Jerusalem: Jesus of Nazareth, the Galilean preacher whom admirers call the “Messiah” visited the town of Nain yesterday, trailing crowds of well-wishers. He was also trailed by growing controversy over his ministry, his so-called healings and his association with some wealthy benefactors.
The visit to Nain, a village near his hometown, was meant to be a stop for a weeklong rest for the Nazarene and his followers. But while there, according to several eyewitnesses, Jesus came upon a funeral service for a young man who had died after an undisclosed illness. According to his followers, when Jesus touched the man’s shroud, the dead man sat up.
“It was incredible,” said his mother, Sarah, a recent widow, who wept as she recounted the story. “He was dead and now he’s alive!”
Others were unconvinced. “He was clearly sleeping,” said, Jacob, 23, who would not give his last name. “I could tell he wasn't really dead,” said his sister Esther, 21. According to several other witnesses, the man’s supposed recovery was the source of great controversy and even a fistfight.
Healings Critiqued as “Selective”
Jesus, 32, is for the most part beloved by Galileans and Judeans. A charismatic preacher, friend to the poor, and, as his followers assert, a "wonderworker," he attracts crowds of admirers.
“I’ve been with him from the beginning,” said Peter, 43, a bearded man who left behind a thriving fishing business in Capernaum to follow the man he calls the Messiah. “I’ve seen first-hand his ministry of healing the sick. The lame walk, the deaf hear, and the blind see.”
His younger brother Andrew, 40, was quick to agree. “With my own eyes I’ve seen it!”
Others, as the brother and sister in Nain demonstrate, are not so sure about the miracles.
They are far from the only ones who cast a doubtful eye on the former carpenter from Nazareth.
Still others critique something else: Jesus's choice of healings. Rachel, 27, a fisherman’s wife from Capernaum, tells the now well-known story of Jesus healing the man with the “unclean spirit,” as locals called him. One morning in the Capernaum synagogue, a clearly deranged man encountered Jesus. After the encounter, all agree, the man was found to be in his right mind.
“Why didn’t he heal everyone in Capernaum?” asked Rachel, echoing a question found in the new book The Ridiculous Messiah, a lacerating critique of Jesus by Cyrus of Caesaria, the popular Cynic. One of the most damaging charges from the bestselling book is what the author calls the “selectivity” of Jesus’s healing.
Rachel noted, accurately, that many others in Capernaum were known to be ill that day. “My mother has dropsy. My brother has a bad back. And I had a migraine. Jesus didn’t bother to ask if we wanted to be healed.”
Also, say critics, if Jesus was concerned about the sick, why would he not build a proper hospital or shelter?
“He’s a carpenter, isn’t he?” said Rachel. “Build us a hospital!”
Matthew, a former tax collector from Capernaum who follows Jesus as an “apostle” grew animated when he heard that criticism.
“That’s not what he’s here for!” he said. “Others do that. He simply helps people as he meets them.”
The Cynic of Caesaria
“That’s a common defense of him,” says Cyrus, contacted by this reporter through a messenger. “And it’s absurd.”
Cyrus, the well-known lecturer and author of several books on the philosophy of the Cynics, pointed first to Jesus’s failure to establish modern facilities for the sick. “He’s supposed to be concerned with the sick. And he certainly knows doctors. But do you see him establishing hospitals, or trying to provide for them in a systematic way? It’s all for show. The man is a fraud. What’s more, he’s reckless. He's encouraging people, by his so-called healings, not to seek proper medical care. I count him as one of the most dangerous men alive”
Over the past three years, Jesus is said to have healed 27 people, a mixture of paralyzed men, blind beggars, lepers and even the servant of a Roman centurion. Only one could be reached for comment, a paralyzed man who said that he had sat by the Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem for many years, and encountered Jesus last month.
When asked if he felt Jesus should have started a shelter for paralyzed people or attempted to heal with more modern methods, he said, “All I know was that he healed me.” The man, who was standing upright during the conversation, describes himself now as one Jesus’s followers.
But the criticism that has proved the most dogged is the Nazarene’s "selectivity," which was exhaustively detailed in his book. If Jesus is healing, Cyrus writes in The Ridiculous Messiah, why would Jesus not heal everyone in Galilee and Judea?
“It’s clear he’s only out for the glory,” said Cyrus, who lives in a large estate in Caesarea Maritima.
“And I’m not even sure about those healings. How can you trust the person who was healed? They’re usually poor and will do anything for a few shekels. He’s using them. It’s disgusting.”
Dines with the Wealthy?
One of the traits most associated with Jesus is his simple lifestyle, which is emulated by his followers. His followers have no possessions, eat when they can, and often sleep by the side of the road.
“Blessed are the poor," after all, is one of the Nazarene’s most famous sayings, and it has been turning up in graffiti in even the poorest of towns. To many of the poor, Jesus is a hero.
But not to Jeremiah, 27, an unemployed potter in Jericho.
Last year when Jesus came to the town, says the potter, Jesus dined at the house of the chief tax collector in the area, an elderly man named Zacchaeus. According to Jeremiah, the tax collector climbed a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of the preacher as he passed through the city with a large crowd.
“It was appalling,” said Jeremiah, visibly upset by the memory. “Zacchaeus had defrauded me, and Jesus simply says he was going to dine at his house. Now Zacchaeus can boast that he had Jesus to dinner. I wonder how much money Jesus got from that?”
The question is an increasingly common, and uncomfortable, one: How poor is Jesus?
James, 19, a young follower from Bethsaida, defended his leader vigorously. “He has nothing to his name. He praises poverty. He asks us to carry nothing with us. How could anyone not see that?”
“All I saw,” says Jeremiah of Jericho, “was someone who eats with the wealthy. You draw your own conclusions.”
Messiah or Fraud?
The sleepy town of Nain was electrified by Jesus’s visit and the reported healing of the young man, by almost every account. His mother threw Jesus a large party the next day—with the most expensive of wines.
Yet as with much of his “ministry” the net result of the events at Nain remain to be seen. Will his latest reported "healing" silence critics who set accuse him of ignoring a more systematic approach to sickness and poverty? Or would it simply embolden those who condemn him for his "selectivity"?
Jesus himself could not be reached for comment, typical of his longstanding response to criticism. But his close associate Peter said to this reporter, “You have eyes but do not see.”
Others wonder if there is anything to see at all.