: I don’t like those friends of yours. The feeling is mutual, I guess.
Jesus: We’re leaving tomorrow, Matthew. If you make up your mind, be at Peter’s house tomorrow at dawn. We’ll be waiting for you.
Matthew: You better wait for me sitting down so you don’t tire yourselves… Know what, you’re nuts, the nuttiest person I’ve ever met in my damned life!
Thomas, prophet John’s disciple, was the last to learn about the trip. His friend Matthew had already gone back to Jericho while he spent a few more days in Capernaum…
Thomas: I am a..a..al..also going with you. I.. l..l..like the idea.
That first trip to Jerusalem together proved to be very important for all of us. But how different our ideas were then from what Jesus said about the Kingdom of God!
The sun had not yet peeped through the mountains of Bashan, but we were already causing a stir in the neighborhood. We were going to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. A number of pilgrim groups had already left from our barrio. A lot more would be travelling in the next few days… One after the other, with our sandals well secured for a long journey, we gathered at Peter and Rufina’s house…
Peter: Look who’s coming, guys… Philip!… Hey, big head, don’t tell me you’re going to Jerusalem with us?
Philip: Of course, Peter. Here I am. Uff, I’m a little late, because of my cart. Its wheels are not oiled.
James: Why did you bring it? Are you going to Jerusalem with this damned cart?
Philip: Well yes, red head. I’m like a snail that carries his house wherever he travels.
Peter: Are you out of your mind, Philip?
Philip: I’m as sane as you are. During these journeys, is when business is brisk, fellows. People take along their savings to Jerusalem. Very good. I carry my wares. I sell while you pray. A piece of comb here and a necklace over there. As far as I know, I won’t be molesting anyone.
James: No, way, Philip. We’re not going with you and this trash. The cart stays here.
Philip: It goes.
James: The cart stays here.
Philip: Then I stay too!
John: Jesus, why don’t you convince this guy, Philip? He listens to you.
Then Jesus winked at everyone, a sign that we might just play along with him….
Jesus: Philip, why don’t you leave your cart and your junk here? The pearl is worth a lot more.
Philip: The pearl? What pearl are you talking about?
Jesus: Shh! A fine pearl, this big. You have a flair for business. You would be interested to be part of a business group, wouldn’t you?
Philip scratched his enormous head and looked at everyone with a look of connivance.
Philip: Speak up clear, Moreno. If we need money, I’m willing to sell my cart, even my sandals, if need be. Then let’s negotiate for that pearl and get a clean share of it. How much are they asking for that pearl?
Jesus: A lot.
Philip: And where is it, in Jerusalem?
Jesus: No, Philip, it’s right here with us.
Philip: Here?… Of course, I understand… a smuggled piece. Do you have it, John?… You do, Simon?… Okay, okay, I promise to keep quiet. My lips are sealed. Okay? You can trust me. But tell me, how did you get it?
Jesus: Listen: Thaddeus and Jacob are working on a farm. While they were plowing it, they came across a treasure hidden in the ground.
Philip: A treasure? And what did they do with it?
Jesus: They hid it again. They went to see the owner of the farm and they bought it from him. They had to sell everything to be able to buy the farm. So, the treasure remained with them.
Philip: But what was the treasure they found?
Jesus: The same pearl that I told you before! They discovered it.
Philip: The pearl? But pearls are found in the sea, not in the earth. What’s all this mess I’m getting into, Nazarene?
Jesus: Listen, Philip. The truth is, it all started in the sea, as you say. Peter and Andrew set sail on the sea and cast their nets, pulling them back full of fish. And when the fish were all sorted, they got the big surprise of their lives because…
Philip: …Because it was there where they found the pearl.
Jesus: Yeah, and they left everything, the nets, the boats, the fish. And they kept the pearl which was worth a lot more!
Philip: And so, the treasure from the farm… Ah, of course, I understand. And then…. Wait. I don’t get this. Such a big head, Jesus, but little brains. Explain this business to me.
Jesus: Philip, we have abandoned all our things, our fields, our nets and homes for the pearl. Leave your cart behind, too.
Philip: Okay, okay. But at least, show me the pearl, so that….
Jesus: The pearl is the Kingdom of God, Philip. C’mon, leave all your junk and come to Jerusalem with nothing in your hands. Forget about your combs and necklaces for a few days, and celebrate the Passover with an open mind.
Philip: You, band of rascals, if you keep on pulling my hair, I’ll end up having less hair than Nathanael! Alright, alright, I’ll put Salome in charge of my junk until my return.
Matthew arrived when we were just about to leave. Although it was still very early, he was already half drunk…
James: Have you left something behind, you stinking guy?
Jesus: Welcome back, Matthew… I knew you’d come.
Jesus: Matthew is coming with us. Didn’t I tell you?
James: Did you say he was coming with us, or maybe I didn’t hear right?
Jesus: You heard it right, James. Matthew is coming with us.
James: To hell with you, Moreno! What do you mean by this?
Jesus: That the feast of the Passover is for everybody. And the gates of Jerusalem, like the gates of the Kingdom of God, are open to all.
Jesus’ words and Matthew’s presence infuriated all of us. James and I were about to hit them both when Simon and Judas pulled us apart…
Judas: You shut up, red head. Stop that yelling. Do you understand?
James: What? There’s nothing to understand here. Jesus is an imbecile.
Judas: You’re the foolish ones. Jesus has planned this thing very well.
John: What’dya mean, huh?
Judas: The frontier of Galilee is very well guarded, John. They fear a popular uprising. We’re all blacklisted, especially Jesus. With Matthew around, it’s different. We get more protection, do you understand? Matthew knows all the swine guarding the frontier.
John: Do you think it was for this reason that Jesus invited Matthew?
Judas: And why not, you tell me? Jesus is astute. He thinks of everything.
John: And why is Matthew playing along?
Judas: Matthew is a drunkard. Give him more wine and he will follow you like a meek lamb.
James: You’re right, Scariot. Every time I get more convinced that we shall go far with this Nazarene. He’s the man we need! C’mon guys, let’s go!
Thomas: W..w..wait a w..w..while.
John: What’s it this time, Thomas? Have you forgotten something?
Thomas: No, no, it’s not that. Have you n..n..no..noticed how many we are?
James: Yeah, we’re thirteen. With this swi…., I mean, with Matthew, we’re thirteen.
Thomas: T..t..they say that n..n..number b..b..brings bad luck.
Peter: Bah, don’t worry about that, Thomas. If one of us gets his head cut off, then we shall be twelve, a round number, like the tribes of Israel. C’mon, guys, let’s go, Jerusalem is waiting for us!
We were thirteen, Peter, the stone thrower, led the group, his sun-burnt face always carried a smile. On his side was Andrew, the skinny one and the tallest of all. He was the quietest also. My brother James and I, were imagining Jerusalem like a battlefield where all the Romans would be destroyed by the strength of our own hands. Philip, the vendor, tied around his waist the horn with which he used to advertise his wares. From time to time he blew his horn. He did not want to part with it. Beside him, as always, was Nathanael. The morning sun shone on his bald head. He walked very slowly, already tired even before they started to leave. Thomas the stutterer was looking on both sides with eyes full of curiosity. He did nothing but talk with his half tongue about the prophet John, his master. Matthew, the tax collector, his eyes red with alcohol walked with wobbly steps. Jacob and Thaddeus, the farmers from Capernaum, walked together. Simon, the tough freckled guy was with Judas of Scariot, who was wearing a yellow scarf around his neck, a present from a grandson of the Maccabees. We were twelve; thirteen, with Jesus of Nazareth, the man who dragged us into this adventure along the roads of our town to announce the coming of God’s justice.
Number twelve has a special meaning in the old Orient. Probably because the year is divided into twelve months. In Israel, this was an important number, signifying totality. It synthesized the entire people of God, using only one number. Thus, Jacob’s sons were twelve, who became patriarchs that gave names to the twelve tribes that inhabited the Promised Land. A very ancient tradition in the gospels recalls how Jesus on various occasions chose the twelve disciples, as the nucleus among the many who followed him. These twelve disciples spread his message after the Passover and carried forth his cause. In the texts of the New Testament, “the number twelve” refers to the twelve individuals – whose names we have – yet at the same time, “twelve” designates a representation of the new community, heir of the people of twelve tribes. The nucleus twelve is particularly preferred in the book of the Revelation; it appears in the measurements of the new Jerusalem, in the number of the chosen: 144,000 (12 × 12 × 1,000 – totality of totalities), etc.
This numerical stereotype “twelve” is transformed in the episode about “the thirteen men.” It is a way of indicating Jesus’ integration into the group. Jesus was not an “outsider” from the heavens who was linked to history or to any people. He came from a town, from a social class, and worked with his brothers and sisters side by side, in order to create a com¬munity where God was to be the only Lord and everyone else would be equal.
Thrice a year, on the feast of Passover, Pentecost and the Tents, it was the practice of the Israelites to travel to Jerusalem. A huge number of foreigners from the neighboring countries also travelled to the capital. The feast of the Passover attracted the greatest number of pilgrims every year. Since it occurred in spring the trip was made easier, as there were no longer any rains in February or March, and thus, the roads were more passable. Looking for a companion on the road was an essential part of the preparations for the trip. There were more bandits during this period and no one dared travel alone. This explains the existence of great caravans for the feasts.
In the episode, the announcement to go to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover passes from one mouth to another, thus, the twelve get together to go with Jesus. One and another become convinced for various reasons. Jesus calls them, and they, too, call one another. God has called us through Jesus, the new human, so that we shall also become renewed men and women, capable of giving life for the sake of others as artisans of peace and justice. But God’s call, this vocation, never comes to us from above as if words of invitation were blown into us. God invites us through the community. The Christian community, where Jesus is part, is the one calling us, teaching us, and receiving us; it is the one forgiving us, helping us to overcome our fears, our limitations and strengthening our hope. One goes to the new land of Jerusalem in community. Jesus’ group was not homogeneous, of one stripe. All came from the popular class, but the story and motive of each one was different and maybe, even, contradictory or at least in conflict. Jesus united all of them, as happens when a leader coming from the community is capable of achieving unity amid diversity, thus making the group move together. In the Christian community, the members are not herded into groups, nor are they called to render the same service. Variety is a value that must be nurtured. The same happens in society. When the day of justice comes and everyone is given the same opportunity to develop self as a truly free person, then we shall see the beauty there is in variety.
Jesus convinces Philip to join the trip by telling him two parables: That of the pearl and that of the treasure in the field (Mt 13:44-46). Hidden treasures are a favorite theme in Oriental stories. In those times, they also had a historical basis. The innumerable wars that shook Palestine through the centuries forced the people, during their moments of escape, to bury all their valuable property until their possible return which never came. Pearls were much-coveted during ancient times. They had a highly symbolic value, especially related to fertility. They were the precious fruit of the water, which grew hidden in shells and developed like a human embryo… The skin divers would collect them in the Red Sea, in the Persian Gulf and in the Indian Ocean, and they were often used in necklaces. Through these parables, Jesus seeks to emphasize the important value of this attitude of surprise in life.
One is surprised if suddenly and unexpectedly one finds a treasure or a pearl of enormous value. He or she naturally is surprised and becomes extremely happy. Jesus wants to tell us that when a person finds the meaning of the Kingdom of God, the great joy of this discovery can bring one to the deepest experience, just as the “treasure” made one lose interest in everything else in life. No price seems too high to preserve what was found. The love for the Kingdom of God is a passionate and enthusiastic love. Philip leaves his cart behind and forgets about his merchandise. Others will leave their apathy and get to work for the sake of others. Still others will rid themselves of their egoism and will learn how to form a community. Still others will forget even their life and will risk it over and over for the sake of justice. This trade-in of values without regret and with utter joy is a sign of the Kingdom of God.
(Mt 10:1-4; Mk 3:13-19; Lk 6:12-16)