Jesus and Aleus

© canstockphoto16210388
© canstockphoto16210388

The connection between Jesus and Aleus began with an act of derring-do on Aleus’s part: the robbery of the Santa Maria convent, which is located in the area of Naob on the banks of the Noemuti River

Aleus didn’t know Jesus, much less love Him. Who is Jesus? is not a question that one would ask Aleus. A more appropriate question for Aleus would be: how many head of cattle owned by other people had he rustled and herded into the forest to be slaughtered and turned into se’i smoked beef? This question is one that Naef Antoin, the most fearsome commander in the local defense corps for the entire subdistrict of East Noemuti, should have asked. At the very least, it is one that should have been asked by Simon Petrus Akenat, adjutant to the chief commissioner of police for Noemuti, as he was a man capable of causing gangs of bandits to run helter skelter with a mere rev of his motorcycle.

But the real question is who Aleus—the man sitting sweetly beside Jesus in this story—is. Word had it that Aleus was born in the thick Oeluan forest thirty years previously on the darkest night ever to cover the earth, at a moment when an owl was singing its most plaintive song. Aleus’ father was Ma’laof Matmolo, descendent of the most ancient and primitive tribe in Noemuti. His mother was Sikleul Bikluu, a mix of Manikin and Maputu, the two fiercest tribes in Noemuti. Born from the union of these two hard souls, he lived a migratory life, moving from one forest to another, hunting and living off the land. Aleus was the couple’s only child. Born and raised in a jungle culture, he hunted wild boar, climbed trees, drank river water, slept on the ground with a rock for his pillow. Raised far from human civilization, he knew little if anything about humankind and its ways.

But far from the isolated region that Aleus inhabited, the area of Noemuti was developing quickly. The region’s physical infrastucture—with its schools, medical facilities and so on—grew like a torrent, spreading as fast and wide as Noemuti River. But Aleus and the other members of his tribe were little aware of these changes. Thus, he and the rest of the tribe were unlike most other people. As development progressed quickly and as social dynamics changed with fleetfooted speed, Aleus and the community in which he was raised continued to live in and off the jungle. Even so, as a result of the development, their room for movement became ever more constricted—jungles were felled and replaced with rice fields, housing estates and roads.

In the end, because of these changes, Aleus decided that in order to live he would have to steal. His decision was based on the fact that those very same people who called themselves civilized had looted and plundered life’s resources for Aleus, his family, and his tribe. When the forest they lived in was turned into irrigated fields for farming, Aleus and the rest of his community were forced to retreat, ever further and ever more trapped. The forest was flattened and all its riches were stolen by greedy and voracious officials. Aleus and his family became displaced persons, defeated and finally run down by the fast moving and relentless wheels of competition. Aleus and his way of life was proof that life is a competition and that under the pressure of competition one is forced to make a choice—which explains why, in the end, he was forced to choose the shortcut of theft. People might wag their fingers and point at Aleus and his family, saying that they resorted to thievery because of laziness, but the fact is that Aleus and his ilk were not lazy at all. On the contrary, Aleus was a most industrious of thief, a professional in his field. He stole pigs. He stole dogs. He stole cattle. He stole rice. He stole sandals. Based on the data collected by Naef Antoin, commander of the local defense corps mentioned earlier, it was estimated that Aleus and his colleagues had stolen 56 head of cattle from five different pens; 25 pigs (though in fact it was only 20 but because five of the stolen sows were pregnant the number was increased by five); 25 sacks of rice; and two dogs (these being owned by Naef Gaspar). Also stolen was a pair of sandals owned by Aunty Agnes, a poor widow who lived in Oemanu. But it was his last act of theft that changed Aleus—he succeeded in “stealing” the attention of Jesus. Data regarding this final burglary comes from Sister Goretti, the old and devout nun from Noemuti.

Now, by this point in our story we come to the question of what the relationship between Jesus and Aleus was. Obviously, it could not have been a blood tie, right? At the same time, however, it was one that was very close! With regard to Jesus, little needs to be said, very little at all. For those of us who know and love Him, Jesus is God, God who became man and came down to live with us on earth. Jesus is the savior. Becoming man, he came to feel humanity. He is truly God but he was also truly man. He saved us by becoming man. He is much like us in many respects, except when it comes to sin. But that’s enough said. It is not my intent to compete with the theological explanation provided by Father Agustinus, Doctor of Theology at the seminary in Kupang. It is enough for us to welcome this particular character with the words “Lord Jesus”. This brief explanation of who Jesus is should be taken to heart and accepted as a matter of faith, just as it is by very many people in this world—except at that time by Aleus.

The connection between Jesus and Aleus began with an act of derring-do on Aleus’s part: the robbery of the Santa Maria convent, which is located in the area of Naob on the banks of the Noemuti River. The nunnery was home to five sisters, along with three female helpers, and a night watchman. The nuns and their helpers enjoyed a deservedly high reputation for their skill in cultivating wet rice in the convent’s fields adjacent to the Noemuti. As a result of their skill, at the end of each harvest season, the stock of rice at the convent was always over abundant. In addition to the rice, which filled a large number of storage barns in the convent complex, the nuns raised a couple dozen swine of a Dutch breed whose average weight was more than that of the most robust primary school age children in the Noemuti area.

The plentiful harvest at the nunnery on the river bank served as an example of the success that comes from hard work for the thousands of parishioners in the Noemuti area. It was a symbol of faith and hard work for these sisters, whose motto was “Ora et Labora” and the talk and pride of most of the people around—though not for Aleus.

For Aleus, the convent was a prime example of a soft target for theft and forthwith became the main target of his latest thieving operation, which took place in October, at the height of the dry and hot season.

For the nuns of Santa Maria and other people of Catholic faith, October is the month of the rosary, a time to pay respect to Mary, mother of Jesus, through daily praying of the rosary.

So, indeed, while October is a holy month, the month of the rosary, it is also the end of the dry season and a time of pronounced hunger. For those who have faith in Jesus and entrust their prayers to His mother, this problem of hunger manifests as a litany of grievance and lament in the rosary prayers. People of faith trust that through their prayers they will, with Mother Mary’s assistance, find a way out of their problems. But for those without faith, hunger is the road to theft and plunder. Or such, at least, was the case with Aleus. And thus Aleus chose to go thieving in the month of October, a time full of both daily prayer and hunger. His daring is remarkable in that he chose to steal from the convent, a place where holiness is esteemed, and theft is strictly forbidden and near impossible. But, perhaps this is something Aleus didn’t know at the time.

Mid October. The night was dark. Even the clouds were as black as coal. A cold wind gripped bones and pricked the skin. No moon or stars were visible. Owls were reluctant to hoot and even the finches would not sing. The world seemed empty.

Aleus was dressed in black. His face was smeared with soot. His eyes glowed like those of a niutmeni, a living corpse in an old grave. A short knife was held by his waistband in the back. A quid of betel filled his cheek. His movements were stealthy. The hour was approaching midnight, the quietest time of night—and the safest of times for thievery! Aleus crawled forward. Slowly. The gates to the convent were open and he entered easily because Uncle Agus, the night watchman, had gone back to his house. Apparently, the nuns were also asleep, for there was no sound, no interruption, nothing to prevent him from slipping easily into the storeroom, removing a gunny sack of rice and then hiding it behind the convent. That night the dogs in the nunnery were asleep with full stomachs and did not bark or howl as on other nights. Indeed, it is true what is written in the Bible: “Thieves come in the dark of night”. Unaware of it himself, Aleus was putting this saying into practice.

Following his success in the storeroom, Aleus made his way inside to what he would not have known to be the most important area in the nunnery, a spacious room located in the very center of the complex. The room was quiet and softly illuminated by a large glowing candle perched on a tall candlestick standing beside a long and simply carved table at the rear. In front of the table and candlestick were several rows of benches with tall backs. On the table, in the very center, was some kind of ornate box. Dashing the light, Aleus then used all the strength he had to remove the box from its place and to carry it outside. The box was sure to have gold inside it, he thought. Such a fine box as this, its contents must surely be valuable. Noticing a golden-colored metal rod that was lying on the table, Aleus took that as well. The rod with a cross bar near the top was a curious looking object. In the darkened room, Aleus couldn’t be sure, but there appeared to be a human figure attached to the rod. He gave it little thought. His mind was on his booty. I’m rich, he thought. With a large sack of rice, a golden box and a rod of gold, he would not be hungry for weeks.

Aleus went out the back door and, just as easily as he had entered, unobstructed, he left the convent grounds bearing the rice, the gold box and the golden rod. His operation had been a success.

The next morning the convent was in an uproar. Unlike most mornings, when the place was hushed by morning prayers, today the nuns were hysterical. Parishioners gathered at the convent. A thief had entered the convent and stolen its most important possessions. These were not only the most important objects for the convent itself but the most essential items for all practitioners of the Catholic faith as well. We’re not talking about pigs, or rice, or money, gold, silver, or things like that. We’re talking about the tabernacle that had sat on the altar in the convent’s chapel—the tabernacle where the communion hosts, the symbol of the most holy sacrament, were stored—and the crucifix with the image of Jesus Christ that was used each day in Mass.

The thief was incredibly audacious. He had “stolen” Jesus Christ—or so muttered the more simple folk. Some of the women and children were crying (apparently having forgotten Jesus’ advice: “Cry for yourself and your children!”). Father Arnold, from the central parish, arrived in full robes, accompanied by the chairman of the parish council. The chief of police and the commander of the local defense corps arrived some time later.

News of the incident spread quickly by word of mouth among the parishioners. By afternoon, hundreds, maybe even thousands, of the faithful—both men and women, young and old—had gathered together at the convent. In view of the fact that the theft of the objects represented an endangerment of their faith, Father Arnold asked the parishioners to join him in prayer. Thereafter the many faithful who had gathered there dissolved in prayer, praise, and lament, all mixed with regret and bitter sadness. The chief of police ordered his subordinates to scour the forest and capture the thief. The order was clear: “Bring him in alive!” The commander of the local defense corps and his dozens of guards joined to help the police. The faithful prayed. The policemen and the guards moved towards the thick forest across the Noemuti River.

In the forest, Aleus had already cooked some of the stolen rice and now, with his companions, was feasting on the proceeds from his crime. Aleus had been successful; there was no doubt about that. Nonetheless, he was somewhat rankled because ever since morning he had tried without success to pry open the golden box. Even the strongest piece of metal he had didn’t work. And that rod with the cross bar he had taken, that was bothering him too; the light reflecting off it seemed to be constantly tickling his eyes. Aleus didn’t know what he was feeling but it felt like regret and he was upset. Hundreds of times he had stolen, but this was the first time he felt this way. Every time he looked at the rod, he got an uneasy feeling. But then, whenever he began to feel uneasy, he found himself looking at the rod. This had been going on since morning. Staring at the rod uneasily, and then looking away and feeling uneasy, staring at the rod again. His anxiety heightened when he tried to imagine what had happened to the man who was hanging from the crossbar on the rod. He must be the most unlucky guy in the world, Aleus thought. Why was he hanging there? What had he done? Aleus just couldn’t stop thinking—something which had never happened to him before. The man must have been extremely evil to have been hung on a cross, he surmised. What a horrendous fate! His thoughts about the figure attached to the rod then shifted to himself. What if it were he who was hanging there? Maybe I deserve to be there, too, Aleus mused. I’m probably just as bad as he. Of the hundreds of robberies in which Aleus had been involved, this one had been the most successful. But now he was feeling uneasy.

In the distance, Aleus heard the repeated sound of gunshots in the air. It was the police, firing warning shots as they combed the forest. Because of the extraordinary nature of the crime, all security personnel in the region had been mobilized. The situation made Aleus nervous. The golden box, the gold rod with the man hanging on its crossbar, and the sound of gunshot all together stoked his unease. He was not just anxious; he felt afraid. He found himself trembling, breaking into a sweat. He fled from the site where the gold box and the rod rested on the ground. This was the fastest flight in Aleus’ entire thieving career. He disappeared into Noemuti jungle.

Two days after the theft at the Santa Maria convent, the tabernacle and crucifix were found in the forest across the river. The nuns and parishioners were very overjoyed. “They found the Lord Jesus again!” women among the flock screamed. In gladness they immediately prepared a thanksgiving celebration for the successful recovery of the precious items.

Within the week after the incident, Noemuti had returned to normal activity. The sisters had gone back to their routine as well: tending the convent, working in the polyclinic, teaching at the school. On the following Monday morning, Sister Goretti, the head nun at Santa Maria, and Sister Angela, her young assistant, received a young male visitor in the convent’s waiting room. His hair was long and he had hardened features. Sisters Goretti and Angela greeted the odd young man and showed him attention and sympathy. They served him coffee and fried bananas. They then asked this unusual visitor a few questions.

A few days later, the young man came to work for the sisters at the nunnery. He helped them to raise their animals, tend their gardens, and guard the convent both night and day. The sisters and the local parishioners called the young man “Aleus”. Aleus didn’t know Jesus, but Lord Jesus knew and loved Aleus.

Amanche Franck OE Ninu is the pen name of Fransiscus Amandus Ninu, Pr., a Catholic pastor for the Archdiocese of Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara. He was born in the village of Niki-niki in Timor, in 1960. He has published two books, Humor Anak Timor (Humor of the Timorese) and Pesona Flobamora (The Charm of Flobamora), and has also established literary communities in Eastern Indonesia.