6th November 1944.
Since before dawn, as in the detail of a perfect photograph, I see in my spirit a poor leper.
He is really a wreck of a man. He is so ravaged by his disease, that I could not tell his age. Reduced to a skeleton, half naked, his body is in the state of a corroded mummy, with contorted hands and feet, parts of which are missing, so that the miserable limbs no longer seem to belong to a human being. His hands, twisted and clawed, resemble the talons of a winged monster, his feet, are so fragmented and disfigured, that they are almost like the hooves of an ox.
And his head!… I think that the head of anyone left unburied which becomes mummified by sun and wind, must be like the head of this man. A few surviving forelocks, spread here and there, sticking to the yellowish, crusty skin, like dust dried on a skull, very deep set eyes, half open, lips and nose half eaten by the disease and showing cartilage and gums, two embryonic wrecks of outer ears, all his visible body covered by a wrinkled skin, as yellow as some types of kaolin, with bones showing here and there: his skin seems to have the task of keeping all the poor bones together, in its filthy sack, all covered with ugly scars and putrid sores. A real wreck!
I cannot help thinking of the personification of Death wandering on the earth, covered by a wrinkled skin on its skeleton, enveloped in a filthy mantle falling to bits and pieces, holding in its hand not a scythe, but a knotty stick torn from a tree.
He is at the entrance of a remote cave, a real cave, in such a state of ruin that I cannot say whether it was originally a sepulcher, or a hut for wood cutters or the remains of a demolished house. He is looking at the road, over one hundred metres away from his cave, a main road, dusty and still sunny. There is nobody on the road. As far as the eye can see, on the road there are sunshine, dust and solitude. Much higher up, to the northwest, there must be a village or a town. I can see the first houses. It must be at least a kilometre away.
The leper looks and sighs. He takes a chipped bowl and fills it at a brook. He drinks. He goes into a tangle of bushes, behind his cave, bends down and pulls some wild roots out of the ground. He goes back to the brook, he washes them, removing the coarser dirt with the little water of the rivulet and he eats them slowly, taking them painfully to his mouth with his ruined hands. They must be as hard as sticks. He finds difficulty in chewing them and he has to spit many out as he is unable to swallow them, notwithstanding the water he drinks to help himself.
« Where are you, Abel? » shouts someone.
The leper rouses, he has something on his lips that might be a smile. But his lips are in such a bad state that even that outward sign of a smile is vague and shapeless. He replies with a strange, squeaky voice: it reminds me of the cry of certain birds, the exact name of which I do not know: « I am here! I did not believe you were coming any more. I thought something had happened to you. I was sad… If I lose you too, what will happen to poor Abel? » While speaking, he walks towards the road, as far as he can according to the Law, apparently, because at half the way, he stops.
A man comes forward on the road, he is moving so fast that he seems to be running.
« Is that really you, Samuel? Oh! If it is not you I am waiting for, whoever you may be, don't hurt me! »
« It’s me, Abel, it's me! And I am cured. Look how I can run. I am late, I know. And I was worried about you. But when you hear… oh! you will be happy. And I have with me not only the usual crusts of bread, but a whole loaf of good, fresh bread, and it is all for you, and I have some good fish, and some cheese, and it is all for you. I want you to rejoice, my poor friend, and thus get ready for a greater joy. »
« But how have you become so rich? I do not understand… »
« I will tell you. »
« And cured. You do not seem the same man! »
« Listen, then. I heard that there was at Capernaum that Rabbi who is a holy man, and I went… »
« Stop, stop! I am infected. »
« Oh! It does not matter! I am no longer afraid of anything. » The man, who is indeed the cripple cured and helped by Jesus, with his fast step has almost reached the leper and is only a few steps from him. He spoke while walking and smiling happily.
But the leper says once again: « In the name of God, stop. If anyone should see you… »
« I will stop. Look: I am putting the provisions here. Eat, while I speak to you. » He puts a bundle on a large stone, and opens it up. He then withdraws a few steps, while the leper moves forward and throws himself on the rare food.
« Oh! How long it is since I had food like this! How good it is! And I was just thinking that I was going to rest with an empty stomach. Not one merciful soul today… and not even you… I had chewed some roots… »
« Poor Abel! I was afraid of that. But I said: “Well, he may be sad now, but he will be happy after!” »
« Happy, yes, because of this good food. But after… »
« No! You will be happy forever. »
The leper shakes his head.
« Listen, Abel. If you can have faith, you will be happy. »
« But faith in whom? »
« In the Rabbi. In the Rabbi Who cured me. »
« But I am a leper. And at the last stage! How can He cure me? »
« Oh! He can. He is holy. »
« Yes, also Elisha cured Naaman the leper… I know… But I… I cannot go to the Jordan. »
« You will be cured without the need of any water. Listen: this Rabbi is the Messiah, do you understand? The Messiah! He is the Son of God. And He cures everyone who has faith. He says: “I want” and the demons flee, limbs are straightened, and blind eyes see. »
« Oh! I would have faith, I would indeed! But how can I see the Messiah? »
« Exactly… I have come just for that. He is often over there, in that village. I know where He will be this evening. If you want… I said: “I will tell Abel, and if Abel feels he can have faith, I will take him to the Master.” »
« Are you mad, Samuel? If I go near houses, I will be stoned. »
« Not near the houses. It will be soon getting dark. I will take you to that thicket, and then I will go and call the Master. I will bring Him to you… »
« Go, go at once! I will go by myself to that place. I will walk in the ditch, behind the hedge, but go, go… Oh! go, my good friend! If you only knew what it is to suffer from this disease. And what it means to hope to be cured!… » The leper no longer is interested in the food. He cries and gesticulates imploring his friend.
« I am going, and you will come. » The cured cripple runs away.
Abel with difficulty climbs down into the ditch coasting the road, as it is full of bushes which have grown on the dry earth. Only in the centre there is a fine stream of water. It is getting dark, and the poor man slides among the bushes, always on the look-out in case he should hear any steps. Twice he has to hide on the bottom: the first time when a man on horseback passes along the road, the second time when three men, laden with hay, pass by going to the village. And he goes on.
But Jesus and Samuel reach the thicket before him. « He will be here before long. He moves very slowly because of his wounds. Please be patient. »
« I am not in a hurry. »
« Will You cure him? »
« Has he faith? »
« Oh!… he was dying of starvation. He saw that food after years of abstinence, and yet, after a few mouthfuls, he left it all to come here. »
« How did you meet him? »
« You know… I lived on charity after my misfortune and I went along the roads from one place to another. I used to pass here every seven days and I met the poor man… one day, when driven by hunger, he had come on the main road looking for something, under a most violent storm. He was searching amongst the garbage, like a dog. I had a chunk of dry bread in my knapsack, the gift of some good people, and I shared it with him. We have been friends ever since, and I bring him some food every week. With what I have… If I have a lot, I can give a lot; if I have little, I give little. I do what I can as if he were my brother. Since You cured me, may You be blessed, I have been thinking of him… and of You. »
« You are good, Samuel; that is why you have been visited by grace. He who loves deserves everything from God. But there is something moving among the branches… »
« Is that you, Abel? »
« Yes, it is me. »
« Come, the Master is waiting for you here, under the walnut tree. »
The leper rises from the ditch and climbs on to the bank, which he crosses and goes into the meadow. Jesus, leaning with His back against a very tall walnut tree, is waiting for him.
« Master, Messiah, Holy One, have mercy on me! » and he throws himself on to the grass at Jesus' feet. With his face still bent down on the ground he says: « My Lord! If You want, You can cleanse me! » He then dares to rise on to his knees, he stretches out his skeleton-like arms, with contorted hands, he lifts his emaciated ruined face… Tears run down from his diseased eye sockets to his corroded lips. Jesus looks at him so pitifully. He looks at that shadow of a man, devoured by the terrible disease, who is so horrible and ill-smelling that only true charity can endure to be near him. And yet, Jesus stretches out His hand, His beautiful wholesome right hand to caress the poor fellow.
The leper, without getting up, throws himself back on his heels, and shouts: « Don't touch me! Have mercy on me! »
But Jesus takes a step forward. Stately, good, kind He lays His fingers on the head devoured by leprosy, and in a low voice, which is full of love and yet most authoritative, He says: « I want it! Be cleansed! » His hand remains on the poor head for a few minutes. « Get up. Go to the priest. Fulfill the prescriptions of the Law. And do not tell anyone what I did for you. But be good. Do not sin any more. I bless you. »
« Oh! Lord! Abel! You are completely cured! » Samuel, seeing the complete change of his friend, shouts out of joy.
« Yes, he is cured. He deserved it because of his faith. Goodbye. Peace be with you. »
« Master! Master! Master! I will not leave You. I cannot leave You. »
« Do what the Law prescribes. We will meet again. Once again I bless you. »
Jesus goes away, nodding to Samuel to stay. And the two friends shed tears of joy, while in the light of a quarter of the moon they go back to the cave for the last rest in that den of misfortune. And the vision ends thus.