Reuben: But Nivio, are you really serious?
Nivio: Of course, my friends. Don’t you believe me?
Titus: What happened? Did you have a spat with your girl? Did your father disown you?
Nivio: Neither of the two.
Reuben: You must be sick, then.
Nivio: No, nothing of that sort. I’m perfectly all right. But I’ll feel better if I go and tell him: “Hey, prophet, count me in! I’d like to join your group, too, and travel to Jerusalem, and spend the Passover in the city of David.”
Titus: I bet you won’t dare.
Nivio: I won’t dare what?
Titus: Say that to the prophet.
Nivio: You don’t know me then. Right now I’m gonna tell him.
Reuben: Wanna make a bet, Nivio?
Nivio: Sure. How much? Twenty dinarii?
Reuben: Make it forty.
Titus: Nah, a barrel of wine would be better. When you lose, we can all drink to our hearts’ desire, as you drown these out of this world ideas of yours in the sweetness of wine.
Reuben: Ha, ha… C’mon, there’s no turning back. You’d better swear.
Nivio: “I swear and I promise: and this bet is on, for a barrel of wine.”
Titus: This is the ultimate thing we’d like to happen in Capernaum! Nelson, the son of Phanuel, took the bait and fell into the Nazarene’s mousetrap! Ha!
Reuben: What’ll your Dad say the moment he finds out?
Nivio: What the heck do I care? He lives his own, life. I live my own too.
Reuben: What’ll people say, Nivio! The landlord’s son wants to be in the service of a farmer who is half witch and half agitator?
Nivio: I don’t care what you say, but this guy, Jesus, is different. Golly, he’s gutsy! All it takes is to listen to him.
Titus: Or better, to “smell him!” He reeks of onions and whore’s perfume!
Reuben: Birds of a feather…….
Titus: So, the Nazarene has given you the itch!
Nivio: Ha, I think you’re all envious!
Reuben: What? We, envious? Ha, ha, ha…. No way! Hey, I’m happy with my life…. I’ve got lots of servants and I don’t have to work hard!
Titus: Same here.
Nivio: I’m not, and I’m decided to change my life. I’d like to do something great! I’ll go see the prophet this afternoon, and go with him to the capital and then……
Reuben: And then, go bathe yourself to remove the lice that you will have picked up from that miserable prophet! Ha!
Titus: Look, Nivio, don’t you understand? Oil will never mix with water. Jesus is not of our kind. You’re not of his kind either. If you join him, of what good will it be?
Reuben: I don’t know what’s gotten into you, Nivio, but this much I can tell you: wait till he picks on your father and the rich….. and that’ll be the time to say goodbye!
Nivio: This is what you think of him. But I do believe that Jesus has an open mind. I’m sure he’ll be delighted to see me. I can be useful to him. I’ve got money, education, I’ve got….
Titus: And most of all, don’t forget our bet!
Reuben: Right, and it’s been decided: a barrel of wine! Do you agree, Nivio?
Nivio: You bet, pals.
Nivio was the youngest son of Phanuel, one of the wealthy landlords in Capernaum. He was tall and strong, never wanting in good food and elegant clothes, and he went to the best school. He helped his father in the management of their land, and he had plenty of time to spend with his friends… That afternoon, he left his luxurious house and headed for the fishermen’s barrio, to a street by the sea….
Little Simon: C’mon, stupid. Jump!
Canilla: Tacatan, tacatan, tacatan…. hiyahh, horsey!
Little Simon: My little horsey jumps better than yours, look! Ha, ha, ha!
Canilla: Now, it’s my turn!
Nivio: Hey, kids, could you tell me where Jesus of Nazareth lives?
Little Simon: Pff…! Yeah, he’s inside, fixing a door… Hey, Moreno, someone’s looking for you!
Jesus: Here I am! Who is it?
Little Simon: A young man!
Jesus was alone when Nivio came to the house. My mother was mending nets in the wharf, and old Zebedee, my brother James and I were fishing at mid sea, as always….
Jesus: Say, aren’t you one of Phanuel’s sons, the landlord?
Nivio: Exactly! How did you know me?
Jesus: You know, in Capernaum one get’s to know everyone….. Well, this door is fixed….. Not even a hurricane can bring it down!…… What’s your name?
Nivio: Nivio. I’ve been called by that name for eighteen years!
Jesus: Fine, Nivio… They say you’re a nice person, in spite of your father…
Nivio: Nonsense! The only good person there is in the city at the moment is no one but you, Nazarene.
Jesus: Me? Why do you say that?
Nivio: Because you are. You and your group are the only ones doing something so that things may change in our country.
Jesus: Well, the truth is, you wouldn’t want things to change in the country. They wouldn’t suit you…
Nivio: Nothing of that sort. You’re great, Jesus. I have always said so.
Jesus: I have always said that the only great one is the Lord. All of us push a nail here and there, put bricks one over the other, and we simply do what we can….
Nivio: That’s why I came to talk to you. I also want to put my own brick and do my share in putting up the wall.
Nivio: Yeah. You’re surprised, aren’t you? Of course, I understand. Imagine, the son of Phanuel! Please don’t be misled by appearances, Nazarene. You and I will get to understand each other, you will see…
Jesus: I hope so…. Come, sit over here….. and let’s talk….
Jesus put the hammer and nails away and sat down on the floor. The landlord’s son did the same….
Nivio: Everyone in the city talks of nothing except the journey to Jerusalem.
Jesus: What journey?
Nivio: What else? Your journey.
Jesus: Ah, of course…
Nivio: I also thought about it and made a decision: Count me in, Jesus.
Jesus: Don’t tell me, you’ve got the sting too….
Nivio: Can’t go with you?
Jesus: But of course, man! You’re welcome. Indeed, I’m glad. I’m sure everyone will be pleased too.
Nivio: I hope so…. Okay, Jesus, let’s go to the point. Exactly what are we gonna do in Jerusalem? What are your plans? Tell me.
Jesus: Well…. the plan is to change everything.
Nivio: What everything?
Jesus: ……We’re going to build a new heaven and earth where everyone gives a hand, that all of us may smile and live in happiness…. What do you think of this plan?
Nivio: I like it. It seems like a beautiful plan.
Jesus: Exactly, but in order to do it, there’ll be a little problem… “in order for those who have less to have more, those who have more should have less.”
Nivio: What was that you said?…. Seems like a tongue twister.
Jesus: No, it’s something very simple. Listen! Why do some people in Israel experience hunger? Because others eat twice as much. Why do some children walk barefoot and half-naked in the street? Because others have seven tunics and fourteen pairs of sandals kept in their chests. Some of us carry only a grain of wheat in our pockets while others have their barns filled to the brim. Do you understand, Nivio?
Nivio: Understand what?
Jesus: That the only way to fill up a cliff is to reduce a hill. God’s plan is to equalize, do you understand? What do you think of this?
Nivio: Sure, of course…… Okay, going back to the trip… Tell me, how many are we going to Jerusalem?…. Many? Few?… Whom have you invited?
Jesus: Look, we’ve invited everyone… but you know how people are…. First, they say “yes, yes” then, later, they say “I forgot.”
Nivio: That’s right. People talk a lot, but that’s all. Right, Jesus?
Jesus: Precisely. We need people who are willing to work hard and to push forward the Kingdom of God.
Nivio: Well, here I am putting my shoulder to the wheel, yes, sir. As a matter of fact, and I’m not bragging, but since I was a child, I was taught the commandments of God which I complied with. I have never stolen in my life.
Jesus: Neither were you ever hungry……
Nivio: I have never killed anyone. Neither have I wished to do it.
Jesus: And neither have you felt the steward’s lashing on your own back…
Nivio: What? You don’t believe me?…. Seriously, Jesus, I swear I have never done wrong to anyone…
Jesus: You don’t have to swear. I believe you. Of course…. Even the drones do nothing bad in the beehive….
Nivio: Ah, now I see what you’re up to…. Well, in that case, why don’t you go out to the street and find out who in Capernaum has given more alms than I.
Jesus: Who do you think can do that here, when everyone has a hole in his own pocket?
Nivio: Well, yes, but….. going back to our trip…. Have you decided on what we shall bring for the trip? I guess we’ll have to bring something, won’t we?
Jesus: You don’t have to worry about that, Nivio….
Nivio: If we have to buy something, feel free to tell me….
Jesus: To buy, no, but to sell, yes.
Nivio: To sell?……. To sell what?
Jesus: Everything. You’ve got to leave everything, to set your hands free.
Jesus stared at the hands of Phanuel’s son. They were so smooth, unlike the calloused and chapped hands of the poor. Then he lifted his eyes and looked at him with sympathy….
Jesus: Listen, Nivio. Moses too, grew up in a rich house. The pharaoh’s daughter fed him well, gave him the best clothes and sent him to the best school in Egypt. But one day, Moses went down to visit his brothers and saw an Egyptian foreman beating a Hebrew slave. Moses got so furious he killed the foreman. He lost everything – his house and his comfortable life. Left with nothing, he was persecuted by the pharaoh’s guards. Thus, he became worthy of his people. Then he was able to draw close to the slave, like his equal, and call him brother, and help him to be free. C’mon, Nivio, think about this, and come back later, so we can discuss our trip….
Nivio: Sure, I’ll think about it, Jesus. I’ll think about it….
Nivio looked at Jesus, not knowing what to say. Then he stood up from the floor, shook his new tunic that became soiled, and left the house…. He was very sad.
Peter: Hey, Moreno, why did Phanuel’s son come over?
Jesus: To teach me a game, Peter.
Peter: A game?
Jesus: Yeah…… Hey, Little Simon, come here…. run….
Jesus peeped through the door and called Peter’s son who was playing in the street with a group of children..
Jesus: Say, little Simon, what game are you playing?
Little Simon: Horsey -horsey. Tacatan, tacatan, tacatan….!
Jesus: Do you want to learn a new game?
Little Simon: Sure, sure, how is it?
Jesus: Listen. It’s a camel’s game. You are the camel. Let’s see. Get down on your fours….. like this…. See, you have a big hump on your back… Do you see this needle?
Jesus joined his fingers to form a small circle….
Little Simon: So, what do I do now?
Jesus: Do you see this small hole? The camel should try to pass through the needle’s eye. If he succeeds, he wins. If not, he loses.
Little Simon remained staring at Jesus’ hand. Then he stood up from the floor….
Little Simon: I don’t like this game, Jesus. Bye! Tacatan, tacatan….!
Jesus: That was the game that Phanuel’s son wanted to play. But the camel will never pass through the needle’s eye. Even children know that, Peter.
Reuben: I’ve got this feeling, Nivio, that today we’ll drown our sorrows in sweet wine!
Titus: “I swear, I promise, I declare…”
Reuben: …and your bet was a barrel of wine! Ha, ha…!
Titus: Hey, Nivio, cheer up and let’s toast to your silly head! Ha, ha, ha…!
Nivio’s friends went inside his house, opened a barrel of wine and started to drink and played jokes on him. The landlord’s son, between gulps and laughter, eventually forgot about the trip to Jerusalem…..
This evangelical text, oftentimes used to illustrate the theme about vocation, has disturbing ideas for the rich. We would say this is an account where Jesus supposedly appears to be a “demagogue.” The primitive Christian tradition was faithful to Jesus’ harsh criticism on wealth and he never found any possible justification for those who had accumulated wealth. The Holy Fathers of the Church were also “demagogue,” when dealing with this topic: The gospel rightfully refers to excessive wealth as “unjust,” since it springs from no other than injustice and one cannot possess it unless others else lose what they need or destroy themselves. Thus, to me, a popular saying seems very correct: The rich are rich on account of their own injustice or their inheritance of properties unjustly acquired,” as St. Jerome put it, four hundred years after Christ (Epistle 120:1).
Nivio is what we would call today a “coffee table revolutionary.” What he feels is what is sometimes justly understood to be a “vocation”: An undefined restlessness to become a better person, to be of help to others. In him, there is also some sort of a warped/mal-formed conscience on one hand, and on the other, a desire to hobnob with Jesus, a leader who wins people over and becomes important in the eyes of his followers.
It is good to demythify the “rich young man.” Sometimes he is pictured as a good man, pure, honest, one who obeys all the commandments, but “not fit for the religious life” because he is not courageous enough to heed the “advice” of Jesus to sell everything and give it to the poor. This is not the focus of the gospel. Jesus is not giving “advice” to those who seek perfection. Jesus shows the rich young man the only valid way to enter the Kingdom: through the experience of the poor – by putting one’s self in their place, sharing in their life, taking as their own the cause of their liberation. It does not deal with an isolated bit of advice, but with the whole project of life itself. The rich young man has not committed great wrongs, but he has not done much good either. His is a sin of omission. And when Jesus shows him where he has gone wrong – in his lack of sensitivity for the poor – he continues to be blind, to be obstinate in his own individualism, satisfied with his comfortable “decent” life.
This callousness too frequently brought about by money among the rich and so evident each day, is what brought Jesus to making this exaggerated analogy of the camel and the needle. This phrase about the needle has nothing to do with the shape of the opening of an oriental door (because of its form), as it has often been said, in order to soften the comparison made by Jesus. (It was said that this eye of oriental doors was very narrow, but if the camel lowered his hump and bent a little, then he could pass…) No, this comparison is about a sewing needle and a camel, the biggest known animal in Palestine. A camel can never pass through this eye. Never. With this exaggerated analogy, Jesus simply wants to say this: it is impossible, unless God performs a miracle. These extreme analogies are, on the other hand, typical of oriental expressions and Jesus frequently uses them to be sure that the radical character of his message is not distorted.
Nivio’s “decency,” his good deeds, are being questioned by Jesus, because he was well-fed, well-educated, with a sure future. He had all the conveniences to be good, had no need to steal or to feel constrained to violence. The “morality” of some persons is no more than a luxury. Their economic status not only allows them to live a good life, but also to be good, besides being considered such by society. Meanwhile, for many people living in misery, cheating, aggression and sometimes, prostitution or other forms of “sin” are not vices, but the logical consequence of their desperate situation or their only way of survival.
(Mt 19:16-24; Mk 10:17-25; Lk 18:18-25)