On our way back from the Feast of the Tents, Galilee was in great commotion. Rumors of what Jesus had done in the capital had reached Capernaum even before we got there. The talk about the new prophet was everywhere. Jacob and Simon, Jesus’ cousins, returned from Jerusalem in the same caravan and spent the night in my father’s house…
Simon: You’re becoming famous, cousin, there’s no doubt about it. Allow me to tell you this, though. It’s true you’ve got the gift of gab and the knack for leadership… but you need people, and that’s what Jacob and I are talking about… You’ve got to have popular support which you haven’t got…
Jesus: What about those who were at the wharf this afternoon, what are they, cousin Simon?
Simon: Nothing but a bunch of rotten rascals. Where the hell do you think you’re heading for, with these paupers?
Jacob: And how! Just take a look at these people around you, Jesus. A handful of ignorant fishermen who know not where their right hand is…
Simon: Like Matthew, the despicable tax collector….
Jacob: And Mary, that prostitute who reeks of whore scent….
Simon: And Selenia, who’s like her…..
Jacob: Not to mention those stupid peasants and scoundrels.
Simon: What’s gotten into your shell, Jesus? Listen to us, cousin, get other people, people with more training, damn it!….. and with more…. how shall I say it?….. with more “influence”… Those who can move the world at the snap of a finger…. Haven’t you got the idea yet?… Open your eyes, Jesus, and wake up!
Graziela: Open your eyes, Eliseus, wake up!… Happy birthday!…. Did you sleep well?
Eliseus: Ahuuummm…! Very well, Graziela, more than ever! Tralara, tralari, tralalalari!
Manolo: Happy anniversary, master! May the God of Israel bless you from head to foot!
Eliseus: And you too, Manolo! Blazes, I feel damned happy today… I want…. I just want to…..
Graziela: What is it, Eliseus?
Eliseus: “I’d like to take you in my arms, my dear!”…. Tralara, tralari…. Ha, ha, hay…!
Graziela: Certainly you got up from the right side of the bed, yes siree! Happiness is man’s best friend!
Eliseus: Today, I’d like all my neighbors to be happy with me!
Eliseus: Then why don’t you make it happen, master? It’s been a long time since we had a party in the house!
Eliseus: You’re right, Manolo. And this time, it won’t be just an ordinary party. It’s going to be something grand! A banquet! Damn! We’ve had bad times during the year and we need a break! Graziela and Manolo: We’ll surprise the whole neighborhood! We’ll treat them to a banquet, and all kinds of wine and drinks will flow…
Eliseus: And there’ll be music and dancing! Yippee!
Eliseus: Manolo, go to the farm right away and kill five of the best lambs that you can find…
Eliseus: Five fattened lambs….. what else, sir?
Eliseus: Graziela, go and buy some boxes of olives….
Graziela: Which of them, the green ones or the black ones, master?
Eliseus: Two of each, and don’t forget the figs!
Graziela: And a pot of good chick peas!
Manolo: As well as eggplants and cucumbers….
Eliseus: And almond sauce!
Graziela: Not to forget the nuts!
Eliseus: Manolo, start milking the goats, for today milk will overflow for all my friends!
Graziela: Milk and honey will drip through the hemlines of all the guests!
Eliseus: How many barrels of wine shall I bring in, master?
Eliseus: Two,…. no, make it four, four barrels of the best wine from the house of Carmelo! I want everyone to leave my house happy and contented!
Graziela: They’ll be crawling on all fours, Eliseus, with all the wine before them!…
Eliseus: Tralara, tralari….!
Eliseus: But the most important is missing, master.
Eliseus: What do you mean, Manolo?
Eliseus: How about the guests, master? Whom are you going to invite?
Eliseus: The whole neighborhood…! Everyone, yes sir! Send the word to Don Apolonius, to Doctor Onessimus…. oh, and to Absalon and his beloved wife, Madam Eunice…. I want you to invite everyone, Manolo; tell them I’m expecting them with open arms! I am expecting everyone at the banquet! I want my house to be filled with joy and with all my friends!
Eliseus: Is everything all set, Manolo?
Eliseus: Yes, master, and don’t be nervous…..
Eliseus: Oh, I’m not nervous, Manolo…. In fact, I’m happy…. Graziela, Graziela, have you roasted the lambs?
Graziela: They’re all well roasted, Eliseus! You’ve asked that question for the tenth time…
Eliseus: You haven’t forgotten the dates, I suppose.
Graziela: No, master. Everything is ready. Take it easy…
Eliseus: I’m just too happy, that’s all…! Tralara, tralari…! Manolo, has the invitation been sent to all the neighbors?
Eliseus: To everyone, master. Look at these corns on my feet. I got them for having walked up and down the street…. I went to Don Apolonius’ house, to Doctor Onessimus’….. to Absalom’s, and…
Graziela: ….and “his beloved wife, Madam Eunice,” huh…!
Eliseus: Did you hear that? It’s the first night watch.
Eliseus: Well, the guests must be arriving by now…
Graziela: You know these people, Eliseus. The women have to braid their hair…. the men have to oil their moustache…. well, anyway, they always come late…
Apolonius: But what has gotten into his head, that he should invite me. Why the heck, should I, a very busy man, suck lamb’s bones in his house?…. Hff, this guy Eliseus is crazy…. Besides, he’s a nobody, he hasn’t got any fortune nor business to talk about. Tell me, shall we talk about the birds in the sky? He’s a crazy fool, that’s why he is what he is, penniless, without a single centavo in his pocket!
Messenger: Well, sir, what shall I tell him?
Apolonius: Whatever occurs to you. Tell him I’m not home, you don’t know where I went… that’s it…. I went to purchase some lands, that I had to measure them…. that he has to excuse me…
In a short while, the messenger was at Eliseus’ door…
Eliseus: They’re coming, they’re coming! Graziela, run and open the door! Tralara, tralari….
Graziela: It’s only the messenger, master…
Messenger: My master, Don Apolonius, cannot come because he is on a trip…. He’s sending his regrets.
Eliseus: Did you say he was on a trip?
Messenger: He purchased a piece of land and he went to take its measurement and… that he wishes everyone to enjoy the food!….. Good-bye!
Eliseus: Too bad! I would have wanted to greet Don Apolonius.
Graziela: Don Apolonius is a very busy man and he’s got lots of money.
Eliseus: They are now announcing the second watch, master.
Graziela: And still no one has come… The lambs and the chick peas are getting cold…
Eliseus: Well, don’t get impatient, woman… they’ll come….. Tralara, tralari….
Messenger: And what should I tell him, Doctor Onessimus?
Onessimus: Anything, man. After all, this Eliseus is so stupid, he won’t even know… Ah, my teacher, Jeconiah, used to say: “a man without culture is like a ball of excrement; he who touches it, shakes his hand”…. You talk to him about the mysteries of science, he doesn’t understand; You explain to him the subtleties of art, and he gets bored; you tell him: “Do you know Philosophy?” and he replies: “Where does this woman live?”…. Ah, these ignorant fools!
Messenger: Well, so what do I tell him?
Onessimus: Tell this Mr. Nobody that I cannot make it, that…I just bought a couple of oxen and that I still have to test them. He he… send him my regrets.
Once again, there was a knock at the door.
Eliseus: At last, the guests are coming! Graziela, hurry up!
Messenger: Here’s a message from my master, Doctor Onessimus: He wants me to inform Mr. Nobody….. pardon me…. Mr. Eliseus….. that he cannot make it to the banquet, that he bought a couple of oxen…… that he wishes everyone a hearty dinner…… good-bye!
Eliseus: Such bad luck, master…
Graziela: Doctor Onessimus is a very cultured man…
Eliseus: Yeah, a brazen man, that’s what he is. Say, Graziela, there goes the third watch…. and my house is still empty..
Graziela: Don’t be sad, Eliseus…. I tell you, they’re coming…
Eliseus: Probably. Let’s wait a little longer…. Tararira…. lira….
Eunice: What? We’re going to the house of this common man?… Oh, no, my dear, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, but this Eliseus has no class, he’s got no manners…… Oh!
Husband: But, what shall we tell him, my dear?
Eunice: For a swine like him, anything will do. Tell him that…. we have just gotten married and are still celebrating our wedding….
And the messenger reached the house of Eliseus.
Messenger: They have just gotten married and are still celebrating their wedding…. Ay!
Eliseus: How’s that?
Messenger: No, nothing. They are not coming.
Graziela: But these two were married more than a month ago…
Messenger: They are very much in love with each other and…
Eliseus: Yeah, they’ve got so much love, but no manners! Pff….. what a flop…. The cocks will crow in a short while, and yet, not even one of the guests has come….
Graziela: And the lambs are as cold as a dead man.
Eliseus: And the barrels of wine are left untouched.
Graziela: Master Eliseus, could they possibly have lost their way, that’s why they haven’t come?
Eliseus: No, Graziela, it was I who made a mistake in inviting them. Tarariro…. Manolo!
Eliseus: Yes, master.
Eliseus: Manolo, put on your sandals fast, and go through the alleys and the marketplace right away, and bring me the beggars, the crippled ones, the blind and all the poor people that you will find in the street… Tell them to come to my house, to partake of the banquet that I have prepared for them…
Graziela: Are you out of your mind, Eliseus?
Eliseus: Of course not! I have never been saner in my life. Now I understand. Run, Manolo, and tell them at once, before the sun rises…
In a short while….
Manolo: Master, the whole barrio is excited! Many of them are coming over here!…. Shall I tell them that there is no more place?
Eliseus: On the contrary, Manolo, go back and tell them that those who are hungry may come, for there is enough place in my house, there are enough lambs and olives and wine for everyone!
Eliseus: Yes, master, right away. Master, I also came across one of these prostitutes, you know… and she said that business was so bad, and if she could also come to partake of some food….
Eliseus: Of course, Manolo, tell her to come, as well as her friends.
Eliseus: And those living on the other side of the river told me that….
Eliseus: Let them come too! Let all the tramps and the stinking men as well as the whores come, too! They are all welcome in my house, this banquet is for them, the doors of my house are wide open for them!
Jesus: That night, Eliseus’ house was filled to the brim with people. There was dancing, there was food and there was fun. It was a great feast… the feast of the Lord.
Simon: What did you say, Jesus?…. the feast of the Lord?
Jesus: Yes, cousin Simon, the Kingdom of God is like the banquet given by Eliseus. God’s true house does not smell like incense but the sweat and the perfume of a prostitute. God is one of us, don’t forget that. God is with us, with the poor.
That Jesus, a man who was already popular, whom the people saw as a true prophet, was surrounded by the poor people of Capernaum or of Jerusalem, turned out to be scandalous. To make the poor people the privileged beneficiaries of the good news and to trust in them that they might become the agents of change, was intolerable. Jesus held on to this and he even called “blessed ones or happy ones” those who were able to surpass a similar scandal (Mt 11:5-6).
Jesus’ followers are known in the evangelical texts in various words, all pointing toward the same. One text talks of “the small ones” or of the “least ones” or of “the simple ones.” Another word used is “nepis” (in Greek), which is equivalent to “patit” in Hebrew and to “sabra” in Aramaic, a word which sums up the following: Uncultured people, with no breeding or religious formation. Jesus was surrounded by the “amha’ares” – as the Pharisees referred to them – men and women of ill reputation, slandered, and whom the self-righteous considered as doomed on account of their religious ignorance and bad moral behavior. Jesus simply referred to them as the “poor.” They are those who have nothing, “those who are weary and overburdened,” “the sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus, who was from the same social class, an artisan and a peasant, proclaimed the good news of liberation to them.
A number of Jesus’ parables try to “justify” God’s conduct, who addresses the good news to the most miserable. One of them is the parable of the “great banquet” where Jesus shows once more, one of the reasons for this preference of God: The rich, the privileged, the wise, think highly of themselves, are so satisfied and so secure that they shut themselves out of the doors of the banquet. God has invited them, but they do not wish to attend the banquet. On the other hand, the poor, those who do not matter to anyone nor to anything, have their hearts open to the invitation. They have the capacity for excitement and surprises. They have hope in their hearts and they go. God counts on them for the realization of his historical plan and they are the ones who will jampack his house and participate in the endless feast.
From the time of the prophets, Israel describes the joy of the Messianic times with the image of a banquet, where there was good food and most of all, where drinks were in abundance (Is 25:6-8). In the minds of the people, the basic difference between ordinary food and a banquet was precisely in the amount of drink that was consumed. Wine was synonymous to celebration and happiness. It was the same with dancing. To mention the word feast meant dancing, to the point that the Hebrew word that corresponded to “feast” meant “dance” originally. The feast of the Messiah was likewise compared to a wedding feast. This is what Matthew’s version adds to this parable. Even the last of the books of the New Testament, the book of Revelation preserves this imagery of the Messianic wedding (Rev 19:7-8). Within these solemn and brilliant allegories, Jesus puts in as a wedge the “scandal” of the gospel: The guests to that banquet are the tattered poor, the beggars, the least of the people, the rascals.
To overcome the scandal of the poor is core to discovering the essence of the gospel, and what is even more important, to get into the mystery of the Lord. After Jesus, the poor shall be not only the privileged beneficiaries of the good news, but they are also called to be a part of the Kingdom. All this signifies that starting from Jesus, only those who grasp the real meaning of the poor know the real meaning of God.
The gospel is aimed at eradicating all types of differences among people, showing the way to a friendly and co-equal society. And, as it happened in Jesus’ time, the only thing that can make us understand God’s plan is to reiterate Jesus’ example: by putting God within the hands of the poor.
(Mt 22:1-10; Lk14:15-24)