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Bewilderment. Chapter Twelve in The Alabaster Jar by Theresia Saers


Chapter Twelve in The Alabaster Jar by Theresia Saers

One day Mary may have been present when a rich young man approached Jesus to learn what to do in order to have part of eternal life. ‘Sell whatever you own and give the money to the poor; then you may come and follow me and your treasure will be in heaven. ´ The youngster had found the conditions too hard and had turned away. When Jesus warned his own that it is very hard for the rich to enter the kingdom, ´harder even than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle´, even they were bewildered and anxious. It drove Peter to react, ‘And what about us who have left everything, what will be our reward?’ Jesus’ solemn reply baffled both poor Peter and the other disciples even more.

There is no one who has left house, brothers, sisters, father, children or land for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not be repaid a hundred times over, houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and land – not without persecutions – now in this present time and, in the world to come, eternal life’.

The goods of life and persecutions mentioned in one breath. Fancy!

Mary had done exactly what Jesus asked of his followers. She had given up her possessions and she was well aware that these promises were now coming true in her life. She had found her life´s desire, the Rabbi but she had also been spurned by people. Even before she had met him, from the moment she had set out on he quest. Since the day she opted for becoming his disciple and following him wherever that would take her, even unto death, the scorn of orthodox believers had been her reward. She who loved her Rabbi unconditionally, became by a sadly misinterpreted story to be forever stigmatised as a one-time prostitute, possessed by seven demons.

Who did Jesus wish to reach with his teaching? Matthew provides an answer. When instructing his followers, Jesus started by sending them to their fellow countrymen, ‘Do not turn your steps to pagan territory, and do not enter any Samaritan town; go rather to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.’ The pagan territory Jesus had in mind probably referred first of all to those Galilean towns where there were strong Hellenistic influences. He must have been deeply disappointed by the poor reception of his word in cities such as Capernaum and Chorazin. When he cursed them, he called them worse than Sodom and Gomorra. Were the inhabitants more than the average town occupied with materialism? That would make it well nigh impossible for them to enter the kingdom of God and for the novice apostles a hard task to start their teaching in that kind of city. I wonder why we never read about a visit to Magdala. No curse was called down on that town, and why would it, with Mary of Magdala who made it a very special place in Jesus’ own eyes?

What strikes us in Jesus’ teaching is that he is not at all averse to change. For people like priests and scribes and especially for Pharisees, who had devoted themselves to keep what was left of Israel together by saving their religious and cultural inheritance, this must have been hard to stomach, but Jesus insists, well then, every scribe who becomes a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out from his storeroom things both new and old (Matth.: 13,52).

There were those among the Pharisees that recognise the authenticity of his teaching. Most of them, however, unlike Mary hate to hear the things Jesus asks of his followers. They do not like the changes he proposes. That one should receive faith like a child. That in the community of the faithful masters should become servants and vice versa. They do not want to see their world turned upside down. Though a few Pharisees dare to admit outright that what Jesus teaches about the Law is right and reasonable, hardly anyone risks following him openly. They prefer to come to him under cover of darkness. Up to then there have been two main theological schools, that of the Pharisees and that of the Sadducees. Since John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth we have two more. The teaching of Jesus was prepared by John’s doctrine of repentance and baptism; using his plea for justice and willingness to share as a steppingstone, Jesus makes love the quintessence of his own.

In the eyes of Pharisees to be faithful to the letter of the Law and to that sum of its accretions which Jews call Tradition is the highest goal of the faithful. To enforce it is the aim of any orthodox authority. It is their world, their only vision of theocracy. It may sometimes become benumbing and rigid, a near-death situation, but the Pharisees do not wish to accept a new way of life, a society motivated by love and charity. What would become of their authority, their very real power over their fellow men? So it is a position of bend or break, which makes Jesus cry out, ‘I have not come to bring peace, but the sword’. Knives are sharpened and swords are drawn and Jesus realises he will probably follow John into a martyr’s death.

© Theresia Saers

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