Peter: Very well, all is said and done: we’ll scatter ourselves, like ants spreading after a downpour, through the entire Galilee!
It was during the first few days of summer when we decided to leave Capernaum and undertake the journey to other cities of our province, in order to announce the Kingdom of God. We were then just a handful of nobodies. But Jesus always countered that a little salt was enough to give flavor to the food. That a small lamp on top of a table could brighten up the entire house…
Philip: Just a minute, adventurers. Forget about the fun and teach me what to say. I can promote my wares, like combs and brushes, but not this job of delivering a divine speech…. well, the truth ….
Jesus: Listen, Philip: it’s very simple. Besides, you don’t have to talk much. All we’ve got to do is gather the people and teach them how to share what they have. Remember what we did with the loaves of bread and the fish?
Philip: Yeah, but… what if they don’t want to get involved?
Peter: Well, shake the dust off your feet and go somewhere else. You can’t force people to share if they don’t want to.
Thomas: That’s what I’m saying, that in the K..K..ingdom of G..G..God, n..n..nobody enters by f…f..force.
Philip: Not if we’re pushed by soldiers who catch us gathering our countrymen and inciting them to rebellion…
Matthew: Don’t worry about that, Philip. We’ll bring you some soup in jail!
James: And if an old usurer cuts our throats, then we go straight to Abraham’s lap!
Jesus: Well, we’re all ready. James and Andrew will go to Bethsaida… Thomas and Matthew, to Chorazin… Philip and Nathanael, to Magdala…
Philip: And together we perish!
Jesus: John and Peter will go to Tiberias… Simon and Judas to Sepphoris… Jacob and Thaddeus, to Naim…
James: So when do we leave?
Jesus: On the first day of the week, each shepherd to his own flock!
Matthew: When do we see each other again?
Jesus: Well, within a month everyone must be back here in Capernaum. Okay?
We left by pairs for the neighboring towns… The truth is that in those times, each one of us imagined the Kingdom of God in his own way. No one had a clear idea of it and our knees trembled a little at the thought of it. But we kept on encouraging one another in announcing the good news among our countrymen…
After a month, we all went back to Capernaum as agreed upon, and we met in Peter and Rufina’s house as always…
Peter: Hey comrades, help yourselves to some wine. We must thank the Lord for allowing us to return and still be in one piece!
James: That’s very well said, stone thrower! After all those skirmishes, the group has become more known to them. At least they have me and the skinny one blacklisted… They know us better than David knew Bathsheba… It was a miracle to be able to escape from that place…
Peter: So let’s all have a toast to celebrate this. Hey, Matthew, …what’s wrong?
Peter: Why don’t you make a toast with us?… Don’t you love wine?
Matthew: If I take a shot, then I don’t stop until I end up with the entire barrel… I know myself quite well….
James: And so?… Have you changed after the trip?… What happened?
Thomas: It so happened that one day, w..we w..were…
Matthew: That’s enough, Thomas. It’s just that I’ve lost the desire to drink much. I had the appetite for it before. But now, it’s the opposite. That’s it.
Thomas: No, it was because of s..s..so..something they told him: shoemaker, re..re..pair your shoes f..f..first…
Thomas: One day, in Tiberias, we were at the corner of the square. This M..M..Ma…Matthew was talking a..a..about unity and c..c..co..conversion…
A Man: You don’t know what you’re talking about! You’re drunker than Noah by the grapevine!
Another Man: We’ll listen to you when you have purged yourself of all that wine in your belly, rascal!… Let’s go, guys; this man doesn’t even know where his moustache is!
Matthew: That happened one day. Then another. What a meddlesome bunch! They made me sick, you know!
Thomas: B..b..but they were right, Matthew. First take the plank out of your own eye, before you can take the speck out of anyone else’s eye.
Jesus: So, you don’t drink anymore, Matthew…
Matthew: Well, the truth is there are days when I can’t bear it and… other times, I grab my two hands very tightly to control myself… dammit… give me a few days more, but… its something… Isn’t it?
Peter: So this other shot is for Matthew, who has stopped drinking!
Matthew: Bah, to hell with all of you!
Jesus: And what was the mess you got yourselves into, skinny one and you, James? C’mon on, tell us what happened…
James: Ha! Or better, what didn’t happen. You all know Bethsaida, where Onesimus is, who thinks he’s the pharaoh of Egypt because he owns the boats. But the fishermen are not dumb. They’re alert…
James: Listen, countrymen, my grandfather always repeated that saying of the wise men: it is more difficult to break a three-threaded rope.
A Fisherman: Make yourself clear, my friend.
James: This means that when a poor creature fights for his rights alone, he’s easily defeated. But if there are three of them, then it’s more difficult. If there are thirty of them, that’s much better indeed. Do you understand? It’s necessary to braid a thick rope from among all the threads.
Another Fisherman: This red head’s right. The ones up there are advantaged in many ways. But we’re more than they. That’s where our strength lies.
Another Fisherman: Trouble is, we’re not united. Each one thinks only of himself.
James: God wants all of us to look in the same direction. Where there’s a group pushing as one, God also lends a hand. This is what we’ve done in Capernaum.
A Fisherman: Things are a lot easier in your town. You’re well organized and you defend one another. Here, it’s old Onesimus who controls everything.
Another Fisherman: All boats and nets are owned by Onesimus. Therefore, he gets all the profit. While we, we’ve got nothing but our arms.
James: And so? What else do you need? Hear this, my friends: Without your arms, those boats will not move, nor those nets be cast, is that right? Onesimus wouldn’t earn a single cent.
A Fisherman: Yeah, of course, but… what can we do with our arms?
James: Cross them. That’s it. Cross them and tell that bloodsucker that no boat will be rowed nor will a single net be cast; nor a hook thrown until the wages go up to two dinars!
And so it was. The following day, the wharf of Bethsaida was like a funeral parlor: everyone was silent with arms crossed… Onesimus, the patron, was fuming mad…
Patron: Two dinars! Two dinars! Are you out of your mind? Tell me: who’s the instigator here? Yeah, I know, that red-head from Capernaum and the skinny one. And that man called Jesus is behind all this. You damned agitators! I’ll have your tongues cut off! I’ll have them cut off!
James: And look, fellows…. Ahhh…. It’s still here in one piece! But the best part of it is that we’ve won the battle! That scoundrel, Onesimus had to increase the wages!… The news spread like wild fire. We were told that the fishermen of Gennesareth are doing the same thing, with crossed arms and demanding two dinars!
Jesus: Let’s give another toast for James and Andrew who knew how to work in justice’s name. They have their names written in heaven!
Matthew: As well as in the police blotter of Bethsaida!
Peter: Well, Philip, it’s your turn now. Let’s see, what have you and Nathanael done in Magdala? How did you fare in that place?
Philip: Badly, yes and very badly. Your enemy was Onesimus, while ours was God. Who can go against him?
Jesus: What’dya mean…?
Philip: Well, God no, but those strange ideas of the people about God, which turn out to be more difficult to scrape than scabies. Here’s our story. When we arrived in the city:
Philip: Over here, everyone!… Listen, companions!… I’m not here to sell my wares today… Look, I didn’t even bring my cart… My bald friend here and I are here to bring you the good news.
A Woman: Well, do it quickly and let’s see if its better than the lipstick I bought from you last week!
Philip: Listen well, my friends!… Unplug your ears… I mean, one ear of yours, so that what enters through one doesn’t come out through the other…. Today, the Kingdom of God has come to this city of Magdala!…. Yeah, that’s right, just as it sounds, The Kingdom of God!
Another Woman: Look here, fat head, stop these stories. The only thing that has reached this place is the kingdom of worms!
Philip: How’s that again?
Woman: You heard it. All the orchards of Magdala are infested with worms: all tomatoes, eggplants… everything is worm-infested. It’s God’s punishment, his sacred wrath! The worst thing is, if God doesn’t cool it, even my melons will be damaged; the worms are on their way to my melons!
Philip: What are you talking about, ignorant woman? What has God to do with your melons?
Woman: Why, don’t you know? Go and ask the Rabbi to tell you! This worm epidemic is a punishment from heaven, for the many sins of this perverted city!
Another Woman: And tell him out loud, that God must be more enraged here than when he was in Sodom! Why? Because the devil runs loose here. All one can see here are taverns and drunkards and women who wink at you from every corner. That’s why God must be taking his revenge.
Woman: We rightfully deserve it, don’t you think so, stranger?
Philip: Ehem… Well, I think… God is not as terrible as you imagine.
Woman: God sent us this misfortune and must be preparing something worse.
Philip: Oh no, woman, don’t say that. God is good and doesn’t like to pester people.
Women: I told you so! First, the worms… and now, some madmen have come!
Philip: Not even my horn could pacify them… They were all there, so obstinate with this punishing God. Pff…. You know what, Jesus? If things must change, then one of the first to change should be this crazy idea that people have of God.
Peter: We had the same idea before, Philip. Or don’t you remember anymore? Only a few months ago, we also viewed God as an executioner with his axe raised high. Now, that’s a thing of the past. Now we see God like a… father.
Philip: But Peter, you dunno those Magdalenes. They’re so stubborn. The more we explain to them…
Matthew: Well as they say, a stone gets a hole by the constant dripping of water. I’m talking from experience.
Jesus: Well said, Matthew. All of us start this way and gradually, God melts our hearts.
Philip: I hope so, Moreno, but the truth is, they’re too much…
Jesus: But God’s on their side, damn! This is what matters more. What about a toast for God our Father who has wished to be revealed to the humble and be hidden from the arrogant! Look at all of us, Philip: there’s no one among us learned or great. The Kingdom of God grows from below, as the trees do.
Philip: Well, brace yourself, Nat. We’ll have to go back and visit our countrymen from Magdala… and their worms!
Jesus: That’s exactly it, Philip. This thing’s not finished in one day. Look, why did we have to go by pairs, like the asses when they pull the plow? Because the yoke can’t be carried alone, but with another. One alone gets weary and disappointed. With someone along, the burden is lighter. There’s still much terrain ahead.
James: But now is the right time and we must take advantage. There’s always work to be done. Everywhere the poor are lifting up their heads and strengthening their knees. The day of liberation is at hand!
Jesus: Many prophets wanted to see that day, but didn’t live to see it. Many wanted to hear these things but heard not…
Peter: And many would have wanted to taste Rufina’s soup, but couldn’t, as she has it reserved for all of you! Yes, sir, a soup with two drops of oil can restore the life of a dead person!… Hey, Rufi, why don’t you serve the pot of soup, in celebration of the return of this group of crazy men!
That summer, we went from one town to another, through all of Galilee. And the Kingdom of God that came to us, for free, we also announced to our brothers and sisters. Free.
The sending of messengers by pairs was a deeply-rooted custom in Israel. They were messengers bringing news – as there was no mail then – or on a mission of assistance or trying to understand better, according to specific situations. Generally, they always left by pairs for two reasons: for protection, since the trips were long and much danger could arise. On the other hand, this had something to do with the compliance of a norm found in the book of Deuteronomy (Dt 17:6 and 19:15), which in the beginning only applied to judicial processes. Later, it became applicable to other areas as well. According to this law, only the testimony of two witnesses could be given credit, and although only one would speak, the other ought to be present in order to confirm the testimony, thus giving it validity.
Reading in the gospel the instructions Jesus gave to his disciples, before sending them to announce the kingdom of God, one observes how incomplete they were. Jesus was not a moralist. The gospel is not a collection of norms for every situation in life, as if it were enough to face life’s reality with the application of formulas or slogans. The messengers of the gospel are not handed a set of instructions; they are given a spirit. Their whole life must be a sign of new values. They must proclaim them with the word, but above all, live them. In this episode, Jesus’ disciples find themselves in situations not described in the gospel to the letter, but rather, the spirit with which they are lived and overcome. This is what the group is to learn eventually, as they are inspired by Jesus’ word.
Like Jesus, the disciples addressed themselves to the poor as the privileged recipients of the good news of God. The gospel must be announced to them, the least ones, so they can start to live; knowing that as far as God is concerned, they are the first.
The liberation proclaimed in the gospel encompasses everything human, and all people, and consists necessarily of phases and mediations. One of them is the organization of the poor. God does not want masses of men and women submerged in ignorance or in apathy, men and women who are passive and submissive. God wants a nation of free people. God came into history precisely to make of the oppressed Hebrews, enslaved by the Pharaoh, an organized and fighting nation. From servitude, God gave them passage to freedom. Liberation has, during one phase of the process, this period of awareness and organization, in which the poor bind themselves together by a common ideal and discover their dignity as children of God. A free person cannot imagine a punishing God who makes children suffer, who demands an accounting of every small sin in order to take revenge… People must be freed of this false image of God. A profound evangelization, though not intended directly, always bears as a consequence, people’s liberation from erroneous ideas about God and the relationship of God with people and history.
As Jesus has shown us in his life and in his words, there exists no conflict between action and prayer, between love for God and for one’s neighbor. We must not pose any opposition between the work of evangelization and that of promoting humankind, as if such a task of promotion were of a lesser category for a Christian by being “political.” The task of evangelization however is sometimes taken as superior, more pure, for establishing our direct relationship with God. Such opposition is false, since there is a continuous relationship between evangelization and the promotion of humankind. To evangelize people is to proclaim the good news of people’s dignity as the sons and daughters of God. In the name of this infinite dignity, human beings must be freed from hunger, from ignorance, from economic dependence… To promote people is to bring them to all physical, intellectual and political fulfillment… One must likewise be open to the reality of faith, since the religious dimension is essential to being human. There exists no contradiction. Both endeavors are profoundly related. Thus, the bishops who met at Puebla recalled again: “The situation of injustice… makes us reflect on the great challenge faced by our pastoral people, to help them overcome situations that are less humane and to find themselves in more humane conditions. The profound social gaps, extreme poverty and the violation of human rights in many parts are challenges to evangelization. Our mission to bring people close to God likewise implies the construction here of a more fraternal society.” (Puebla, 90)
Jesus makes a toast to the Lord, gives God thanks for the return of his friends. The act of thanksgiving occupies a significant role in Jesus’ manner of praying. The wise men of Israel claimed that in the world to come, only the act of thanksgiving would remain. It would no longer be necessary to ask for forgiveness nor favors, nor confess our sins. We would only be grateful to God. With his manner of praying, Jesus anticipates the world to come: the Kingdom of God.
(Mt 10:5-15; 11:25-27; Mk 6:7-13; Lk 9:1-16; 10:17-24)