64- TREES THAT MOVE AROUND

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Bethsaida Square was lined with almond trees. Every morning Barnabas would sit under the shade of one, the shadiest of all. He was a poor old man who always wore a black thick mantle, stained and tattered, on his shoulders…

Barnabas: I think there’s ice trapped in my body, woman. I’m always cold. Were it not for this blanket you have sewn for me…!

A Man: Hey, crazy old man, are you talking to someone?

Barnabas: Oh, I don’t know. The truth is, I don’t know what to do. If only for me, I would go away to a far place… But, what if these trees, you and you, tell them that I left…? Poor creatures, they’ll have no company… I believe though, that I must go. Yes, and I’ll have to do it…

Barnabas had been talking to himself for many years. For many years too, his eyes could not see the light of day. He became blind when a few pieces of ember landed in his eyes while his wife was cooking food from the kitchen stove. A year later, his wife passed away without having left him a child. Barnabas remained alone, with the memory of his dead wife, and living on alms as he sat beside the trees in the square…

Barnabas: Just a few alms, please, and God will reward you with good health! For the love of God, give me some alms!

A Boy: Here comes, Barnabas, the blind! Come, let’s give him some “alms,” ha, ha, ha!

Another Boy: Don’t laugh too much, you fool, he might find out…! C’mon, let’s go…

Barnabas : …The trouble is, I can’t go that far, woman. There are many stones in the road and my cane is not of much help… If you were here with me, then it’d be different….

Boy: See how he talks to himself? He’s crazy! Look at his face…!

Barnabas: Just a few alms, for heaven’s sake!

Boy: Here, old man, take it… these are my little savings… this will tide you over the whole week…

The boys, feigning their voice, put a small sack of cloth on Barnabas’ hands. It was quite heavy…

Barnabas: But, lady, why do you have to give me so many alms?

Boy: It’s alright, old man. We’ve got our eyes and you don’t… all this is for you, so you need not come here everytime to beg… You’ve suffered enough…

Barnabas: Thank you, lady, thank you…. I told you, dear wife, there are still good people in this world…

Boy: Goodbye, old man, and God bless you…!

The boys, who were controlling their laughter, left the almond tree where Barnabas was, as he joyfully opened the small bag given to him….

Barnabas: But… but, what’s this? Oh, what wicked creatures!

From the bag full of small and fine pebbles from the river, came a handful of cockroaches that started to run up his arms inside the folds of his mantle. The blind man slapped them away, while the boys doubled up with laughter, seeing him leaping and hurling invectives.

A Boy: Ha, ha, ha…! Old Barnabas has got eyes but can’t see! Old Barnabas has got eyes, but can’t see!

A Woman: Has anything happened to that crazy old man?

Boy: No, nothing, except that he’s teaching the cockroaches how to dance….!

Woman: Well that beats everything! What else is left for him to do?… Well, at least, he gives us reason to laugh. Otherwise, of what use is this poor fellow!

Almost everyday something similar happened in the shady square of Bethsaida. Blind Barnabas was the laughing stock of the town. Everyone made fun of him.

A Boy: Hey, old man, guess who it is this time! Puah!

Another Boy: It’s your turn now… Now! Puah!

Boy: Guess who it was, guess, Barnabas!

Barnabas: Wicked creatures! Rascals!

That morning, when we arrived in Bethsaida Square, a group of boys had the blind man tied around an almond tree with a rope. They took turns spitting at him, trying to hit him in the eyes with their saliva and asking him to guess who had done it… Some people gathered around, and joined them….

Jesus: What’s going on here?

Woman: I dunno, stranger. This blind old man’s gone a little crazy…

John: But… why are they spitting at him?…

Woman: Leave him alone, dammit! Poor man…! Well, it’s a children’s game, you know. They must amuse themselves with something, no?

Jesus: Of course, and the grown-ups are enjoying it too, aren’t they?

Man: Look, stranger, you meddler, what’ve you got to say, huh? As far as I know, everyone can have fun with anything he pleases… am I right, or wrong…?

A Boy: Let me go! Let me go! It’s my turn now!

All: Old Barnabas has got eyes but can’t see! Old Barnabas has got eyes but can’t see!

Jesus: Listen, friend, if you were blind, would you like people to do the same to you?

Man: I’m not blind, so what the hell do I care! If you’re not enjoying the game, beat it man!

The game was over when we returned to the square at noontime. But old Barnabas still had his hands tied around the tree. He was panting and talking to himself, his face full of the boys’ saliva…

Barnabas: ….and I’ll take a ship, woman, you know, one of those that cross the lake… and I’ll go away. There, on the other side of the lake, they say that people are different, that the boys respect you and people give you a hand…

Jesus: We’re from the other side of the lake, old man…

Barnabas: Huh…? Who… who are you?

John: We got here this morning and we saw you in the square.

Barnabas : You demons!… What… what will you do this time?… Go away! Go away and leave me in peace!!!

Jesus: We’re here to untie you, old man… Don’t be afraid. We never liked the game they played on you, old man…

Barnabas: Where are you from…?

Jesus: We came from Capernaum.

Barnabas: From the other side of the lake?

John: Right. Have you ever been there?

Barnabas: When I could still see, yes… But that was a long time ago. I can’t even remember anymore…

Jesus: C’mon, John, let’s untie him…

Barnabas: What will you do to me? Please, have pity on me!…

Jesus: Don’t be afraid. We won’t hurt you. Don’t be afraid…

Barnabas: They’re all a bunch of rascals!…. They all laugh at me the whole day… and I… I’m helpless…

John: Cheer up, old man, you’re free…

Barnabas: Free?… Tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, they will tie me up and do the same thing again… It’s always the same.

Jesus: Have they done this to you before?

Barnabas: This and more. If they don’t spit on me, they beat me, or they hurl cockroaches at me, making me flee… and this hurts me… Well, I’ve become used to it… and I don’t care anymore.

Jesus: You don’t care anymore?… So, why are you weeping?

Barnabas: Because it hurts everytime… No, I’m not used to it… I’m always hurt…

Jesus: Come old man. Let’s get away from here.

Barnabas: You want me to go?

John: Sure, come with us…

Barnabas: But, are you out of your mind?… Where will you bring me?

Jesus: To a place far from here, old man, where no one will harm you…

Barnabas: But… but I can’t simply do that… How can I go and leave the trees alone?… See what I told you, woman? I really don’t know what to do now… These strangers want me to go with them, and if I do, who’ll keep these trees company…? Well, if you want me to go with them, woman, then I go, but don’t blame me later on…..

Jesus: Let’s go, old man, here take my hand… hold on tight so you don’t stumble…. Let’s go…

So we left the square, passing through a narrow street that was lined with palm trees, and proceeded outside the city. Barnabas was supported by his cane and the brawny and calloused hand of Jesus. He was limping a little…

John: What’s wrong with your foot, old man?

Barnabas: What else? A few days ago, they burned it with a lighted stick… “Guess who did it to you”… If I only knew!…. Rascals!

Jesus: That’s all over. They won’t harm you anymore…

Barnabas: Yes, because if they come back, they’ll tie me up again, even if I don’t do anything to them… so, why do they always pick on me and beat me, tell me?

John: Forget about these people, old man…

Barnabas: You can say that again, young man. Even my wife tells me to ignore them… But I can’t, because… because I hate them, you know?… Before, when I could still see, I didn’t know the meaning of this word, hatred… but now, I do. It’s something that you keep inside your heart and it stays there… Yes, woman, this is an ugly word to utter, but I can’t help it, because I feel it! Of course, you haven’t experienced what I have….!

We continued walking, staying away from the city. The noonday sun scorched the road and made the leaves of the trees glitter…. Blind Barnabas could not see the light that was blinding all of us….

Barnabas: You know what, I think people are worse than the beasts. Beasts kill so they will have something to eat, but people cause you harm for the fun of it… and they make fun of you!… Do you know what these people do to me?… They spit on me… on my face… in my eyes… do you understand?

Jesus: Hey, old man, wait a minute…. Puah…!

Barnabas: What are you doing…? No, no, don’t do that young man…no…no…, you don’t…

Jesus spat on his hands and with his fingers wet with saliva, touched the blind man’s eyes…

Jesus: Hold it, old man…. keep still… You know something? People are bad at times…. but God is always good…

Barnabas: Hey… hey, what’re you rubbing in my eyes?

Jesus: Nothing, don’t worry… C’mon, open your eyes…

Jesus removed his fingers from Barnabas’ eyes…

Jesus: Can you see anything, old man?

Barnabas: I… I… yes, yes!…. I see a lot of trees… I can see you and your friend… They look like trees moving around…

Jesus went near the blind man and put his hand on his eyes again. Barnabas was weeping…

Jesus: What’s wrong, old man? Why are you crying?

Barnabas: I can see the trees again, young man… There in the town square, the almond trees were my only friends, you know… They have given me shade, and when it was time, their fruits… Now, I’ll see them again… the people, no…. I don’t want to see them….

John: But you’re seeing us…

Barnabas: You… have been my friends… like the trees…

Amid his tears, Barnabas started to distinguish the road, the stones and the flowers. And there, from afar, the silhouettes of the houses of Bethsaida….

Barnabas: I don’t wish to go back there.

Jesus: No, don’t go back to that town. Better take this road. By afternoon, you will arrive in Chorazin. Stay there. Don’t tell anyone what happened. Neither should you do to anyone what you didn’t want others do to you.

Barnabas looked at us with his small and wrinkled yet, sparkling eyes. Limping, and with his long cane, he began to walk. As always, he was talking to himself…

Barnabas: You should have seen him, woman… He was a man, but he seemed like a tree… He could give you shade and support… You should have seen him, woman….

Old Barnabas moved away until he was lost in the horizon, illuminated by the huge red sun of Galilee….

*Comments*
Bethsaida, meaning “house of fish,” was a small city on the northern part of the Lake of Galilee. Here were born Philip, Peter and his brother Andrew. Philip, the Tetrarch, called it Julia in honor of the imperial Roman family bearing this family name. No remains of this city can be found at present. It is believed that the floods coming from the River Jordan and leading into the lake buried the ancient fishing village.

Blindness was a common sickness in Israel in Jesus’ time. The dry climate and the intense heat of the sun contributed to the disease. In general, blindness was prevalent all over the ancient world; it was often due to poor hygienic conditions and ignorance of disease. It was thought to be incurable and was believed to be a special kind of God’s punishment. As a consequence of their ailment, the blind were outcasts.

The sick person does not always evoke in others a feeling of compassion and mercy. On occasion, they become the object of ridicule and maltreatment. A person who is inutile, different, abnormal, sometimes becomes the laughing stock of everyone. It happens in school, where one always finds a weakling, a stout one, an ugly one who is made fun of by others. It often happens in the towns, in the barrio, and at work. It is a rather frequent human reaction. When Jesus approaches Barnabas and gives him back his eyesight, it is a sign of Jesus’ special closeness to the dejected and the ridiculed. God feels a special affection for them.

Although one may apply very critical norms in reading the miracle stories in the gospel – some are duplicated, others are extremely ornate, still others are based on similar accounts from other people, there always remains a nucleus which is absolutely historical. Jesus performed miracles that astounded his contemporaries. Basically these were healings of real diseases, though related with special psychological situations. Among them were the so-called expulsion of demons, madness, hysteria, epilepsy and the healing of lepers (within the wide gamut of diseases that this word encompassed) of paralytics and the blind. In modern language today, such healings would fall within that branch of medicine called “the therapy of transcendence.”

Do unto others what we would want others do unto us: this is the so-called “golden rule of the gospel” (Mt 6:12). With this, Matthew summarizes the beatitudes pronounced by Jesus on the mount. Certainly, it is a very practical conclusion, since the entire Law can be capsulized in love – in deed, not in words – that we should have for others.

(Mk 8:22-26)

64- TREES THAT MOVE AROUND

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