Every autumn, when the barns are filled with wheat and the vineyards are teeming with grapes, all Israel travels South to celebrate the feast of the tents. For seven days, Jerusalem is dressed in green, and adorned with leaves. Hundreds of huts made from palm trunks and branches surround the walls of the holy city in remembrance of the tents where our fathers lived during their long journey in the desert. The wine from the new harvest is drunk in abundance; euphoria spreads through the narrow streets of King David’s city…
A Man: I bet my five donkeys he’s coming to the feast!
Another Man: I won’t call your bet! He’s a marked man… He knows that if he comes, the Romans can grab him anytime… That spells big trouble!
Man: I wish I could see him at close range… and listen to him! He’s a prophet! Israel is never wanting in wine and in prophets! I drink to our country: the greatest in the whole world!
Another Man: Watch your tongue, big ear. Much more is said of Jesus of Galilee… John was a prophet, so they cut his head off. With Jesus, it’s more. They say he’s the Messiah….
Man: So, they’ll have him beheaded too?
Another Man: On the contrary, he’ll have the Romans beheaded, dammit! If he’s the Messiah, he’ll come with his sword this long and -zas! Down with the imperial eagle! Ah, that’ll be the day of grand feasting in Jerusalem! I give a toast to the Messiah of Galilee!
On the first day of the festival, when the first star began to shine in the sky, the big torches in the Temple of Jerusalem were lighted. All night, the streets were crammed with singing and laughing pilgrims. Jerusalem jubilantly stood watch for a week-long festivity in thanksgiving to God for the fruits of the new harvest.
Meanwhile, in Nazareth…
Mary: So my son, aren’t you going to Jerusalem?
Jesus: I dunno, mother, I still dunno….
Mary: Your cousins wanted to come along with you.
Jesus: I see. The problem is I don’t wish to go with them…
When that year’s harvest was over, Jesus went to Nazareth to see his mother. Some of his friends went with him. The wheat fields lay idle after a long harvest time. The grapes had been sent to the winepress.
Jesus: How ’bout you, Mama? Aren’t you going to the festival?
Mary: No, son. There’s a lot to do around here. My “comadre” Susana is sick, and so is Nepthali’s wife. Someone’s got to look after the children, you know.
Simon: You work so hard, cousin Mary. Maybe that’s your secret in staying young. So, what now, Jesus? Have you decided yet? Are you going with us to Jerusalem?….
Jesus’ cousins, Simon and Jacob, entered Mary’s house with their walking canes in hand…
Jesus: No, I’m not going. I’m staying in Galilee.
Simon: What? But people keep on talking of the marvelous things you’re doing. That you have the makings of a prophet… And now, what? Don’t tell me that the prophets of today are hiding under the ground like moles… Since you can do such great things, come with us and perform these deeds in the capital, for people to see you… Jacob and I shall be your barkers… “Hey, the prophet is here! He’s our cousin!” We’ll gather the people, you talk to them and we promise to applaud you, cousin, when you’re through…
Jesus: No, I’m not going, Simon. Save the applause and get goin’. The festival started last night, and you might be late. I ain’t goin’.
Simon: Bah, what a snob you are, Jesus. Go and join your friends in Capernaum. Let’s go, Jacob, and hurry up!
Jesus: Mama, tomorrow at dawn, I’m leaving.
Mary: Where to, son, to Capernaum?
Jesus: No, to Jerusalem. To the festival, with James, Peter, John and the rest of the group…
Mary: I knew you were going… Your lips were telling Simon and Jacob that you wouldn’t go, but when I looked at you, you couldn’t deny it… Jesus, my son, be careful. Jerusalem is not Galilee. The Romans are all around and they find out everything…
Jesus: Are you still afraid, Mama?
Mary: No, son, why should I be. But it’s no longer like before. Back then, I could scold you like a little boy. “Jesus, don’t do this, obey your mother”… No, now I know I can’t be a hindrance to you. Many times I’ve thought about the things you told me in Capernaum; do you remember, son?
Jesus: Of course, I do. And the truth is, I was a little harsh with you that day.
Mary: No, son. It was I who was arguing with God like our grandfather Jacob, who, one night, dared wrestle with the angel who subdued him in the end… The same thing happened to me, you know. I was telling the Lord: “Why don’t you look for somebody else? Why take a fancy to my son? He’s the only one I’ve got. Why do you want to take him away from me? Joseph is gone and I’m getting old. At least I’d like to see my son settle down with a decent girl, have a secure job, and maybe, I can even take care of my first grandchild…” This was all I asked. It wasn’t much, was it? But you see, God’s will prevailed, as always. He stretched out His hand to you and said, “You are the one I have been looking for.” It’s alright, son. He won. He is the stronger one.
Jesus: You’re a courageous woman, Mama.
Mary: Of course not, I’m scared to death. I just obey without a clear idea of the Lord’s plan for you. But don’t worry, I won’t be in your way. On the contrary, I would like to follow you… to help you… though I don’t know how…
Jesus: But, Mama, you were the one who pushed me into this! You used to tell me: “The Lord wants to humble the great and exalt the humble.” You taught me that. And that’s what we have been doing all along these months in Capernaum and in the cities by the lake…
Mary: And in Jerusalem…?
Jesus: The good news must be proclaimed in Jerusalem too, and now is the time to do it.
Mary: Take a little of this milk before you go. You’ve become so thin, you might not be able to make it even to Samaria… C’mon son, drink this and see how good it is…
When we arrived at Jerusalem, the festival was almost half over. As we approached the temple, we saw the procession coming out. Men, women and children, all waving branches of palm and willow, sang along the streets. The priests repeated the same ceremony at the atrium: God’s ministers, intoning psalms of the tents, went around the altar…
Priest: Lord, give us salvation! Lord, grant us success!
All: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord
The Temple’s atrium was filled with drunken men and children chasing sheep. Jerusalem reeked of ripe fruit as she happily bade farewell to the year that was to end…
A Man: Hey, countrywoman, look who’s here! The prophet from Galilee.
A Woman: You’re drunk, that’s why you’re seeing prophets everywhere!
Another Man: I’m telling you, woman, look at that cloak with patches… yeah, it’s him…. Hey, folks! Run!… The prophet has arrived! The prophet has arrived!
People responded to the man’s screams by milling around us at the gate of Corinth… A group of men pushed Jesus up onto a piece of rock….
A Man: Hey you, Galilean, what’re you doing here?!
Jesus: Celebrating this year’s harvest; it was good!
Another Man: Speak louder, for we can’t hear you over here! Dammit, pig, stop pushing!
The gate of Corinth was a cockpit in turmoil. Everybody wanted to get close to the newly arrived prophet…
Jesus: We have come to celebrate this year’s harvest and to inform you of what is happening in the north! Yes, the farms have yielded wheat and grapes, that’s right. But the Lord is announcing a greater harvest, a feast and a banquet to be celebrated by all people on earth. Friends from Jerusalem: we are here to bring you the good news! The Kingdom of God has come!
Man: Oh, great, for this Kingdom of God!
A Woman: And where the hell is it so we can see it?
Jesus: You don’t have to look up to heaven nor anywhere else, woman. It’s right here, where we poor people are gathered!
Another Man: Long live the Galileans! In Jerusalem and all over the country!
Another Woman: Hey, young man, yes, you, who speak so beautifully, will you explain to us one thing: what must we do in order to enter this kingdom? And who’ll be left behind?
Jesus: The door to the Kingdom is narrow. One must pass through it with empty pockets. Only those who share what they have shall pass through it. Those who deny the poor shall be left behind. Those who think they are first shall be last, and the last shall be first! Those who are at the end of the line shall go in first!
A Man: That’s very well said, Galilean!
We had a difficult time leaving the temple. The people were shoving each other. They all wanted to see Jesus. The Roman soldiers watched at a close distance to prevent major trouble. Some Galileans invited us to spend the night in their bamboo tents. At nightfall, we stayed in one of them, while people from the capital continued talking and arguing…
A Neighbor: Did you notice how he spoke? I tell you, this man is the Messiah!
Another Neighbor: But have you ever seen a Messiah in broken sandals? You must be out of your mind!
Another Neighbor: Besides, the Messiah can’t be a Galilean. He must come from the family of King David.
Neighbor: So, what family did this guy come from? That’s what we don’t know.
Neighbor: He’s got to be the son of David! Either he comes from David’s family or he is not the Messiah!
A Teacher: My friend, how can he be the son of David, when there’s a psalm where David calls him father instead of his son?
Neighbor: What psalm are you talking about? This guy speaks so clearly, he’s got the word of God on his tongue….!
Pharisee: How can the Messiah be the son of David when David himself calls him father? As another psalm says, no one can be the son of his own son. Don’t you think so?
Neighbor: Listen, I don’t understand a word you’re saying… nor everything the Galilean says… so why don’t you just get lost and sing your psalms somewhere else!
Neighbor: This Galilean was born in a poor town called Nazareth! Do you think the Messiah would come from there, huh? Don’t be silly! When he comes, no one will ever know where he comes from. But he suddenly will appear. Zas! The heavens will open and we shall see him… He’s the tricky type, you know… Let the Messiah go to sleep tonight, while we all go to the Aziel’s inn! The best wine in Jerusalem is kept in the barrels of this scoundrel!
That night, the prophet from Galilee was the talk of the whole town: from the barrio of the potmakers, the water carriers, to the street of the prostitutes and the big market… Nobody could come up with a good answer to the same question about him… The autumn’s new moon, as it faintly shone over the walls of the holy city that was surrounded by tents, was at its highest point in the sky. Jerusalem, weary after the festival, was just beginning to succumb to deep slumber…
At the start of autumn in September, the people of Israel celebrate the feast of the “sukkoth” (feast of the tents and huts). This brings to a close the fruit harvest and the gathering of grapes. Of the three pilgrimages held by the Israelites in Jerusalem annually – the Passover, the Pentecost and the Tents – the last was considered to be the most festive and popular. It was during this time that more people converged on the capital. For seven days, the people lived in huts that were put up on terraces or on patios of the houses, along the expanse of the temple, or in public squares around Jerusalem. These huts were constructed in remembrance of the tents where the Hebrews lived for forty years during their journey through the desert and to the promised land.
In Jesus’ time, and as influenced by the prophetic texts (Zec 14:16, 19), the people associated the feast of the Tents with the triumph of the Kingdom of God and the Messiah. This episode shows the enthusiasm of Jesus’ cousins in his becoming more and more popular each day and their excitement, for their own interest, over Jesus’ going to Jerusalem for the festival. At this point, Jesus was already a very popular prophet not only in his own Galilee but also in the south, in Judea, and even in the capital. At this point too, Jesus was fully aware of the conflict brought by his words, his actions and the people around him: the poor, pursued by the law, “the damned,” “the leftovers” of that society.
In this episode it is the second time that Jesus visits Jerusalem. He does it semi-clandestinely, because after the news that Herod was after his head, he did not think it prudent for him to be making noise. In this case, although he does not reject the idea of spreading his prophetic message widely among the pilgrims who converged on the capital, he shuns the spectacular proposed to him by his cousins.
If at this point Jesus was already aware of a violent death, Mary, too, had the intuition that this could be the end of her son. That is why she was scared. Mary was a courageous woman and a woman of faith, although this faith does not suppress fear nor weakness. Mary, constantly fearing the consequences of his actions, suffered because of her son’s commitment; she had no clear picture of where this commitment would lead. Nevertheless, she moved on and was guided by her faith which continued to grow and mature in her.
It was also a fact that the roads to Jerusalem were not safe. In Jesus’ time, banditry was rampant all over the country. In order to protect their trade, through the routes of the caravans, the Romans took special interest in ridding the roads of bandits. Farmers told great stories about hijackers and were apprehensive of the risks entailed on their trips. It was a special favor from God to be able to reach Jerusalem safe and sound.
At the capital, after this first public speech shown in this episode and summarized in the constant message of the gospel: share, try to enter through the narrow gate by giving, instead of accumulating (Mt 7:13-14), the people, gathered in Jerusalem for the festival, were talking about Jesus. They wanted to find out if he is or is he not the Messiah, or – even more – if such a man of low origin, with no doctorate nor studies at all, nor authority – could really be the one… In those times, awaiting the Messiah was a constant topic of conversation among people. Some Rabbis believed that the Messiah could only come from the family of David (he could be his “son”). Others did not give much importance to this aspect, but to what the Messiah could do. In his second trip to the capital, Jesus is already known. Poor people channel their hopes for justice through him.
(Jn 7:1-13 and 40-43)