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James Martin, S.J.September 04, 2016

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.  

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Crystal Watson
7 years 10 months ago
To compare Mother Teresa to Jesus is really a stretch. The press has every right, and in fact a duty, to try to discover the truth about people like Mother Teresa, who wield so much power, so much money, have the most vulnerable at their mercy (so to speak), and who have pretty much no accountability. http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/31/asia/mother-teresa-controversies/
T. D. Blodgett
7 years 10 months ago
And yet what her critics say contains more innuendo than facts. That's why Fr. Jim's satire is so telling. The transcript of Bill Donohue's debate with Christopher Hitchens clearly exposes the "smear and run" strategy often employed by Mother Teresa's critics. http://www.catholicleague.org/donohue-hitchens-debate-mother-teresa/
Crystal Watson
7 years 10 months ago
There are many critics of Mother Teresa, not just Hitchins. Dr. Robin Fox, the editor of The Lancet, who inspected the clinic, found the care inadequate ... "The editor of the Lancet, visiting her Home for the Dying in 1994, reported that stocks of medicine were insufficient, and that not enough was done to cure the sick or ease the pain of the dying." - http://www.economist.com/node/156844 - Fox R. Mother Theresa’s care for the dying. Lancet 1994 Sep 17; 344(8925): 807-8 And a Canadian research team form the Universities of Montreal and Ottawa also criticized her work ... http://www.rcinet.ca/en/2013/05/07/canadian-study-mother-teresa-not-so-saintly/ There's more, but my point is that she does not seem a good candidate for sainthood.
Brenda Becker
7 years 10 months ago
FATHER JIM NAILS IT!!!! Sorry for the caps, but I am actually jumping up and down and shouting in delight. Brilliant takedown!
joseph o'leary
7 years 10 months ago
Yep, that's pretty much what we'd want to know and what the media would report. Our reaction to this – and coverage of Mother Teresa – really says more about our insecurities and attachments, doesn't it? (Did someone other than Fr. Martin write the subhead?)
Bruce Snowden
7 years 10 months ago
Bullseye, Fr. Martin! The Pharisees, I mean Critics and cynics of His day called Him “A glutton and wine drinker” because He ate and drank at Dinners, a Wedding Feast too. Yeah, like Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta, He just loved rubbing shoulders with the rich and affluent and as you said because he/she didn’t take care of all the sick, just a “selected few” they say, He, together with Teresa, were nothing but hypocrites! "Father Abraham” the rich man separated from heaven by a high wall pleaded, “Send someone to my brothers to tell them to stop being hypocrites, Pharisaical, critics and cynics of goodness they are too ego-bloated to believe, so as to escape my fate.” Abraham responded, “No, even if someone were to rise from the dead, they would not believe!” And they don’t! They see Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta as deceptive and selfish and blasphemously by implication ,a lot like Jesus Whom Teresa successfully emulated! Lord Jesus open the eyes of the spiritually sight impaired allowing them to see Your face in the mud as did Teresa and desist from being blind guides! Lord help us all to better see. But are they in fact the “brood of vipers” focused on by Jesus, who place heavy burdens on others but don’t so much as lift a hand to help that poor man/woman/child in the gutters of life, being eaten alive by worms as it were, as did Saint Mother Teresa literally do? I believe there is a connection as they try to “lead astray if possible even the elect." Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us.
Mary Keane
7 years 10 months ago
Delightful! It occurred to me the other day that those throngs traipsing behind Jesus heard and saw things in a far different way than we do. Perhaps many just meandered in, as one would at a festival or other gathering, but stayed because something ineffable but inarguably enticing was going on. And rather than the series of (forgive me!) bromides to which they are too frequently reduced, the Beatitudes might have sparked flashes of recognition: blessed are the meek ("hey, that's me!)...the poor in spirit ("yeah, I've been there")....those who mourn ("nope, I can't get over it"), and so forth. We can and should laugh at Fr. Martin's rendition of imagined coverage of the Jesus phenomenon and its unfolding scene. But I continue to wonder whether we ought not hear as those who first heard His words might have done.

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