The voice of the prophet shook the desert of Judah and echoed in the hearts of the crowd that gathered to listen to him along the banks of the River Jordan. John was announcing a new world that we were all dreaming of….
Baptist: The fire of the Lord shall wash away all crime and abuses that afflict this earth like leprosy! And God will then do marvelous things that are unheard of. He will create new heavens and a new earth, where justice will finally reign. There shall be no more tears nor moanings….
While John was speaking, Jesus moved away from us and started to walk. He was going far from the crowded River Jordan, heading toward a place where there were less people…. Andrew and I glanced at each other and started to follow him…. I remember it was four o’clock in the afternoon….
John: Where do you think this man is going, Andrew?
Andrew: What do I know? Perhaps he wants to take a breather… One can hardly breathe down there, John… Hey, what did Philip say his job was?
John: Bah, he said he could “fix anything.” Just imagine, he would not have to work hard in the neighborhood of Nazareth… because there, even rats die of hunger…. Ah…ah… achoo!!!
After I sneezed, Jesus looked behind and saw Andrew and me following him….
Jesus: Oh, I did not notice you…
John: Achoo!…. Damn it! I got this cold when I had myself baptized in the river… Ah… Ah… When I got out, there was this cold draft that….. Achoo!… Damn!
Jesus: Where are you going, by the way?
Andrew: Where are you going?
Jesus: Nowhere. It is too warm over there… and the mosquitoes are all around. I decided I should take a walk….
Andrew: Well, same here…
John: Andrew is right… The stench from the river is nauseating. At least here, one can still breathe…
Andrew: That’s right. The truth is, it is getting warm….
John: I would say it’s like a furnace in Babylon…
Andrew: Let’s say it’s a kind of heat that…. ehrrmm…
Jesus: Say, why don’t we all sit down for a while, under those palm trees?
John: That’s a good idea, Jesus, because… oh, well, let’s go…. this heat is…
The two of us wanted to have a chat with Jesus, but certainly not about the weather. I don’t know, but this tanned man from Nazareth had caught our fancy, ever since we saw him with Nathaniel and Philip. We wished to know more about him…
John: Philip claims that you are a “jack of all trades”… Are you a mason, or something?
Jesus: No… well, yes, and an ironsmith, and a carpenter. I also patch holes; well, I do anything. In Nazareth, it is difficult to have a fixed job…. Have you been there? It’s a small town. You must always be ready to do anything that comes up.
Andrew: With whom do you live? Are you married?
Jesus: No, I live with my mother.
Andrew: And your father?
Jesus: He passed away when I was about eighteen years old…
John: So, don’t you plan to get married?
Jesus: You see, I met a girl before… How shall I put it… I wasn’t sure.
John: I can just imagine. In Nazareth, with four ugly ladies in your midst, it must be difficult to find someone deserving. You should go to Capernaum where jobs are good and life is more interesting.
Jesus: You’re all fishermen, aren’t you?
Andrew: We do business with Zebedee, the father of this guy, who has a very bad temper. He’s doomed, you know!
John: Hey, you, skeleton! Why don’t you leave my father alone?
Andrew: Okay, okay. So, you work as a blacksmith, is that all that you do, Jesus, nothing more?
Jesus: No less, I would say. Hey, do you know what it means to be goin’ out everyday in search of a job?… It’s never easy.
Andrew: Certainly not. I don’t say that… well, you know… about the movement… is it functioning in Nazareth?
Jesus: Are you zealots?
John: No, we’re not… Well, yes… I mean… The movement is our only hope to get rid of these damned Romans! Don’t you think so, Jesus?
Jesus: I really don’t know…. Honestly.
John: How come you don’t? You should know!
Jesus: That’s true, John, but…
John: There’s no excuse. You should know.
Jesus: Okay. But you must also know which animal has its legs on one’s head, and yet, you do not know.
John: How’s that?
Jesus: I am asking you which animal has it’s legs on one’s head.
John: I don’t know. Which is it?
Jesus: The louse!
John: What! Oh, yeah, it’s legs are on my head! Now, that’s a good one, eh?
Jesus: Tell me, Andrew, in what way is a louse similar to a Roman?
John: A louse being likened to a Roman?
Jesus: Why not? Even the Romans have their feet on our heads!
John: Right! And they are considered animals too! That is really a good one! Give us another, Jesus….
I remember that day like it was today. As I close my eyes, I still imagine Jesus smiling, with many friends around him. He told us four jokes, a few stories, and with much ease shared his worries with us. We seemed to have known each other all along. Funny, but this tan-skinned man was one of those you come across, and never forget all your life.
John: Wait till I share these jokes with Peter….!
Andrew: Where do you get all your stories, Jesus?
Jesus: Since the nights are very long in Nazareth, my friends and I often get together. One cooks up a story, another a legend… our way of killing time, you see.
Andrew: What do you intend to do now? Are you going back to Nazareth just to kill time?
Jesus: Well, that’s what I don’t know. On one hand, I like it there; besides I must look after my mother who is alone… but sometimes, I don’t understand why I feel the urge to run away… to escape…
Andrew: To escape from whom?
Jesus: Not really to escape…. I don’t know, maybe to travel, go to Jerusalem, see the world. Get what I mean?
John: Why don’t you do what Philip has done? Buy yourself a cart and a horn and start selling amulets and other knicknacks around the whole city.
Jesus: Don’t you think that’s too heavy? I would like to do something else…. Whenever I hear the prophet John I tell myself: This is something worth doing. This man is helping the people… But I… what do I do for others?
John: And so do I?… and so does this skinny man?… We are all hopeless cases here. But listen, since you have a gift of words, you can buy yourself a camel skin and you can also begin baptizing on the other side of the river… That’s it. Be a prophet!
Jesus: Stop that foolishness, John. Can you imagine me as a prophet?… a peasant like me, who has never studied the Scriptures and whose knees tremble every time he is asked to read in the synagogue?
John: Bah, that is only true at the start. One gets used to everything. Before, I was scared of the sea. And now, for thirteen years, I have been casting nets into the sea!
Andrew: How would you like to be a fisherman like us, Jesus?
Jesus: Sure, but I cannot swim. I would drown!
John: Come to Capernaum. There, only the cats are scared of the water.
Jesus: Well, if you only knew… that last night, I dreamt of the sea…
Andrew: Really? Come on, tell us about your dream, Jesus.
Jesus: It was a strange dream, and it worries me. Look, I was facing the sea, just like now. Then from the water I saw the prophet John. He looked at me, and pointed out some bamboo to me along the bank of the river and then headed for the desert. After that, I saw him no more.
Andrew: What happened afterwards?
Jesus: Then a strong wind came, jostling the bamboo along the shore, and knocking them down…. Then a whirlwind came and I felt that the wind was grabbing me by the hair, just like when John holds those who are going to be baptized, lifting me and taking me to the site of the broken bamboo…
John: So what did you do?
Jesus: I leaned over to straighten them up… There were a number of them… I raised them one by one. It was a difficult thing to do, but I enjoyed doing it and I was happy. Then I woke up.
John: There, there, but why does it bother you, man? It is just a dream, and a lousy one, at that…. Your jokes are a lot better..
Jesus: But I was happy fixing the broken bamboo. I have never felt that way before…
John: Well, of course, each one of us finds enjoyment in whatever way he can…
Jesus: No, it’s just that when the prophet John was talking a while ago, about the new heaven and earth, I felt the same joy…. That is why I remembered the dream…
John: I guess after listening to John the Baptist about the Messiah and liberation, we all dream of the same thing. And with his long hair, this Liberator will certainly be a character! Surely it is this type that will create a new earth… Do you know how I envision the new world of the Messiah? Without the Romans. No more taxes and abuses. Out with Herod and his cohorts… They are all rotten leeches! They have to be crushed! Out with the treacherous Publicans too….!
Jesus: Say, in the new world, there will have to be room for many, but you keep throwing out so many people….
John: That was what the prophet said: that the Messiah would burn all trash and uproot the old branches…
Jesus: What about the bent bamboo, almost broken bamboo?
John: Of what use is a broken bamboo? I don’t think the Messiah will straighten them up, like you did in your dream…
Andrew: Say, Jesus, how do you imagine yourself to be in this new world?
Peter: Where are they? Where could they have gone?
Andrew: It’s my brother Peter. I can hear his voice from here…
Peter: Hey, where are the Capernaum people?
John: Over here, Peter!
Peter: But where have you been all this time?
Andrew: Talking to Jesus….
John: Look, big nose, this tan-skinned man called Jesus knows some jokes…!
Peter: What the heck! Jokes! Time is never wasted here. We went down the river and discovered a site full of crabs. Nathaniel made soup that tasted… Hmmmm.
Don’t you feel hungry? Come on, let’s go.
Jesus: Hey, Peter, you’re called Peter, aren’t you? I was thinking about it yesterday. I had never heard of that name…
John: But of course, his name is Simon!
Jesus: Then, why do they call you Peter?
Peter: Ah, that’s another story to tell…. Have you told Jesus about the movement?
John: Well, you know this guy. He gets himself into all sorts of trouble. All he does is yell and throw stones… That is why we gave him the name of Peter (Pedro): pedro-piedra, piedra-pedro, (Peter-stone, stone-Peter), see?
Jesus: So, your name is Simon, but they call you Peter….
Peter: Oh well, why don’t you just stop talking about me and join the others so we can eat the crab soup… I can even smell its delicious aroma from here! Hmmmm. Come on, guys!
Night fell on Betabara. The riverbank was glowing with bonfires and the whole countryside smelled of recently-cooked food. The truth was that Andrew and I could not fully comprehend then the impact of Jesus’ dream. Now that I am old, I recall that day when Jesus became my friend, and as I found myself far from that place where I met the tan-skinned man, everything just became clear to me.
The ancient writings of Isaiah announced it: he straightened the broken bamboo and extinguished not a single wick emitting a spark of light.
Jesus, like any of us, was a searcher. He searched for an answer to questions about life and reality. He looked for basic answers, such as relating one’s service to God and people in circumstances of conflict experienced by others. Jesus realized this quest through reflection and prayer, and at the same time, sharing his preoccupations and questions with his friends. To pursue one’s own vocation is an individual process. Our brothers and sisters and the community help in our discernment, and their solidarity is the source of our strength that helps us undertake decisions that God expects of us by being part of this reality. Jesus’ manner of expressing himself, as the gospel has shown us, gives us a picture of a man who was amiable and witty. A man never wanting in anecdotes and stories to tell, jokes and other puns to share.
People of the ancient times as well as today gave a lot of importance to dreams. It is the belief that dreams enable people to get in touch with God, and by way of dreams one can look into the future. In Israel, certain dreams were given special meanings. Some of these dreams even figure in the Scriptures, as well as in the Old and the New Testaments, as revealers of the future or God’s plans for his people (Gen 27:5-10; Dan 7:1-28; Mt 1:18-25). Short of superstition, these beliefs lead us to a profound truth: God is near us in our wakeful moments or in our dreams, by way of our psychological make-up and the complexities of our mind. A believer ought to discover Him by way of any of these experiences.
Jesus’ dream, as told to John and Andrew, captures one of the most beautiful messianic prophecies of Isaiah (42:1-4), where the prophet describes the Messiah as a harbinger of the infinite patience and mercy of God, a just but not intolerant man, a fighter but not a subduer.