541. Martha Sends a Servant to Inform the Master.
I am still in Lazarus' house and I see Martha and Mary go out into the garden in the company of a rather elderly man, who looks very dignified and I would say that he is not a Hebrew because his face is clean‑shaven, as is customary with Romans. As soon as they are at a little distance from the house, Mary asks him: «Well, Nicomedes? What do you think of our brother? We see that he is seriously... ill... Tell us.»
The man opens his arms in a gesture of commiseration and acknowledgement of the ineluctable situation, and he stops and says: «He is very ill... I have never deceived you since I began to attend him. I have tried everything, as you know. But to no avail. I also... hoped, yes, I hoped that he might at least live reacting against the exhaustion of the disease with the good nourishment and the cordials I prepared for him. I tried also with poisons that preserve the blood from corruption and support one's strength, according to the old schools of the great masters in medicine. But the disease is stronger than the means we use to cure it. Such diseases are like corrosions, they destroy one. And when they appear exteriorly, the inside of the bones has already been affected, and like the lymph that in a tree ascends from the roots to its top, also in this case, the disease has spread from his feet to his whole body...»
«But only his legs are diseased...» says Martha plaintively.
«Yes, but a high temperature causes damage to parts of the body that instead you think are healthy. Look at this little branch that has fallen off that tree. It seems to be warm‑eaten only here, where it is broken. But, look... (he crumbles it with his fingers). See? Under the bark, which is still smooth, it is rotten right to the top, where there still seems to be life, because there are still some little leaves. Lazarus is now... dying, poor sisters! The God of your fathers, and the gods and demigods of our medicine have not been able to do anything... or they did not want to do it. I am speaking of your God. Therefore... I do foresee that his death is close at hand, also because his temperature has risen, a symptom of the deterioration of his blood brought about by his disorderly heart‑beats, and by the lack of stimuli and reactions in the invalid and in all his organs. As you can see, he gets no nourishment any more, he cannot hold the little food he takes and he does not assimilate the little he can hold. It's the end... And ‑ believe a doctor who is grateful to you because he remembers Theophilus ‑ the thing to be most desired now is death... Such diseases are dreadful. For thousands of years they have destroyed man and man cannot destroy them. Only the gods could if...» He stops, he looks at them rubbing his clean‑shaven chin. He is pensive. He then says: «Why do you not call the Galilean? He is a friend of yours. He can cure him because He can do everything. I have examined people who were doomed and who have been cured. A strange power emanates from Him. It is a mysterious fluid that revives and gathers together the scattered reactions and makes them wish to recover... I don't know. I know that I have followed Him, being also mingled with the crowd, and I have seen wonderful things... Send for Him. I am a Gentile. But I pay homage to the mysterious Thaurnaturge of your people. And I would be happy if He could do what I could not do.»
«He is God, Nicomedes. That is why He can. The power that you call fluid is His will of God » says Mary.
«I do not ridicule your faith. On the contrary I spur it to reach impossible limits. In any case... We read that at times the gods have descended upon the Earth. I... had never believed it... But, with the science and conscience of a man and a doctor, I must admit that it is so, because the Galilean works such cures that only a god can work.»
«Not a god, Nicomedes. The true God » insists Mary.
«All right. As you wish. And I will believe in Him and become one of His followers if I see Lazarus... rise from the dead. Because we must speak of resurrection now, rather than recovery. So send for Him urgently... because, if I have not become a fool, he will die within the next three days, at most. I said "at most". But it could be sooner, now.»
«Oh! I wish we could! But we do not know where He is...» says Martha.
«I know where He is. I was told by one of His disciples who was going to meet Him taking some sick people, two of whom were my patients. He is beyond the Jordan, near the ford. So he said. Perhaps you know the place better than I do.»
«Ah! He is certainly in Solomon's house! » says Mary.
«Is it very far? »
«Then send a servant at once to tell Him to come. I will come back later and I will stay here to see His action on Lazarus. Hail, ladies. And... give courage to each other.» He bows to them and goes away towards the exit, where a servant is waiting for him to hold his horse and open the gate to him.
«What shall we do, Mary? » asks Martha after she sees the doctor depart.
«We will obey the Master. He told us to send for Him after Lazarus' death. And we will do that.»
«But when he is dead... what is the use of having the Master here? It will only help our hearts, I agree. But with regard to Lazarus!... I am going to send a servant to call Him.»
«No. You would destroy the miracle. He said that we must be able to hope and believe against every adverse reality. And if we do so, we shall have the miracle, I am sure of it. If we do not do so, God will leave us with the presumption that we can act better than He can, and He will grant us nothing.»
«But don't you see how much Lazarus is suffering? Have you not heard, when he recovers consciousness, how he longs to see the Master? You are hard‑hearted if you want to deny our poor brother this last joy!... Our poor brother! We shall soon have no brother! No father, no mother, no brother! The family is destroyed, and we are all alone, like two palm‑trees in a desert.» She is overwhelmed by grief and I would say that she falls into hysterics, in typically eastern style, and she tosses herself, striking her face and ruffling her hair.
Mary grasps her. She commands her to be silent saying: «Be quiet! Be quiet, I tell you! He may hear you. I love him more and better than you do, and I can control myself. You look like a sickly woman. Be silent, I tell you! It is not with such frenzies that one can change situations or move hearts. If you behave thus to move mine, you are making a mistake. Think about it. My heart breaks, but it obeys: it persists in obedience.»
Martha, overwhelmed by the strength of her sister and by her words, calms down a little but in her grief, which is more composed, she moans invoking her mother: «Mother! oh! mother, console me. I have had no peace since you died. If you were here, mother! If sorrows had not killed you! If you were here, you would guide us and we would obey you, for the welfare of us all... Oh! »
Mary changes colour and she weeps noiselessly, she looks dejected and wrings her hands without speaking.
Martha looks at her and says: «When our mother was about to die, she made me promise that I would look after Lazarus like a mother. If she were here...»
«She would obey the Master, because she was a just woman. You are trying to move me in vain. You can say to me that I murdered my mother through the pains I gave her. I will say to you. "You are right". But if you want to make me say that you are right in wanting the Master, I say to you: "No". And I will always say: "No". And I am sure that from Abraham's bosom she approves of me and blesses me. Let us go into the house.»
«We have nothing left! Nothing left! »
«Everything! You must say everything! You do listen to the Master and you seem to pay attention while He speaks, but later you do not remember what He says. Has He not always said that to love and obey makes us the children of God and the heirs to His Kingdom? So how can you say that we will be left without anything, if we have God and we possess the Kingdom through our loyalty? Oh! it is true that one must be firmly determined in evil, as I was, in order to be, to know how to be, and to want to be firmly determined in good, in obedience, in hope, in faith, in love!...»
«You allow the Judaeans to laugh at and throw out innuendoes against the Master. You heard them the day before yesterday...»
«Are you still thinking of the chattering of those crows, of the cheeping of those vultures? Let them spit out what they have inside! What does the world matter to you? What is the world as compared with God? Look: it is less than this filthy bluebottle, which is benumbed or poisoned with the filth it has sucked and which I trample on thus » and with a vigorous blow of her heel she crushes a horse‑fly that is creeping slowly on the gravel of the avenue. She then takes Martha by the arm saying: «Come into the house and...»
«At least let us inform the Master. Let us send someone to tell Him that Lazarus is dying, without saying anything else...»
«As if He needed to be told by us! No! It is useless. He said: "Let Me know when he is dead". And that is what we will do. But not before his death.»
«No one takes pity on my grief! Least of all you...»
«Stop weeping like that. I cannot bear it...» In her own sorrow she bites her lip to encourage her sister and restrain her tears.
Marcella runs out of the house followed by Maximinus: «Martha! Mary! Quick! Lazarus is not well. He does not reply any more...»
The two sisters rush back into the house... and shortly afterwards one can hear Mary's loud voice giving orders for the circumstance, and see servants run with cordials and basins steaming with boiling water, whispering and making gestures of sorrow...
Calm slowly takes over after so much excitement. I see the servants talking to one another in low voices, less excitedly, but with gestures of deep depression to give emphasis to their words. Some shake their heads, some raise them looking at the sky and stretching out their arms as if to say: «It is so », some weep, and some still hope for a miracle.
Martha appears again. She is as white as death. She turns round to see whether she is being followed. She looks at the servants who press round her anxiously. She turns round again to see whether anyone has come out of the house to follow her. She then says to a servant: «Come with me.»
The servant leaves the group and follows her towards the jasmine pergola and goes into it. Martha speaks, still keeping an eye on the house, which can be seen through the thickly entangled branches, and she says: «Listen to me carefully. When all the servants have gone back into the house, and I have given them orders to keep them busy inside, you shall go to the stables, you shall take one of the fastest horses and saddle it... If anyone should by chance see you, say that you are going to call the doctor... You will not be telling a lie and I am not teaching you to lie, because I am really sending you to the blessed Doctor... Take some fodder for the horse and some food for yourself and this purse for what you may need. Go out through the small gate and through the ploughed fields, where the hoofs make no noise, when you go away from the house. Then take the Jericho road and gallop without ever stopping, not even at night. Have you understood? You must never stop. The new moon will illuminate the road for you if it gets dark while you are still galloping. Bear in mind that the life of your master is in your hands and depends on your speed. I rely on you.»
«Mistress, I will serve you as a faithful slave.»
«Go to the Bethabara ford. Cross the river and go to the village after Bethany beyond the Jordan. You know... where John used to baptise at the beginning.»
«I know. I went there as well to be purified.»
«The Master is in that village. Anybody will tell you the house where He is a guest. But it is better if you follow the banks of the river, instead of taking the main road. You will not be noticed so much and you will find the house by yourself. It is the first one on the only road of the village and it takes one from the country to the river. You cannot go wrong. It's a low house, with no terrace or upper room, with a kitchen garden, when coming from the river, before the house, and the kitchen garden is enclosed by a small wooden gate and a hawthorn hedge, I think, a hedge, in any case. Is that clear? Repeat those details.»
The servant repeats them patiently.
«All right. Ask to speak to Him, to Him alone, and tell Him that your mistresses have sent you to inform Him that Lazarus is very ill, that he is dying, that we cannot resist any longer, that Lazarus wants Him and ask Him to come at once, at once, for pity's sake. Have you understood? »
«Yes, I have, mistress.»
«Then come back here immediately, so that no one may notice your absence. Take a lamp with you, you will need it when it gets dark. Go, be quick, gallop, run the horse off its legs, but come back quickly with the Master's reply.»
«I will do so, mistress.»
«Go now! See? They have all gone back into the house. Go at once. No one will see you making preparations. I will bring you some food myself. Go! I will leave it on the threshold of the small gate. Go! And may God be with you. Go!...»
She pushes him anxiously and then she runs into the house cautiously, and shortly afterwards she steals out from a back door on the southern side of the house, with a little bag in her hands, she walks along a hedge as far as the first opening, she turns and disappears...
542. Lazarus' Death.
21st December 1946.
They have opened all the doors and windows in Lazarus' room, to make it easier for him to breathe. And around him, who is unconscious, in a coma ‑ a deep coma like death, from which it differs only because of his breathing movement ‑ there are his two sisters, Maximinus, Marcella and Naomi, intent on the least act of the dying man.
Every time the pangs of death contract his mouth and it seems to assume the expression of one about to speak, or his eyes can be partly seen when he half‑opens his eyelids, the two sisters bend over him to catch a word, a glance... But in vain. They are nothing but movements lacking coordination, independent of his will and intelligence, which are by now both inert and lost. They are acts brought about by the suffering flesh, just like the perspiration that makes the face of the dying man shiny, and the tremor that at intervals shakes his skeletal fingers, making them look like contracted claws. The two sisters also call him, with all their love in their voices. But his name and their love collide with the barrier of intellective insensibility, and the silence of death is the reply to their calling.
Naomi, weeping, continues to place warm bricks, enveloped in strips of woollen cloth, near his feet, which must be very cold. Marcella is holding in her hands a cup into which she dips a piece of thin linen, which Martha uses to moisten her brother's dry lips. Mary with another piece of linen wipes the plentiful perspiration which streams down the skeletal face and wets the hands of the dying man. Maximinus, leaning against a tall dark cabinet near Lazarus' bed, watches standing behind Mary, who is bent over her brother.
There is no one else. There is dead silence, as if they were in an empty house, in a desert place. The maidservants who bring the warm bricks are barefooted and make no noise walking on the marble floor. They look like apparitions.
At a certain moment Mary says: «His hands seem to become warm. Look, Martha, his lips are not so pale.»
«Yes. And he is breathing more freely. I have noticed that for some time » remarks Maximinus.
Martha bends over him and calls him in a low voice, in a very warm tone: «Lazarus! Lazarus! Oh! Look, Mary! He seemed to smile and to bat his eyelids. He is improving, Mary! He is getting better! What time is it? »
«It's one hour past sunset.»
«Ah! » and Martha stands up, pressing her hands against her breast, raising her eyes in a visible gesture of mute but confident prayer. A smile brightens her face.
The others look at her in amazement and Mary says to her: «I fail to see why the fact that it is evening should make you happy...» and she scans her face suspiciously and anxiously.
Martha does not reply, but she resumes the same posture she had previously.
A maid comes in with some bricks, which she hands to Naomi. Mary says to her: «Bring two lamps. It is getting dark and I want to see him.» The maid goes out noiselessly and soon comes back with two lighted oil‑lamps, and she lays one on the cabinet near Maximinus, and the other on a table encumbered with bandages and tiny amphorae, on the other side of the bed.
«Oh! Mary! Mary! He is really less pale.»
«And not so exhausted looking. He is reviving! » says Marcella.
«Give him a few more drops of that spicy wine that Sarah prepared. It did him good » suggests Maximinus.
From the top of the cabinet Mary takes a tiny slender‑necked amphora, shaped like the beak of a bird, and she carefully pours a few drops of wine between Lazarus' half‑closed lips.
«Slowly, Mary. That he may not choke! » advises, Naomi.
«Oh! he swallows it! He wants it! Look, Martha! Look! He is sticking his tongue out, seeking it...»
They all bend to look, and Naomi calls him: «Darling! Look at your wet‑nurse, o blessed soul! » and she moves forward to kiss him.
«Look! Look, Naomi, he is drinking your tears! One fell near his lips, he felt it, he sought it and he absorbed it.»
«Oh! my darling! If I had the milk of days gone by, I would squeeze it out for you drop by drop, my little lamb, even if I had to squeeze my heart and then die!» I gather that Naomi, Mary's wet nurse, nursed also Lazarus.
«Mistresses, Nicomedes has come back » says a servant appearing at the door.
«Let him come in! He will help us to make him recover.»
«Look! Look! He is opening his eyes and moving his lips » says Maximinus.
«He is pressing my fingers with his own! » shouts Mary. And she bends saying: «Lazarus! Can you hear me? Who am I? »
Lazarus really opens his eyes and looks, an uncertain veiled look, but still a look. He moves his lips with difficulty and says: «Mother! »
«I am Mary. Mary! Your sister! »
«He does not recognise you and he is calling his mother. Dying people always do that » says Naomi, whose face is wet with tears.
«But he speaks. After such a long time he speaks. It is already a good deal... He will feel better later. Oh! my Lord, reward your maidservant! » says Martha once again with the gesture of fervent confident prayer.
«But what happened to you? Have you seen the Master? Did He appear to you? Tell me, Martha. Relieve my anguish! » says Mary.
Nicomedes' coming in prevents a reply. They all address him telling him how after his departure Lazarus had grown worse, so much so that he was on the point of dying, and in fact they believed that he was dead, then, with some aids they had made him come to himself, but only as far as to make him breathe. And how, a short time ago, with a spicy wine prepared by one of the women, he had begun to warm up again, he had swallowed some and tried to drink, and he had also opened his eyes and had spoken... They are all speaking together, with revived hope, contrasting with the somewhat sceptical calmness of the doctor who lets them speak without uttering one word.
At last, when they have finished, he says: «All right. Let me see.» He pushes them aside as he approaches the bed and asks them to bring some lights and to close the window, as he wants to uncover the patient. He bends over him, he calls him, he questions him, he moves an oil‑lamp to and fro in front of the face of Lazarus, who has now opened his eyes and seems amazed at everything; he then uncovers him, studies his breathing, his heartbeats, the temperature and stiffness of his limbs... They are all anxiously awaiting his word. Nicomedes covers the patient again, looks at him and is pensive. He then turns round looking at the people present and says: «It is undeniable that he has recovered strength. He has improved since the last time I saw him. But do not delude yourselves. It is nothing but the fictitious improvement of death. I am so certain, as I was certain that it is the end, that, as you can see, I have come back, after freeing myself of my commitments, to make his death less painful, as far as I can do so... or to see the miracle if... Have you taken action? »
«Yes, Nicomedes, we have » says Martha interrupting him. And to prevent him from asking further questions, she says: «But did you not say that... within three days... I...» She weeps.
«I said. I am a doctor. I live amidst agonies and tears. But the habitual sight of grief has not yet turned me into a heartless man. And today... I prepared you... with a rather long... and vague date... But my medical knowledge warned me that the end would come sooner, and my heart misrepresented the truth as a pitiful deception... Now! Be brave... Go out... We never know how much dying people understand...» He pushes them out, while they weep, repeating: «Be brave! Be brave! »
Maximinus remains with the dying man... The doctor also goes away to prepare some medicines capable of making the agony less distressing, as he says: «I foresee that it will be very painful.»
«Make him live! Make him live till tomorrow. It is almost night, as you can see, Nicomedes. It is no problem for your science to keep a man alive for less than one day! Make him live! »
«Madam, I do what I can. But when the wick ends, nothing can keep the flame alive! » replies the doctor, and he goes away.
The two sisters embrace each other, weeping disconsolately, and Mary is the one who is weeping more. Her sister has a hopeful heart...
They hear Lazarus' voice coming from his room. A loud authoritative voice that startles them because it is unexpected from such a weak person. He calls them: «Martha! Mary! Where are you? I want to get up. I want to get dressed! I want to tell the Master that I am cured! I must go to the Master. A wagon! At once. And a fast horse. It was certainly He Who cured me...»
He speaks fast, syllabising the words, sitting on his bed, flushed with a high temperature, trying to get out of the bed, prevented from doing so by Maximinus, who says to the women rushing into the room: «He is raving! »
«No! Let him go. The miracle! The miracle! Oh! I am so happy that I provoked it! As soon as Jesus was told! God of our fathers, may You be blessed and praised for Your power and because of Your Messiah...» Martha, who has dropped on her knees, is beside herself with joy.
In the meantime Lazarus continues to speak, excited more and more by his temperature, which Martha does not understand is the cause of everything, and he says: «He came so often to see me, when I was ill. It is fair that I should go to Him and say: "I am cured". I am cured! I feel no more pains! I am strong. I want to get up. I want to go. God wanted to test my resignation. I shall be called the new Job...» He assumes a hieratic attitude and making wide gestures he says: «"The Lord was moved by Job's penance... and gave him double what he had before. And the Lord blessed the last years of Job more than the first ones… and he lived until…". No, I am not Job! I was among the flames and He pulled me out, I was in the belly of the monster and I have come back to light. So I am Jonah, and I am the three children of Daniel...»
The doctor, called by someone, comes in. He looks at him: «It's delirium. I was expecting it. The corruption of the blood affects the brains.» He strives to lay him down and exhorts the others to hold him carefully, and he goes out again to attend to his decoctions.
Lazarus at times becomes rather impatient of being held, at times he weeps like a child.
«He is really delirious » moans Mary.
«No. None of you understand anything. You cannot believe. Of course! You do not know... By now the Master is aware that Lazarus is dying. Yes, I informed Him, Mary! I did it without saying anything to you...»
«Ah! wretch! You have destroyed the miracle! » shouts Mary.
«No! As you can see, he began to feel better when Jonah reached the Master. He is raving... Certainly... He is weak, and his brain is still dulled with death that had already grasped at him. But he is not raving as the doctor thinks. Listen to him! Are those the words of a delirious person? »
Lazarus in fact is saying: «I bent my head to the decree of death and I tasted how bitter it is to die, and God has now said that He is satisfied with my resignation and He is restoring me to life and giving me back to my sisters. I shall still be able to serve the Lord and sanctify myself with Martha and Mary... With Mary! What is Mary? Mary is Jesus' gift to poor Lazarus. He had told me... What a long time since then! "Your forgiveness will do more than anything else. It will help Me". He promised me: "She will be your joy". And on that day that I was upset because she had brought her shame here, near the Holy One, what words He spoke inviting her to come back! Wisdom and Charity had joined together to touch her heart... And the other day, when He found me offering myself for her redemption?... I want to live to rejoice with my redeemed sister! I want to praise the Lord with her! Streams of tears, insults, shame, bitterness... everything has pierced me and killed my life because of her... Here is the fire, the fire of the furnace! It is coming back, with its memory... Mary of Theophilus and Eucheria, my sister, the prostitute. She could have been a queen and she became the filth that even a pig tramples on. And my mother who dies. And not being able to go among people any longer without having to put up with their mockery. Because of her! Where are you, you wretch? Were you lacking bread, perhaps, that you should sell yourself? What did you suck from the nipple of your wet‑nurse? What did your mother teach you? Lust the former? Sin the latter? Go away! Disgrace of our family! »
His voice is a shout. He seems to be mad. Marcella and Naomi hasten to close the doors and to draw the heavy curtains to deaden the sound, whilst the doctor, who has come into the room, strives in vain to calm the delirium that is becoming more and more violent. Mary, prostrated dejectedly on the floor, is sobbing under the implacable charge of the dying man who goes on:
«One, two, ten lovers. The shame of Israel passed from one embrace to another one... Her mother was dying, she was rejoicing in her obscene love affairs. Beast! Vampire! You sucked your mother's life. You destroyed our joy. Martha was sacrificed because of you. No one marries the sister of a prostitute. I... Ah! I! Lazarus, a knight, the son of Theophilus... The urchins in Ophel used to spit at me!! "Here is the accomplice of an adulteress and of a prostitute" the scribes and Pharisees used to say shaking their garments meaning that they rejected the sin of which I was foul through her contact! "Here is the sinner! He who is not capable of striking the culprit is guilty himself" the rabbis used to shout when I went up to the Temple, and I was bathed in perspiration under the fiery eyes of the priests... The fire. You! You vomited the fire that was within you. Because you are a demon, Mary. You are filthy. You are anathema. Your fire clung to everybody, because your fire comprised many fires, and there was some for lustful people who looked like fish caught in a drag‑net whenever you passed by... Why did I not kill you? I shall burn in Gehenna for allowing you to live ruining so many families, scandalising thousands of people... Who said: "Alas for the man who provides scandal"? Who said so? Ah! the Master! I want the Master! I want Him! That He may forgive me. I want to tell Him that I could not kill her because I loved her... Mary was sunshine in our house... I want the Master! Why is He not here? I don't want to live! But I want to be forgiven for the scandal that I stirred up by allowing the cause of scandal to live. I am already enveloped in flames. It's the fire of Mary. It is burning me. It burnt everybody. To give lust to her, to bring hatred against us, to burn my flesh. Take these blankets away, take everything away! I am on fire. It is burning my flesh and my spirit. I am lost because of her. Master! Master! Forgive me! He is not coming. He cannot come to Lazarus' house. It's a dunghill because of her. So... I want to forget. Everything. I am no longer Lazarus. Give me some wine. Solomon says: "Give wine to those who are broken‑hearted, let them drink and forget their misery, so that they may remember their grief no more". I don't want to remember any more. Everybody says: "Lazarus is rich, the richest man in Judaea". It's not true! It is all straw. It is not gold. And the houses? They are clouds. His vineyards, oases, gardens, olive‑groves? Nothing. Deceit. I am Job. I have nothing. I had a pearl. Beautiful! Of infinite value. She was my pride. Her name was Mary. I no longer have her. I am poor. The poorest of them all. The most deceived... Jesus also deceived me. Because He told me that He would give her back to me, instead she... Where is she? There she is. The woman of Israel, the daughter of a holy mother, looks like a heathen hetaera! Half‑naked, drunk, mad... And around her, with their eyes fixed on the naked body of my sister, the pack of her lovers... And she enjoys being admired and craved for thus. I want to make amends for my crime. I want to go through Israel saying: "Don't go near the house of my sister. Her house is the path to hell and it descends into the abyss of death". Then I want to go to her and tread on her, because it is written: "Every unchaste woman will be trampled on like dung on the road". Oh! Have you the nerve to show yourself to me who am dying like a dishonoured man, destroyed by you? After I offered my life to redeem your soul, and to no avail? Are you asking me how I wanted you? How I wanted you in order not to die thus? This is how I wanted you: like the chaste Susanna. Are you saying that they tempted you? And did you not have a brother to defend you? Susanna, who was all alone, replied: "I prefer to fall innocent into your power, than to sin in the eyes of the Lord", and God made her innocence shine. I would have spoken the necessary words to those who tempted you and I would have defended you. Instead, you went away. Judith was a widow and she lived in seclusion, wearing sack-cloth and fasting and she was held in high esteem by everybody, because she feared the Lord and people sing of her: "You are the glory of Jerusalem, the joy of Israel, the honour of our race, because you acted in a manly manner and bravely, because you loved chastity and after your marriage you have known no other man. That is why the hand of the Lord made you strong and you will be blessed for ever". If Mary had been like Judith, the Lord would have cured me. But He could not cure me because of her. That is why I did not ask to be cured. There can be no miracle where she is. But it is nothing to die, to suffer. I would suffer ten times as much and die several times, provided she were saved. Oh! Most High Lord! I am prepared to suffer all deaths and all sorrows, but let Mary be saved! To enjoy her company for one hour, for one hour only, when she has become holy and as pure as she was in her childhood! One hour of that joy! To be proud of her, the golden flower of my house, the kind gazelle with meek eyes, the evening nightingale, the loving dove... I want the Master to tell Him that that is what I want: Mary! Mary! Come! Mary! How grieved is your brother, Mary! But if you come, if you redeem yourself, my sorrow will turn into delight. Look for Mary! I am at the end! I am dying! Mary! Light! Air... I... I'm suffocating... Oh! what I feel!...»
The doctor makes a gesture and says: «It is the end. After delirium, sopor then death. But he may have a revival of intelligence. Come close to him. You in particular. It will make him happy » and after laying Lazarus down with care, exhausted as he is with so much excitement, he goes towards Mary, who has been weeping all the time moaning on the floor: «Make him keep quiet! ». He lifts her up and takes her to the bed.
Lazarus has closed his eyes. But he must be suffering dreadfully. His whole body trembles spasmodically. The doctor tries to help him with potions... Some time goes by thus.
Lazarus opens his eyes. He does not seem to remember what happened before, but he is conscious. He smiles at his sisters and tries to take their hands and to reply to their kisses. He turns deadly pale. He moans: «I am cold...» and his teeth chatter as he tries to cover his face with the bedclothes. He groans: «Nicomedes, I cannot resist the pain any longer. Wolves are eating the flesh of my legs and devouring my heart. How painful it is! And if this is agony, what will death be like? What shall I do? Oh! if I had the Master here! Why did you not bring Him to me? I would have died a happy death on His lap...» he says weeping.
Martha casts a severe glance at Mary. Mary understands the meaning of that glance, and still crushed by her brother's frenzy, she is conscience‑stricken and kneeling against the bed, she bends to kiss Lazarus' hand saying plaintively: «I am the guilty one. Martha wanted to do so two days ago. I did not let her. Because He told us that we had to inform Him only after your death. Forgive me! I have been the cause of all the grief of your lifetime... And yet I loved you and I love you, brother. After the Master, I love you more than anybody and God knows that I am not lying. Tell me that you absolve me of my past, that I may have peace...»
«Madam! » says the doctor reproachingly. «The patient is in no need of emotions.»
«That is true... Tell me that you forgive me for not calling Jesus...»
«Mary! Jesus came here for you... and He comes because of you... because you know how to love... more than all the rest... You have loved me more than the rest... A life... of delights would not have given me... not have given me... the joy that I experienced because of you... I bless you... I say to you... that you did the right thing... in obeying Jesus... I did not know... I know... I say... it is right... Help me to die!... Naomi... you knew once... how to... make me fall asleep... Martha... blessed... my peace... Maximinus... with Jesus. Also... for me... My share... to the poor... to Jesus... for the poor... And forgive... everybody... Ah! what atrocious pangs!... Air!... Light!... Everything is trembling... There a kind of light around you and it dazzles me if... I look at you... Speak... loud...» He has laid his left hand on Mary's head and has abandoned his right one into Martha's hands. He is panting...
They lift him carefully adding pillows, and Nicomedes makes him sip some more drops of potions. His poor head hangs and dangles in deadly languor. The only sign of life is his breathing. And yet he opens his eyes and looks at Mary who is holding his head and he smiles at her saying: «Mother! She has come back... Mother! Speak! Your voice... You know... the secret... of God... Have I served... the Lord?...»
Mary in a low voice, which grief has made as thin as a girl's, whispers: «The Lord is saying to you: " Come with Me, My good and faithful servant, because you have listened to every word of Mine and you have loved the Word Whom I sent".»
«I can't hear. Speak louder! »
Mary repeats in a louder voice...
«It is really mother!...» says Lazarus contentedly relaxing his head on his sister's shoulder...
He does not speak any more. Only wails and spasmodic tremor, only perspiration and heavy breathing. Insensible by now to the Earth, to affections, he sinks into the more and more absolute darkness of death. His eyelids close on his glassy eyes in which his last tears shine.
«Nicomedes! He is getting heavier! He is becoming cold!...» says Mary.
«Madam, death is a relief for him.»
«Keep him alive! Jesus will be certainly here tomorrow. He will have left at once. Perhaps He has taken the servant's horse or another mount » says Martha. And addressing her sister she says: «Oh! If you had let me send him earlier! » She then orders the doctor convulsively: «Make him live! »
The doctor stretches out his arms. He tries with some cordials. But Lazarus does not swallow any more.
His death‑rattle increases... It is heart‑rending...
«Oh! we cannot bear this any more! » says Naomi moaning.
«Yes. It's a long agony...» says the doctor assenting.
But he has hardly finished speaking when with a convulsion of his whole body, that arches and then collapses, Lazarus breathes his last.
His sisters shout... seeing his spasm, they shout seeing him collapse. Mary calls her brother, kissing him. Martha clings to the doctor as he bends over the dead body and says: «He is dead. It is now too late to wait for the miracle. There is nothing to wait for. Too late!... I am going, dominae. There is no reason why I should remain. Make haste for the funeral, because the body is already decomposed.» He closes the eyelids of the dead man and looking at him he says: «What a misfortune! He was a virtuous and intelligent man. He shouldn't have died! » He turns towards the sisters, he bows and greets them: «Ave! Dominae! » and he goes away.
Mournful laments fill the room. Mary has no more self‑control and she throws herself on her brother's body shouting her remorse and invoking his forgiveness. Martha is weeping in Naomi's arms.
Then Mary shouts: «You did not have faith or obedience! I killed him first, you have killed him now; I, with my sins, you, with your disobedience.» She seems to have gone mad. Martha lifts her up, embraces her and apologises.
Maximinus, Naomi, Marcella try to bring both to reason and to resignation. And they succeed by remembering Jesus... Their grief quietens down, and while the room becomes crowded with weeping servants, and those responsible for the preparation of the corpse come in, the two sisters are led into another room to give vent to their grief.
Maximinus who is leading them says: «He passed away at the end of the second watch of the night.»
And Naomi says: «He will have to be buried early tomorrow, before sunset, when the Sabbath begins. You said that the Master wants solemn funeral ceremonies...»
«Yes. I leave that to you, Maximinus. I am not in the right frame of mind » says Martha.
«I am going and I will send servants to all the people concerned, both close at hand and far away, and I will give all the necessary instructions » says Maximinus and he withdraws.
The two sisters are weeping in each other's arms. They no longer reproach each other. They weep and try to console each other...
Some hours go by. The dead body is prepared in the room: a long figure enveloped in bandages under the sudarium.
«Why is he already covered like that! » exclaims Martha reproachingly.
«Mistress... A bad smell came from his nose and he threw up tainted blood when we moved him » says a servant apologising.
The sisters weep more loudly. Lazarus is already more remote under those bandages... A further step towards the remoteness of death.
They keep vigil by his bedside weeping, until dawn, when the servant comes back from beyond the Jordan. The servant is dismayed, but he informs them of his fast journey to bring them the news that Jesus is coming.
«Did He say that He is coming? Did He not reproach us? » asks Martha.
«No, mistress. He said: "I will come. Tell them that I will come and to have faith". And before that He said: "Tell them not to worry. It is not a deadly disease. But it is for the glory of God, that His power may be glorified in His Son".»
«Did He say exactly that? Are you sure? » asks Mary.
«Mistress, I have been repeating His words all the way back! »
«Go, then. You are tired. You have done everything well. But it is too late, now!...» says Martha with a sigh. And she bursts into tears as soon as she is left with her sister.
«Oh! in addition to his death, there is disappointment! Mary! Mary! Are you not considering that the Master is wrong this time? Look at Lazarus. He is really dead! We have hoped against hope, but to no avail. When I sent for Him, I certainly made a mistake, for he was more dead than alive. And our faith had no result or reward. And the Master has sent word that it is not a deadly disease! So is the Master no longer the Truth? He is no longer... Oh! That's the end of everything! »
Mary is wringing her hands. She does not know what to say. Facts are facts... But she does not speak. She does not say one word against her Jesus. She weeps. She is really exhausted.
Martha has a fixed idea in her heart: that she delayed too long. «It's your fault» she says reproachingly. «He wanted to test our faith thus. By obeying, I agree, but also by disobeying out of faith, to show to Him that we believed that He alone could and had to work the miracle. My poor brother! And he longed for Him so much! At least that: to see Him! Poor Lazarus! Poor brother! » And her weeping changes into howling, which is echoed in the adjoining rooms by the howls of the maids and servants, according to the eastern custom...
543. The Servant of Bethany Informs Jesus of Martha's Message.
22nd December 1946.
It is already nightfall when the servant, who is proceeding through the brushwood near the river, spurs his horse, steaming with perspiration, to overcome the difference in level between the river and the road leading to the village. The poor animal's sides are heaving because of the long fast run. Its dark coat is all veined with perspiration and its breast is spread with the white foam of the bit. It puffs arching its neck and shaking its head.
They are now on the narrow road and they soon reach the house. The servant jumps to the ground, ties the horse to a hedge and gives a shout.
From the rear of the house the head of Peter appears and in his harsh voice he asks: «Who is calling? The Master is tired. He has not had any peace for many hours. It is almost dark. Come back tomorrow.»
«I do not want anything of the Master. I am healthy and I have only to speak a few words to Him.»
Peter comes forward saying: «From whom, if you do not mind me asking you? I will not let anybody pass without safe identification, particularly those who stink of Jerusalem, as you do.» He has come slowly forward as his suspicion has been aroused more by the beauty of the richly harnessed dark horse than by the man. But when he is in front of him, he is amazed: «You? Are you not one of Lazarus' servant? »
The servant does not know what to say. His mistress told him to speak only to Jesus. But the apostle seems to be quite determined not to let him pass. As he knows that Lazarus' name has great influence over the apostles, he makes up his mind and says: «Yes, I am Jonah, Lazarus' servant. I must speak to the Master.»
«Is Lazarus not well? Has he sent you? »
«No, he is not well. But don't make me waste time. I must go back as soon as possible.» And to convince Peter he says: «The members of the Sanhedrin came to Bethany...»
«The members of the Sanhedrin!!! Come in! Come in! » and he opens the gate saying: «Bring the horse in. We will water it and give it some grass, if you wish so.»
«I have some fodder, but some grass will not do it any harm. We will give it some water later, it may be harmful now.»
They go into the large room where the beds are and they tie the horse in a corner to protect it from draughts; the servant covers it with a blanket that was tied to the saddle, he gives it some fodder and the grass that Peter has brought from I do not know where. They go out again and Peter takes the servant into the kitchen and gives him a cup of warm milk that he takes from a pot near the fire, instead of the water that the servant had asked for. While the servant drinks it and warms himself near the fire, Peter, who is heroic in not asking curious questions, says: «Milk is better than the water you wanted. And since we have it! Did you come all the way without a stop? »
«Without a stop. And I'll do the same going back.»
«You must be tired. And can the horse stand it? »
«I hope so. In any case, on my way back, I shall not gallop as I did coming.»
«It will soon be dark. The moon is already rising... How will you manage at the river? »
«I hope to arrive there before the moon sets. Otherwise I shall stop in the wood until dawn. But I shall get there before.»
«And then? It's a long way from the river to Bethany. And the moon sets early. She is in her first days.»
«I have a good lamp. I will light it and go slow. No matter how slow I may go, I shall be approaching home.»
«Would you like some bread and cheese? We have some. We have also some fish, I caught it. Because I remained here with Thomas. But Thomas has now gone to get some bread from a woman who helps us.»
«No, don't deprive yourself of anything. I had some food on the way, but I was thirsty and I needed something warm. I am all right now. But will you go to the Master? Is He in? »
«Yes, He is. If He had not been here, I would have told you at once. He is in that room, resting. Because so many people come here... I am even afraid that the news may spread and that the Pharisees may come and disturb. Take some more milk. You have to let the horse eat... and rest. Its sides were beating like a badly secured sail...»
«No, you need the milk. You are so many.»
«Yes. But with the exception of the Master, Who speaks so much that His chest aches, and of the older ones, we, who are sturdy, prefer food that keeps our teeth busy. Take some. It's the milk of the sheep left by the old man. When we are here, the woman brings it to us. But, if we want more, everybody is willing to give it to us. They like us, here, and they help us. And... tell me: were there many members of the Sanhedrin? »
«Oh! they were almost all there and other people with them: Sadducees, scribes, Pharisees, wealthy Judaeans, some Herodians....»
«And why did all those people come to Bethany? Was Joseph with them? And Nicodemus? »
«No. They had come previously, Manaen also had come. The others were not friends of the Lord.»
«Eh! I believe that! They are so few the members of the Sanhedrin who love Him! But what did they want exactly? »
«To greet Lazarus, so they said coming in...»
«H'm! How strange their love is! They have always shunned Him for so many reasons!... Well!... Let us believe it... Did they stay long? »
«Quite a long time. And they were upset when they left. I do not work in the house, so I was not serving at the tables. But the other servants who were serving in the house say that they spoke with the mistresses and they wanted to see Lazarus. Helkai went into Lazarus' room and...»
«A fine crook!...» whispers Peter between his teeth.
«What did you say? »
«Oh! nothing! Go on. And did he speak to Lazarus? »
«I think so. He went with Mary. But later, I do not know why... Mary became irritated and the servants, who rushed there from the nearby rooms, say that she turned them out ruthlessly...»
«Well done! Just what is needed! And have they sent you to tell us? »
«Don't make me waste more time, Simon of Jonah.»
«You are right. Come.»
He takes him towards a door and knocks saying: «Master, there is one of Lazarus' servants who wants to speak to You.»
«Let him come in » says Jesus.
Peter opens the door, lets the servant enter, closes the door and withdraws, meritoriously, to the fireplace, to mortify his curiosity.
Jesus, sitting on the edge of His little bed in the small room where there is hardly space for the bed and the person who lives in it, and which previously was certainly a store‑room as there are still hooks on the walls and shelves, looks smiling at the servant who has knelt down and He greets him: «Peace be with you.» And He then adds: «What news do you bring Me? Stand up and speak.»
«My mistresses have sent me to tell You to go to them at once, because Lazarus is very ill and the doctor says that he will die. Martha and Mary implore You and they have sent me to say to You: "Come, because You alone can cure him".»
«Tell them not to worry. This is not a disease that will cause his death, but it is for the glory of God, that His power may be glorified in His Son.»
«But his condition is very serious, Master! His body is affected with gangrene and he no longer takes any food. I have worn out my horse to arrive here in the shortest possible time...»
«It does not matter. It is as I say.»
«But will You come? »
«I will come. Tell them that I will come and to have faith. Tell them to have faith. Absolute faith. Have you understood? Go. Peace to you and to those who sent you. I tell you once again: "They must have faith. Absolute faith". Go.»
The servant greets Him and withdraws.
Peter rushes towards him saying: «You were quick in telling Him. I thought that it was a long speech...» He looks at him intently... His face is shot through with the anxiety to be informed. But he checks himself...
«I am going. Will you give me some water for the horse? Then I will leave.»
«Come. Some water!... We have a whole river to give you some, in addition to our well » and Peter, holding a lamp, walks before him and gives him the water he asked for.
They water the horse. The servant removes the blanket, he checks its shoes, the belly‑band, the reins, the stirrups. He explains: «It has run so much and so fast! But everything is in order. Goodbye, Simon Peter, and pray for us.»
He leads the horse out. Holding it by the bridle he goes out on to the road, puts one foot in the stirrup and is about to mount.
Peter holds him back putting one hand on his arms saying: «There is only one thing I wish to know: is there any danger for Him to stay here? Have they made threats? Did they want to learn from the sisters where we were? Tell me, in the name of God! »
«No, Simon. No. They never said that. They came for Lazarus... We suspect that they came to see whether the Master was there and whether Lazarus was leprous, because Martha was shouting out loud that he is not leprous and she was weeping... Goodbye, Simon. Peace be with you.»
«And with you and your mistresses. May God accompany you back home...» He watches him depart... and soon disappear at the end of the street, because the servant prefers to take the main road, clear in the moonlight, rather than the dark path in the wood along the river. He remains thoughtful. Then he closes the gate and goes back into the house.
He goes to Jesus, Who is still sitting on the little bed, leaning His hands on its edge, engrossed in thought. But He rouses Himself when He hears Peter come close to Him and look at Him inquisitively. He smiles at the apostle.
«Are You smiling, Master? »
«I am smiling at you, Simon of Jonah. Sit down here, near Me. Have the others come back? »
«No, Master. Not even Thomas. He must have found someone to speak to.»
«That is all right.»
«All right that he should speak? All right that the others should be late? He speaks even too much. He is always cheerful! And the others? I am always worried until they come back. I am always afraid.»
«Of what, My dear Simon? No harm will befall us for the time being, believe Me. Set your mind at rest and imitate Thomas who is always cheerful. You, on the contrary, have been very sad for some time.»
«I defy anyone who loves You not to be so! I am old now and I ponder more than the younger ones. Because they also love you, but they are young and less thoughtful... But if You like me more when I am happy, I will be so, I will strive to be so. But in order to be able to be so, give me a reason for it. Tell me the truth, my Lord. I am asking You on my knees (he in fact kneels down). What did Lazarus' servant tell You? That they are looking for You? That they want to harm You? That...»
Jesus lays His hand on Peter's head saying: «No, Simon! Nothing of the kind. He came to tell Me that Lazarus has got worse, and we spoke only of Lazarus.»
«Really, Simon. And I told them to have faith.»
«But do You know that those of the Sanhedrin have been to Bethany? »
«Which is natural! Lazarus' household is a great one. And according to our custom such honours are to be given to a powerful man who is dying. Do not distress yourself, Simon.»
«But do You really think that they did not use that as an excuse to...»
«To see whether I was there. Well, they did not find Me. Cheer up, do not be so frightened as if they had already captured Me. Come here, beside Me, poor Simon, who on no account will be convinced that no harm can befall Me until the moment decreed by God, and that then... nothing will be able to defend Me from Evil...»
Peter throws his arms round Jesus' neck and keeps Him quiet by kissing His lips and saying: «Be quiet! Be quiet! Don't tell me such things! I don't want to hear them! »
Jesus succeeds in releasing Himself so that He can speak and He whispers: «You do not want to hear them! That is the error! But I pity you... Listen, Simon. Since you were the only one to be here, only you and I are to know what happened. Do you understand Me? »
«Yes, Master. I will not mention it to any of my companions.»
«How many sacrifices, is that right, Simon? »
«Sacrifices? Which? It is pleasant to be here. We have what is necessary.»
«The sacrifice of not asking questions, of not speaking, of putting up with Judas... of being away from your lake... But God will reward you for everything.»
«Oh! if that is what You mean!... In place of the lake I have the river and... I make it suffice. With regard to Judas... I have You Who make up for him fully... And with regard to the other things!... Trifles! And they help me to become less coarse and more like You. How happy I am to be here with You! In Your arms! Caesar's palace would not seem more beautiful than this house, if I could always be in it thus, in Your arms.»
«What do you know of Caesar's palace? Have you seen it? »
«No, and I shall never see it. And I do not care. But I imagine it large, beautiful, full of lovely things... and of filth. Like the whole of Rome, I suppose. I would not stay there even if they covered me with gold! »
«Where? In Caesar's palace or in Rome? »
«In neither. Anathema! »
«But because they are like that, they are to be evangelized.»
«And what do You expect to do in Rome?! It is a brothel! There is nothing to be done there, unless You come. Then!...»
«I will come. Rome is the capital of the world. Once Rome is conquered, the world is conquered.»
«Are we going to Rome? You are proclaiming Yourself king, there! Mercy and power of God! That is a miracle! »
Peter has stood up and with raised arms he is standing before Jesus Who smiles and replies to him: «I will go there in My apostles. You will conquer it for Me. And I shall be with you. But there is someone out there. Let us go, Peter.»
544. At Lazarus' Funeral.
23rd December 1946.
The news of Lazarus' death must have had the same effect as a stick stirred inside a beehive. Everybody in Jerusalem talks about it. Notables, merchants, common people, poor people, the townspeople, people from the nearby country, foreigners passing through but familiar with the place, strangers who are there for the first time and ask who is the man whose death is the cause of so much commotion, Romans, legionaries, members of the staff, and Levites and priests who continually gather together and then part, running here and there... Small knots of people discussing the event with different words and expressions. Some utter words of praise, some weep, some feel they are more pauper than usual now that their benefactor is dead, some moan: «I shall never have such a master again», some mention his merits, some describe his wealth and kindred, his father's services and offices and his mother's beauty and riches and her «regal » birth; some, on the contrary, recall family events over which one should draw a veil of kindness, particularly when a dead man is involved who has suffered through them...
The small groups of people come up with the most desparate news on the cause of Lazarus' death, on the place of his burial, on the absence of Christ from the house of His great friend and protector just in that circumstance. The prevailing opinions are two: one is that all this happened, nay, was brought about by the bad behaviour of Judaeans, members of the Sanhedrin, Pharisees and the like towards the Master; the other, that the Master, being faced with a real deadly disease, sneaked away because His deceit would not be successful in this case. Also without being astute one can understand the source of the latter opinion, which embitters many who retort: «Are you a Pharisee as well? If you are, take care of yourself because the Holy One is not to be cursed in our presence! You abominable vipers born of hyenas coupled with Leviathan! Who pays you to curse the Messiah? » Squabbles, insults, also some blows, pungent rude remarks addressed to the richly dressed Pharisees and scribes, who pass by giving themselves the airs of gods, without condescending to look at the common people shouting in favour or against them, in favour or against the Messiah, resound in the streets. And how many accusations!
«This man is saying that Jesus is a false Master! He is certainly one who has put on weight with the money he received from those snakes who have just gone by! »
«With their money? With ours, you should say! They fleece us for such noble purposes! But where is he? I want to see whether he is one of those who came yesterday to tell me...»
«He has run away. But, blessed be the Lord, we must join together and take action. They are too insolent.»
Another conversation: «I have heard you and I know you. I will tell the people concerned what you said of the Supreme Court! »
«I belong to Christ, and the slaver of a demon does me no harm. If you wish, you can tell Annas and Caiaphas, and may it help them to become more honest.»
And farther away: «Me? You say that I am a perjurer and a blasphemer because I follow the living God? You are a perjurer and a blasphemer since you offend and persecute Him. I know who you are. I have seen you and heard you. You corrupt informer! Come! Take this!...» and in the meantime he begins to cuff the ears of a Judaean whose bony greenish face reddens.
«Comelius, Simon, look! They are bullying me » says another one farther away, addressing a group of members of the Sanhedrin.
«Endure it with faith and do not soil your hands and lips on a Sabbath's eve » replies one of the men, who had been called, without even turning to look at the unlucky person to whom a group of common people are dispensing rough justice...
Women are shouting calling their husbands whom they entreat not to compromise themselves.
Legionaries on patrol go around dispersing the crowds with their lances and threatening arrests and punishments.
Lazarus' death, the main fact, is the starting point to go on to secondary facts, to give vent to the long lasting tension in hearts...
The members of the Sanhedrin, the elders, scribes, Sadducees, the mighty Judaeans go by slyly, with indifference, as if all the outbursts of petty anger, of personal revenge, of nervousness were not rooted in them. And as the time goes by the agitation and the excitement increase more and more.
«Listen to this, these people here say that the Christ cannot cure sick people. I was a leper and now I am healthy. Do you know who they are? I do not come from Jerusalem, but I have never seen them among the disciples of the Christ these last two years.»
«Those men? Let me see the one in the middle! Ah! you rascal and thief! You are the one who last month came to me to offer me money in the name of the Christ, saying that He hires men to seize Palestine. And you now say... But why did you let him escape? »
«Have you seen that? How mischievous they are! And they almost caught me! My father‑in‑law was right! There is Joseph the Elder with John and Joshua. Let us go and ask them whether it is true that the Master wants to assemble an army. They are just and they know.» They all rush towards the three members of the Sanhedrin and ask their question.
«Go home, men. One sins and does harmful things in the streets. Do not argue. Don't take fright. Mind your own business and take care of your families. Don't listen to agitators or dreamers and don't allow yourselves to be beguiled. The Master is a master, not a warrior. You know Him. And He speaks His mind. He would not have sent other people to ask you to follow Him as warriors, if He wanted you to be such. Don't do any harm to Him, to yourselves and to our Fatherland. Home, men! Home! Do not allow what is already a misfortune ‑ the death of a just man ‑ to become a series of misfortunes. Go back to your houses and pray for Lazarus, who was charitable to everybody » says Joseph of Arimathea, who must be loved and listened to by the people who know him to be a just man.
Also John (the man who was jealous) says: «He is a peaceful not a warlike man. Don't listen to false disciples. Remember how different the others were, who said they were the Messiah. Remember and ponder, and your justice will tell you that those instigations to violence could not come from Him! Go home! Go back to your women who are weeping and to your children who are frightened. It is said: "Woe to those who are violent and to those who encourage brawls".»
A group of weeping women approach the three members of the Sanhedrin and one of them says: «The scribes have threatened my man. I am afraid! Joseph, please speak to them.»
«Yes, I will. But let your husband be quiet. Do you think that you are assisting the Master by means of these agitations and that you are honouring the dead man? You are wrong. You are harmful to both of them » replies Joseph and he leaves them to go towards Nicodemus, who is coming from one of the streets, followed by servants, and he says to him: «I was not hoping to meet you, Nicodemus. I do not know myself how I managed. Lazarus' servant came to me at the end of the fourth watch to inform me of the sad event.»
«And he came to me later. I left at once. Do you know whether the Master is at Bethany? »
«No, He is not there. My steward in Bezetha was there at the third hour and he told me that the Master is not there.»
«I do not know how... miracles for everybody but not for him! » exclaims John.
«Probably because He gave the household more than a miraculous cure: He redeemed Mary and granted peace and honour...» says Joseph.
«Peace and honour! Of good people to good people. Because many... have not paid and do not pay honour even now that Mary... You do not know... Three days ago Helkai and many others were there... and they did not pay honour. And Mary drove them away. They were furious when they told me, and I just let them say what they liked, as I did not want to disclose my heart to them...» says Joshua.
«And are they going to the funeral now? » asks Nicodemus.
«They have been informed and they have met at the Temple to decide. Oh! their servants have been very busy running about at dawn this morning! »
«Why such hurry for the funeral? Immediately after the sixth hour!...»
«Because Lazarus was already rotten when he died. My steward told me that although resins are burning in the rooms and perfumes have been spread profusely on the dead body, the stench of the corpse is smelt even at the porch of the house. In any case the Sabbath begins at sunset. It was not possible to do otherwise.»
«And you say that they held a meeting at the Temple? Why? »
«Well... in actual fact the meeting had already been called to discuss Lazarus' case. They wanted to state that he was leprous...» says Joshua.
«Surely not. He would have been the first to live in isolation according to the Law » says Joseph defending him. And he adds: «I spoke to their doctor. He excluded it without any possibility of doubt. He was affected by putrid consumption.»
«So what did they discuss, since Lazarus was already dead? » asks Nicodemus.
«Whether they should go to the funeral, after Mary has driven them away. Some wanted to go, some were against it. Those who wanted to go were the majority and for three reasons. To see whether the Master was there, the first reason agreed to by everybody. To see whether He will work a miracle, the second reason. The third reason: the remembrance of words spoken recently by the Master to some scribes at the Jordan near Jericho » explains Joshua once again.
«The miracle! Which, if he is already dead? » asks John shrugging his shoulders, and he concludes: «The usual... seekers of what is impossible! »
«The Master has raised other people from the dead » remarks Joseph.
«That is true. But if He had wanted him to be alive, He would not have let him die. The reason mentioned by you previously is correct. They have already been granted much.»
«Yes. But Uziel and Sadoc have recalled a challenge of many months ago. The Christ said that He will give proof that He can recompose also a decomposed body. And Lazarus is such. And Sadoc, the scribe, also says that, near the Jordan, the Rabbi spontaneously told him that at the new moon he would see half of the challenge being accomplished. That is: a decomposed person that revives, without further decomposition or disease. And their opinion prevailed. If that happens, it is because the Master is there. And if that happens, there will be no more doubts about Him.»
«Providing that is not detrimental...» whispers Joseph.
«Detrimental? Why? The scribes and Pharisees will be convinced...»
«Oh! John! Are you a stranger that you should say that? Do you not know your fellow‑citizens? When has the truth ever made them holy? Does it mean nothing to you that no invitation to the meeting was brought to my house? »
«It was not brought to mine either. They suspect us and they often leave us out » says Nicodemus. Then he asks: «Was Gamaliel there? »
«His son was there. And he will come also in place of his father, who is unwell at Gamala in Judaea.»
«And what did Simeon say? »
«Nothing. Nothing at all. He listened. Then he went away. Not long ago he passed with some of his father's disciples, going towards Bethany.»
They are almost at the gate leading onto the road to Bethany. And John exclaims: «Look! It is garrisoned. Why? And they are stopping those coming out.»
«There is agitation in town...»
«Oh! But it is not a very fierce one...»
They arrive at the gate and they are stopped like everybody else.
«What is the reason for this, soldier? I am well known to everybody in the Antonia, and you cannot speak ill of me. I respect you and your laws » says Joseph of Arimathea.
«It is the order of the Centurion. The Commander is about to enter the town and we want to know who comes out of the gates, particularly of this one that opens onto the Jericho road. We know you. But we also know the feelings of the Judaeans towards us. You and those who are with you may go on. And if you have influence on the people tell them that it is better for them to be calm. Pontius does not like to change his habits because of subjects who cause him trouble... and he might be too severe. A piece of sincere advice to you who are sincere.» They go on.
«Did you hear that? I foresee troublesome days... It will be necessary to advise the others, rather than the people...» says Joseph.
The Bethany road is crowded with people all going in the same direction: to Bethany. They are all going to the funeral. One can see members of the Sanhedrin and Pharisees mingled with Sadducees and scribes, with peasants, servants, with the stewards of the various houses and estates that Lazarus owned in town and in the country, and the more one approaches Bethany, the more people pour into the main road from paths and other side roads.
There is Bethany. Bethany mourning for its greatest citizen. All the inhabitants, wearing their best clothes, have already left their houses, which are locked as if no one lived in them. But they are not yet in the house of the dead man. Curiosity holds them back near the gate and along the road. They watch the people who have been invited, as they pass by, they mention their names and exchange impressions.
«There is Nathanael ben Faba. Oh! Old Mattathias, Jacob's relative! Annas' son! He is over there with Doras, Callascebona and Archelaus. Oh! How did those of Galilee manage to come? They are all there. Look: Eli, Johanan, Ishmael, Uriah, Joachim, Elias, Joseph... Old Hananiah with Sadoc, Zacharias and Johanan, the Sadducees. There is also Simeon of Gamaliel. He is all alone. The rabbi is not there. There is Helkai with Nahum, Felix, Annas the scribe, Zacharias, Jonathan ben Uriel! Saul with Eleazar, Triphon and Joazar. Fine rascals these last ones! Another son of Annas. The youngest. He is talking to Simon Camit. Philip with John Antipatrides. Alexander, Isaac and Jonah of Babaon. Sadoc. Judas, a descendant of the Asideans, the last one, I think, of that class. There are the stewards of the various buildings. I do not see any of the faithful friends. How many people! »
Really! How many people. They are all supercilious, some with an expression for the occasion, some with the signs of true grief on their faces. They are all swallowed up by the wide open gate, and I see pass by all those who in successive stages appeared to be friendly or hostile to the Master. Everybody, with the exception of Gamaliel and of Simon, the member of the Sanhedrin. And I see also other people, whom I have never seen before, or whom I may have seen without knowing their names, disputing round Jesus... Rabbis pass by with their disciples, and scribes in close groups. And Judaeans go along while I hear their riches being listed... The garden is full of people who, after going to express their sympathy with the sisters ‑ who, probably according to the local custom, are sitting under the porch, and are therefore outside the house ‑ come back and spread out in the garden in continuous blending of colours and bowing in salutation.
Martha and Mary are worn out. They are holding each other's hand like two little girls, frightened of the sad gap in their family, of the emptiness of their days now that they no longer have to take care of Lazarus. They listen to the words of visitors, they weep with true friends, with loyal subordinates, they bow to the icy imposing stiff members of the Sanhedrin who have come more to attract attention to themselves than to honour the dead man, and although they are tired of repeating the same things hundreds of times, they reply to those asking them about Lazarus' last moments.
Joseph, Nicodemus, the most devoted friends are near them speaking only few words, but their friendship comforts them more than any word.
Helkai comes back with the more intransigent members of the Sanhedrin, to whom he has been speaking for a long time and he asks: «Could we see the dead body? »
Martha grievously wipes her forehead with her hand and asks: «When is that ever done in Israel? It is already prepared...» and tears stream slowly from her eyes.
«It is not the custom, that is true. But that is what we wish. The more loyal friends are certainly entitled to see their friends for the last time.»
«We also, as his sisters, should have been entitled to see him. But it was necessary to embalm him at once... And when we went back into Lazarus' room we only saw the form of his body wrapped in linen cloths...»
«You should have given clear instructions. Could you not have had the sudarium removed from his face? Can you not remove it now? »
«Oh! it is already decomposed... And it is time for the funeral...»
Joseph joins in the conversation: «Helkai, I think that we... out of excess of love, are the cause of grief. Let us leave the sisters in peace...»
Simeon, Gamaliel's son, moves forward to prevent Helkai from replying: «My father will come as soon as he is able. I represent him. He held Lazarus in high esteem. So do I.»
Martha replies bowing: «May the honour of the rabbi for our brother be rewarded by God.»
As Gamaliel's son is there, Helkai stands aside without insisting further, and he talks the matter over with the others who point out to him: «Can you not smell the stench? Do you wish to doubt it? In any case we shall see whether they wall up the sepulchre. One cannot live without air.»
Another group of Pharisees approach the sisters. They are almost all from Galilee. After receiving their homage Martha cannot restrain herself from expressing her surprise at their presence.
«Woman, the Sanhedrin is in session to resolve upon matters of great importance and we are in town for that purpose » explains Simon of Capernaum, and he looks at Mary whose conversion he certainly remembers. But he just looks at her.
Then Johanan comes forward with Doras, the son of Doras, and with Ishmael, Hananiah, Sadoc and others whom I do not know. Their viperous faces express their intentions before their words do. But in order to strike they wait till Joseph goes away with Nicodemus to speak to three Judaeans. It is old Hananiah who with his clucking voice of a decrepit old man delivers the blow: «What do you think, Mary? Your Master is the only one to be absent among the many friends of your brother. Peculiar friendship! So much love while Lazarus was well! And so much indifference when it was time to love him! Everybody receives miracles from Him. But there is no miracle here. What do you say, woman, of such a situation? He has deceived you bitterly, the handsome Galilean Rabbi, hey! Did you not say that He told you to hope beyond what can be hoped for? So did you not hope, or is it of no avail to hope in Him? You were hoping in the Life, you said. Of course! He says that He is the "Life", hey! But in there there is your dead brother. And over there the entrance of the sepulchre is already open. But the Rabbi is not here. Hey! Hey! »
«He can give death, not life » says Doras with a sneer.
Martha lowers her head covering her face with her hands and weeps. That is the real situation. Her hope has been bitterly disappointed. The Rabbi is not there. He did not even come to console them. And by now He could be there. Martha is weeping. She can but weep.
Mary is weeping, too. She also has to face facts. She believed, she hoped beyond what is credible... but nothing happened and the servants have already removed the stone from the entrance to the sepulchre because the sun is beginning to set and it sets early in winter, and it is Friday and everything must be done in time so that the guests may not have to infringe the law of the Sabbath that is about to begin. She has hoped so much, always, she hoped too much. She has consumed her energies in that hope. And she is disappointed.
Hananiah insists: «Are you not replying to me? Are you now persuaded that He is an impostor who has taken advantage of you and scoffed at you? Poor women! » and he shakes his head among his friends who imitate him saying also: «Poor women! »
Maximinus approaches them saying: «It is time. Give the order. It's for you to give it.»
Martha collapses on the floor, she is assisted and carried away among the cries of the servants, who realise that the time to lay their master in the sepulchre has come and they intone their lamentations.
Mary wrings her hands convulsively. She implores: «A little longer! A little longer! And send servants on the road to En‑shemesh and to the fountain, on every road. Servants on horseback. To see whether He is coming...»
«Are you still hopeful, poor wretch? How can one convince you that He has betrayed and disappointed you? He has hated you and sneered at you...»
It is too much! With her face wet with tears, tortured but still faithful, in the semicircle formed by the guests who have gathered together to see the corpse go out, Mary proclaims: «If Jesus of Nazareth has done that, it is well done, and great is His love for us all in Bethany. Everything for God's glory and His own! He said that this will bring about glory to the Lord because the power of His Word will shine completely. Execute the order, Maximinus. The sepulchre is no obstacle to the power of God...»
She moves away, supported by Naomi who has approached her, and she makes a gesture... The corpse, enveloped in linen cloths, departs from the house, crosses the garden between the crowds forming a double hedge and shouting their grief. Mary would like to follow the corpse, but she staggers. She follows the crowds when they are all near the sepulchre. And she arrives in time to see the long motionless body disappear in the darkness of the sepulchre, where the reddish light of the torches held high by the servants illuminates the steps for those who are descending with the corpse. Lazarus' sepulchre in fact is rather deep in the ground, probably to take advantage of strata of underground rock.
Mary utters a cry... It is a torture... She shouts... And with the name of her brother she utters also Jesus'. She looks as if they were tearing her heart. And she only mentions those two names, and she repeats them until the heavy thud of the stone placed against the entrance of the sepulchre tells her that Lazarus is no longer on the Earth, not even with his body. She is then overwhelmed and loses consciousness. She collapses into the arms of those supporting her and while sinking into a deep swoon she whispers again: «Jesus! Jesus! ». They carry her away.
Maximinus remains to dismiss the guests and thank them on behalf of all the relatives. He remains to hear them all say that they will come back to condole every day...
They disperse slowly. The last to depart are Joseph, Nicodemus, Eleazar, John, Joachim, Joshua. And at the gate they find Sadoc with Uriel, who laugh maliciously saying: «His challenge! And we were afraid of it! »
«Oh! He is really dead. How he stank notwithstanding the aromatic essences! There is no doubt about it! It was not necessary to remove the sudarium. I think that he is already decadent.» They are happy.
Joseph looks at them. His glance is so severe that it cuts short words and laughter. They all make haste to go back to be in town before sunset is over.
545. Jesus Decides to Go to Lazarus.
24th December 1946.
It is getting dark in the little kitchen garden of Solomon's house, and the trees, the outlines of the houses beyond the road, and the very end of the road itself, where it disappears in the woodland near the river, are becoming more and more vague, blending into one only line of shadows, which are more or less clear, more or less dark, in the deepening twilight. Rather than shades, the things spread on the Earth are by now sounds. Voices of children from houses, calls of mothers, cries of men urging sheep or donkeys, the late squeaking of well‑pulleys, the rustling noise of leaves in the evening breeze, sharp cracks as of clashing branches or sticks spread in the woodland. High above the first twinkling of stars, still feeble as there is still a reflection of daylight and because the early phosphorescent moonlight is beginning to spread in the sky.
«You will tell the rest tomorrow. That's enough now. It is getting dark. Let everybody go home. Peace to you. Peace to you. Yes... Of course... Tomorrow. Eh? What did you say? You have a scruple? Sleep on it till tomorrow and then, if you still have it, come back. That would be the last straw! Also scruples to make Him more weary! And men craving for wealth! And mothers‑in‑law who want young wives to recover their wits, and young wives who want their mothers‑in‑law to be less sharp, while both would deserve to have their tongues cut off. And what else is there? Ehi! you? What are you saying? Oh! this one, yes, poor little thing! John, take this little boy to the Master. His mother is ill and she has sent him to tell Jesus to pray for her. Poor child! He has been left at the rear because he is so small. And he comes from so far. How will he be able to go back home? Ehi! all you over there! Instead of standing there to enjoy His company, could you not put into practice what the Master told you: to help one another and that the stronger ones should help the weaker ones? Come on! Who is taking this boy home? God forbid it, he might find his mother dead... Let him at least see her... You have got some donkeys... It is night‑time? And what is there more beautiful than night‑time? I worked for years and years by starlight, and I am healthy and strong. Are you taking him home? May God bless you, Ruben. Here is the boy. Has the Master comforted you? He has? Go then, and be happy. But we must give him some food. Perhaps he has had none since this morning.»
«The Master has given him some warm milk and bread, and some fruit; he has them in his little tunic » says John.
«Then go with this man. He will take you home on his donkey.»
At last all the people have gone, and Peter can rest with James, Judas, the other James and Thomas, who have helped him to send the more obstinate ones home.
«Let us close the door, lest someone may change his mind and come back, like those two over there. Ugh! The day after the Sabbath is really toilsome! » says Peter going into the kitchen and closing the door. And he adds: «We shall be in peace now.»
He looks at Jesus Who is sitting near the table, engrossed in thought, with one elbow on the table and His head resting on His hand. Peter approaches Him and laying his hand on His shoulder he says: «You are tired, eh! So many people! They come from all parts of the country notwithstanding the season.»
«They seem to be afraid of losing us soon » remarks Andrew who is gutting some fish. Also the others are busy preparing the fire to roast them, or stirring some chicory in a boiling pot. Their shadows are projected on the dark walls, which are illuminated more by the fire than by the lamp.
Peter looks for a cup to give some milk to Jesus Who looks very tired. But he does not find the milk and he asks the others about it.
«The boy drank the last drop of milk we had. The rest was given to the old beggar and to the woman whose husband was ill » explains Bartholomew.
«And the Master has been left without! You should not have given it all away.»
«He wanted that...»
«Oh! He would always like that. But we must not let Him do so. He gives away His garments, He gives away His milk, He gives Himself away and He wastes away...» Peter is dissatisfied.
«Be good, Peter! It is better to give than to receive » says Jesus quietly, coming out of His engrossment.
«Of course! And You give and keep giving and You are worn out. And the more You show people that You are willing to be generous, the more men take advantage of You.» And in the meantime he rubs the table with some coarse leaves exhaling a scent that is a mixture of bitter almond and chrysanthemum, he cleans it thoroughly to lay bread and water on it, and he puts a cup in front of Jesus.
Jesus pours Himself some water as if He were very thirsty. Peter puts another cup on the opposite side of the table near a plate containing some olives and stalks of wild fennel. He adds the tray of chicory already dressed by Philip, and together with his companions he draws some very rustic stools near the table adding them to the four chairs available in the kitchen, but quite insufficient for thirteen people. Andrew, who has been grilling the fish, puts it on another plate and with more bread he goes towards the table. John takes the oil‑lamp and puts it in the middle of the table.
Jesus stands up while they all approach the table for supper and He prays in a loud voice, offering the bread and blessing the table. He sits down imitated by the others and He hands out the bread and the fish, that is, He lays the fish on the thick large slices of bread, part new part stale, that each apostle has placed in front of himself. They then help themselves to the chicory using the large wooden fork served with the chicory. Also for the vegetables the slice of bread serves as plate. Jesus alone has in front of Himself a large metal plate, which is rather in bad condition, and He makes use of it to divide the fish giving a dainty now to this one now to that one. He looks like a father among his children, even if Nathanael, Simon Zealot and Philip are old enough to be His fathers, and Matthew and Peter look like His older brothers.
They eat and speak of the events of the day and John laughs heartily at Peter's disdain of the shepherd of the Gilead mountains, who expected Jesus to go up there, where his herd was, to bless it and thus make him earn much money for his daughter's dowry.
«There is nothing to laugh at. While he said: "My sheep are suffering from a disease and if they die I am ruined" I felt pity for him. We fishermen would feel the same if our boat became worm‑eaten. One would no longer be able to work and earn one's daily bread. And we are all entitled to live. But when he said: "And I want my sheep to be healthy because I want to become rich and dumbfound the village on account of the dowry I will give Esther and of the house I will build for myself", then I got angry. I said to him: "And you have come from so far just for that? Have you nothing at heart but the dowry and your wealth and sheep? Have you no soul?". He replied to me: "There is time for that. My sheep and the marriage interest me more at present because it is a good match and Esther is becoming old". Then, if I had not remembered that Jesus says that we must be merciful towards everybody, he would have been for it! I really almost lost my temper when speaking to him...»
«And we thought that you were never going to stop. You never took breath. The veins in your neck were bulging and protruding like sticks » says James of Zebedee.
«The shepherd had already gone for some time and you were continuing to preach. It's a good job that you say that you are not able to speak to people! » adds Thomas. And he embraces him saying: «Poor Simon! He was beside himself with fury! »
«But was I not right? What is the Master? The fortune maker of all the fools in Israel? The procurer of other people' weddings? »
«Don't get angry, Simon. The fish will give you indigestion if you eat it with so much poison » says good‑natured Matthew teasingly.
«You are right. I taste all the flavour of the banquets in the houses of Pharisees, when I eat bread with fear and meat with anger.»
They all laugh. Jesus smiles and is silent.
They are at the end of the meal. They remain round the table, somewhat lazily satisfied with food and heat. They are not so talkative and some are dozing. Thomas enjoys himself drawing with a knife a little branch with flowers on the wood of the table.
They are roused by the voice of Jesus Who, opening His arms, which were folded, leaning on the edge of the table, and stretching out His hands as the priest does when he says: "The Lord be with you", says: «And yet we must go! »
«Where, Master? To the shepherd? » asks Peter.
«No, Simon. To Lazarus. We are going back to Judaea.»
«Master, remember that the Judaeans hate You! » exclaims Peter.
«They wanted to stone You not long ago » says James of Alphaeus.
«No, Master, it is not prudent! » exclaims Matthew.
«Do You not care for us? » asks the Iscariot.
«Oh! My Master and brother, I beseech You in the name of Your Mother, and also in the name of the Divinity that is in You: do not allow satans to lay their hands on Your person, to stifle Your word. You are alone, all alone against the world that hates You and is powerful on the Earth » says Thaddeus.
«Master, protect Your life! What would happen to me, to all of us, if we no longer had You? » says John who is upset and looks at Him with the wide open eyes of a frightened grieved child.
After his first exclamation, Peter has turned round to speak excitedly the older apostles and to Thomas and James of Zebedee. They are all of the opinion that Jesus must not go near Jerusalem, at least until Passover time may make His stay there safer because, they say, the presence of a very large number of followers of the Master, who come from everywhere in Palestine for the Passover festival, will defend the Master. None of those who hate Him will dare touch Him when all the people crowd round Him with love... And they tell Him anxiously, almost overbearingly... Love makes them speak.
«Peace! Peace! Are there not twelve hours in the day? A man who walks in the daytime does not stumble because he has the light of this world to see by, but if he walks at night he stumbles because he cannot see. I know what I am doing because the Light is in Me. Allow yourselves to be guided by Him Who can see. And bear in mind that until the hour of darkness comes, nothing sinister will take place. But when that hour comes, no distance or power, not even Caesar's armies, will be able to save Me from the Judaeans. Because what is written must take place and the powers of evil are already working secretly to accomplish their deed. Do let Me do as I wish and do good while I am free to do so. The hour will come when I shall no longer be able to move a finger or utter one word to work the miracle. The world will be devoid of all My power. A dreadful hour of punishment for man. Not for Me. For man who will have refused to love Me. An hour that will repeat itself, through the will of man who will have rejected Divinity to the extent of making himself godless, a follower of Satan and of his cursed son. An hour that will take place when the end of this world is close at hand. The prevailing lack of faith will make My power of miracle of no use, not because I can lose it, but because no miracle can be granted where there is no faith and no will to have it, where a miracle would be made a butt of and an instrument of evil, by using the good received to turn it into greater evil. Now I can still work miracles, and work them to give glory to God. So let us go to our friend Lazarus who is sleeping. Let us go and wake him from his sleep, that he may be fresh and ready to serve his Master.»
«But if he is sleeping, it is a good thing. He is sure to get better. Sleep itself is a cure. Why wake him? » they point out to Him.
«Lazarus is dead. I waited until he died, before going there, not for his sisters and for him. But for you. That you may believe. That you may grow in faith. Let us go to Lazarus.»
«All right! Let us go! We shall all die as he died and You want to die » says Thomas, a resigned fatalist.
«Thomas, Thomas, and you all who are criticising and grumbling in your hearts, you ought to know that he who wants to follow Me must have for his life the same care that a bird has for a passing cloud. That is, to let it pass and go wherever the wind blows it. The wind is the will of God Who can give you life or take it away as He wishes, neither you must regret it, as the bird does not regret the passing cloud, but it sings just the same as it is sure that the sky will clear up again. Because the cloud is the incident, the sky is reality. The sky is always blue even if clouds seem to make it grey. It is and remains blue above the clouds. The same applies to true Life. It is and remains, even if human life ends. He who wants to follow Me must not be anxious about his life or afraid for it. I will show you how one conquers Heaven. But how can you imitate Me if you are afraid to come to Judaea, whereas no harm will be done to you now? Are you hesitating about showing yourselves with Me? You are free to leave Me. But if you want to stay you must learn to defy the world, with its criticism, its snares, its mockery, its torments, in order to conquer My Kingdom. So let us go and bring back from the dead Lazarus, who has been sleeping in his sepulchre for two days, as he died on the evening that his servant came here from Bethany. Tomorrow at the sixth hour, after dismissing those who have been waiting for the morrow to be comforted by Me and receive the reward for their faith, we shall depart from here and cross the river, stopping for the night in Nike's house. Then at dawn we shall set out towards Bethany, via En‑shemesh. We shall be in Bethany before the sixth hour. And there will be many people and their hearts will be roused. I promised it and I will keep My promise...»
«To whom did You promise it, Lord? » asks James of Alphaeus almost fearfully.
«To those who hate Me and those who love Me, to both in the most clear manner. Do you not remember the dispute with the scribes at Kedesh? It was still possible for them to say that I was mendacious, as I had raised from the dead a girl who had just died and a man who had been dead for one day. They said: "You have not yet recomposed a decomposed body". In fact God only can make a man from dust and remake a healthy living body from rot. Well, I will do that. At the moon of Chislev, on the banks of the Jordan, I Myself reminded the scribes of this challenge and I said: "At the new moon it shall be accomplished". That with regard to those who hate Me. I promised the sisters, who love Me in a perfect manner, to reward their faith if they continued to hope against credibility. I have tried them severely and grieved them deeply and I alone am aware of how much their hearts suffered in the past days and I only know how perfect is their love. I solemnly tell you that they deserve a great reward because they grieve more at the possibility that I may be derided than over the fact that they cannot see their brother raised from the dead. I looked absorbed, tired and sad. I was close to them with My spirit and I could hear their wailing and I counted their tears. Poor sisters! I am now eager to bring a just man back to the Earth, a brother to the embrace of his sisters, a disciple back to My disciples. Are you weeping, Simon? Yes, you and I are Lazarus' greatest friends, and in your tears there is your sorrow for Martha's and Mary's grief and there is also the agony of a friend, but there is also the joy of knowing that he will soon be brought back to our love. Let us move and prepare our bags and go to rest in order to get up at dawn and tidy up here where... our return is not certain. We shall have to hand out to the poor everything we have and tell the most active ones to keep pilgrims from looking for Me until I am in a safe place. We shall also have to tell them to warn the disciples to look for Me at Lazarus' house. There are so many things to be done. They shall be done before the pilgrims arrive... Let us go. Put the fire out and light the lamps and let everyone do what is to be done and go to rest. Peace to you all.» He stands up, blesses them and withdraws to His little room...
«He has been dead for some days! » says the Zealot.
«That is a miracle! » exclaims Thomas.
«I want to see what excuse they will find then to be in doubt! » says Andrew.
«But when did the servant come? » asks Judas Iscariot.
«The evening before Friday » replies Peter.
«Did he? Why did you not tell us? » asks the Iscariot again.
«Because the Master told me not to mention it » replies Peter.
«So... when we arrive there... he will have been in the sepulchre four days? »
«Certainly! Friday evening one day, the Sabbath evening two days, this evening three days, tomorrow four... So four days and a half... Eternal power! But he will be decomposing! » says Matthew.
«He will be decomposing... I want to see also that and then...»
«What, Simon Peter? » asks James of Alphaeus.
«Then if Israel does not become converted, not even Jahweh among lightning will be able to convert her.»
And they go away speaking thus.
546. Resurrection of Lazarus.
26th December 1946.
Jesus is coming towards Bethany from En‑shemesh. They must have marched really hard up the difficult paths on the Adummim mountains. The apostles, who are out of breath, find it difficult to follow Jesus Who walks rapidly, as if love carried Him on its ardent wings. A smile brightens Jesus' face as He proceeds ahead of them all, with His head raised, in the mild midday sunshine.
Before they arrive at the first houses of Bethany, a barefooted boy, who is going to the fountain near the village with an empty copper pitcher, sees Him and gives a shout. He lays the pitcher on the ground and runs away, with all the speed of his little legs, towards the centre of the village.
«He is certainly going to inform them that You are arriving » remarks Judas Thaddeus after smiling, like everybody else, upon the quick... decision of the little boy, who also left his pitcher at the mercy of the first passer‑by.
The little town, as seen from the fountain, which is a little higher up, seems quiet as if it were deserted. Only the grey smoke rising from chimneys indicates that in the houses women are busy preparing the midday meal, and the thick voices of men in the vast silent olive‑groves and orchards inform one that men are working. Even so Jesus prefers to take a path that runs round the rear of the village, so that He may arrive at Lazarus' house without drawing the attention of the citizens.
They have gone almost half way when they hear the boy mentioned previously come after them; he runs past them and then stops thoughtfully in the middle of the path looking at Jesus...
«Peace to you, little Mark. Were you afraid of Me that you ran away? » asks Jesus caressing him.
«No, Lord, I was not afraid. But as for many days Martha and Mary have been sending servants on the roads leading here to see whether You were coming, when I saw You I ran to tell them that You were coming...»
«You did the right thing. The sisters will be preparing their hearts to see Me.»
«No, Lord. The sisters are not preparing anything, because they do not know. They would not let me tell them. They got hold of me when I entered the garden saying: "The Rabbi is here" and they drove me out saying: "You are a liar or a fool. He is not coming any more because He knows by now that He cannot work the miracle any more". And as I said that it was really You, they gave me two mighty slaps as I never had before... Look how red my cheeks are. They are smarting! And they pushed me away saying: "That will purify you for looking at a demon". And I was looking at You to see whether You had become a demon. But I can't see any... You are always my Jesus, as beautiful as an angel, as my mother tells me.»
Jesus bends to kiss his cheeks, which have been slapped, saying: «They will no longer smart. I am sorry that you had to suffer because of Me...»
«I am not sorry, Lord, because those two slaps made You give me two kisses» and he clings to His legs hoping to receive more.
«Tell me, Mark. Who was it that drove you away? Those of Lazarus' household? » asks Thaddeus.
«No. The Judaeans. They come to condole every day. They are so many! They stay in the house and in the garden. They come early and go away late. They behave as if they were the masters. They ill‑treat everybody. Can't you see that there is nobody in the streets? The first days people remained to watch... then... Now only children wander about to... Oh! my pitcher! My mother is waiting for water... She will give me a beating as well!...»
They all laugh at his distress over the prospect of further smacks, and Jesus says: «Hurry up then...»
«The fact is... that I wanted to go in with You and see You work the miracle...» and he concludes: «...and see their faces... to avenge myself for the slaps...»
«No, that's wrong. You must not wish for revenge. You must be good and forgive... But your mother is waiting for the water...»
«I will go, Master. I know where Mark lives. I will tell the woman and then join You...» says James of Zebedee running away.
They set out again slowly and Jesus holds the delighted boy by the hand...
They are now at the garden railing. They walk along it. Many mounts are tied to it, watched by the owners' servants. Their whispering draws the attention of some Judaeans who turn towards the open gate just when Jesus sets foot on the border of the garden.
«The Master! » exclaim the first to see Him, and the word flies from group to group like the rustling of the wind; it spreads, like a wave that comes from afar and breaks on the shore as far as the walls of the house and enters it, certainly carried by the many Judaeans present, or by some Pharisees, rabbis or scribes or Sadducees, scattered here and there.
Jesus advances very slowly while people, although rushing from every directions, move away from the alley along which He is walking. As no one greets Him, He does not greet anybody, as if He did not know any of the many people gathered there looking at Him with eyes full of anger and hatred, with the exception of a few who, being secret disciples or at least righteous‑hearted, even if they do not love Him as Messiah, respect Him as a just man. And those are Joseph, Nicodemus, John, Eleazar, the other John the scribe, whom I saw at the multiplication of the loaves, and another John, the one who fed the people that had come down from the mountain of the beatitudes, Gamaliel with his son, Joshua, Joachim, Manaen, the scribe Joel of Abijah, seen at the Jordan in the episode of Sabea, Joseph Barnabas the disciple of Gamaliel, Chuza who looks at Jesus from afar, somewhat shy seeing Him again after the mistake he had made, or perhaps fear of what people may think prevents him from approaching Him as a friend. It is a fact that neither friends nor those who look at Him without hatred nor enemies greet Him. And Jesus does not greet anyone either. He just bowed lightly when setting foot in the alley. He has then moved straight on as if He were a stranger to the large crowd around Him. The little boy is walking beside Him all the time, in his garments of a poor little peasant and barefooted, but with the bright countenance of one who is really enjoying himself, his lively dark eyes wide open to see everything... and to defy everybody...
Martha comes out of the house with a group of Judaean visitors among whom there are Helkai and Sadoc. With her hand she shades her eyes tired of weeping from the sun, as the light hurts them, so that she may see where is Jesus. She sees Him. She departs from those accompanying her and she runs towards Jesus Who is at a few steps from the fountain shining in the sunshine. She throws herself at Jesus' feet after bowing to Him and kisses them, while bursting into tears she says: «Peace to You, Master! »
Jesus also, as soon as she is close to Him, says to her: «Peace to you! » and He raises His hand to bless her, releasing the hand of the boy, who is taken by Bartholomew and held a little back.
Martha goes on: «But there is no more peace for Your servant.» Still on her knees she looks up at Jesus and with a cry of grief that is clearly heard in the prevailing silence she exclaims: «Lazarus is dead! If You had been here, he would not have died. Why did You not come sooner, Master? » There is an unintentional tone of reproach in her question. She then reverts to the depressed tone of one who no longer has the strength to reproach and whose only comfort is to recollect the last acts and wishes of a relative to whom one has tried to give what he wanted, and there is therefore no remorse in one's heart, and she says: «Lazarus, our brother, has called You so much!... Now, see! I am grieved and Mary is weeping and she cannot set her mind at rest. And he is no longer here! You know how much we loved him! We were hoping everything from You!...»
A murmur of pity for the woman and of reproach for Jesus is heard, approving the understood thought: «...and You could have satisfied our request because we deserve it for the love we have for You, whereas You have disappointed us » and the murmur passes from one group to the next one as people shake their heads or cast derisory glances. Only the few secret disciples mingled with the crowd look compassionately at Jesus, Who, pale and sad, listens to the grieved woman speaking to Him. Gamaliel, his arms folded across his chest in his wide rich robe of very fine wool adorned with blue tassels, a little apart in a group of young men among whom is his son and Joseph Barnabas, stares at Jesus, without hatred and without love.
Martha, after wiping her face, resumes: «But even now I hope because I know that whatever You ask of God, He will grant You.» A sorrowful heroic profession of faith uttered in a trembling weeping voice, with her eyes full of anxiety and her heart throbbing with the last hope.
«Your brother will rise again. Stand up, Martha.»
Martha stands up, stooping out of respect before Jesus to Whom she replies: «I know, Master. He will rise again at the resurrection on the last day.»
«I am the Resurrection and Life. Whoever believes in Me, even if he dies, will live. And whoever believes and lives in Me will never die. Do you believe all that?» Jesus, Who had previously spoken in a rather low voice, addressing Martha only, raises His voice when saying these sentences in which He proclaims His power of God, and its perfect timbre resounds like a golden blare in the vast garden. The people present quiver with an emotion resembling fear. Then some sneer shaking their heads.
Martha, into whom Jesus seems to wish to instil a stronger and stronger hope by holding His hand on her shoulder, raises her lowered head. She raises it towards Jesus staring with her sad eyes at the Christ's bright ones and pressing her hands against her breast with a different anxiety she replies: «Yes, I do, my Lord. I believe all that. I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God, that You have come to the world and that You can do everything You want. I believe. I am now going to tell Mary » and she disappears quickly into the house.
Jesus remains where He was. That is, He takes a few steps forward and approaches the flower‑bed that surrounds the basin of the fountain. The flower‑bed is strewn on one side with the diamond drops of the very fine droplets of water of the jet, blown to that side by a light breeze, like silver down, and Jesus seems to be lost in contemplating the fish wriggle in the limpid water and play describing silver commas and golden reflections in the crystalline water shining in the sunshine.
The Judaeans are watching Him. They have involuntarily divided into clearly distinct groups. On one side, in front of Jesus, all those who are hostile to Him, usually separated from one another by sectarian spirit, but now concordant in opposing Jesus. Beside Him, behind the apostles who have been joined by James of Zebedee, there are Joseph, Nicodemus and others who are well‑disposed to Him. Farther away there is Gamaliel, still in the same place and attitude, and all alone, because his son and disciples have parted from him and joined the two main groups to be closer to Jesus.
With her usual cry: «Rabboni! » Mary runs out of the house with her arms stretched out towards Jesus and throws herself at His feet, which she kisses sobbing deeply. Several Judaeans who were in the house with her and who have followed her, weep with her with doubtful sincerity. Also Maximinus, Marcella, Sara, Naomi have followed Mary, as well as all the servants and their wailing is loud and high‑pitched. I think that there is no one left in the house. When Martha sees Mary cry thus, she cries copiously, too.
«Peace to you, Mary. Stand up! Look at Me! Why weep thus, like one who has no hope? » Jesus stoops to say these words in a low voice, His eyes staring at Mary's, who on her knees, relaxing on her heels, stretches her hands towards Him imploringly and is unable to speak, so deep is her sobbing: «Did I not tell you to hope beyond what is credible in order to see the glory of God? Has your Master perhaps changed, that you are so depressed? »
But Mary does not listen to the words that aim at preparing her for too great a joy after so much anguish, and being able to speak at last, she shouts: «Oh! Lord! Why did You not come sooner? Why did You go away from us? You knew that Lazarus was ill! If You had been here my brother would not have died. Why did You not come? I still had to prove to him that I loved him. He should have lived. I had to show him that I persevered in honesty. I afflicted my brother so much! And now! And now that I could have made him happy, he has been taken away from me! You could have left him with me. You could have given poor Mary the joy of comforting him after grieving him so deeply. Oh! Jesus! Jesus! My Master! My Saviour! My hope! » and she collapses again, her forehead on Jesus' feet, which are washed once again by her tears, and she moans: «Why have you done that, Lord?! Also on account of those who hate You and are now rejoicing at what has happened... Why have You done that, Jesus?! » But there is no reproach in Mary's tone as there was in Martha's, there is only the anguish of a woman, who is grieved not only as a sister but also as a disciple who feels that the opinion of her Master is diminished in the hearts of many people.
Jesus, Who has bent very low to hear those words whispered with her face near the ground, stands up and says in a loud voice: «Mary, do not weep! Also your Master is suffering for the death of His faithful friend... for having had to let him die...»
Oh! How sneering and radiant with hateful joy are the faces of the enemies of Christ! They feel that He is defeated and rejoice, whilst His friends are becoming sadder and sadder.
Jesus says in an even louder voice: «But I tell you: do not weep. Stand up! Look at Me! Do you think that I, Who loved you so much, have done this without a reason? Can you believe that I have grieved you thus in vain? Come. Let us go to Lazarus. Where have you put him? »
Jesus' question, rather than to Mary and Martha, who cannot speak as they are crying even louder, is addressed to all the others and particularly to those who have come out of the house with Mary and look more upset. Perhaps they are older relatives, I do not know.
And they reply to Jesus, Who is clearly distressed: «Come and see », and they set out towards the place of the sepulchre, which is at the end of the orchard, where the ground is undulated and veins of calcareous rock appear on its surface.
Martha, beside Jesus Who has forced Mary to stand up and is now guiding her, as she is blinded by her copious tears, points out to Jesus where Lazarus is, and when they are near the place she also says: «It is there, Master, that Your friend is buried » and she points at the stone placed across the entrance of the sepulchre.
Jesus, followed by everybody, has to pass in front of Gamaliel, in order to go there. But neither He nor Gamaliel greet each other. Gamaliel then joins the others stopping with all the more rigid Pharisees a few metres from the sepulchre, while Jesus goes on, very close to it, with the two sisters, Maximinus and those who are perhaps relatives. Jesus looks at the heavy stone placed as a door against the sepulchre, a heavy obstacle between Him and His dead friend, and He weeps. The wailing of the sisters grows louder, as well as that of intimate friends and relatives.
«Remove that stone » shouts Jesus all of a sudden, after wiping His tears.
Everybody is surprised and a murmur runs through the crowd that has become larger as some people of Bethany have entered the garden and have followed the guests. I can see some Pharisees touch their foreheads and shake their heads meaning: «He is mad! ». No one carries out the order. Even the most faithful ones are hesitant and feel repugnance to do it.
Jesus repeats His order in a louder voice astonishing even more the people, who urged by opposed feelings react at first as if they wanted to run away, but immediately afterwards they wish to draw closer, to see, defying the stench of the sepulchre that Jesus wants opened.
«Master, it is not possible » says Martha striving to restrain her tears to be able to speak. «He has been down there for four days. And You know of what disease he died! Only our love made it possible for us to cure him... By now he will certainly smell notwithstanding the ointments... What do You want to see? His rottenness?... It is not possible... also because of the uncleannes of putrefaction and...»
«Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God? Remove that stone. I want it! » It is the cry of divine will...
A subdued «oh! » is uttered by every mouth. Faces grow pale. Some people shiver as if an icy wind of death had blown over everybody.
Martha nods to Maximinus who orders the servants to get the necessary tools to remove the heavy stone.
The servants run away and come back with picks and sturdy levers. And they work inserting the points of the shining picks between the rock and the stone, and then replacing the picks with the sturdy levers and finally lifting the stone carefully, letting it slide to one side and dragging it cautiously against the rocky wall. An infected stench comes out of the dark hole making everyone withdraw.
Martha asks in a low voice: «Master, do You want to go down there? If You do, torches will be required...» But she is wan at the thought of having to go down.
Jesus does not reply to her. He raises His eyes to the sky, He stretches out His arms crosswise and prays in a very loud voice syllabising the words: «Father! I thank You for hearing Me. I knew that You always hear Me. But I said so for those who are present here, for the people surrounding Me, that they may believe in You, in Me, and that You have sent Me! »
He remains thus for a moment and He becomes so transfigured that He seems to be enraptured, while without uttering any sound He says more secret words of prayer or adoration. I do not know. What I know is that He is so transhumanised that it is not possible to look at Him without feeling one's heart quiver. His body seems to become light, spiritualised, rising in height and also from the earth. Although the shades of His hair, eyes, complexion, garments remain unchanged ‑ contrary to what happened during the transfiguration on mount Tabor when everything became light and dazzling brightness ‑ He seems to shed light and that His whole body becomes light. Light seems to form a halo around Him, particularly round His face raised to the sky, certainly enraptured in the contemplation of His Father.
He remains thus for some time, then He becomes Himself, the Man, but powerfully majestic. He proceeds as far as the threshold of the sepulchre. He moves His arms forward ‑ so far He had held them crosswise, the palms turned upwards ‑ now with palms turned downwards, so that His hands are already inside the hole of the sepulchre and their whiteness is outstanding in the darkness of the hole. His blue eyes are blazing and their flash forecasting a miracle is today unsustainable, in the silent darkness, and in a powerful voice and with a cry louder than the one He uttered on the lake when He ordered the wind to abate, in a voice that I never heard in any other miracle, He shouts: «Lazarus! Come out!» His voice is echoed by the sepulchral cave and coming out of it, it spreads all over the garden, it is repeated by the undulations of the ground of Bethany, I think it travels as far as the first hills beyond the fields and then comes back, repeated and subdued, like an order that cannot fail. It is certain that from numberless directions one can hear again: «out! out! out! »
Everybody is thrilled with emotion and if curiosity rivets everyone in his place, faces grow pale and eyes are opened wide while mouths are closed involuntarily with cries of surprise already on their lips.
Martha, a little behind and to one side, seems fascinated looking at Jesus. Mary, who has never moved away from the Master, falls on her knees at the entrance of the sepulchre, one hand on her breast to check her throbbing heart, the other holding the edge of Jesus' mantle unconsciously and convulsively, and one realises that she is trembling because the mantle is shaken lightly by the hand holding it.
"Something white seems to emerge from the deep end of the sepulchre. At first it is just a short convex line, then it becomes oval-shaped, then wider and longer lines appear. And the dead body, enveloped in its bandages, comes slowly forward, becoming more visible, more mysterious and more awful.
Jesus draws back, imperceptibly, but continuously, as the other moves forward. Thus the distance between the two is always the same.
Mary is compelled to drop the edge of the mantle, but she does not move from where she is. Joy, emotion, everything, nail her to the place where she is.
An «oh! » is uttered more and more clearly by the lips previously closed by the anxiety of suspense: from a whisper hardly distinguishable it changes into a voice, from a voice into a powerful cry.
Lazarus is by now on the threshold of the sepulchre and he remains there rigid and silent, like a plaster statue just rough‑hewed, thus shapeless, a long thing, thin at the head and legs, thicker at the trunk, as macabre as death itself, ghost‑like in the white bandages against the dark background of the sepulchre. As the sun shines on him, putrid matter can be seen dripping already here and there from the bandages.
Jesus shouts out in a loud voice: «Unbind him and let him go. Give him clothes and food.»
«Master!...» says Martha, and perhaps she would like to say more, but Jesus stares at her subduing her with His bright eyes and He says: «Here! At once! Bring a garment. Dress him in the presence of all the people and give him something to eat.» He orders and never turns round to look at those who are behind and around Him. He looks only at Lazarus, at Mary who is near her resurrected brother, heedless of the disgust caused to everybody by the putrid bandages, and at Martha who is panting as if she felt her heart break and does not know whether she should shout for joy or weep...
The servants rush to carry out the instructions. Naomi is the first to run away and to come back with garments folded on her arm. Some untie the bandages after rolling up their sleeves and tucking up their garments so that they may not touch the dripping rot. Marcella and Sarah come back with amphoras of perfumes followed by servants carrying basins and jugs of water steaming hot or trays with cups of milk, wine, fruit, honey‑cakes.
The very long narrow bandages, which I think are of linen, with selvedge on each side, obviously woven for that purpose, unroll like rolls of tape from a reel and pile up on the ground, heavy with spices and pus. The servants move them to one side by means of sticks. They have started from the head, but even there there is matter that has certainly dripped from the nose, ears and mouth. The sudarium placed on the face is soaked with putrid matter and Lazarus' face, which is very pale and emaciated, with his eyes closed with the pomade placed in the eye‑sockets, with his hair and thin short beard sticking together, is soiled with it. The shroud placed round his body falls off slowly as the bandages are removed, freeing the trunk that they had enveloped for days, restoring a human figure to what they had previously transformed into something like a huge chrysalid. The bony shoulders, the emaciated arms, the ribs just covered with skin, the sunken stomach begin to appear slowly. And as the bandages fall off, the sisters, Maximinus, the servants busy themselves removing the first layer of dirt and balms and they insist continuously changing the water made detergent with spices, until the skin appears clean.
"When they uncover Lazarus' face and he can look, he directs his gaze towards Jesus before looking at his sisters, and he seems absent‑minded and does not pay attention to what is happening while he looks at his Jesus with a loving smile on his lips and tears shining in his deep‑sunken eyes. Jesus also smiles at him, His eyes shining with tears, and without speaking He directs Lazarus' gaze towards the sky; Lazarus understands and moves his lips in silent prayer.
Martha thinks that he wishes to say something but has no voice yet and she asks: «What are you saying to me, my Lazarus? »
«Nothing, Martha. I was thanking the Most High.» His pronunciation is steady, his voice loud.
The crowds utter an «oh! » of amazement once again.
He has now been freed and cleaned down to his sides. And they can put on him his short tunic, a kind of a short shirt that reaches below his inguen falling on his thighs.
They make him sit down to untie his legs and wash them. As soon as they appear Martha and Mary utter a loud cry pointing to the legs and bandages. And whilst on the bandages tied round the legs and on the shroud placed under the bandages the putrid matter is so copious as to stream down the cloth, the legs are completely healed. Only red cyanotic scars indicate the parts affected by gangrene.
All the people shout their amazement more loudly; Jesus smiles and Lazarus smiles, too, looking for a moment at his healed legs, then he becomes engrossed again in looking at Jesus. He never seems to gratify his desire to see Him. The Judaeans, Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, rabbis come forward cautiously in order not to contaminate their garments. They examine Lazarus closely. They examine Jesus closely. But neither Lazarus nor Jesus minds them. They look at each other and all the rest means nothing to them.
They now put sandals on Lazarus' feet and he stands up, agile and steady. He takes the tunic that Martha hands him, he puts it on by himself, he fastens his belt and adjusts the fold of the garment. And there he is, lean and pale, but like everybody else. He washes again his hands and arms as far as his elbows, after tucking up his sleeves. And with clean water he washes his face and head again, until he feels that he is thoroughly clean. He dries his hair and face, hands the towel to the servant and goes straight towards Jesus. He prostrates himself. He kisses His feet.
Jesus bends, lifts him up, presses him to His heart saying: «Welcome back home, My dear friend. May peace and joy be with you. Live to accomplish your happy destiny. Raise your face that I may greet you with a kiss.» And He kisses Lazarus' cheeks and is kissed by him.
Only after worshipping and kissing the Master, Lazarus speaks to his sisters and kisses them; he then kisses Maximinus and Naomi, who are weeping for joy, and some of those who I think are related to the family or are very close friends. He then kisses Joseph, Nicodemus, Simon Zealot and a few more.
Jesus goes personally towards a servant who is carrying a tray on which there is some food and He takes a honey‑cake, an apple, a goblet of wine, and He offers them to Lazarus, after offering and blessing them, so that he may nourish himself. And Lazarus eats with the healthy appetite of one who is well. A further «oh! » of amazement is uttered by the crowd.
Jesus seems to see no one but Lazarus, but in actual fact He observes everything and everybody and when He sees with what furious gestures Sadoc, Helkai, Hananiah, Felix, Doras and Cornelius and others are about to go away, He says in a loud voice: «Wait a moment, Sadoc. I want to have a word with you, with you and your friends.»
They stop with the sinister look of criminals.
Joseph of Arimathea makes a gesture as if he were frightened and beckons to the Zealot to restrain Jesus. But He is already going towards the rancorous group and is already saying loud: «Sadoc, is what you have seen enough for you? One day you told Me that in order to believe, you and your peers needed to see a decomposed dead body be recomposed and in good health. Are you satisfied with the rottenness you have seen? Can you admit that Lazarus was dead and that now he is alive and healthy, as he has never been for many years? I know. You came here to tempt these people, to increase their grief and their doubt. You came here looking for Me, hoping to find Me hiding in the room of the dying man. You did not come with feelings of love and with the desire to honour the deceased man, but to ensure that Lazarus was really dead, and you have continued to come rejoicing all the more as time went by. If the situation had evolved as you were hoping, as you believed it would evolve, you would have been right in exulting. The Friend Who cures everybody, but does not cure His friend. The Master Who rewards everybody's faith, but not the faith of His friends in Bethany. The Messiah powerless against the reality of death. That is what was making you exult. Then God gave you His reply. No prophet had ever been able to put together what was decomposed, in addition to being dead. God did it. That is the living witness of what I am. One day it was God Who took some dust and made it into a form and He breathed the vital spirit into it and man was. I was there to say: "Let man be made in our own image and likeness". Because I am the Word of the Father. Today, I, the Word, said to what is even less than dust, I said to rottenness: "Live", and decomposition was recomposed into flesh, into wholesome, living, breathing flesh. There it is looking at you. And to the flesh I joined the spirit that had been lying for days in Abraham's bosom. I called him with My will, because I can do everything, as I am the Living Being, the King of kings to Whom all creatures and things are subject. What are you going to reply to Me now? »
He is in front of them, tall, ablaze with majesty, really Judge and God. They do not reply.
He insists: «Is it not yet enough for you to believe, to accept what is ineluctable? »
«You have kept but one part of Your promise. This is not the sign of Jonah...» says Sadoc harshly.
«You shall have that one as well. I promised it and I will keep My promise » says the Lord. And another person, who is present here, and is waiting for another sign, shall have it. And as he is a just man, he will accept it. You will not. You will remain what you are.»
He turns round and sees Simon, the member of the Sanhedrin, the son of Elianna. He gazes at him. He leaves the previous group and when He is face to face with him, He says in a low but incisive voice: «You are fortunate that Lazarus does not remember his stay among the dead! What have you done with your father, o Cain? »
Simon runs away with a cry of fear that he changes into a howl of malediction: «May You be cursed, Nazarene! » to which Jesus replies: «Your curse is rising to Heaven and from Heaven the Most High throws it back at you. You are marked with the sign, you wretch! »
He goes back to the groups that are astonished, almost frightened. He meets Gamaliel who is going towards the road. He looks at Gamaliel, who looks at Him. Jesus says to him without stopping: «Be ready, rabbi. The sign will come soon. I never lie.»
The garden slowly becomes empty. The Judaeans are dumbfounded, but most of them are bursting with wrath. If glances could reduce one to ashes, Jesus would have been pulverised a long time ago. They speak and discuss among themselves while going away, and they are so upset by their defeat that they are unable to conceal the purpose of their presence here under the hypocritical appearance of friendship. They go away without saying goodbye to Lazarus or to the sisters.
Some remain behind as they have been conquered to the Lord by the miracle. Among them there is Joseph Barnabas, who throws himself on his knees before Jesus worshipping Him. Another one is Joel of Abijah, the scribe, who does the same thing before departing. And there are others as well, whom I do not know, but they must be influential people.
In the meantime Lazarus, surrounded by his more intimates, has withdrawn into the house. Joseph, Nicodemus and other good people greet Jesus and go away. The Judaeans who were staying with Martha and Mary depart giving low bows. The servants close the gate. The house becomes peaceful again.
Jesus looks about Himself. He sees smoke and flames at the end of the garden, towards the sepulchre. All alone, standing in the middle of a path Jesus says: «Rottenness that is being destroyed by fire... The rottenness of death... But no fire will ever destroy the corruption of hearts... of those hearts... Not even the fire of Hell. It will last for ever... How horrible!... Worse than death... Worse than putrefaction... And... But who will save you, o Mankind, if you love so much to be corrupt? You want to be corrupt. And I... I have torn a man from his sepulchre with one word... And with a multitude of words... and a multitude of sorrows I shall not be able to tear away from sin man, men, Nations of men.» He sits down and with His hands He covers His face dejectedly...
A servant, who is passing by, sees Him. He goes into the house. Shortly afterwards Mary comes out. She goes towards Jesus walking so lightly that she does not seem to be touching the ground. She approaches Him and says in a low voice: «Rabboni, You are tired... Come, my Lord. Your tired apostles have gone to the other house, except Simon the Zealot... Are You weeping, Master? Why?...»
She kneels at Jesus' feet... she watches Him...
Jesus looks at her. He does not reply. He stands up and directs His steps towards the house followed by Mary.
They go into one of the halls. Lazarus is not there, neither is the Zealot. But Martha is there, she is happy, transfigured by joy. She turns towards Jesus explaining: «Lazarus has gone to the bathroom. To purify himself further. Oh! Master! Master! What shall I tell You? » She adores Him with her whole being. She becomes aware of Jesus' sadness and says: «Are You sad, Lord? Are You not happy that Lazarus...» She becomes suspicious: «Oh! You are grave with me. I have sinned. It is true.»
«We have sinned, sister » says Mary.
«No. You did not. Oh! Master, Mary did not sin. Mary obeyed. I only disobeyed. I sent for You... because I could no longer bear their insinuations that You were not the Messiah, the Lord... and I could no longer put up with all that suffering... Lazarus was so anxious to have You. He called You so much... Forgive me, Jesus.»
«Are you not saying anything, Mary? » asks Jesus.
«Master... I... I suffered then only as a woman. I suffered because... Martha, swear, swear here, before the Master that you will never tell Lazarus of his frenzy... my Master... I have known You completely, o Divine Mercy, during Lazarus' last hours. Oh! my God! How much You have loved me, as You have forgiven me. You, God, You, Pure, You..., if my brother, who does love me, but is a man, only a man, has not forgiven me everything from the bottom of his heart?! No. I am wrong. He has not forgiven my past and when his weakness on the point of death blunted his goodness, which I thought was oblivion of the past, he shouted his grief and his indignation against me... Oh!...» Mary weeps...
«Do not weep, Mary. God has forgiven you and has forgotten. Lazarus' soul has also forgiven and forgotten, it wanted to forget. The man has not been able to forget everything. And when the flesh overwhelmed the weakened will with its last pangs, the man spoke.»
«I am not indignant at it, Lord. It helped me to love You more and to love Lazarus more. But it was from that moment that I also wished to have You here... because it was too distressing to think that Lazarus should die without peace through my fault... and later, when I heard the Judaeans deride You... when I saw that You were not coming even after his death, not even after I had obeyed You hoping beyond what is credible, hoping till the moment when the sepulchre was opened to receive him, then my spirit suffered. Lord, if I had anything to expiate, and I certainly had it, I did expiate...»
«Poor Mary! I know your heart. You deserved the miracle and let that confirm you in hoping and believing.»
«My Master, I will always hope and believe now. I will never doubt again, Lord. I will live on faith. You have enabled me to believe what is unbelievable.»
«And what about you, Martha? Have you learned? No. Not yet. You are My Martha. But you are not yet My perfect worshipper. Why do you act and you do not contemplate? It is holier. See? Your strength, as it is too inclined towards earthly things, yielded to the ascertainment of earthly matters that at time seem without remedy. In actual fact earthly matters are without remedy, unless God intervenes. That is why human creatures must be able to believe and contemplate, and love to the utmost power of their whole being, with thought, soul, flesh, blood; I repeat: with all the strength of man. I want you to be strong, Martha. I want you to be perfect. You did not obey because you did not believe and hope completely, and you did not believe and hope because you did not love absolutely. But I absolve you. I forgive you, Martha. I raised Lazarus today. I will now give you a stronger heart. I gave him life. I will instil into you the strength to love, believe and hope perfectly. Be happy now and in peace. Forgive those who offended you in the past days...»
«Lord, I have sinned against that. Not long ago I said to old Hananiah, who had sneered at You in previous days: "Who has triumphed? You or God? Your mockery or my faith? Christ is the Living Being and the Truth. I knew that His glory would shine more brightly. And you, old man, make yourself a new soul, if you do not want to know what death is.»
«You spoke the truth, but do not contend with the wicked, Mary. And forgive. Forgive if you want to imitate Me... Here is Lazarus. I can hear his voice.»
Lazarus in fact comes in, wearing fresh clothes and clean‑shaven, his hair dressed and scented. Maximinus and the Zealot are with him. «Master! » Lazarus kneels down once again worshipping.
Jesus lays a hand on his head and smiles saying: «The test is over, My friend. For you and for your sisters. Be happy and strong now in serving the Lord. What do you remember, Me friend, of the past? I mean of your last hours? »
«A great desire to see You and a great peace in the love of my sisters.»
«What did you regret most to leave dying? »
«You, Lord, and my sisters. You, because I would not have been able to serve You, them... because they have given my every joy...»
«Oh! me, brother! » says Mary with a sigh.
«You more than Martha. You have given me Jesus and the measure of what is Jesus. And Jesus has given you to me. You are the gift of God, Mary.»
«You said so also when you were dying...» says Mary and she scrutinises her brother's face.
«Because it is my constant thought.»
«But I have grieved you so deeply...»
«Also my disease was painful. But through it I hope I have expiated the faults of old Lazarus and that I have risen purified to be worthy of God. You and I, the two who have risen again to serve the Lord, and Martha between us, as she has always been the peace of the house.»
«Do you hear that, Mary? Lazarus is speaking words of wisdom and truth. I will now withdraw and leave you to your joy...»
«No, Lord. Stay here with us. Stay in Bethany and in my house. It will be lovely...»
«I will stay. I want to make up for what you have suffered. Martha, do not be sad. Martha thinks that she has grieved Me. But My grief is not brought about by you, but by those who do not want to be redeemed. They hate more and more. Their hearts are poisoned... Well... let us forgive...»
«Let us forgive, Lord » says Lazarus with his mild smile... and it all ends on that word.
"Jesus says: «The dictation dated 23rd March 1944 on Lazarus' Resurrection can be put here.»
23rd March 1944.
«I could have intervened in time to prevent Lazarus' death. But I did not want to do that. I knew that his resurrection would be a double‑edged weapon, because it would convert the righteous-minded Judaeans and would make the non‑righteous‑minded ones even more rancorous. The latter, because of this final blow of My power, would sentence Me to death. But I had come for that and it was now time that that should be accomplished. I could have gone at once, but I needed to convince the most stubborn incredulous people by means of a resurrection from advanced rottenness. And also My apostles, destined to spread My Faith in the world, needed a faith supported by miracles of the first magnitude.
There was so much humanity in the apostles. I have already said so. It was not an insurmountable obstacle, on the contrary it was a logical consequence of their condition of men called to be My apostles when they were already grown‑up. The mentality, the frame of mind of a person cannot be changed between one day and the next one. And, in My wisdom, I did not want to choose and educate children bringing them up according to My thought to make them My apostles. I could have done that, but I did not want to, lest souls should reproach Me for despising those who are not innocent and should justify themselves with the excuse that I also had made it clear that those whose characters are already formed cannot change. No. Everything can be changed if one is willing. In fact I turned cowardly, quarrelsome, usurious, sensual, incredulous people into martyrs, saints and evangelizers of the world. Only those who did not want, did not change.
I loved and still love little and weak people ‑ you are an example ‑ providing they are willing to love and follow Me, and I turn such "nonentities" into My favourities, My friends, My ministers. I still make use of them, and they are a continuous miracle that I work to lead others to believe in Me, and not to kill the possibility of miracles. How languishing that possibility is at present! Like a lamp lacking oil it is in the throes of death and it dies, killed by the scanty or lacking faith in the God of miracles.
There are two forms of insistence in requesting a miracle. God yields to one with love. He turns His back disdainfully to the other. The former asks, as I taught to ask, without lack of confidence and without tiredness, and does not admit that God may not grant the request, because God is good and who is good grants, because God is powerful and can do everything. That is love and God hears those who love. The latter is the overbearingness of rebels who want God to be their servant and to lower Himself to their wickedness and to give them what they do not give Him: love and obedience. This form is an offence that God punishes by denying His graces.
You complain that I no longer work collective miracles. How could I work them? Where are the communities that believe in Me? Where are the true believers? How many true believers are there in a community? Like surviving flowers in a wood burnt by a fire I can see a believing spirit now and again. Satan has burnt the rest with his doctrines. And he will burn them more and more.
I beg you to bear in mind My reply to Thomas, as a supernatural rule for yourselves. It is not possible to be My true disciples if one cannot give human life the importance it deserves: a means to conquer the true Life, not an aim. He who wants to save his life in this world will lose eternal Life. I have told you and I repeat it. What are trials? Passing clouds. Heaven remains and is waiting for you after the trial.
I conquered Heaven for you through My heroism. You must imitate Me. Heroism is not laid aside exclusively for those who are to suffer martyrdom. Christian life is perpetual heroism because it is a perpetual struggle against the world, the demon and the flesh. I do not compel you to follow Me. I leave you free. But I do not want you to be hypocrites. Either with Me and like Me, or against Me. You cannot deceive Me. No, I cannot be deceived, and I do not form alliances with the Enemy. If you prefer him to Me, you cannot think that you can have Me as your Friend at the same time. Either him or Me. Make your choice.
Martha's grief is different from Mary's because of the different psyche of the two sisters and because of their different behaviour. Happy are those who behave in such a way as to have no remorse for grieving one who is now dead and can no longer be comforted for the sorrow caused to him. But how much happier is he who has no remorse for grieving his God, Me, Jesus, and is not afraid of the day he will have to meet Me, on the contrary he pines for it, as for a joy anxiously dreamt of for a whole lifetime and at long last achieved.
I am your Father, Brother and Friend. So why do you offend Me so often? Do you know how long you still have to live? To live in order to make amends? No, you do not know that. So act righteously hour by hour, day by day. Always righteously. You will always make Me happy. And even if sorrow comes to you, because sorrow is sanctification, it is the myrrh that preserves you from the putridity of sensuality, you will always be certain that I love you ‑ and that I love you also in that grief ‑ and you will always have the peace that comes from My love. You, My little John, know whether I can comfort one also in grief.
In My prayer to the Father there is repeated what I said at the beginning: it was necessary to rouse the opacity of the Judaeans and of the world in general by means of a main miracle. And the resurrection of a man who had been buried four days and had gone down into the tomb after a long, chronic, disgusting well‑known disease is not an event that can leave people indifferent or doubtful. If I had cured him while he was alive, or if I had infused the spirit into him as soon as he had breathed his last, the acridity of enemies might have raised doubts on the entity of the miracle. But the stench of the corpse, the putrefaction of the bandages, the long period in the sepulchre left no doubts. And, a miracle in the miracle, I wanted Lazarus to be freed and cleaned in the presence of everybody so that they could see that not only life but also the wholesomeness of the limbs had been restored where previously the ulcerated flesh had spread the germs of death in the blood. When I grant a grace I always give more than what you ask for.
I wept before Lazarus' tomb. And many names have been given to My tears. In the meantime you must bear in mind that graces are obtained through grief mixed with unfaltering faith in the Eternal Father. I wept not so much because of the loss of My friend and because of the sorrow of the sisters, as because three thoughts that had always pierced My heart like three sharp nails surfaced then, more lively than ever, like depths stirred up.
The ascertainment of the ruin that Satan had brought to man by seducing him to Evil. A ruin the human punishment of which was sorrow and death. Physical death, the symbol and living metaphor of spiritual death that sin causes to the soul, hurling it into infernal darkness, whereas it was destined, like a queen, to live in the kingdom of Light.
The persuasion that not even this miracle, worked almost as a sublime corollary to three years of evangelization, would convince the Judaic world of the Truth of which I was the Bearer. And that no miracle would in future convert the world to Christ. Oh! How grievous it was to be so close to death for so few!
The mental vision of My imminent death. I was God. But I was also Man. And to be the Redeemer I was to feel the weight of expiation. Therefore the horror of death and of such a death. I was a living healthy being who was saying to himself: "I shall soon be dead, I shall be in a sepulchre like Lazarus. Soon the most dreadful agony will be my companion. I must die". God's kindness spares you the knowledge of the future. But I was not spared it.
Oh! believe Me, you who complain of your destiny. None was more sad than Mine, because I always clearly foresaw everything that was to happen to Me, joined to the poverty, the hardships, the bittemess that accompanied Me from My birth to My death. So, do not complain. And hope in Me. I give you My peace.»
Marginal notes on Lazarus' resurrection and in connection with a sentence of St. John. Jesus says:
«In the Gospel of John, as it has now been read for ages, there is written: "Jesus had not yet come into the village of Bethany" (John 9, 30). To avoid possible objections I wish to point out that, with regard to this sentence and the one of the Work which states that I met Martha a few steps away from the fountain in Lazarus' garden, there is no contradiction of events, but only a discrepancy of translation and description. Three quarters of the village of Bethany belonged to Lazarus. Likewise a large part of Jerusalem belonged to him. But let us speak of Bethany. As three quarters of it belonged to Lazarus, one could say: Bethany of Lazarus. So the text would not be wrong even if I had met Martha in the village or at the fountain, as some people wish to say. In actual fact I had not gone into the village, to prevent the people of Bethany, who were all hostile to the members of the Sanhedrin, from rushing towards Me. I had gone round the back of Bethany to reach Lazarus' house, which was at the opposite end with respect to one who entered Bethany coming from En‑shemes. So John rightly says that I had not yet entered the village. And equally right is little John who says that I had stopped near the basin (fountain for the Jews) already in Lazarus' garden, but still very far from the house. One should also consider that during the period of mourning and uncleanness (it was not yet the seventh day after Lazarus' death) his sisters did not leave the house. So the meeting took place within the enclosure of their property. Note that little John states that the people of Bethany came into the garden only when I had ordered the stone to be removed. Previously the people of Bethany did not know that I was in Bethany, and only when the news was spread they rushed to Lazarus' house.»
547. In Jerusalem and in the Temple after the Resurrection of Lazarus.
27th December 1946.
If the news of the death of Lazarus had shaken and agitated Jerusalem and a large part of Judaea, the news of his resurrection ended by shaking and penetrating also where the news of the death had not caused any excitement.
Perhaps the few Pharisees and scribes, that is the members of the Sanhedrin present at the resurrection, did not mention it to the people. But the Judaeans certainly have spoken about it, and the news has spread in a flash, and the voices of women repeat it from house to house, from terrace to terrace, while the common people propagate it in the streets with great jubilation for Jesus' triumph and for Lazarus. People fill the streets running here and there, thinking they are the first to give the news, but they are disappointed because it is already known in Ophel as well as in Bezetha, in Zion as at the Sixtus market. It is known in synagogues, in warehouses, in the Temple and in Herod's palace. It is known at the Antonia and from there, or vice versa, it spreads to the guard‑rooms at the gates. It fills mansions and hovels: «The Rabbi of Nazareth has raised from the dead Lazarus of Bethany, who died the day before Friday and was buried before the beginning of the Sabbath and he rose again today at the sixth hour.» The Jewish acclamations to the Christ and to the Most High mingle with the various «By Jove! By Pollux! By Libitina! » etc. of the Romans.
The only ones I do not see among the crowds talking in the streets are the members of the Sanhedrin. I do not see even one of them, whereas I see Chuza and Manaen come out from a stately mansion and I hear Chuza say: «Wonderful! Wonderful! I sent word to Johanna at once. He is really God! »; and Manaen replies to him: «Herod, who came from Jericho to pay his respects to... the chief, Pontius Pilate, seems to have gone mad in his palace, while Herodias is frantic and she presses him to have the Christ arrested. She trembles dreading His power; he is torn with remorse. With chattering teeth he tells his devoted followers to defend him from... ghosts. He got drunk to muster up courage and the wine eddying in his head makes him see phantasms. He shouts saying that the Christ has raised also John who is now yelling God's maledictions close to him. I ran away from that Gehenna. I was content with saying to him: "Lazarus has been raised from the dead by Jesus the Nazarene. Mind you do not touch Him, because He is God". I stimulate his fear so that he may not yield to her murderous intents.»
«On the contrary, I shall have to go there... I must go. But I wanted to call on Eliel and Elkanah first. They live in seclusion, but their opinions are always highly thought of in Israel! And Johanna is pleased that I honour them. And I...»
«A good protection for you. That is true. But not so good as the Master's love. That is the only protection that matters...»
Chuza does not reply. He is pensive... I lose sight of them.
Joseph of Arimathea comes forward hurriedly from Bezetha. He is stopped by a group of citizens who are still uncertain whether they should believe the news. They ask him.
«It's true. Very true. Lazarus has risen and he has also been cured. I saw him with my own eyes.»
«So... He is really the Messiah! »
«His deeds are such. His life is perfect. This is the right time. Satan fights Him. Let each man conclude in his own heart who is the Nazarene » says Joseph wisely and fairly at the same time. He greets them and goes away.
They continue to discuss and end up by saying: «He is really the Messiah.»
There is a group of legionaries and one of them says: «I will go to Bethany tomorrow if I can. By Venus and Mars, the gods I prefer! I may travel all over the world, from the hot deserts to the icy German lands, but never again shall I find a man who comes to life again after being dead for days. I want to see what a man, who comes back from death, is like. He will be black with the water of the rivers of the beyond...»
«If he was a virtuous man, he will be bluish after drinking the sky‑blue water of the Elysian Fields. There is not only the Styx there...»
«He will tell us what the meadows of asphodels in Hades are like... I will come as well...»
«If Pontius will allow us...»
«Of course he will! He sent a messenger to Claudia at once telling her to come. Claudia loves these things. I have heard her more than once converse, with the other women and her Greek freedmen, about souls and immortality.»
«Claudia believes in the Nazarene. According to her He is greater than any other man.»
«Yes, but according to Valeria He is more than a man. He is God. A kind of Jupiter and Apollo with regard to power and handsomeness, they say, and wiser than Minerva. Have you seen Him? I came here with Pontius and it is the first time that I have been here, so I do not know...»
«I think that you have arrived in time to see many things. Not long ago Pontius was shouting as loud as Stentor saying: «Everything is to be changed here. They must understand that Rome is the ruler and that they, all of them, are servants. And the greater they are, the more servile they are, because they are more dangerous". I think it was because of that tablet that Annas' servant took to him...»
«Of course. He will not listen to them... And he keeps shifting us... because he does not want us to be friendly with them.»
«Friendly with them? Ah! Ah! With those big‑nosed types stinking like billy‑goats? Pontius suffers from indigestion because he eats too much pork. If anything... we are friendly with some of the women who do not disdain the kisses of clean‑shaven lips...» says a mischievous one laughing.
«It is a fact that after the unruliness at the feast of the Tabernacles he insisted in having all the troops changed with the result that we have to go away...»
«That is true. The arrival of the galley bringing Longinus and his century was already notified at Caesarea. New officers and new troops... and all because of those crocodiles of the Temple. I liked this place.»
«I preferred Brindisi... But I shall get accustomed to this place » says the one who arrived in Palestine recently.
They also move away.
Some guards of the Temple pass by with wax‑tablets. People watch them and say: «The Sanhedrin is meeting with urgency. What are they going to do? »
A man replies: «Let us go up to the Temple And see...» They set out towards the street leading to the Moriah.
The sun disappears behind the houses in Zion and the western mountains. Night falls and the streets are soon cleared of curious people. Those who went up to the Temple come down looking upset because they have been driven away from the gates, where they had lingered to see the members of the Sanhedrin pass by.
The inside of the Temple, now empty, desert, enveloped in moonlight, seems immense. The members of the Sanhedrin slowly gather in their meeting hall. They are all there, exactly as they were for Jesus' death sentence, but those who were then acting as clerks are not present (1). Only the members of the Sanhedrin are there, some sitting in their places, some in groups near the doors.
Caiaphas comes in with his face and body resembling those of an excessively fat and wicked frog, and he goes to his seat.
They begin to discuss the events at once and they become so impassioned of the matter that the session is soon animated. They leave their seats, they go down into the empty space gesticulating and speaking in loud voices.
Some counsel calm and circumspection before taking a decision. Others answer back: «But have you not heard those who came here after the ninth hour? If we lose the most important Judaeans, what is the use of accumulating charges? The longer He lives, the less we shall be believed if we accuse Him.»
(1) The present chapter was written after the one describing Jesus being sentenced to death and which is part of volume 5.
«And this fact cannot be denied. We cannot say to the many people who were there: "What you have seen is not true. It is a make-believe. You were drunk". The man was dead. Putrid. Decomposed. The corpse was placed in a closed sepulchre and the sepulchre was properly walled up. The corpse had been enveloped in bandages and covered with balms for several days. And it was tied. And yet it came out of its place, it came as far as the entrance by itself without walking. And when it was freed, the body was no longer dead. It breathed. There was no putrefaction. Whereas before, when it was alive, it was covered in sores, and when it died it was rotten.»
«Have you heard the most influential Judaeans, whom we urged to go there to have them completely on our side? They came and said to us: "As far as we are concerned He is the Messiah". Almost every one of them has come! Not to mention the people!...»
«And those cursed Romans full of nonsense! What about them? They say that He is Jupiter Maximus. And if they get that idea into their heads! They made us acquainted with their stories, and it was a curse. Cursed be those who wanted Hellenism among us and out of flattery desecrated us with foreign usages! But it helps us to know people. And we know that the Romans are quick in demolishing and elevating by means of plots and coups d'etat. Now if anyone of these mad people goes into raptures over the Nazarene and proclaims Him Caesar, and therefore, divine, who will ever dare touch Him? »
«Certainly not! Who do you think would dream of doing that? They do not give a fig for Him or for us. No matter how great is what He does, He is always "a Jew" as far as they are concerned. So nothing but a miserable wretch. Fear has turned your brain, dear son of Annas! »
«Fear? Did you hear how Pontius replied to my father's invitation? He is upset, I tell you. He is upset by this last event, and he is afraid of the Nazarene. How wretched we are! That man has come to ruin us! »
«I wish we had not gone there and we had not almost ordered the most mighty Judaeans to go as well! If Lazarus had risen without witnesses...»
«So? What would have changed? We certainly could not have made him disappear for good to make people believe that he was always dead! »
«Certainly not. But we could have said that it was apparent death. You can always find witnesses bribed to commit perjury.»
«But why so much excitement? I can see no reason for it! Has He perhaps provoked the Sanhedrin and the Pontificate? No, He has not. He just worked a miracle.»
«Just?! But are you mad or has He bribed you, Eleazar? Did He not provoke the Sanhedrin and the Pontificate? What else do you want? The people...»
«People can say what they like, but the situation is exactly as Eleazar said. The Nazarene has only worked a miracle.»
«That's another one defending Him! You are no longer fair, Nicodemus! You are no longer just! That is an action against us. Against us, do you realise it? Nothing will convince the crowds any longer. Ah! How miserable we are! Today some Judaeans scoffed at me! At me they scoffed! »
«Be quiet, Doras! You are only a man. It's the principle that is attacked! Our laws! Our prerogatives! »
«You are right, Simon, and we must defend them.»
«By offending and destroying His! »
«That is easily said, Sadoc. But how can you destroy them if with your own power you cannot even make a midge come to life again? What is required here is a miracle greater than His. But none of us can work it because...» The speaker cannot explain why.
Joseph of Arimathea completes the sentence: «Because we are just men, only men.»
They rush upon him asking: «And what is He, then? »
Joseph of Arimathea replies without hesitation: «He is God. If I still had had any doubt...»
«But you had no doubt. We know, Joseph. We are well aware. You may state clearly that you love Him! »
«There is nothing wrong if Joseph loves Him. I also admit that He is the greatest Rabbi in Israel.»
«Are you, Gamaliel, saying that? »
«Yes, I maintain that. And it is an honour to me to be... dethroned by Him, because so far I had kept the tradition of the great rabbis, the last one of whom was Hillel, but after me I do not know who was able to receive the wisdom of centuries. Now I shall go away happily, because I know that it will not be lost, on the contrary it will grow greater, as it will be increased by His own wisdom, in which the Spirit of God is certainly present.»
«But what are you saying, Gamaliel? »
«I am speaking the truth. It is not by closing our eyes that we can ignore what we are. We are no longer wise, because the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, and we are sinners without the fear of God. If we had such fear we would not trample on the just, neither would we be foolishly greedy for the wealth of the world. God gives and God takes away, according to merits and demerits. And if God deprives us of what He had given us, in order to give it to other people, may He be blessed because holy is the Lord and holy are all His deeds.»
«But we were talking of miracles and we meant that none of us can work them because Satan is not with us.»
«No. Because God is not with us. Moses parted the waters and he struck the rock, Joshua stopped the sun, Elijah raised the boy from death and made the sky give rain, but God was with them. I remind you that there are six things that God hates and the seventh He abhors: a haughty look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that weaves wicked plots, feet that hurry to do evil, a false witness who lies and he who sows dissension among brothers. We do all these things. I say: we. But you only do them. Because I refrain from shouting "Hosanna" and from crying "Anathema". I am waiting.»
«For the sign! Of course! You are waiting for the sign! But what sign can you expect from a poor madman, even if we want to forgive Him all the rest? »
Gamaliel stretches his hands and arms forward, and with closed eyes and lightly lowered head, looking most grave, he says in a slow distant voice: «I have anxiously asked the Lord to show me the truth, and He enlightened for me the words of Jesus the son of Sirach. These ones: "The Creator of all things spoke to me and gave me His instructions, and He Who created me rested in my Tabernacle and said to me: 'Dwell in Jacob, make Israel your inheritance, take root among My chosen people' ". And He enlightened also the following words and I have acknowledged them: "Approach Me, you who desire Me, and take your fill of My fruits because My spirit is sweeter than honey and My inheritance is sweeter than the honey-comb. The memories of Me will last for ever. They who eat Me will hunger for more, they who drink me will thirst for more; whoever listens to Me will never have to blush, whoever works for Me will never sin, whoever explains Me will have eternal life". And the light of God became brighter in my spirit while my eyes were reading these words: "All these things are contained in the book of Life, the will of the Most High, the doctrine of Truth... God promised David that from him would descend the most powerful King Who is to sit on the throne of glory for ever. His wisdom brims like the Pishon and the Tigris in the season of fruit, like the Euphrates He brims with intelligence, He rises like the Jordan at harvest time. He diffuses wisdom like light... He was the first to become perfectly aware of it". That is what God had enlightened for me! Alas! I say that the Wisdom among us is too great to be understood by us, neither can we contain a thought vaster than oceans nor an advice deeper than the great abyss. And we hear Him shout: "Like an immense watercourse I gushed out of Paradise and I said: 'I am going to water My garden', and then my watercourse became a river, and the river a sea. Like dawn I shed My doctrine on everybody, and I shall make it known to the remotest peoples. I shall descend into the lowest parts, I shall cast glances on those who are sleeping, I shall enlighten those who hope in the Lord. I shall pour out teaching like prophecy and I shall leave it to those who seek wisdom, I shall not stop announcing it until the holy century. I have not toiled for Myself alone, but for all who are seeking the truth". This is what God, the Most Hight God, made me read» and he lowers his arms and raises his head.
«So, according to you He is the Messiah?! Tell us! »
«He is not the Messiah.»
«He is not? Then what is He according to you? Not a demon. Not an angel. Not the Messiah...»
«He is He Who is.»
«You are raving! Is He God? Is that madman God according to you? »
«He is He Who is. God knows what He is. We see His works. God sees also His thoughts. But He is not the Messiah because Messiah to us means King. He is not and never will be king. But He is holy. And His works are those of a holy man. And we cannot threaten the Innocent without committing sin. I will not assent to sin.»
«But with your words you have almost said that He is the Expected One! »
«I have said so. While the light of the Most High lasted I saw Him as such. Then... as the hand of the Lord no longer held me uplifted in His light, I became man again, the man of Israel, and the words were only those to which the man of Israel, I, you, those before us, and, God forbid it, those after us, attach the meaning of their, of our thoughts, not the meaning they have in the eternal Thought that dictated them to His servant.»
«We are talking, digressing, wasting time. And the crowds in the meantime are excited » says Hananiah in a croaking voice.
«You are right! It is necessary to take a decision and act, to save ourselves and to triumph.»
«You say that Pilate would not listen to us when we asked his help against the Nazarene. But if we informed him... You said previously that if the troops become excited they may proclaim Him Caesar... Eh! A good idea! Let us go and point this danger out to the Proconsul. We shall be honoured as faithful servants of Rome and... and if he takes action we shall get rid of the Rabbi. Let us go! Since you, o Eleazar of Annas, are more friendly with him than we are, be our guide » says Helkai laughing malingnantly.
There is some hesitancy, then a group of the most fanatics leaves to go to the Antonia. Caiaphas remains with the others.
«At this time! He will not receive them » remarks one.
«On the contrary! It's the best time. Pontius is always in high spirits after eating and drinking as a pagan does...»
I leave them there discussing, and I see the scene at the Antonia.
They cover the short distance quickly and without difficulty, so bright is the moonlight that is so different from the red light of the lamps lit in the entrance‑hall of the praetoriurn building.
Eleazar is successful in sending in his name to Pilate, and they are led into a large empty hall. It is completely empty. There is only a heavy chair with low back covered with a purple cloth that stands out strongly against the complete whiteness of the hall. They remain in a group, somewhat timid and cold, standing on the white marble floor. No one comes in. There is dead silence, broken at intervals by remote music.
«Pilate is at table. He is certainly with friends. The music is played in the triclinium. There will be dances in honour of the guests says Eleazar of Annas.»
«They are corrupt. I will purify myself tomorrow. Lust oozes from these walls» says Helkai with disgust.
«Why did you come, then? It was your idea » replies Eleazar.
«For the honour of God and the welfare of our fatherland I can make any sacrifice. And this is a great one! I had purified myself after approaching Lazarus... and now!... A dreadful day, this one!...»
There is no sign of Pilate. Eleazar, being familiar with the place, tries the doors. They are all closed. The Judaeans in the hall are seized with fear. Frightening stories come to light again. They regret having come. They feel that they are already lost.
At long last, on the side opposite to them, who are near the door through which they came in and thus close to the only chair available in the hall, a door is opened and Pilate comes in, wearing a tunic as white as the hall. He comes in speaking to some guests. He is laughing. He turns round to instruct a slave, who is holding up the curtain beyond the door, to throw essences into a brazier and to bring scents and water for their hands and a slave to come with mirror and combs. He pays no attention to the Hebrews, as if they were not there. They get enraged but they dare not react...
Over there, in the meantime, they bring braziers, they spread resins on the fire and pour scented water on the hands of the Romans. And a slave, with skilful movements, tidies their hair according to the fashion of rich Romans of those days. And the Hebrews get enraged.
The Romans laugh and jest among themselves looking now and again at the group waiting at the other end, and one of them speaks to Pilate who has never turned round to look; but Pilate shrugs his shoulders making gesture of boredom and he claps his hands to call a slave whom he orders in a loud voice to bring sweets and to let in the dancers. The Hebrews tremble with rage and are scandalised. Just imagine Helkai compelled to watch girls dancing! His countenance is a poem of suffering and hatred.
The slaves come back with sweets in precious cups, and they are followed by the dancers wearing garlands of flowers and hardly covered with fabrics that are so light as to seem veils. Their very white bodies appear through their light garments dyed pink and blue, when they pass before the burning braziers and the many lights placed at the other end. The Romans admire the gracefulness of bodies and movements and Pilate asks them to repeat a dance that he particularly liked. Helkai, imitated by his companions, turns indignantly towards the wall not to see the dancers move as lightly as butterflies with their dresses fluttering indecorously.
When the short dance is over Pilate dismisses them putting in the hand of each a cup full of sweets and he throws a bracelet into each cup nonchalantly. And at last he condescends to turn round and look at the Hebrews saying to his friends in a weary voice: «And now... I must pass from dreams to reality... from poetry... to hypocrisy... from gracefulness to the filthy things of life. The miseries of being a Proconsul!... Hail, friends, and have pity on me.»
He is left alone and he slowly approaches the Hebrews. He sits down, he examines his well‑cared for hands and he discovers something wrong under one nail. He attends to it anxiously taking from under his tunic a tiny thin golden stick with which he remedies the great damage of an imperfect nail...
He is then so kind as to turn his head round slowly. He sneers seeing the Hebrews still bowing servilely and he says: «You! Here! And be quick. I have no time to waste on trifles.»
The Hebrews approach Pilate in an attitude that is always servile until he shouts: «That's enough. Don't come too close » and his words seem to nail them to the floor. «Speak! And stand up straight because animals only stoop towards the ground » and he laughs.
The Hebrews straighten themselves at the sneering words and remain stiff.
«So? Speak! You insisted on coming. Speak, now that you are here.»
«We wanted to tell you... We are told... We are faithful servants of Rome...»
«Ah! Ah! Faithful servants of Rome! I will let divine Caesar know and he will be happy! He will certainly be happy! Speak up, you clowns! And be quick!»
The members of the Sanhedrin quiver with indignation, but they do not react. Helkai speaks on behalf of everybody: «We must inform you, o Pontius, that a man was raised from the dead today at Bethany.»
«I know. Is that why you have come? I was informed several hours ago. He is a lucky man as he already knows what it is to die and what the next world is like! What can I do if Lazarus of Theophilus has been raised from the dead? Has he perhaps brought me a message from Hades? » He is ironic.
«No. But His resurrection is a danger...»
«For him? Of course! The danger of having to die again. Not a very pleasant event. So? What can I do? Am I perhaps Jupiter? »
«A danger not for Lazarus. But for Caesar.»
«For?... Domine! Am I perhaps drunk? Did you say: for Caesar? And how can Lazarus be harmful to Caesar? Are you afraid that the stench of the sepulchre may infect the air that the Emperor breathes? Do not worry! He is too far away! »
«No, not that. The fact is that Lazarus by rising from the dead may have the Emperor dethroned.»
«Dethroned? Ah! Ah! That's a bigger fib than the whole world! So you are drunk, not I. Perhaps the fright has deranged your minds. To see a man rise... I think it may upset one. Go, go to bed. And have a good rest. And a warm bath. A very warm one. It is very good against deliriums.»
«We are not delirious, Pontius. We are telling you that unless you take a decision you will go through a sad time. You will certainly be punished, if not killed, by the usurper. The Nazarene will soon be proclaimed king, king of the world, do you understand? Your very legionaries will proclaim Him. They have been enticed by the Nazarene and today's event has elated them. What servant of Rome are you, if you do not take care of her peace? So, do you want to see the Empire upset and divided because of your inertness? Do you want to see Rome defeated, the ensigns pulled down, the Emperor killed, everything destroyed...»
«Be silent! I will now speak. And I say to you: you are mad! You are even worse. You are liars. You are criminals. You deserve death. Get out of here, you filthy servants of your own interests, of your hatred, of your meanness. You are servants, not I. I am a Roman citizen and Roman citizens are not subject to anybody. I am an imperial official and I work for the welfare of our fatherland. You... are our subjects. You... are under our rule. You... you are the galley-slaves tied to the benches and you fret in vain. The lash of the chief is over you. The Nazarene!... Would you like me to kill the Nazarene? Would you like me to put Him in prison? By Jove! If for the safety of Rome and of the divine Emperor I should imprison dangerous subjects or kill them here where I am the governor, I should leave free and alive the Nazarene and His followers, and them alone. Go away. Clear off and never come back here again. You riotous fellows, instigators, thieves and accomplices of thieves! I am well aware of all your manoeuvres. You had better know that. And bear in mind that new weapons and fresh legionaries have served to discover your snares and your instruments. You complain of Roman taxes. But how much have you paid for Melkiah of Gilead, and Jonah of Scythopolis, and Philip of Shochoh, and John of Beth‑aven and Joseph of Ramoth, and for all the others who will soon be caught? And do not go towards the caves in the valley because there are more legionaries there than stones, and the law and galley are the same for everybody. For everybody! Do you understand? For everybody. And I hope to live long enough to see you all in chains, slaves among slaves under the heel of Rome. Get out! Go and report ‑ you as well, Eleazar of Annas whom I do not wish to see any more in my house ‑ that the time of clemency is over, and that I am the Proconsul and you the subjects. The subjects. And I give orders. In the name of Rome. Go out! You night snakes and vampires! And the Nazarene wants to redeem you? If He were God, He ought to strike you by lightning! Thus the most revolting stain would disappear from the world. Out! And dare not conspire, or you will become acquainted with sword and whip.»
He stands up and goes away slamming the door before the dismayed members of the Sanhedrin, who have no time to come to themselves because an armed squad comes in and drives them out of the hall and of the building as if they were dogs.
They go back to the hall in the Sanhedrin. They make their report. The excitement is great. The news of the arrest of many highwaymen and of raids into caves to catch more upsets very much all the members who have remained. Many, in fact, tired of waiting, have gone away.
«And yet we cannot let Him live » shout some of the priests.
«We cannot leave Him alone. He is active. We are doing nothing. And we are losing ground day by day. If we leave Him free, He will continue to work miracles and everybody will believe in Him. And the Romans will end up by opposing us and destroying us all together. Pontius says so. But if the crowds should proclaim Him king, oh! Pontius will have to punish all of us. We must not allow that » shouts Sadoc.
«All right. But how? The attempt... by Roman law has failed. Pontius is sure of the Nazarene. The attempt... through our law is impossible. He does not commit sin...» points out one of the members.
«If no sin exists, one can be invented » insinuates Caiaphas.
«It's a sin to do that! To swear what is false! To have an innocent condemned! It's... too much!...» say most of them in horror. «It's a crime, because it would be His death.»
«So? Does that frighten you? You are foolish and you understand nothing. After what happened Jesus must die. Do you not consider that it is better for us if one man dies instead of many? So let Him die to save His people so that all our country may not perish. In any case... He says that He is the Saviour. So let Him sacrifice Himself to save everybody » says Caiaphas with disgusting cold sly hatred.
«But... Caiaphas! Consider! He...»
«I have spoken. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, the High Priest. Woe to those who do not respect the Pontiff of Israel. The thunderbolts of the Lord upon them! We have waited enough! We have had enough flurry! I order and decree that whoever knows where the Nazarene is must come and inform us of the place, and anathema on those who will not obey my word.»
«But Annas...» say some objecting.
«Annas said to me: "Whatever you do will be holy". Let us close the meeting. We shall all be here on Friday between the third and the sixth hour to decide what to do. All of us, I said. Inform those who are absent. And ensure that all the heads of families and classes, all the cream of Israel are summoned. The Sanhedrin has spoken. Go.»
And he is the first to withdraw to the place from which he came, whilst the others go in different directions and they leave the Temple speaking in low voices while going home.
548. At Bethany after the Resurrection of Lazarus.
30th December 1946.
It is pleasant to rest among loving friends and near the Master in sunny days that show the early charms of springtime, contemplating the fields growing verdant with the tender sprouts of corn, admiring the meadows that break the even green winter shade with the first little many‑coloured flowers, gazing at the hedges displaying gems that begin to open smiling in the more sunny spots, looking at almond‑trees the tops of which are covered with early foam-like flowers. And Jesus rejoices at the sight, as well as the apostles and the three friends at Bethany. And everything seems far and remote: malevolence, sorrow, sadness, illness, death, hatred, envy, all the painful, tormenting, worrying things on the Earth.
All the apostles are overjoyed and they say so. They express their conviction ‑ that is so certain, so triumphant ‑ that Jesus has now defeated all His enemies, that His mission will now proceed without any obstacle, that He will be acknowledged as the Messiah also by those who have been most tenacious in opposing Him. And they speak, somewhat elated, rejuvenated, happy as they are, making plans for the future, dreaming... dreaming so much... and so humanly.
The most elated, also because of his psyche that carries him to extremes, is Judas of Kerioth. He congratulates himself on having waited, on his ability in acting, on his lasting faith in the Master's triumph, on defying the threats of the Sanhedrin... He is so elated that he ends up by telling what he has concealed so far, amid the utter astonishment of his companions: «Yes, they wanted to bribe me, they wanted to entice me with blandishments, and when they saw that they were of no avail, with threats. If you only knew! But I paid them back in their own coin. I pretended to love them as they feigned to love me. I allured them as they allured me, I betrayed them as they wanted to betray me... Because that is what they wanted to do. They wanted to make me believe that they were testing the Master to be able to proclaim Him the Holy Man of God solemnly. But I know them, I know them very well. And in all their plans of which they informed me, I contrived to make Jesus' holiness shine more brightly than the sun at midday in a cloudless sky... It was a dangerous game! If they had realised that! But I was prepared for every eventuality, even to die, to serve God in my Master. And thus I was informed of everything... Eh! at times I must have seemed to be mad, wicked, bad‑tempered. If you had known what the situation was like! I alone know what I suffered at night, the precautions I had to take to do a good turn without attracting anybody's attention! You were somewhat suspicious of me. I know. But I bear you no grudge. My behaviour could have roused suspicion. But my purpose was good and that was all I worried about. Jesus is not aware of anything. That is, I think that He also suspects me. But I will keep quiet without wishing to be praised by Him. And I ask you not to say anything either. One day, one of the first times I was with Him ‑ and you, Simon Zealot, and you, John of Zebedee, were with me ‑ He reproached me because I boasted of having a practical sense. Since then... I never enhanced this quality of mine in His presence, but I continued to make use of it, for His own good. I did what a mother does for her inexpert child. She removes obstacles from his way, she bends a thornless branch towards him, she pushes aside one that may hurt him, or with shrewd acts she gets him to do what he must learn to do and to avoid what is bad, without the child being aware of it. On the contrary, the son believes that he succeeded by himself in walking without stumbling, in picking a lovely flower for his mother, in doing this and that thing spontaneously. I did the same with the Master. Because holiness is not sufficient in a world of men and demons. It is necessary to fight with equal weapons, at least as men... and at times... it is not a bad thing to add a pinch of infernal cunning to the other weapons. That is my idea. But He will not listen to me... He is too good... Well. I understand everything and everybody, and I excuse everybody for the evil thoughts you might have had about me. You now know. And now we love one another as good companions, and we do everything for His love and His glory » and he points at Jesus Who is walking farther away in a sunny alley speaking to Lazarus, who listens to Him smiling ecstatically.
The apostles go away towards Simon's house. Jesus instead comes closer with His friend. I listen to them.
Lazarus says: «Yes. I had understood that there was some great purpose, certainly a good one, in letting me die. I thought it was to spare me the sight of their persecution against You. And, You know whether I am telling the truth, I was glad to die so that I would not see it. It embitters me. It upsets me. See, Master. I have forgiven those who are the chiefs of our people many things. I had to forgive up to my last days... Helkai... But death and resurrection have cancelled all previous things. Why remember their last efforts to grieve me? I have forgiven Mary everything. She seems to doubt it. And more than that, I do not know why, since I came to life again she has taken an attitude that is so... I do not know how to define it. She is so mild and submissive, which is so strange with my Mary... Not even during the first days when she came here, after being redeemed by You, was she like that... Perhaps You know something and You can tell me, because Mary tells You everything... Do You know whether those who came here have reproached her too severely? I have always tried to weaken the memory of her fault when I saw her engrossed in the thought of her past, in order to alleviate her suffering. She cannot set her mind at rest over it. She seems so... above what might be dejection. Some people may even think that she does not show much regret... But I understand... I know. Everything makes one expiate. I think she does a great deal of penance, of all kinds. I would not be surprised if she wore a cilice under her dresses and if her flesh were familiar to the blows of the scourge... But the brotherly love I have for her and that aims at supporting her by laying a veil between past and present, is not shared by anybody else... Do you know, by any chance, whether she was ill‑treated by someone who is not capable of forgiving... and who needs to be forgiven? »
«I do not know, Lazarus. Mary has not mentioned it to Me. She only told Me that she suffered very much on hearing the Pharisees insinuate that I was not the Messiah because I was not curing you or raising you from the dead.»
«And... has she not said anything to You about me? You know... I was suffering so much... I remember that my mother in her last hours revealed things that had escaped Martha's notice and mine. It was as if the depths of her soul and of her past surfaced again with the last agitations of her heart. I hope that... My heart has suffered so much because of Mary... and it has striven in every way not to give her the sensation of what I suffered because of her... I would not like to have struck her now that she is good, whilst out of brotherly love first, and then for Your sake, I never struck her in infamous days when she was a disgrace. What did she say to You about me, Master? »
«Her grief for having had too short a time to give you her holy love as your sister and fellow‑disciple. Your loss made her measure the extent of the treasures of love that she had crushed under her feet once... and now she is happy to be able to give all the love that she wishes to give you, to tell you that you are her holy beloved brother.»
«Ah! that is it! I realised that! I am glad of that. But I was afraid I might have offended her... Since yesterday I have been thinking over and over again... I have been trying to remember... but I cannot...»
«But why do you want to remember? There is your future in front of you. Your past was left in the sepulchre. Nay, it was not even left there. It was burnt with the funeral bandages. But if it serves to give you peace, I will tell you your last words to your sisters. To Mary in particular. You said that it was because of Mary that I came and I come here, because Mary knows how to love more than anybody else. That is true. You said that she has loved you more than all the others who have loved you. That is also true, because she has loved you renovating herself for God's sake and for yours. You said to her, and quite rightly, that a whole life of delights would not have given you the joy that you received through her. And you blessed your sisters as a patriarch used to bless his dearest creatures. You equally blessed Martha, whom you called your peace; and Mary, whom you called your joy. Are you happy now? »
«Yes, Master, my mind is at peace now.»
«Then, as peace gives mercy, forgive also the chiefs of the people who are persecuting Me. Because that is what you wanted to say: that you can forgive everything, except the evil they do Me.»
«It is so, Master.»
«No, Lazarus, I forgive them. You must forgive them if you want to be like Me.»
«Oh! Like You! I cannot! I am only a man! »
«The man was left down there. The man! Your spirit... You know what happens at the death of a man...»
«No, Lord. I remember nothing of what happened to me » interrupts Lazarus vehemently.
Jesus smiles and replies: «I was not referring to your personal knowledge, to your particular experience. I was speaking of what every believer knows will happen to him when he dies.»
«Ah! The particular Judgement. I know. I believe. The soul presents itself to God, and God judges it.»
«It is so. And the judgement of God is just and inviolable. And it has infinite value. If the soul is judged mortally guilty it becomes a damned soul. If it is lightly guilty it is sent to Purgatory. If it is just it goes to the peace of Limbo awaiting Me to open the gates of Heaven. So I called your soul back after it had been judged by God. If you had been damned I could not have called you back to life, because by doing so I would have cancelled My Father's judgement. For damned souls no further changes are possible. They are judged for ever. So you belonged to the number of those who were not damned. So you either belonged to the class of the blessed souls, or to the class of those who will be blessed after being purified. But consider this, My dear friend. If the sincere will of repentance that man can have while being still a man, that is, body and soul, is valid as purification; if the symbolical rite of baptism in water, that one wants out of spirit of contrition to be cleansed of the foulness contracted in the world and because of one's flesh, has the value of purification for us Hebrews; what value will repentance have, a more real and perfect repentance, a much more perfect repentance of a soul freed from the body, aware of what God is, enlightened on the gravity of its errors, enlightened on the extent of the joy that had moved away for hours, for years, for ages: the joy of the peace of Limbo that will soon be the joy of the achieved possession of God: the double, treble purification of perfect repentance, of perfect love, of the bath in the ardour of the flames lit by the love of God and by the love of spirits, in which and by which the spirits are stripped of all impurity and emerge as beautiful as seraphim, crowned with what does not even crown seraphim: their earthly and ultra‑earthly martyrdom against vices and for the sake of love? What will it be? Tell Me, My dear friend.»
«Well... I do not know... perfection. Better still... a new creation.»
«There you are: you have said the right word. The soul becomes as if it were created again. It becomes like the soul of an infant. It is new. The past no longer exists. Its past of man. When the original Sin falls, the soul without stain and the shadow of stain, will be super‑created and worthy of Paradise. I called back your soul that had been re‑created through your willing attachment to Good, through the expiation of pain and death, and through your perfect repentance and your perfect love, achieved beyond death. So your soul is as innocent as the soul of a baby a few hours old. And if you are a new‑born baby, why do you want to put on your spiritual childhood the heavy cumbersome clothes of an adult? The cheerful spirit of a child has wings, not chains. They imitate Me quite easily as they have not yet assumed any personality. They become like Me, because My figure and My doctrine can be impressed on their souls devoid of all traces without any confusion of lines. Their souls are free from human memories, from resentment, from prejudice. There is nothing in them, so I can be there, perfect and absolute as I am in Heaven. You, who are born again, a new‑born, because in your old flesh the driving power is new, clean, without past and without traces of what it was, you, who have come back to serve Me, and only for that purpose, you must be as I am, more than anybody else. Look at Me. Look at Me carefully. Look at yourself in Me, and mirror Me in yourself. Two mirrors that look at each other to reflect in each other the figure of what they love. You are a man and a child. A man by age, a child by the purity of your heart. You have the advantage over children of being already acquainted with Good and Evil, and of choosing Good even before your Baptism in the fire of love. Well, I say to you, to the man whose spirit has been cleansed by the purification received: "Be as perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect and as I am. Be perfect, that is, be like Me Who have loved you so much as to go against all the laws of life and death, of heaven and the earth, in order to have once again on the Earth a servant of God and a true friend of Mine, and a blessed soul, a great blessed soul in Heaven". I say that to everybody: "Be perfect". And they, the majority, do not have the heart that you had, worthy of the miracle, worthy of being used as an instrument to glorify God in His Son. And they do not have your debt of love with God... I can say that, I can exact it from you. And first of all I exact it by asking you to bear no grudge on those who offended you and now offend Me. Forgive, Lazarus, forgive. You have been immersed in the burning flames of love. You must be "love", so that you may no longer know anything but the embrace of God.»
«And by doing so shall I fulfil the mission for which You have raised me from the dead? »
«By doing so you will fulfil it.»
«That is enough, Lord. I need not ask or know more. It was my dream to serve You. If I served You by doing nothing, as a sick man and a dead body, and if I shall be able to serve You by doing much, as a man who has recovered, my dream has come true and I do not ask for anything else. May You be blessed, my Jesus, Lord and Master! And may He Who sent You be blessed with You.»
«May the Almighty Lord God be always blessed.»
They go towards the house stopping now and again to watch the reawakening of trees and Jesus, tall as He is, lifts one arm and picks a little bunch of flowers from an almond‑tree that is getting warm in the sun, against the southern wall of the house.
Mary comes out and sees them and she approaches them to hear what Jesus is saying: «See, Lazarus? Also to these flowers the Lord said: "Come out". And they obeyed to serve the Lord.»
«What a mystery germination is! It seems impossible for such fragile petals and such tender stems to sprout from a hard trunk or hard seeds and to change into fruit or plants. Is it wrong, Master, to say that the lymph or the germ is like the soul of the plant or of the seed? »
«It is not wrong because it is the vital part. It is not eternal in them, but was created for each species on the first day that plants and cereals existed. In man it is eternal, like its Creator, created each time a new man is conceived. But matter is alive through it. That is why I say that only through his soul man is alive. And he does not live only here. But also in the beyond. He lives because of his soul. We Hebrews do not draw designs on sepulchres as the Gentiles do. But if we did, we should not design an extinguished torch, an empty sand‑glass or any other item symbolising the end, but the seed that is thrown into the furrow and grows into an ear. Because it is the death of the body that frees the soul from the bark and makes it fructify in the flower‑beds of God. The seed. The vital spark that God put into our dust and becomes an ear if through our good will and also through sorrow we can fertilise the clod that encloses it. The seed. The symbol of life that lasts for ever... But Maximinus is calling you...»
«I will go, Master. Some of the stewards have probably come. Everything came to a standstill these last months. They are now making haste to show me their accounts...»
«That you approve in advance because you are a good master.»
«And because they are good servants.»
«A good master makes servants good.»
«So I shall certainly become a good servant because I have You as a perfect Master » and he goes away smiling, walking nimby, so different from the poor Lazarus as he had been for years.
Mary remains with Jesus.
«And what about you, Mary, will you become a good servant of your Lord? »
«You only know, Rabboni. I... only know that I was a big sinner.»
Jesus smiles: «Have you seen Lazarus? He, too, was seriously ill, and yet do you not think that he is quite well? »
«It is so, Rabboni. You have cured him. What You do is always complete. Lazarus has never been so strong and cheerful as he has been since he came out of the sepulchre.»
«You are right, Mary. What I do is always complete. Thus also your redemption is complete because I worked it.»
«That is true, my beloved Saviour and Redeemer, my King and God. It is true. And, if You want it, I also shall be a good servant of my Lord. As for me, I want it, Lord. I do not know whether you do.»
«I want it, Mary. A good servant of Mine. Today more than yesterday. Tomorrow more than today. Until I will say to you: "Enough, Mary. It is time for you to rest".»
«Agreed, Lord. I would like You to call me, then. As You called my brother out of the sepulchre. Oh! call me out of this life! »
«No, not out of this life. I will call you to the Life, to the true Life. I will call you out of the sepulchre that is the flesh and the Earth. I will call you to the wedding of your soul with your Lord.»
«My wedding! You love virgins, Lord...»
«I love those who love Me, Mary.»
«You are divinely good, Rabboni! That is why I could not set my mind at rest when I heard people say that You were bad because You were not coming. Everything seemed to be collapsing around me. How hard it was to say to myself: "No. You must not accept this evidence. What seems to you to be obvious is only a dream. The real fact is the power, the goodness, the divinity of your Lord". Ah! How much I suffered! So much grief for Lazarus' death and for his words... Did he say anything to You? Does he not remember? Tell me the truth...»
«I never lie, Mary. He is afraid that he may have spoken and said what had grieved his life. But I reassured him, without lying, and he is now tranquil.»
«Thank You, Lord. Those words... have done me good. Yes. Just like the cure of a doctor who lays bare the roots of a disease and burns them. They finished destroying the old Mary. I still had too high an opinion of myself. Now... I measure the bottom of my abjection and I know that I must go a long way to climb out of it. But I will do it, if You help me.»
«I will help you, Mary. I will help you also when I have gone away.»
«How, my Lord? »
«By increasing your love in an immeasurable way. There is not other way for you.»
«Too mild when compared with what I have to expiate! Everybody is saved through love. Everybody obtains Heaven. But what is sufficient for the pure, the just, is not sufficient for the great sinner.»
«There is no other way for you, Mary. Because, whatever way you may take, it will still be love. Love if you help people in My name. Love if you evangelize. Love if you live in isolation. Love if you martyrise yourself. Love if you will make people martyrise you. You can but love, Mary. It is your nature. Flames can but burn whether they creep on the ground, burning straw, or they arise like a bright embrace around a trunk, a house or an altar to ascend towards the sky. Everyone has his nature. The wisdom of the masters of the spirit rests in the ability to exploit the inclinations of men directing them along the way where they can develop profitably. Such a law exists also among plants and animals and it would be silly to pretend that a fruit‑tree should yield flowers only, or should bear other fruit than its natural ones, or that an animal should fulfil the functions typical of another species. Could you pretend that a bee, destined to make honey, should become a little bird that sings among the leafy branches of a hedge? Or that this little branch of an almond‑tree that I am holding in My hands, with all the tree from which I picked it, instead of yielding almonds should exude sweet‑smelling resins from its bark? A bee works, a bird sings, an almond‑tree bears fruit, a resiniferous plant secretes resins. And each fulfils its task. Souls do the same. Your task is to love.»
«Then inflame me, Lord. Grant me it as a grace.»
«Is the power of love that you possess not sufficient for you?»
«It's too little, Lord. It could have served to love men. Not to love You Who are the infinite Lord.»
«And just because I am such, a limitless love would be required...»
«Yes, my Lord. That is what I want: that You give me a limitless love.»
«Mary, the Most High Who knows what love is, said to man: "You shall love Me with all your strength". He does not exact more than that. Because He is aware that it is already a martyrdom to love with all one's strength...»
«It does not matter, my Lord. Give me an infinite love that I may love You as You deserve to be loved, that I may love You as I have not loved anybody else.»
«You are asking Me for a suffering that is like a fire that burns and consumes, Mary. It burns and consumes slowly... Think about it.»
«I have been thinking about it for such a long time, my Lord. But I dared not ask You. Now I know how much You love me. Just now I am aware of how much You love me and I dare to ask You. Give me that infinite love, Lord.»
Jesus looks at her. She is in front of Him, still thin after so many long hours of watch and so much grief, wearing a modest dress and with her hair arranged in a simple way, like a girl without malice, her pale face full of eagerness, her imploring eyes already shining with love, looking more like a seraph than a woman. She is really the contemplator asking for the martyrdom of absolute contemplation.
Jesus says one word only after looking at her carefully, as if He wanted to weigh her will: «Yes.»
«Ah! my Lord! What a grace to die out of love for You! » she says falling on her knees and kissing Jesus' feet.
«Stand up, Mary. Take these flowers. They are those of your spiritual wedding. Be as sweet as the fruit of the almond‑tree, as pure as its flower and as bright as the oil that is extracted from its fruit, when it is lit, and as sweet smelling as this oil when sated with essences it is spread in banquets or on the heads of kings, scented with your virtues. Then you will really spread on your Lord the balm that He will appreciate infinitely.»
Mary takes the flowers but she does not stand up and in advance of her balms of love she kisses and sheds tears on the feet of her Master.
Lazarus joins them and says: «Master, there is a little boy who wants You. He had gone to Simon's house looking for You and found only John who brought him here. But he does not want to speak to anybody but You.»
«All right. Bring him here. I shall go under the jasmine pergola.»
Mary goes back into the house with Lazarus. Jesus goes under the pergola. Lazarus comes back holding by the hand the boy whom I saw in the house of Joseph of Sephoris. Jesus recognises him at once and greets him: «You, Martial! Peace be with you. How come you are here? »
«They have sent me to tell You something...» and he looks at Lazarus who understands and is about to go away.
«Stay, Lazarus. This is Lazarus, a friend of Mine. You can speak before him, My boy, because I have no other friend more faithful than he is.»
The boy is reassured. He says: «Joseph the Elder has sent me, because I live with him now, to tell You to go at once to Bethphage, to the house of Cleanthes. He must speak to You at once. But it must be at once. And he said that You are to come by Yourself. Because he must speak to You in all secrecy.»
«Master! What is happening? » asks Lazarus worriedly.
«I do not know, Lazarus. There is only one thing to do: to go there. Come with Me.»
«At once, Lord. We can go with the boy.»
«No, Lord. I am going alone. Joseph insisted on that. He said: "If you can do it properly and by yourself, I will love you as if I were your father", and I want to be loved as a son by Joseph. I am going away at once, and I will run. Come after I have gone. Hail, Lord. Hail, sir.»
«Peace to you, Martial.»
The boy runs away as swift as a swallow.
«Let us go, Lazarus. Bring Me My mantle. I will proceed because, as you can see, the little boy cannot open the gate, and he certainly does not wish to call anybody.»
Jesus walks fast towards the gate, Lazarus hastens towards the house. The former releases the iron lock of the gate for the boy, who runs away. The latter brings Jesus' mantle to Him and walks beside Him on the road towards Bethphage.
«I wonder what Joseph wants? If he sent a boy with so much secrecy...»
«A boy escapes the notice of anyone who may be watching » replies Jesus.
«Do You think that... do You suspect... Do You feel that You are in danger, Lord? »
«I am certain, My dear friend.»
«What? Even now? But You could not have given a greater proof!...»
«Hatred becomes more furious when urged by facts.»
«Oh! it's because of me, then! I have harmed You!... My grief is incomparable! » exclaims Lazarus who is deeply grieved.
«Not because of you. Do not be distressed without reason. You have been the means, but you must understand that the cause was the necessity to give the world the proof of My divine nature. If it had not been you, it would have been somebody else, because I had to prove to the world that I, being God, can do anything I want. And to bring back to life a body that has been dead for days and is already decomposed, can only be the work of God.»
«Ah! You want to comfort me. But my joy, all my joy has vanished... I am distressed, Lord.»
Jesus makes a gesture as if He wanted to say «Who knows! » and then they both become silent.
They walk fast. The distance between Bethany and Bethphage is a short one, and they soon arrive there.
Joseph is walking up and down the street at the beginning of the village. He has his back turned when Jesus and Lazarus come out of a path concealed by a hedge. Lazarus calls him.
«Oh! Peace to you. Come, Master. I waited for You here so that I might see You at once, but let us go into the olive‑grove. I do not want anybody to see us...»
He takes them behind the houses into a thick olive‑grove that is a comfortable shelter where they can speak without being noticed, as the ruffled leafy branches of the trees conceal the slopes.
«Master, I sent the boy who is smart and obedient and very fond of me, because I had to speak to You but I was not to be seen. I came along the Kidron to get here... Master, You must go away, at once. The Sanhedrin has ordained Your arrest and the announcement will be read in the synagogues tomorrow. Whoever knows where You are, must denounce You. I need not tell you, Lazarus, that your house will be the first one to be watched. I came out of the Temple at the sixth hour and I acted at once, because while they were discussing I had already planned what to do. I went home and I took the boy. I came out through Herod's Gate on horseback, as if I were leaving the town. Then I crossed the Kidron and followed it. I left my mount at Gethsemane and I sent the boy who knew the way as he had already been to Bethany with me. Go away at once, Master. To a safe place. Do You know where to go? Have You got a place where to go? »
«But is it not enough for Him to go away from here? At most from Judaea? »
«It is not enough, Lazarus. They are furious. He must go where they do not go...»
«But they go everywhere, they do! You surely do not want the Master to leave Palestine!...» says Lazarus excitedly.
«Well! What can I tell you?! That's what the Sanhedrin wants...»
«Because of me, is that right? Tell me! »
«H'm! Well... yes. Because of you... that is, because everybody is being converted to Him, and they... they do not want that.»
«But it is a crime! It's a sacrilege... It's...»
Jesus, pale but calm, lifts His hand imposing silence and He says: «Be silent, Lazarus. Everybody is doing his work. Everything is written. I thank you, Joseph, and I assure you that I will go away. Go, you may go, Joseph. So that your absence may not be noticed... May God bless you. I will get Lazarus to let you know where I am. Go. I bless you, Nicodemus and all righteous‑hearted people.» He kisses him and they part. Through the olive‑grove Jesus goes towards Bethany with Lazarus, while Joseph goes towards the town.
«What will You do, Master? » asks Lazarus who is anguished.
«I do not know. In a few days' time the women disciples will be coming with My Mother. I would have liked to wait for them...»
«With regard to that. I could receive them in Your name and then I would bring them to You. But, in the meantime, where are You going? I don't think You can go to Solomon's house... nor to any of the well‑known disciples. Tomorrow!... You must go away at once! »
«I have a place. But I would like to wait for My Mother. Her anguish would begin too early if She did not find Me...»
«Where would You go, Master? »
«To Samaria? »
«To Samaria. The Samaritans are less samaritans than many people and they love Me. Ephraim is at the border...»
«Oh! and to spite the Judaeans they honour and defend You! But... wait! Your Mother will either come via Samaria or along the Jordan. I will go with some servants along one route, Maximinus with other servants along the other, and either one or the other will find Her. We will come back only when we meet them. You know that no one in Lazarus' house will betray You. In the meantime You will go to Ephraim. At once. Ah! it was my destiny that I should not enjoy Your company! But I will come. Across the Adummim mountains. I am sound now. I can do what I like. Nay! Yes. I will make them believe that I am going to Ptolemais via Samaria to sail to Antioch. Everybody knows that I own land there... My sisters will remain at Bethany... You... Yes. I will now have two carts equipped for You and you can all go to Jericho in them. Then tomorrow at dawn you will resume the journey on foot. Oh! Master! My Master! Take care of Yourself! » After the excitement of the first moment Lazarus becomes sad and weeps.
Jesus sighs, but does not say anything. What can He say?...
They are now in Simon's house. They part. Jesus goes into the house. The apostles, who are surprised that the Master had gone away without saying anything, press round Him as He says: «Take your garments. Prepare your bags. We must depart from here at once. Be quick. And join Me in Lazarus' house.»
«Also the clothes that are damp? Can we not get them when we come back? » asks Thomas.
«We shall not come back. Take everything.»
The apostles go away casting meaningful glances at one another.
Jesus goes to get His belongings in Lazarus' house and He says goodbye to the dismayed sisters...
The two carts are soon ready. Two heavy carts with tilts, drawn by strong horses. Jesus says goodbye to Lazarus, to Maximinus and to the servants who have rushed there. They get on the carts that are waiting at one of the gates at the rear of the house. The drivers urge on the horses and the journey begins along the same road by which Jesus had come a few days previously to raise Lazarus.
549. Going to Ephraim.
2nd January 1947.
In the fresh clear early dawn the fields around Nike's house are all green with new shoots of corn only a few centimetres high, as delicate in shade as very clear emeralds. The orchard, which is closer to the house and is still bare, looks even darker and more massive, compared with the delicate stems and with the paradisiac serenity of the airy sky. The white house is crowned in the early sunshine with the flights of doves.
Nike is already up and she is diligently ensuring that the departing persons have what may comfort them during their journey. First of all she dismisses Lazarus' two servants who were kept by her for that night and who, after taking some refreshment, go away trotting their horses. She then goes back into the kitchen where the maidservants are preparing milk and food on big fires. And from a large earthen pot she pours some oil into two smaller ones, and then some wine into two small wineskins. She urges a servant who is preparing loaves of bread as thin as buns to take them to the stone‑oven that is ready. From large boards, on which cheese is desiccated in the warmth of the kitchen, she picks the best whole ones. She takes some honey and pours it slowly into some small vessels fitted with firm taps. She then makes up several bundles containing the foodstuffs, and one of them contains a whole kid or lamb that a servant takes off the spit on which it was roasted. Another contains apples as red as corals. In another there are edible olives. In a third one there are dried currants. There is one of peeled barley.
She is closing this last package when Jesus enters the kitchen and greets all the people present.
«Master, peace to You. Are You up already? »
«I should have been up earlier. But My disciples were so tired that I let them sleep on. What are you doing, Nike? »
«I am preparing... They will not be heavy, see? Twelve parcels. And I have taken into consideration the strength of the bearers.»
«And what about me? »
«Oh! Master! You already have Your burden...» and tears begin to shine in Nike's eyes.
«Let us go outside, Nike. We shall be able to speak in peace.»
They go out and they move away from the house.
«My heart is aching, Master...»
«I know. But it is necessary to be strong considering that you have not grieved Me...»
«Oh! Let that never happen! But I thought that I would be able to stay near You and that is why I came to Jerusalem. Otherwise I would have stayed here, where I own these fields...»
«Also Lazarus, Mary and Martha thought they would be able to be with Me. And you can see!...»
«Yes, I can see. I am not going back to Jerusalem any more as You are not there. I shall be closer to You if I remain here and I shall be able to help You.»
«You have already given so much...»
«I have not given anything. I would like to be able to take my house wherever You go. But I will come, I will certainly come to see what You need. What You told me to do now is right. I shall stay here until they are convinced that You are not here. But later...»
«It is a long and difficult road for a woman, and it is not safe either.»
«Oh! I am not afraid. I am too old to be pleasant and attractive as a woman, and I do not carry treasures to be sought as a prey. Highwaymen are better than many people who consider themselves holy and instead are thieves and want to rob you of your peace and freedom...»
«Do not hate them, Nike.»
«That is more difficult for me than anything else. But I will try not to hate them for Your sake... I wept all night, Lord! »
«I heard you go to and fro in the house as indefatigable as a bee. And you seemed a mother anxious about her persecuted son... Do not weep. Guilty people must weep. Not you. God is good to His Messiah. In the most grievous hours He always makes Me find a motherly heart close to Me...»
«And what are You going to do about Your Mother? You told me that She was coming soon...»
«She will come to Ephraim... Lazarus is going to inform Her. Here is Simon of Jonah with My brothers...»
«Do they know? »
«Not yet, Nike. I will tell them when we are far away...»
«And when I come, I will tell You what happens here and in Jerusalem.»
They join the apostles who are coming out of the house one after the other looking for Jesus.
«Come, brothers. Take some food before departing. Everything is ready.»
«Nike did not sleep last night to provide for us. Thank the good disciple » says Jesus entering the large kitchen where on a refectory table ‑ it is so long ‑ there are cups full of milk steaming hot and sweet smelling buns just out of the oven. And Nike spreads butter and honey generously on them, saying that they are invigorating food for people who have to go on a long journey when the weather is still cold.
The meal is soon over. Nike in the meantime has made up the last parcels with the crisp fragrant bread just taken out of the oven. Each apostle takes his bundle that has been tied in such a way as to be carried without much trouble.
It is time to go. Jesus greets and blesses. The apostles say goodbye. But Nike wants to go with them as far as the border of her fields and she then goes back slowly weeping in her veil, while Jesus with His apostles goes away along a secondary road pointed out to Him by Nike.
The country is still desert. The path runs through fields of new corn and bare vineyards. Thus there are no shepherds either, as they do not take their flocks into cultivated fields. The morning air is warmed a little by the sun. The first little flowers on the edges of the fields are shining like gems under the veil of dew brightened by sunshine. The birds are singing the first love songs. The good season is coming. Everything is beautiful and fresh. Everything is love... And Jesus is going into the exile that precedes His death brought about by hatred.
They apostles are silent. They are pensive. The sudden departure has disconcerted them. They were so certain that everything was settled by now! They are proceeding with their backs more curved than the weight of their bags and of Nike's provisions can bend them. They are bent by disappointment and by the ascertainment of what the world and men are.
Jesus instead, although He is not smiling, is neither sad nor dejected. He is walking with His head erect, ahead of everybody, without arrogance, but also without fear. He is Proceeding like one who knows where to go and what to do. He walks courageously, like a hero, whom nothing shakes or frightens.
The secondary road joins with a main one, which Jesus takes going northwards. And the apostles follow Him, without speaking. As the road comes from Galilee and through the Decapolis and Samaria goes to Judaea, there are wayfarers on it, mostly caravans of merchants.
As time goes by the sun becomes pleasantly warmer and warmer, when Jesus leaves the main road to take another path that across corn fields goes towards the first hills.
The apostles cast glances at one another. Perhaps they begin to understand that they are not going towards Galilee along the road in the Jordan valley, but are instead going towards Samaria. But they remain silent.
When they arrive at the first woods on the hills, Jesus says: «Let us stop and rest while we take some food. The sun indicates that it is midday.»
They are near a torrent with little water in it as it has not rained for some time. But its little water is clear in the gravel‑bed and its banks are spread with large stones that can be used as tables and seats. They sit down after Jesus has blessed and offered the food and they eat in silence and as if they were lost in thought.
Jesus rouses them saying: «Are you not asking Me where we are going? Do your worries of the future make you dumb or do I no longer seem to you to be your Master? »
The Twelve raise their heads: twelve distressed or at least bewildered faces that turn towards the tranquil face of Jesus and one only «Oh! » is exclaimed by twelve mouths. And the exclamation is followed by the reply of Peter who speaks on behalf of everybody: «Master, You know that we always consider You our Master. But since yesterday we are like people who have received hard blows on their heads. And everything seems a dream to us. And although we see and know that it is You, You seem to be already... far away. We somehow have had this impression since You spoke to Your Father before calling Lazarus, and since You brought him out of his sepulchre, tied as he was, only by means of Your will, and You made him live only by the strength of Your power. You almost frighten us. I am speaking of myself... but I think it is the same for everybody... And now... We... This departure... so sudden and so mysterious! »
«Have you a double fear? Do you feel that the danger is more impending? Do you not have, do you feel that you do not have the strength to face and overcome the last trials? Speak without restraint. We are still in Judaea. We are near the low roads that take one to Galilee. Everyone may go if he wishes, and you can go in time to avoid being hated by the Sanhedrin...»
The apostles are roused by these words. Those who were almost lying on the grass warmed by the sun, sit up. Those who were sitting, stand up.
Jesus goes on: «Because as from today I am the legally Persecuted One. Bear that in mind. Just now they are about to proclaim in the five hundred and more synagogues in Jerusalem and in those of the towns that have received the ban issued yesterday at the sixth hour, that I am the great sinner, and that whoever knows where I am must denounce Me to the Sanhedrin so that I may be captured...»
The apostles shout as if they already saw Him captured. John clings to His neck moaning: «Ah! I have always foreseen that! » and he sobs loud. Some curse the Sanhedrin, some invoke divine justice, some weep, some become petrified.
«Be silent and listen. I have never deceived you. I have always told you the truth. When possible I defended and protected you. Your presence near Me has been as pleasant as that of sons. I did not even hide My last hour... My dangers... My passion from you. But those were problems that concerned Me exclusively. Now your dangers, your safety, and that of your families are to be taken into consideration. I ask you to do that. With absolute freedom. Do not consider them in the light of your love for Me, or of your election made by Me. As I am releasing you from every obligation towards God and His Christ, just imagine that we have met here, now, for this first time and that, after listening to Me, you decide whether it is convenient for you or not to follow the Unknown man whose words have moved you. Imagine that you hear and see Me for the first time and that I say to you: "Bear in mind that I am persecuted and hated and that whoever loves Me is persecuted and hated as I am, in his person, his interests, his affections. Remember that persecution may end up with death and the confiscation of the family property". Think it over and decide. I will love you just the same if you say to me: "Master, I cannot come with You any more". Are you becoming sad? No, you must not. We are good friends who decide with peace and love what is to be done, with reciprocal compassion. I cannot let you face the future without making you ponder over it. I do not disesteem you. I love you all. I am the Master. It is obvious that the Master should know His disciples. I am the Shepherd and it is obvious that a shepherd should know his lambs. I know that My disciples, if they had to face a test without being sufficiently prepared not only in the wisdom coming from their Master, and which is therefore good and perfect, but also in their own ponderation of the situation, might fail, or at least they would not triumph like athletes in a stadium. To measure oneself and to evaluate circumstances is always a wise rule. In little and great things. I, the Shepherd, must say to My lambs: "Here, I am now going to enter a place of wolves and butchers. Have you enough strength to go among them?". I could also tell you now which of you will not have the strength to withstand the trial, although I can assure and reassure you that none of you will fall at the hands of the executioners who will sacrifice the Lamb of God. My capture is of such weight that it will suffice them... So I say to you: "Think it over". Once I said to you: "Be not afraid of those who kill". I said: "He who, having laid his hand on the plough, looks back to consider the past and what he may lose or acquire, is not fit for My mission". But they were rules to give you the measure of what it meant to be disciples, and rules for the future that will take place when I am no longer the Master, but My believers are the masters. They served to strengthen your souls. But even such strength, which is undeniable you have acquired, as compared with the nonentities you were ‑ I am referring to your spirits ‑ is still too little with respect to the greatness of the trial. Oh! do not think in the secrecy of your hearts: "The Master is scandalised at us!". I am not scandalised. On the contrary I tell you that you must not be scandalised, neither now nor in the future, at your own weakness. In all future times there will always be people among the members of My Church, both lambs and shepherds, who will be inferior to the greatness of their mission. There will be periods when the idol shepherds and the idol believers are more numerous than the true shepherds and the true believers. Periods of eclipse of the spirit of faith of the world. But an eclipse is not the death of a star. It is only a temporary more or less partial obscuring of a star. Afterwards its beauty reappears and it looks brighter. The same will happen to My Fold. I say to you: "Ponder over it". I say so to you as your Master, Shepherd and Friend. I leave you completely free to discuss the matter among yourselves. I am going over there, to that thicket, to pray. One by one will come and tell Me what you have decided. And I will bless your sincere honesty, whatever it may be. And I will love you for what you have given Me so far. Goodbye.» He stands up and goes away.
The apostles are terrified, puzzled, moved. At first they cannot even speak. Then Peter is the first to say: «May hell swallow me if I want to leave Him! I am sure of myself. Even if all the demons in Gehenna led by Leviathan should come against me, I would not move away from Him out of fear! »
«Neither would I. Am I to be inferior to my daughters? » says Philip.
«I am sure that they will do Him no harm. The members of the Sanhedrin threaten but they do so to convince themselves that the Sanhedrin still exists. They know very well that they have no power if Rome is not agreeable. Their sentences! It's Rome that judges! » says the Iscariot boldly.
«But the Sanhedrin is still concerned with religious matters » remarks Andrew.
«Are you afraid perhaps, brother? Bear in mind that there have never been cowards in our family » says Peter threateningly, as he feels that his heart is overflowing with warlike spirit.
«I am not afraid and I hope I shall be able to prove it. I am only telling Judas what I think.»
«You are right. But the mistake of the Sanhedrin consists in wishing to make use of a political weapon, as they do not wish to say or to be told that they have lifted their hands against the Christ. I know that for certain. They would like, that is, they would have liked to make Jesus commit sin and thus make Him contemptible to the crowds. But with regard to killing Him! Ehi! No. They are afraid! Their fright has no human comparison, because their souls are frightened. They do know that He is the Messiah! They know that very well. So much so that they realise that they are done for, because the new time is coming. And they want to overthrow Him. But will they overthrow Him!? No. That is why they are seeking a political reason so that the Proconsul, that is Rome, should overthrow Him. But the Christ does no harm to Rome, and Rome will do no harm to Him, and the members of the Sanhedrin are howling in vain.»
«So are you staying with Him? »
«Of course. More than anybody else! »
«I have nothing to lose or to gain by staying or going away. I have only to love Him. And I will do that » says the Zealot.
«I recognise Him as the Messiah and consequently I will follow Him » says Nathanael.
«So will I. I have believed Him to be the Messiah since John the Baptist pointed Him out to me as such » says James of Zebedee.
«We are His brothers. To our faith we add the love of kinship. Is that right, James? » says Thaddeus.
«He has been my sun for years and I follow His course. If He falls into the abyss dug by His enemies, I will follow Him » replies James of Alphaeus.
«And what about me? Can I forget that He has redeemed me? » asks Matthew.
«My father would curse me seven times seven if I should leave Him. In any case, even if it were only for Mary's sake, I would never part from Jesus » says Thomas.
John does not speak. His head is lowered, he looks dejected. The others mistake his attitude for weakness and many ask him.
«And what about you? Are you the only one who wants to go away? »
John looks up, so pure also in his attitude and eyes, and fixing his limpid blue eyes on those who are questioning him he says: «I was praying for all of us. Because we want to say and do things and we rely on ourselves, and by doing so we do not realise that we challenge the words of the Master. If He says that we are not prepared, it means that we are not. If we have not become prepared in three years, we shall not become so in few months...»
«What are you saying? In few months? What do you know? Are you a prophet, perhaps? » They assail him with questions, almost reproaching him.
«I know nothing.»
«So? What do you know? Has He perhaps told you? You always know His secrets...» says Judas of Kerioth with envy.
«Do not hate me, my friend, if I understand that the fine weather is over. When will it be? I do not know. I know that it will happen. He says so. How many times has He said so! We do not want to believe it. But the hatred of the others confirms His words... So I pray. Because there is nothing else to be done. I pray God to make us strong. Do you not remember, Judas, when He told us that He had prayed His Father to have strength against temptations? All strength comes from God. I imitate my Master, as is right to do...»
«Well, are you staying or not? » asks Peter.
«And where do you want me to go if I do not stay with Him Who is my life and welfare? But as I am a poor boy, the most miserable of all, I ask everything of God, the Father of Jesus and ours.»
«That is settled. So we are all staying! Let us go to Him. As He is certainly sad, our loyalty will make Him happy » says Peter.
Jesus is prostrated in prayer. With His face on the ground, in the grass, He is certainly imploring His Father, but at the shuffling of feet He stands up and looks at His apostles. He looks at them with a rather sad gravity.
«Be happy, Master. None of us are going to leave You » says Peter.
«You have decided too soon and...»
«Hours or ages will not change our minds » says Peter.
«Neither will threats change our love » proclaims the Iscariot.
Jesus stops looking at them as a group and He gazes at them one by one. A long look which everyone withstands fearlessly. His eyes delay in particular on the Iscariot, who looks at Him more resolutely than the others. He opens His arms in a gesture of resignation and He says: «Let us go. You, all of you, have signed your destiny.» He goes back to the place where He was, He picks up His bag and says: «Let us take the road to Ephraim, the one they pointed out to us.»
«To Samaria?! » They are utterly astonished.
«To Samaria. Or, at least, to its borders. John also went to live there until the hour fixed for his preaching the Christ.»
«But that did not save him! » objects James of Zebedee.
«I am not trying to save Myself, but to save. And I will save at the appointed hour. The persecuted Shepherd is going to the most unfortunate sheep. So that, forlorn as they are, they may have their share of wisdom to prepare them for the new time.»
He strides away, after the stop that has served both to rest and to respect the Sabbath, as He wishes to arrive before the paths become impassable at night.
When they arrive at the little torrent that flows from Ephraim towards the Jordan, Jesus calls Peter and Nathanael and gives them a bag saying: «Go ahead and look for Mary of Jacob. I remember that Malachi told Me that she is the poorest woman in the village, in spite of her large house, now that she has no sons and daughters in it. We shall stay with her. Give her plenty money so that she may give us hospitality without applying to many people. You know where the house is. It is the large one, shaded by four pomegranade‑trees, near the bridge across the torrent.»
«We know, Master. We will do as You say.» They go away quickly and Jesus follows them slowly with the others.
From the dell, in the middle of which the torrent flows, one can see the white houses of the village in the late daylight and in the early moonlight. There is not a soul about when they arrive at the house that is all white in the moonlight. Only the torrent can be heard in the silence of the night. Turning round and looking at the horizon, one can see a large stretch of the starry sky bend over a large expanse of ground that slopes downwards towards the desert plain that stretches as far as the Jordan. A solemn peace reigns over the Earth.
They knock at the door. Peter opens it. «Everything is settled, Lord. The old woman wept when we gave her the money. She had not a coin left. I said to her: "Do not weep, woman. There is no more pain where Jesus of Nazareth is". She replied to me: "I know. I have suffered all my life and just now I was at the very limit of endurance. But Heaven opened on the evening of my life and brought me the Star of Jacob to give me peace". She is now preparing the rooms that have been closed for such a long time. H'm! There isn't very much. But the woman appears to be very good. Here she is! Woman! The Rabbi is here! »
A very thin old woman comes forward, her meek eyes full of melancholy. She stops perplexed a few steps from Jesus. She feels uneasy.
«Peace to you, woman. I shall not give you much trouble.»
«I wish You could walk on my heart, to make it more pleasant for You to enter my poor house. Come in, Lord, and may God enter with You.» She has recovered her breath and taken heart in the light of Jesus' glance.
They all go in and close the door. The house is as large as a hotel and as empty as a desert. Only the kitchen looks cheerful because of a bright fire in the fireplace in the middle of the room.
Bartholomew, who was tending the fire, turns round and says smiling: «Console the woman, Master. She is sad because she cannot honour You.»
«Your heart is enough for Me, woman. Do not worry about anything. We will provide tomorrow. I am poor as well. Bring her our provisions. Poor people share their bread and salt without shame, but with brotherly love. Filial love in your case, woman. Because you could be My mother. And I honour you as such...»
The woman weeps the silent tears of an old distressed soul, wiping her tears with her veil and she whispers: «I had three sons and seven daughters. One of the sons was carried away by the torrent and another one by a disease. The third one has left me. Five of the girls caught the same disease as their father had and died, the sixth died of childbirth and the seventh... What death did not do, sin did. In my old age I am not honoured by my children and it makes me so... In the village they are good to me... that is, to the poor woman. You are kind to the mother...»
«I have a mother, too. And in every woman who is a mother I honour Her. But do not weep. God is good. Have faith, and the children who are still left may come back to you again. The others are in peace...»
«I think it is a punishment, because I come from this place...»
«Have faith. God is more just than men...»
The apostles who had gone to their rooms with Peter come back. They bring provisions. They warm up on the fire the little lamb that Nike had roasted. They put it on the table. Jesus offers and blesses them and He wants the little old woman to sit at the table with them, instead of sitting in her little corner, eating the poor chicory of her supper...
The exile at the border of Judaea has begun...
550. The First Day at Ephraim.
8th January 1947.
«Peace to You, Master » say Peter and James of Zebedee coming back home laden with pitchers full of water.
«Peace to you. Where are you coming from? »
«From the stream. We went to get some water, and we shall go for more, to keep the house clean. Considering that we are stopping... And it is not fair that the old woman should work for us. She is in the other room where she lit a fire to warm the water. My brother went to the wood to get some firewood. It has not rained for some time and it burns like heath » explains James of Zebedee.
«Of course. But the trouble is that, although it was hardly daybreak, they saw us both at the stream and in the wood. And I went to the stream to avoid going to the fountain...» says Peter.
«Why, Simon of Jonah? »
«Because there are always people at the fountain, and they might have recognised us and come here...»
While they are speaking, Alphaeus' two sons, Judas of Kerioth and Thomas have come into the long corridor that divides the house, and thus they can hear Peter's last words and Jesus' reply: «What might not have happened at daybreak today, would certainly have happened later, tomorrow at the latest, because we are staying here...»
«Here? But... I thought we were stopping only to rest...» many of them say.
«We are not stopping to rest. But to stay. We shall depart from here only to go back to Jerusalem for Passover.»
«Oh! I thought that when You referred to the place of wolves and butchers, You meant this region through which You wanted to pass, as You did in the past, to go to other places without taking the roads frequented by Judaeans and Pharisees...» says Philip who has just arrived, and others say: «I also thought that.»
«You have misunderstood. This is not the place of wolves and butchers, although real wolves hide in its mountains. But I am not referring to animals...»
«Oh! that was quite clear! » exclaims Judas of Kerioth somewhat ironically. «As You refer to Yourself as the Lamb, one understands that the wolves are men. We are not completely stupid.»
«No. You are not stupid but in what you do not want to understand. That is, in what concerns My nature and mission, and the grief you give Me by not working assiduously at preparing your future. It is for your own good that I speak and teach you by means of deeds and words., But you reject what upsets your human nature through presage of sorrows or what exacts efforts against your egos. Listen to Me before strangers come here. I will now divide you into two groups of five apostles and guided by the head of each group you will go across the nearby countryside, as you did when I sent you in the early days. Remember what I told you then and put it into practice. The only exception is that now you will pass through villages announcing also to Samaritans that the day of the Lord is close at hand, so that they may be ready when it comes, and it may be easier for you to convert them to the Only God. Be full of charity and wisdom and devoid of prejudice. You can see, and you will realise this even more, that we are granted here what we are denied in other places. So be kind to these people who, although innocent, are expiating the sins of their ancestors. Peter will be at the head of Judas of Alphaeus, Thomas, Philip and Matthew. James of Alphaeus will be the guide of Andrew, Bartholomew, Simon Zealot and James of Zebedee. Judas of Kerioth and John will stay with Me. That will apply as from tomorrow. Today we shall rest making the necessary preparations for future days. We shall spend the Sabbath together. So you must be here before the Sabbath, in order to leave the day after it. It will be a day of love for us, after loving our neighbour in the flock that has left the fold of the Father. Go now and attend to your tasks.»
He remains alone and withdraws to a room at the end of the corridor.
The house resounds with steps and voices, although they are all in their rooms and no one can be seen but the old woman who goes up and down the corridor several times, attending to her household duties, one of which is certainly baking bread because her hair is spread with flour and her hands are covered with dough.
After some time Jesus comes out and goes up to the terrace of the house. He walks up and down meditating up there and now and again He looks at the view around Him.
He is joined by Peter and Judas of Kerioth who do not look very cheerful. Perhaps it is painful for Peter to part from Jesus. And perhaps it is painful for the Iscariot not to be able to do so and show off in the villages. They certainly look very thoughtful when they go up to the terrace.
«Come here. Look what a beautiful view you can see from here.» And He points at the varied landscape. To north‑west high woody mountains stretching like a spine from north to south. One of them behind Ephraim is a real giant overlooking the others. To northeast and south‑east there are mild undulating hills. The village is in a green valley with distant flat backgrounds between the two higher and lower chains, that from the central part of the region slope down to the Jordan plain. Through a fissure in the lower mountains it is possible to see the green plain beyond which flows the blue Jordan. At the height of springtime this must be a beautiful place, all green and fertile. At present the dark shades of vineyards and orchards interrupt the green of fields of cereals, the tender stems of which sprout from the clods of earth, and the verdant pastures nourished by the rich soil.
If what lies beyond Ephraim is called a desert by John, it means that the desert of Judaea was a very mild one, at least in this area, or at least it was a desert only because it was devoid of villages, all covered with woods and pastures among cheerfully gurgling streams, quite different from the land near the Dead Sea, an and land that can rightly be called a «desert », as it is devoid of vegetation, with the exception of the low thorny twisted shrubs that grow in deserts among scattered stones and the sand rich in salt. But this pleasant desert, which lies beyond Ephraim, is widely adorned with vineyards, olive‑groves and orchards, and the almond‑trees are now smiling at the sun, scattered here and there like white‑pink tufts, on the slopes that will soon be covered with the festoons of the new vine‑shoots.
«I almost seem to be in my own town » says Judas.
«It looks also like Juttah. The only difference it that there the torrent is down in the plain and the town up on the hill. Here instead the town seems to be in a wide valley with the river in the middle. A country rich in vines! It must be lovely and very profitable, for owners, to own such land » remarks Peter.
«It is written: "May his land be blessed by Yahweh with the fruit of the sky and with dews, with the springs gushing from the abyss, with the fruit blessed by the sun and the moon, with the fruit from the tops of the ancient mountains, with the fruit of the eternal hills and with plentiful crops of the land". And on those words of the Pentateuch they base their proud obstinacy in considering themselves superior. It is so. Even the word of God and the gifts of God, if they descend into hearts full of pride, become the cause of ruin. Not through their own fault, but because of the pride that adulterates their good juice » says Jesus.
«Of course. And of just Joseph they have kept only the fury of a bull and the neck of a rhinoceros. I do not like to stay here. Why do You not let me go with the others? » says the Iscariot.
«Do you not like to stay with Me? » asks Jesus, Who stops looking at the landscape and turns round to look at Judas.
«I do love to be with You, but not with the people of Ephraim.»
«What a very fine excuse! And what about us then? As we shall be going through Samaria and the Decapolis ‑ because we shall be able to go only to these places in the time prescribed between one Sabbath and the next one ‑ are we perhaps going among saints? » says Peter, reproaching Judas who does not reply.
«What does it matter to you who is near you, if you can love everything through Me? Love Me in your neighbour, and all places will be alike as far as you are concerned » says Jesus calmly.
Judas does not reply to Him either.
«Just think of it! I have to go away... whereas I would stay here so willingly. After all... considering what I can do. At least appoint Philip or Your brother head of the group, Master. I... as long as I have to say: let us do this, let us go to that place, I can still manage. But if I have to speak!... I spoil everything.»
«Obedience will make you do everything well. What you do will please Me.»
«In that case... if it pleases You, it will please me. It is enough for me to make You happy. But there they are! I told You! Half of the town is coming... Look! The head of the synagogue... the notables... their women... the children and the people!...»
«Let us go down and meet them » says Jesus and He hastens down the staircase calling the apostles so that they may leave the house with Him.
The inhabitants of Ephraim are coming forward with signs of the deepest respect, and after the customary salutations, one of them, perhaps the head of the synagogue, speaks on behalf of everybody: «May the Most High be blessed for this day, and blessed be His Prophet Who has come to us because He loves all men in the name of the Most High God. May You be blessed, Master and Lord, as You have remembered our hearts and our words, and You have come to rest among us. We will open our hearts and homes to You, asking You to speak to us for our health. May this day be blessed, because through it he who receives Him with upright spirit will see the desert bear fruit.»
«What you said is correct, Malachi. He who knows how to receive with an upright spirit Him Who has come in the name of God, will see his desert bear fruit and the sturdy but wild plants in it become cultivated. I shall stay with you. And you will come to Me. As good friends. And My apostles will take My word to those who can accept it.»
«Will You not teach us, Master? » asks Malachi somewhat disappointed.
«I have come to collect My thoughts and pray, to prepare Myself for the great events of the future. Are you sorry that I have chosen your town for My tranquillity? »
«Oh! no. The very fact of seeing You pray will make us wise. Thank for choosing us for that purpose. We shall not disturb Your prayers and we will not allow Your enemies to disturb them. Because it is already known what happened and happens in Judaea. We shall keep good watch. And we shall be satisfied with Your word when it is not troublesome for You to give it to us. Accept in the meantime our gifts of hospitality.»
«I am Jesus and I do not reject anybody. So I will accept what you are offering Me to prove to you that I do not reject you. But if you want to love Me, from now on give to the poor people of the village or to those passing by what you would give Me. I need only peace and love.»
«We know that. We know everything. And we feel sure that we shall give You what You need, so as to make You exclaim: "The land that was to be for Me like Egypt, that is sorrow, was for Me, as for Joseph of Jacob, the land of peace and glory".»
«If you love Me by accepting My word, I will say so.»
The citizens hand their gifts to the apostles and then withdraw, with the exception of Malachi and two more men who speak to Jesus in low voices. The children also stay, captured by the usual charm emanating from Jesus; they remain, turning deaf ears to their mothers who call them, and they only go away after Jesus has caressed and blessed them. Then, as garrulous as swallows, they run away, followed by the three men.