96- THE PROSTITUTES SHALL BE FIRST

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It was the month of Nissan, the spring month. The plains of Esdraelon woke up, garbed in yellow daisies and wild lilies. The whole field smelled of humid earth in anticipation of the fresh blooms. In two days, we left Galilee and Samaria behind. We were heading for Judea, the barren land.

On the third day of our journey, we could see Jerusalem’s silhouette in the distance. The Holy City was already preparing for the feast of the Passover….

Mary: Jesus, my son, I’m scared..

Jesus: Of what, mother?

Mary: Of Jerusalem. There were times when, looking at the walled city from afar, I thought it was the crown of a queen. I dunno. Now, it seems to me that the walls are like teeth of stone, of a huge mouth, wide open…… threatening….

Jesus: Jerusalem is a queen, all right, but not a murderous queen. When a great prophet lifts his head and denounces it, the giant mouth shuts up and bites.

Mary: My God, don’t talk that way, son…… all the more you scare me….!

It was already getting dark. We were very tired and our feet had become callused. We crossed the gate called Fish and we entered Jerusalem. We had to pass through the wall of the Ammonites where, every night, the heavily made up prostitutes of Jerusalem lined up, exhibiting their wares….

Salome: Listen to those hookers sing! Aren’t they ashamed of themselves?

Philip: Well, M’am Salome, if they don’t advertise, then they don’t sell. I used to do the same when I had my cart.

Salome: Stop being vulgar, Philip.

Philip: Besides, these women are an unfortunate lot.

Salome: It takes one to know one in order to know all. Just look at our “Magdalene” here…. She’s got her eyes fixed on the group….

Filomena: Mary, hey Mary!

Before we knew it, Mary of Magdala was already rushing to greet a friend stationed by the wall….

Salome: See, I told you, Philip… what’s bred in the bone will come out in the flesh!

Filomena: My gosh, Mary dear, what brought you here, young lady?

Magdalene: Precisely, Filomena, what are you doing here in Jerusalem? Have you lost something in this mad city?

Filomena: Yeah, my dignity…… that’s all…. Oh, Mary, you’re still young, but I’ve already turned thirty…. Before, my customers used to go after me. Now, it’s the other way around. Do you understand?

Magdalene: And you came as far as Jerusalem, is that right?

Filomena: You bet, my friend. But, obviously, you’ve changed your turf too. Are things that bad in Capernaum?

Magdalene: Nope….. I just decided to leave….. the trade.

Filomena: What? Did I hear you right? You mean you’ve betrayed us?…. I don’t believe you, Mary!

Magdalene: You’d better believe me, Filo. I’ve not been lighting the lamp for a couple of months now.

Filomena: Tell me, what’s occupying your time now, young lady?

Magdalene: I’m involved in something else, Filo.

Filomena: What? Are you into textiles smuggling? Or crocodile charms?

Magdalene: Nothing of that sort. It’s the Kingdom of God.

Filomena: Kingdom of God? Can you eat that, or what?

Magdalene: God must’ve grown so weary of everything, he showed his angry face through the clouds and said: “Those who don’t know must now learn how to swim, for another deluge worse than the first is forthcoming!”

Filomena: What nonsense are you talking about?

Magdalene: Sshh! There’s big trouble coming, Filomena. Those who are up will be down, and those who are down will be up! At any rate, I’d go for the Kingdom of God.

Filomena: For God’s sake, are you into politics, Mary?! That would be the height of it! Oh, this is funny!… well, if you come to think of it, politics and our trade have a lot in common. But, tell me, on whose side are you, the Zealots’ or the Sadducees’, or somebody else’s?

Magdalene: I dunno, Filomena! As far as I am concerned, I understand nothing, although where he goes, I go.

Filomena: Whom are you talking about?

Magdalene: Jesus.

Filomena: Who’s that?

Magdalene: The best guy I’ve ever met in my life.

Filomena: Now I get it! This guy is in love with you and brought you here.

Magdalene: No, Filo. It’s not that.

Filomena: Okay. You’re in love with him, which is the same thing.

Magdalene: No, it’s something else. Jesus is different. He’s a little nuts, you see, but he is a prophet! No, not a prophet. Do you know what, Filo? Jesus is no less than the Messiah!

Filomena: I’m not surprised. Every night a dozen of messiahs with their swords and everything pass through this wall.

Magdalene: I tell you, Filo, this Moreno is different. When he speaks, he looks at you straight into the eyes, like this….!

Filomena: You’re acting strange, Mary.

Magdalene: You would be too, if you knew him. Come and greet him, Filo. C’mon!

Filomena: Wait a minute, Mary. If I go, they go too. Hey, girls, why don’t you conceal your wares for a while, so we can take a glimpse of a prophet. Let’s not miss this for anything, C’mon!

Soon, we were surrounded by sloppily dressed women, with heavily painted faces and reeking of jasmine perfume.

Magdalene: Friends, this Moreno here is Jesus, the guy I was telling you about… and these are all his friends….. This lady here is Filomena, a colleague of mine in Magdala and…. all these are her friends and….

Filomena: That’s all right. C’mon, you guys, out with it. What’s all this hassle about the Kingdom of God you’ve been concerned about? Mary has been telling me about it.

A Prostitute: I’m more interested in the king than in the kingdom. Who knows, I might even like him! Tell me, Galilean, will you be sitting on the throne at the moment of victory?

Jesus: No way. In the Kingdom of God, there won’t be any thrones, nor kings nor chiefs who will oppress the poor. No one shall be above anyone. Everyone shall be brothers and sisters.

Filomena: Gosh, I love to hear that. Let’s see if I could also free myself from those who drool over me! Hell they sure can be very oppressing, too, ha, ha, ha!

My mother, Salome, could not contain herself…

Salome: Hey, look lady, aren’t you ashamed of yourself? You need not wait for the Kingdom of God to cleanse yourself of that slime. All it takes is to repent and to give up your bad life.

Filomena: Oh, yeah? How easily you picture it, huh? I didn’t know that repentance could make for survival. Tell me, lady, how many children have you got? Please pardon my indiscretion.

Salome: I have two sons, thank God.

Filomena: Well, I’ve got eight, and thank the devil for that, and for my husband too, who must’ve been Satan’s first cousin. He made me pregnant eight times and now he’s deserted me without having left a single cent to support my eight children. So, what do you expect me to do, Madam? You consider yourself decent enough for not displaying your body in the street! Eve neither did it, but she did something worse!

Magdalene: C’mon, Filomena, you’re messing up your make-up….

Filomena: She’s getting on my nerves, Mary…! To hell with that woman!

A Prostitute: Well, I’m excited about this Kingdom of God, who knows… this could be our hope for a better situation. At the rate we’re going, with or without our trade…!

Another Prostitute: Yeah, let them shake off the bush at once so that all the parasites will fall off from the branches.

Philip: Pshh! Don’t shout, filthy woman, the guards might hear you!

Filomena: That’s it, precisely! Listen, Galileans, and you Jesus. You must be the brains of all this: If they begin to pursue you, this is the safest place for you to hide. No one looks for the Messiah in Filomena’s brothel!

A Prostitute: They say a colleague of ours saved the life of our ancestors when they first stepped on this land…So, now you know where to go when the going gets rough!

Jesus: When the Kingdom of God comes, there will be a place reserved for all of you, Filomena. I promise.

A Prostitute: Well, well, let’s not be sentimental now, for God created night that we might relax and be happy. Hey, you, with the mole…. why don’t you sing a song to welcome our comrades? After all, they are still Galileans, first and foremost! Can’t you see, they haven’t even washed their feet?

Another Prostitute: Okay, here goes my song… I dedicate this song / to all of you Galileans / if someone sings better here / then he should come out and reply.

Filomena: C’mon, c’mon, now it’s your turn…

Jesus: Philip, it’s your turn, now.

Philip: You’re a pretty lady / but your head is crazy /

you’re like a bell / any time it peals.

Filomena: Oh, yeah? What bell are you talking about? Hey, big sis, will you answer him?

Prostitute: They say that the smallest chili / is hotter than pepper / but not your evil tongue / that always lies.

Filomena: More, more…. and let’s see who comes out the winner!

Peter: Here’s one to add more excitement to the game… If I were a singer / all my life I would sing to you / all because of those moles / that you’ve got on your face.

Salome: Don’t be impudent, Peter. Wait till Rufina hears this!

Although we were very tired after the trip, the playful mood of those women had infected us, so we started to clap and responded to their songs. We were oblivious of what was happening behind us….

A Pharisee: Look who’s here!…… Jesus, the Galilean! This was how I was expecting to see him… so drawn to these whores!

Another Pharisee: This is unbelievable… he who calls himself the Lord’s prophet! How immoral!

Jesus: Hey, you guys, why don’t you come sing and dance with us?….

Jesus looked straight into the faces of the Pharisees, the followers of the Law….

Jesus: Let’s continue with our songs. I’m dedicating this song to all of you….. Listen. A father had two sons / whom he invited / to work in his farm / beginning at sunrise. The first said no / but later relented / and went to the farm to work. / The second said yes / but finally didn’t go / he never did budge.

Philip: Hey, that’s a weird song, isn’t it Jesus? I didn’t understand it…

Jesus: Well, it seems that the Pharisees understood, because they left. These are the ones who say yes, yet, they do nothing. Hypocrites! All these women here are a lot more worthy and they shall be the first to enter the Kingdom of God…

Philip: Don’t mind them, Jesus…

Magdalene: Right, let them go… Hey, Filomena, sing us another song. The atmosphere is getting gloomy!

Filomena: Okay, here’s one…. Hear ye, well, pharisees you think you’re so important / but in this Kingdom of God / the prostitutes shall be ahead.

All: Very well said!…….. More, more!

We stayed for quite some time singing by the wall of the Ammonites. Jesus was very happy, like David when he danced with the maids of Jerusalem in the presence of the Lord, the day he brought the Ark of the Alliance to the holy city.

*Comments*
In Jerusalem, the city where businessmen converge, where caravans, pilgrims and “tourists” converge, there was an abundance of prostitutes. During the holidays, possibilities of work for these women increased considerably. Most of them came – as it is still generally true in our countries – from the very low bracket of the social ladder. These were women deserted by their husbands, oftentimes with children to feed. Or they were young ladies – like Magdalene – who got stuck in the trade at an early age due to economic considerations, with no chances of recovery, as they got so accustomed to the job.

Jesus had a soft heart for the prostitutes. This ought to be interpreted as a sign of theological profundity. This was not a paternalistic predilection of a pure master who approaches a lost woman out of compassion. It was a deeper sympathy, which made him see in these women – among the poorest in the social strata of his time, and therefore who were in greater need of liberation and hope – the people preferred by the Lord. Being women and prostitutes, they were perhaps the most marginalized of the groups in Israel. Jesus, sensitive to their situation, said something that was authentically scandalous: they, the whores, would be the first to enter the Kingdom of God, together with the thieves and ill-reputed tax collectors. That was a subversion of the whole morality of his time and therefore elicited a scandalous reaction, not only among the leaders but also among common people like Salome and some of his disciples.

It is pure fiction to make of Mary Magdalene a woman in love with Jesus. This topic is too cheap to explain the conversion of the poor lady. Jesus related to her as an equal, admitting her in the group of his friends; and trusting her, he gave back her lost dignity. He made her rise again and be reformed, and she sensed the justice that Jesus was announcing when he spoke of the Kingdom. It was that justice, which, poor as she was among the poor, was never made accessible to her before, but would be likewise available to the women of her class who never had a place in the society except that of complete dependence on the whims of the men. Because of Jesus’ attitude toward these women and the hope he had given them, Magdalene understood who God was and began to glimpse his Kingdom. All this sufficed to explain Mary’s enthusiasm for the cause of Jesus and her affection for him, without giving it any romantic color.

Filomena, Mary’s friend, in inviting Jesus to hide in her brothel, is recalling the act of Rahab, the prostitute from Jericho who hid the Israelite spies as they prepared the road for the chosen people to the promised land (Jos 2:1-24). The letter to the Hebrews praises the faith of this prostitute (Heb 11:31) and Matthew mentions her, in the genealogy of Jesus, more for her gesture of solidarity than for historical fidelity, as a sign of the closeness to God of these women who were ostracized by everyone. Jesus’ song evokes the parable of “ the two sons.” He reiterates this idea through–out the gospel, in order to show that those who are sure of themselves, those who are happy because they are good – those learned men listening to him and the leaders of Israel – shall be the ones left behind. The others, the poor, those reputed to be immoral, shall be present in the banquet of the Lord.

The scene with Jesus singing along with the prostitutes of Jerusalem was inspired from the gesture of King David as he entered Jerusalem with the Ark of the Alliance, dancing with the maids and the women of the town (2 S 6:1-23). On that occasion, the free behavior of the king caused a scandal and he was told that he acted like “ a nobody.” Similar criticisms were made against Jesus. That a prophet should mingle with this type of people constituted a scandal, more so if he felt so at home with these prostitutes. David’s gesture, as well as Jesus’, points to a sign revealing the identity of God: The One who becomes “one of them” from among his most despised of children.

(Mt 21:28-32)

96- THE PROSTITUTES SHALL BE FIRST

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