1st February 1945.
Jesus comes out of the house of Peter's mother-in-law together with His disciples, except Judas Thaddeus. A boy is the first to see Him and he informs also those who do not want to know. Jesus, Who is on the shore of the lake, sitting in Peter's boat, is immediately surrounded by people who welcome Him and ask Him endless questions, which Jesus answers with His unsurpassed patience, smiling gently as if all the chattering were a celestial harmony.
Also the archsynagogue comes. Jesus gets up to greet him. Their reciprocal salutation is full of oriental respect. « Master, may I expect You to come and teach the people? »
« Of course, if you and the people wish so. »
« We have been wishing it for so long. They can tell You. » The people in fact shout their confirmation.
« Well then, I will be with you this evening. Now you may go. I have to go to see a person who wants Me. » The people go away reluctantly, while Jesus, Peter and Andrew go on to the lake in the boat. The other disciples remain on the shore.
The boat sails for a short distance and then the two fishermen steer it into a small bay, between two low hills, which look as if originally they were one hill only, the central part of which had collapsed either because of water erosion or because of an earthquake, thus forming a very small fiord. However, since it is not a Norwegian fiord, there are no fir-trees, but only ruffled olive-trees which, no one knows how, have grown on the steep slopes, among slipped rocks and huge protruding splinters. Blown by the winds of the lake, which obviously must be very strong here, the branches of the trees are all interwoven, and form a kind of roof, under which a freakish little torrent foams: it is very noisy because of its many cascades and full of foam because it falls every yard or so, but in actual fact it is only a little rivulet among the streams.
Andrew jumps into the water to beach the boat as far up as possible and tie it to a tree-trunk, while Peter takes in the sail and fastens a board as a bridge for Jesus. « But » he says, « I would advise You to take off Your sandals and Your tunic, as we do. That mad thing there (and he points at the little torrent) causes the water of the lake to rise and the board is not safe with all this rolling. »
Jesus obeys without question. On the shore they put on their sandals again and Jesus puts on also His tunic. The two disciples are wearing only their short dark undertunics.
« Where is she? » asks Jesus.
« She must be hiding in the wood, after hearing voices. You know… with all she's got to wear… »
« Call her. »
Peter shouts out loud: « I am the disciple of the Rabbi of Capernaum. The Rabbi is here. Come out. »
There is no sign of life.
« She does not feel safe » explains Andrew. « One day someone called her and said: “Come, there is some food for you” and then threw stones at her. We saw her then for the first time, because I did not remember her when she was the Beauty of Korazim. »
« And what did you do then? »
« We threw her a loaf of bread and some fish and a rag, a piece of an old sail cloth with which we used to dry ourselves, because she was nude. We then ran away not to be contaminated. »
« And what made you come back? »
« Master… You were away and we were thinking what should we do to get people to know You. We thought of all the sick people, the blind, the crippled, the mute… and also of her. We said: “Let us try.” You know… many… oh! it was certainly our fault, said we were mad and would not listen to us. Others instead believed us. I spoke to her myself. I came here by boat, all by myself, for several moonlight nights. I used to call her and say to her: “On the stone, at the foot of the olive-tree, there is some bread and fish. Don't be afraid, come” and I would then go away. She must have waited until she saw me disappear before she came, because I never saw her. The sixth time I saw her standing on the shore, exactly where You are now. She was waiting for me… How horrible she was! I did not run away because I thought of You…
She said to me: “Who are you? Why have mercy on me?”
I replied: “Because I am the disciple of Mercy.”
“Who is He?”
“He is Jesus of Galilee.”
“And does He teach you to have mercy on us?”
“But do you know who I am?”
“You are the Beauty of Korazim, now a leper.”
“And is there mercy also for me?”
“He says that His mercy is for everybody, and we, to be like Him, must have mercy on everybody.” At this point, Master, the leper blasphemed without realising what she was saying. She said: “He must have been a big sinner Himself.”
I said to her: “No. He is the Messiah, the Holy Man of God.” I wanted to say to her: “Be you accursed for your tongue”, but I did not say anything else, because I thought: “In her distress she cannot think of divine mercy.” She then started crying and said: “Oh! If He is a Holy Man He cannot have mercy on the Beauty. He might pity the leper… but not the Beauty. And I was hoping… ”
I asked her: “What were you hoping for, woman?”
“To be cured… to go back into the world… amongst men… to die begging, but amongst people… not like a beast in the den of wild beasts which are horrified at the sight of me.”
I said to her: “Will you swear to me that if you go back to the world, you will be honest?”
She replied: “Yes. God has justly punished me for my sins. I now repent. My soul is expiating its sins, but it abhors sin forever.”
I thought I could then promise her salvation in Your name.
She said to me: “Come back, come back again… Speak to me of Him that my soul may know Him before my eyes see Him… And I came and spoke to her of You as best as I could… »
« And I have come to grant salvation to the first convert of My Andrew. » (It is Andrew who has been speaking all the time, while Peter has gone up the torrent, jumping from stone to stone, calling the leper).
She at last shows her horrid face among the branches of an olive-tree. She sees and shouts.
« Come down, then » exclaims Peter. « I am not going to stone you! Over there, can you see Him? There is the Rabbi Jesus. »
The woman tumbles down the slope, I say so, because she runs down so fast, and she reaches Jesus' feet before Peter is back near the Master. «Mercy, Lord!»
« Can you believe that I am able to grant you it? »
« Yes, because You are a saint and I repent. I am Sin, but You are Mercy. Your disciple was the first to have mercy on me, and he brought me bread and faith. Cleanse me, Lord, my soul before my body, because I am impure three times, and if You want to give me one purity, only one, I beg You to give me the purity of my sinful soul. Before hearing Your words, that he repeated to me, I used to say: “To be cured and to go back amongst people.” Now that I know, I say: “To be forgiven, that I may have eternal life.”»
« And I grant you forgiveness. But nothing else… »
« May You be blessed! I shall live in my den with the peace of God… free… oh! free from remorse and free from fear! No longer afraid of God, now that You have absolved me! »
« Go into the lake and wash yourself. Stay in until I call you. »
The woman, reduced to a miserable skeleton, all corroded, her white coarse hair all ruffled, gets up from the ground and goes into the lake clothed in her meagre rags, that cover so little of her.
« Why did You send her to wash herself? It is true that the foul smell is ineffective, but… I do not understand.» says Peter.
« Woman, come out of the water and come here. Take that cloth on that branch.» (it is the piece of cloth used by Jesus to dry Himself after wading from the boat to the shore.)
The woman comes out obediently, completely naked, as she left her rags in the water to take the dry piece of cloth. The first to shout is Peter, who is looking at her, whilst Andrew, more bashful, is turning his back on her. But he turns round when his brother shouts and he shouts, too. The woman, who is staring at Jesus so intently that she is aware of nothing else, when she hears the shouts and sees the hands pointed at her, looks at herself… And she sees that her leprosy has been left in the lake with her rags. She does not run as one might expect her to. She throws herself down, crouching on the shore, ashamed of her nakedness, excited to such an extent that she is only fit to weep with a long feeble lament, which is more heart-rending that any cry.
Jesus moves towards her… He reaches her… He throws the cloth on her, caresses her head very lightly, says to her: « Goodbye. Be good. You deserved the grace because of the sincerity of your repentance. Grow in the faith of Christ. And fulfill the purification law. »
The woman is weeping all the time… Only when she hears the noise of the board that Peter is drawing into the boat, she looks up, stretches out her hands and shouts: «Thanks, my Lord. Thanks, Blessed Lord. Oh! Blessed, blessed!…»
Jesus waves her goodbye before the boat disappears round the rocky promontory of the little fiord.
… Jesus with His disciples goes into the synagogue at Capernaum after crossing the square and the street leading to it. The news of the recent miracle has already spread, because many people whisper and make comments.
Just on the threshold of the synagogue door I see Matthew, the future apostle. He is standing there, half inside half outside and I do not know whether he is shy or is annoyed at all the meaningful glances cast at him and at some rather unpleasant raillery of which he is the object. Two richly dressed Pharisees gather their wide mantles affectedly, as if they were afraid of being infected by the plague, if they touched Matthew's tunic even slightly.
When Jesus is going in, He stares at him and stops for a moment. But Matthew lowers his head: that is all. As soon as they are inside, Peter whispers to Jesus: « Do You know who that curly-headed man is, the one who is more scented than a woman? He is Matthew, our tax collector… What has he come here for? It's the first time. Perhaps he did not find his mates and above all his women, with whom he spends the Sabbaths, squandering in orgies the doubled and trebled taxes he squeezes out of us, to have plenty for the revenue and his vices.»
Jesus looks at Peter so severely, that Peter becomes as red as a poppy, lowers his head and stops, so that he ends up at the rear in the apostolic group.
Jesus has reached His place. After some songs and prayers said with the people, He turns round to speak. The archsynagogue asks Him whether He wants a roll of the Bible, but Jesus answers: « It is not necessary. I already have a subject.»
And He begins: « The great king of Israel, David of Bethlehem, after committing his sin, cried with a penitent heart, shouting to God his repentance and asking God's forgiveness. David's soul had been darkened by the fog of sensuality which prevented him from seeing the Face of God and understanding His word.
His Face, I said. In the heart of man there is a spot which remembers the Face of God: the most noble spot, which is our “Sancta Sanctorum”, from which holy inspirations and decisions originate, the point that is scented like an altar, shines like a fire, and sings like a chorus of Seraphim. But when sin rages in us, that area grows so dark, that light, perfume and singing fade out and only the stench of thick smoke and the taste of ashes are left. But when light comes back, because a servant of God brings it to the dimmed man, he then sees his own ugliness, his inferior condition and struck with horror he exclaims like king David: “Have mercy on me, Lord, in your goodness, in Your great tenderness wipe away my faults” and he does not say: “I cannot be forgiven, I will therefore go on sinning.” But he says: “I am humiliated and contrite, but, I beg You, You know that I was born guilty, but wash me and purify me, that I may become as white as the snow on mountain tops.” He also says: “My holocaust will not consist of rams and bulls, but of the true contrition of my heart. Because I know that this is what You want from us and You do not scorn it.”
That is what David said after his sin, after the servant of God, Nathan, made him repent. That is what sinners must say, even more so, now that the Lord has sent not a servant, but the Redeemer Himself, His Word, Who, as a just ruler not only of men, but also of celestial and infernal beings, has risen amongst His people, like the light at dawn, which at sunrise shines in a cloudless sky.
You have already read how a man, a prey to Mammon, is weaker than a person dying of tuberculosis, even if before he was the “strong” one. You know how Samson was worthless after yielding himself up to sensuality. I want you to understand the lesson of Samson, the son of Manoah, destined to beat the Philistines, the oppressors of Israel. The first condition to be such was that from his conception he was to be kept virgin from everything that stirs up base sensations, and contaminates the intestines with impure foodstuffs: that is wine, cider and fat meats, which kindle the loins with an impure fire. The second condition: to be the deliverer he was to be sacred to the Lord from his childhood and was to remain such by uninterrupted nazirite. He is sacred who remains holy not only externally but also internally. Then God is with him.
But the flesh is flesh and Satan is Temptation. And Temptation, to fight God in the hearts of men and in His holy decrees, uses as a weapon the flesh that excites men: woman. The strength of the “strong” man then quivers and he becomes a weakling that spoils the gift of God. Now listen: Samson was tied with seven fresh bowstrings, with seven new ropes, he was fixed to the ground with seven plaits of his hair. And he had always won. But one must not tempt God, not even in His goodness. It is not lawful. He forgives, He always forgives. But He exacts the firm will to abandon sin, that He may continue to forgive. Who says: “Lord, forgive” but does not shun what induces him to continual sin, is foolish!
Samson, three times the winner, did not avoid Delilah, sensuality, sin, and bored to death, says the Book, and having lost heart, says the Book, he revealed his secret: “My strength is in my seven plaits.” Is there anyone amongst you, who, tired of the great tiredness of sin, is losing heart, because nothing is so depressing as a bad conscience, and is about to surrender to the Enemy? No, whoever you are, do not do it. Samson revealed to temptation the secret to defeat his seven virtues: the seven symbolical plaits, his virtues, that is his faithfulness to nazirite; tired as he was he fell asleep in the lap of the woman and was defeated. He was blind, a slave, powerless, because he had not been faithful to his vow. Neither did he become again the “strong man”, the “deliverer”, until he found his strength again in the grief of repentance. Repentance, patience, perseverance, heroism and then, o sinners, I promise you will be your own deliverers. I solemnly tell you that no baptism, no rite is of any avail, if there is no repentance and will to forgo sin. And I tell you that no one is so big a sinner that he cannot revive with his tears the virtues which sin had torn from his heart.
Today a woman, a guilty woman of Israel, punished by God for her sins, received mercy on account of her repentance. I said: mercy. Those who had no mercy on her and treated the punished woman pitilessly, shall receive less mercy. Had they no guilty leprosy in their hearts? Let everybody examine himself… and have mercy to receive mercy. I hold My hand out on behalf of this repentant woman, who is coming back to the living after a segregation of death. Simon of Jonas, not I, will collect the offerings for the repented woman, who from the threshold of life is coming back to true Life. And do not grumble, you older people. Do not grumble. I was not here when she was the Beauty. But you were. I will say no more. »
« Are You accusing us of being her lovers? » asks one of the two resentful old men.
« Let everyone have his heart and his actions before him. I do not accuse. I am speaking in the name of Justice. Let us go. » And Jesus goes out with His disciples.
Judas Iscariot is detained by two people who appear to know him. I hear them say: « Are you with Him, too? Is He really a holy man? »
Judas has one of his disconcerting outbursts: « I hope you will at least be able to understand His holiness. »
« But He cured on the Sabbath. »
« No, He forgave on a Sabbath. And which day is more suitable than the Sabbath for forgiveness? Are you not giving me anything for the redeemed woman? »
« We do not give our money to prostitutes. It is offered to the holy Temple. »
Judas laughs disrespectfully and leaves them in the lurch. He joins the Master, Who is entering the house of Peter who is saying to Him: « Here, just outside the synagogue, little James gave me two purses today, instead of one, on behalf of the unknown man. Who is he, Master? You know… Tell me. »
Jesus smiles: « I will tell you when you learn not to speak ill of anyone. »
And it all ends.