James: C’mon, I dare you deny it, now!
Esther: But, where did you get this silly talk, James? Tell me, who ever filled your head with all this gossip?
James: Oh yeah? So you call it gossip, huh? My good friend Zabulon told me! And he doesn’t lie.
Esther: And may I know what this good friend of yours told you?
James: You’ve been in the market, haven’t you?
Esther: Of course, I go everyday.
James: You bought some fruits, didn’t you?
Esther: Yeah, what’s wrong with that?
James: Nothing! But winking at the fruit vendor is something else!
Esther: That’s it! You’re jealous again! Oh God, what kind of husband have I got!
James: You were flirting with Ruffo, the fruit vendor. Don’t deny it.
Esther: Ruffo, the fruit vendor is more than sixty years old. He’s got no teeth left in his mouth!
James: You know that’s not necessary!
Esther: Oh, yeah? So you think this old man and I…..?
James: I’m not thinking anything. I’m positive! My friend Zabulon told me. You listen here: Don’t you ever set foot in that market again, ever!
Esther: Really? That suits me fine… From now on, you’ll have to do all the shopping for the family!
James: And don’t you ever leave this house!
Esther: Why don’t you get a watchdog to be sure?
James: I don’t wanna be the laughing stock of all Capernaum, do you understand? I, the son of Zebedee, will never tolerate this!
Esther: Of course, but my mother’s daughter has to put up with all her husband’s idiosyncrasies….
James: Hell, I’m the man of this house!
Esther: And I’m a nobody here, is that it?
James: Shut up, insolent woman! And don’t you ever shout at me!
Esther: Oh, my God….!
James: It’s all over, do you hear? Gather all your trash and go back to your mother’s house!… I don’t need you here, understand?! I don’t wanna have anything to do with you!
Esther: Now, you’ve awakened the girl with your screams!… Why don’t you nurse her with your milk? Let’s see how you do it…!
My brother James had been married to Esther, a lass from Bethsaida, for five years. During that time, they had three daughters, and more bickering….
Salome: James, son, I don’t understand this. Esther is such a fine woman….
James: Esther is a whore, that’s what she is.
Salome: Don’t talk that way about your children’s mother. Esther is you wife.
James: That’s the end of it. I have no wife any more. I told her to pack all her things and get out!
Zebedee: Wait a minute, James. Let’s not rush into this. Tell me what happened. Was she unfaithful to you?
James: If she was, I would’ve given her a good beating she’d never forget!
Zebedee: So what she done to you?
James: She’s nuts, that’s it. She winks at every man that comes her way.
Salome: That means there could only be very few, since you lock her up in your house like she was a leper. Poor creature! You don’t even bring her over!
James: C’mon, Mama, stop defending her.
Zebedee: Okay, tell me: what really happened?
James: My good friend Zabulon saw her smiling at Ruffo, the fruit vendor. That’s it.
Salome: For God’s sake, James, what do you expect her to do? Spit in his face?
James: Don’t be naive, Mama. Everything starts with a “simple smile.” You turn your back and she plays around.
Jesus: Hey, who’s playing around, huh?…. How’re you, Zebedee?….
Zebedee: Still alive, Jesus, which is still a big deal in this country!
Jesus: ….You can say that again!… What’s up, Salome?… Hey, red head, you look so serious, is anything wrong?
James: Right, Jesus.
Jesus: Hey, what’s happened?
James: I’m divorcing my wife. We’re going separate ways.
Jesus: But….. why?
Salome: It’s really nothing, Jesus. It’s just that someone has whispered to this son of ours that his wife winked at the fruit vendor….
James: It’s no gossip, Mama. It was my good friend Zabulon who told me!
Zebedee: And no one in all Capernaum can beat him as a rumor monger….
James: Not only that. Zabulon has also seen her in the square, and in the street of the tanners. The other day he saw her at the wharf…
Jesus: Say, couldn’t it be Zabulon who is “after” your wife? Why, he follows her wherever she goes…
James: Stop kidding me, Moreno….
Jesus: After all, it’s only a marriage of five years that’s going to waste, all in the wink of an eye.
James: Yeah, that’s right. It’s better to be alone than to have a bad companion. And I’ve lost my patience!
Esther: Of course!
James: And look who’s here….
Salome: Esther, my child, James told us about….
Esther: Oh yes, yes, what our friend Zabulon said…. Why don’t you sleep with him tonight? After all, you like him so much!
James: There you go again, devil woman. I told you to pack your things and go!
Esther: That’s why I came… to say goodbye to everyone…
Zebedee: Esther, child, take it easy…. Come, sit down here…. let’s have a little talk…
Esther: Talk? What for? All that this son of yours does is yell and give orders like a captain… No, no, I can’t stand this lunatic anymore…. I’m tired… and I’m leaving…
James: What did you say? You’re tired? You’re tired of what? Of sitting calmly all day long in the house, while I break my back out there on the sea? And now, you’re saying you’re tired!
Esther: So I do nothing but sit in the house, huh? Who takes care of the children, huh? Who cooks and goes to market, does the laundry and looks after little Mila? Who cleans the house and does endless things at home? You don’t think I’m working at all, do you?
James: Yeah, and it doesn’t include your gossiping in front of the house!
Esther: Then the master comes home, sits down with his arms folded, while I have to serve him his food like a great king, since he never bothers to touch any plates!
James: So this is what I deserve to hear, after spending all day working like a horse for you and the children. Don’t I deserve a plate of lentils for this?
Esther: Sure, a plate of lentils plus four jugs of wine in that damn pub where all your money goes!
James: You’ve got no right to question what I do with my money!
Esther: Yes, of course, while this slave does nothing but serve you, “gratis et amore.” For five years we’ve been married, and yet, you never spared me a single cent to buy myself a hanky!
James: I’ll squeeze your neck if you don’t show me more respect!
Esther: The trouble is…..
James: The trouble is…. that’s enough! You women are chatterers…. you’ve heard her talk, Jesus. Tell me, am I right or not, in divorcing this witch?… Answer me….
Jesus: Well, James, I think…. it’s she who has the right to junk you.
Jesus: You heard me. What I don’t understand is how Esther has managed to put up with you for so long.
James: Oh, yeah….? So you’re against me…? It’s okay. You can all go to hell! You ought to be the first, Esther. C’mon, get out of here, so you can wink at that fruit vendor once more!
Jesus: It’s funny the way we are… We men are very strict with women, and yet we don’t realize how much they have to put up with us men; we make it difficult for them, as if we’re making them swallow camels as big as this…..
James: Why do you say that now?
Jesus: Why do I say that? Look, James, we know ourselves very well…. It’s better not to talk, isn’t it?
James: Well, so what? I’m not a man for nothing, am I?
Jesus: Yeah, of course, of course… I’ve forgotten that God gave the commandments not to Moses, but to his wife….
James: Hey, Jesus, will you stop…..! It was Moses who gave men the right to abandon their wives and be divorced, for some reasons, don’t you think?
Jesus: Yeah, of course, it was for some reasons. Like the brutality and callousness of men. Moses thought: “it is better for the wife to kick him out of the house; that way, at least he won’t beat her to a pulp… But it wasn’t so at the beginning, do you hear? God wanted the man and the woman to live together with the same rights and obligations for both. What God has joined, let no one put asunder anytime he pleases.
Salome: Well, I’d rather we talk than see you quarreling with one another. This is how people get to understand each other… What do you say, Esther?
Esther: We talk?! Your son isn’t capable of talking. All he can do is shout while I bow down my head: that’s his idea of talking.
James: Well, the husband is supposed to have the last say, don’t you think so?
Esther: Sure, you have the last say, and the first and the middle too.
Jesus: God had the first say when he took out the woman from Adam’s rib. He didn’t take her out of the sole of his foot nor did He mold her from another clay. He took her from here, beside the heart… God didn’t want to give him a slave, but a companion…
A Girl: Your blessing, Gran’ma!
Another Girl: Gran’ma, Gran’ma!
At that moment, Esther and James’ three daughters entered the house. Mila, the eldest, was four years old, and had very long braids. Terina, the second, was holding Noemi by the hand. The latter, who was the youngest, could hardly walk…
James: Why did you bring the girls, Esther?
Esther: Why did I bring them? I’m taking them with me.
Esther: I’m taking them to Bethsaida. They’re my daughters, aren’t they? I brought them into this world.
James: Oh, of course, and I didn’t do anything? Is that it? A little angel who passed through the window did it… Look at their hair, it’s as red as mine… The girls will stay with me. My mother Salome, will look after them. The girls stay here, do you understand? They stay here!!!
Jesus: That’s enough, James, stop screaming!… You say their hair is as red as yours…. Don’t look at their hair, but their eyes: Look at them…. Come, Mila, come… Look at her eyes, James. They look at you with fear, because, ever since your children were born, they’ve heard nothing but your screams and received nothing but beatings. You yourself have said before: it’s better to be alone than to have a bad companion. That’s true. It’s better for your children to be orphaned than to have a father who’s like a centurion. Go ahead, Esther, take your daughters with you. May God help you to be a mother and father to them at the same time.
James: Hey, what’re you saying, Jesus…? That…. that can’t be… Wait a minute, Esther, wait…
Esther: Now what?
James: I….. well, I….
Esther: You, yes, you, who always protest against the abuses of the rulers and of King Herod, are a tyrant, worse than they are to your family. James, the son of Zebedee, who talks about justice and sharing the world’s wealth with others….! Yeah, yeah, but with your wife, you’re incapable of sharing even your wages…! Is this the kind of justice you’re talking about?
Jesus: Your wife is right, red head. We keep on saying that things ought to change in our country. I guess we have to clean our own backyard first, don’t you think so?
James: But, I..I…. what must I do in order to…? The truth is, I…. I….
Jesus: Forget about yourself! That’s what you’ve got to do, James! Forget about yourself and think of your wife a little, of making her happy!
James: Well, Esther…. So I… say… you…. Pff…. If you want, we can….. Hell, how difficult it is to ask for forgiveness….. you know what I mean, what I ask of you… King David also made a mistake, and look, he ended up singing psalms…..
Salome: Well, whatever it is that you want to say, say it at home. These little creatures are already hungry, and it’s time I serve the soup!
Esther’s face was brightening up. The girls immediately left running toward home and as always, made a lot of noise. The truth is my brother James was a difficult and stubborn man. But he was different that day. And little by little, he and all of us learned how to treat others the way we would want others to treat us.
The gospels hardly tell us anything about the daily lives of Jesus’ disciples. But as in any other life, they also experienced joys and sufferings and passed through difficult moments, whether great or small. Like anyone, they also had their bad moods, quarrels and silly moments. And like all people, they also had internal struggles to become better individuals. James’ argument with his wife – a spat common among married couples – gives an occasion for Jesus to share with him and with the rest of the family, his ideas about marriage: ideas that were enormously novel in his time.
Jewish laws and customs regarding women were obviously pro-masculine. A daughter was under her father’s care until she became twelve years old. After this, she could get married – very often, the father chose the groom for her. Thus marriage served as some kind of a transition of the woman from her father’s custody to that of the husband. Once married, the woman had the right to be supported by her spouse, although her husband’s rights were superior by far. The wife was obliged to perform household chores and to obey her spouse with an obedience that was understood to be more of a religious duty. She was virtually his servant. Above all, the husband enjoyed two rights which totally tilted the balance with respect to the non-existing conjugal equality: The right to have as many lovers as he pleased, if he could maintain them. He also had the right to divorce, which depended exclusively on him.
Divorce was practiced in Israel. And the “evil” that sprang basically from this practice was the fact that such unilateral dependence on man gave rise to a situation that was truly unjust for women. The Law of Moses allowed for the repudiation of woman (Dt 24:1). But in his time, Jesus questioned the reasons for her rejection, and the legal motives for divorce. There were two ways of interpreting this old law. For some people, the granting of divorce could be justified only by grievous reasons (principally adultery). For others, flimsy reasons were sufficient: for example, the wife had burned the food, spent so much time idling and gossiping with neighbors, etc. In practice, and since society was intensely “macho”, the latter was imposed. Thus, there were divorces motivated by whatever reason. Because of the stigma she was carrying, the rejected wife was left in a situation of serious abandonment. Right from the start, she hardly had an opportunity to live without being dependent on a man.
What Jesus basically teaches us regarding matrimony has a lot to do with the customs of his country. The famous phrase “What God has joined let no man put asunder,” does not state an abstract principle on matrimony. “Man” must be read as “the male.” Jesus concretely rejects masculine arbitrariness. Let no “male” separate what God has joined. This means that the family should not be left to the whims of the man, and that the wife should not be rendered helpless because of the intransigency of the husband. In the face of confusing legal interpretations about divorce, which were always favorable to the husband, Jesus goes back to the beginning. The history of creation as told in Genesis points out the fact that God created man and woman in His image. Therefore, they are equal in dignity, and have the same rights and opportunities. This is not to say that if the woman is to decide the divorce, then separation becomes valid. No, the Christian ideal is, obviously, matrimony “forever,” since it entails responsibility and love between the couple, which is really what is desirable. This is viewed not only from the Christian angle, but also from the point of view of human maturity. The separation of spouses will never be a solution, a panacea for the disease. As in all medicine, it must be dispensed with precaution, only when it is really necessary, and when there is no other way out. It is a painful decision, with many social consequences – especially for children. Therefore it should not be taken lightly. The same applies as in medicine: An overdose can kill the patient.
(Mt 19:1-9; Mk 10:1-12)