TOWARDS THE GALILEE OF THE GENTILES
When Jesus left the desert, his feet were swollen, his eyes dilated and his hair and beard full of sand. He was happy, in spite of exhaustion and hunger. But was in a hurry. He bade goodbye to the old Samaritan who took him on his camel, and went back to the Jordan...
Jesus: I must see John... I have to talk to him... I will say: “John, I have finally decided to serve my people.” How do I begin?… What must I do? Do you want me to stay with you and baptize people too?... I am ready for everything.... I am not scared anymore... well, I am still afraid... but I am willing to do anything. God gave me the courage while I was in the desert...
When Jesus got to Betabara, at the bend of the river where John was baptizing, he saw no one on the riverbank of the Jordan. The place was deserted. There was no baptism, nor were there caravans of pilgrims. John was not around, either. From afar, Jesus saw two women and he rushed toward them....
Jesus: Hey, wait, the two of you!... Don’t go away. I mean no harm... Wait!
Magdalene: You look like a crazy man or a leper! Who are you?
Jesus: I just came back from the desert, that explains my dirty appearance... Please, don’t be afraid. Wait for me...
Old Woman: What do you want, young man? Are you also wanted by Herod’s men?
Jesus: No, I came to look for the prophet, John and..... but what has happened here?
Old Woman: Now there are two of you asking the same question. She came when everything was over... Well, that is life.
Jesus: Tell me, what has happened here? Where is John?... Where are the people?
Magdalene: The prophet was taken away by Herod’s men. That’s why the Jordan is deserted.
Jesus: Was John arrested by Herod?
Old Woman: Don’t you know? The news spread like wildfire all over the land. What a great misfortune, Oh Lord!
Jesus: But why?.... What right did he have?
Magdalene: By force. He sent his soldiers, with whips and swords... The prophet was tied to a horse and they took him away.
Jesus: Where did they take him?
Old Woman: To the worst of all prison cells, to Machaerus, beyond the mountains of Moab....
Magdalene: May the worms consume Herod like his wicked father!
Jesus: And the people did not do anything to defend the prophet?
Old Woman: What could we do, young man? We all fled, running, that was what we did. Who would dare lift a finger against Herod? Who is brave enough to open his mouth in this country?
Magdalene: The only man who could do that was John. This man feared no one, not even Herod, nor the devil put before him!
Old Woman: They shut him up in prison, and one of these days, they will kill him. What a misfortune, Oh my God!
Well, what can we do? The prophet’s life is over.
Magdalene: And that puts an end to your business of selling cookies, old Ruth, which hurts even more than the shackles of the baptizer.
Old Woman: Look who’s talking. Listen to this, young man. I am a poor widow who earned a living by selling cookies to penitents who wanted to be baptized....
Magdalene: And they got out of the water feeling more starved than contrite.
Old Woman: Fine, but if I could sell my wares, thanks to the people who came to listen to John, then, what is wrong with that?
Jesus: You are right, old woman. The prophet helped some people by his preachings, and he has helped you by improving your trade.
Magdalene: He was not able to help me. I wasted this trip.
Jesus: Did you come to be baptized by John?
Magdalene: Well, yes..... yes.... that is.....
Old Woman: She is laughing because she.... well, you can see from the make-up she has on her cheeks... The men from Capernaum rushed here to see the prophet, while this woman ran after them, ha, ha.....
Magdalene: And what else did you expect? Each one lives in accordance to their means. Am I right, countryman?
Old Woman: She must have frightened away the clients. This place is deserted. Such bad luck for you, Mary!
Jesus: Your name is Mary?
Magdalene: Yes, and yours?
Jesus: Jesus, and behind this dirty face of mine, I am a good man, I assure you.
Old Woman: You speak like the Galileans. Are you from there like this woman?
Jesus: Yes, I am from Nazareth, a small village inland.
Magdalene: I come from Magdala, by the lakeside.
Old Woman: There is no need to say so. All Magdalenes are known for their perfume.
Jesus: Did you not say you were from Capernaum?
Magdalene: Well, I was born in Magdala, but when my mother died, I was left alone... Now I live in Capernaum. I do anything for a living.
Old Woman: She works as a whore for all those filthy fishermen on the wharf!
Jesus: What a coincidence! Recently, I met a group of friends from your place... Maybe you know them...
Magdalene: I guess so. I know all the men from Capernaum... Tell me their names...
Jesus: They are Peter, James, John and Andrew...
Magdalene: Hell! I know them... Andrew is a little serious, but the two brothers, James and John.... well, I’d rather avoid them every time I see them. And I’d rather not talk about Peter.
Jesus: I find them to be nice people....
Magdalene: Well, they turned me off. They were always pestering me. To hell with all of them. And I told them to their face: “You go your own way, for I don’t wanna have anything to do with you. And once and for all, be sure you have a mouthwash before talking to me!”
Old Woman: You talk like you were a decent woman!
Magdalene: No, I’m not. But this fellow is. Look, just between the two of us; avoid their kind. If you only knew what I know...!
Old Woman: Alas, the only decent person I knew was the prophet, John. Oh, the way he looked, and spoke! He was God sent, I would say. But now... this country is doomed. Israel has become an orphan. There is no prophet to lend her a hand, to guide her nor to lead the way. Now we are lost.
Jesus: Please don’t talk that way, Grandma. John paved the way for us. We must continue what he started.
Old Woman: No, young man. It’s all over. John was the voice of the poor, of all of us. You never heard him speak? He was shouting, and do you know why? Because he had in his throat a thousand voices: he was speaking for the thousands of poor, downtrodden people who never enjoyed the right to speak... Tell me, who is now going to fight for justice for us?
Jesus: We must do it ourselves. Yes, why not? We ought to have our own voices heard, and we must do it. God will be on our side to fight for us.
Old Woman: John always spoke to us of a great and powerful liberator who was to come after him.... Now, he is locked up in prison, but the liberator hasn’t come.
Jesus: He’ll come. The Messiah and the Kingdom of God will come. Let us not lose hope.
Old Woman: No, young man. What we need is someone who will take up the prophet’s staff and talk to the people, like John did.
Magdalene: But who is brave enough to do this, huh? Damn, this country, it has no more men like John.
Jesus: On the contrary. I believe there are many who would be willing to die for justice. They are just waiting for a signal to start. They are waiting for someone to tell them: “Now is the time, brothers and sisters. The kingdom of God is near, and so is our liberation!” John is imprisoned, but the Messiah is not. He is coming. Don’t you feel it in your hearts? ...Rejoice, grandma, and you too, Mary, for soon, we shall be free!
Magdalene: What are you talking about? Hmmm... I’m afraid the heat of the desert sun has got into your head.
Old Woman: Come here, young man. You must be very tired. My hut is not far from here. Mary and I will prepare you something to eat. Let’s go....
Jesus: Thanks for everything. No, I must go. They are waiting for me in Galilee.
Old Woman: Did you like my doughnuts?
Jesus: They are really very good...
Old Woman: Then take some with you...
Old Woman: Take them to your mother. Tell her they come from an old woman who lives by the Jordan and who is very fond of her.
Jesus: But you haven’t met my mother...!
Old Woman: It doesn’t matter. I have met you and I am very fond of you, young man. Your mother must be like you.
Magdalene: Goodbye, Jesus. I shall be in Galilee next week. If you happen to pass by Capernaum.... well, come and visit me, if you don’t mind going to my house.
Jesus: Of course, I will see you, Mary. Goodbye, Grandma!... When the Messiah comes, offer some of your honeyed doughnuts. He will be as delighted as I have been...
Old Woman: Goodbye, young man, goodbye... Enjoy your journey! Jesus undertook the long journey back home towards the north, in the Galilee of the Gentiles. He was exhausted, his sandals worn out, and his tunic half torn. Notwithstanding, he continued his journey, and walked faster than ever...
Jesus: Somebody must take the place of John... Someone must give hope to the people... Lord, send us our Liberator now!... Where is he, Lord? We can’t do anything while we wait for him.... The fruit is already ripe and we must harvest... I am getting impatient.... I ought to do something now.... I must follow the example of John...
Jesus walked for several hours through the river valley. On the second day, he reached the heights of Gadara before dusk. From there he could see the Lake of Tiberias.... He was on Galilean land!... Suddenly, it began to rain... The waters from the sky gave back to the earth its freshness and fertility. Jesus felt an immense joy in his heart, as if he were seeing his beloved homeland in the north for the first time. In his mind, Galilee, drenched by the rain, was secretly giving him a welcome that night.
Jesus: Galilee, here I am, back to you, my land!
Land of Zabulun, Land of Naphtali! On the way to the sea, by the other side of the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles! The people who walked in the dark, saw a light, on those who lived in the shadow of death, a great light shone. You made great joy and they delight in seeing you, like those who sing on the day of the harvest. Because you have broken the yoke that bound them and destroyed the tyrant’s rod; and to the fire shall be cast the boots he wears with pride and his blood-stained cloak.
For a Liberator is born and endless is the peace he’ll bring to us!
Mary Magdalene, as mentioned several times in the gospels, was a prostitute. The name of Mary was very common in Jesus’ time. “Magdalene” gives reference to her probable birthplace, “Magdala.” Therefore, prostitution was more a reflection of an economic problem than a moral concern, just as often happens in many places today.
In a male chauvinist society, a single woman who is jobless is constrained to sell herself in order to survive. Mary of Magdala was undoubtedly one of these women. She was probably very young then, since prostitution was rampant among girls thirteen or fourteen years of age. The stereotyped picture of a woman of the upper social class, well-attired, smelling of perfume and with some sentimental indiscretion, has no relation whatsoever with the vulgarity of a low class prostitute as was the case of Mary Magdalene.
When he learned about the imprisonment of John the Baptist, Jesus was given a new dimension to the realization of his own vocation. Israel was left orphaned without the prophet announcing her liberation by God. Jesus felt it was his obligation to take over where John had left off. He would take his message of justice and bring it to his land, to Galilee. He would not baptize like John did nor expect people to seek him; rather, he would mingle with the people and be one with them. From the streets, the barrios and the plazas, he would announce to the people the liberation that God had promised them. From the banks of the Jordan, Jesus started his journey to the north. It was a long stretch by foot, consisting of about three or four stops, passing through the river valley by way of Perea and Decapolis or by taking the mountain route through the region of Samaria.
“The Galilee of the Gentiles” is an epithet given by the prophet Isaiah about seven hundred years before Christ describing the lands in the north. He indicated that the region, the hometown of Jesus which originally belonged to the sons of the old patriarch Jacob, appeared to have been forsaken by God and left to the “Gentiles” (pagans, foreigners). These were the times when the Galileans were made prisoners and were deported. In the midst of suffering, there seemed no future for them. The prophet told them of a light shining amid darkness. When Jesus began to preach the Kingdom of God in Galilean lands after his baptism in the Jordan, Matthew remembered this prophecy of Isaiah and included it in his gospel.