21st February 1945.
Arimathea is a mountainous town, too. I do not know why, but I imagined it on a plain. Instead it is on the mountains, which, however, are already sloping down to the plain, and from certain turns of the road the flat country appears to be fertile towards the west and it fades away on the horizon, in this November morning, in a low mist that looks like an endless sheet of water.
Jesus is with Simon and Thomas. There are no other apostles with Him. I am under the impression that He wisely appraises the feelings of the people He has to approach, and according to the circumstances, He takes those who can be accepted without annoying the landlord too much. These Jews must be more touchy… than romantic little women…
I can hear them speaking of Joseph of Arimathea, and Thomas, who probably knows him very well, describes his beautiful large estate which stretches along the mountain, particularly towards Jerusalem along the road that runs from the capital to Arimathea and links this town to Joppa. I hear them say so, and Thomas praises also the fields that Joseph possesses along the roads on the plain.
« At least men are not treated like animals here! Oh! That Doras! » says Simon.
In fact the workers here are well fed and clothed and have the appearance of satisfied people who are well. They greet respectfully because they obviously know who the tall handsome Man is, Who is going to the house of their master along the countryside of Arimathea. And they watch Him, speaking among themselves in low voices.
When Joseph's house comes into sight, a servant, after bowing low, asks: « Are You the Rabbi we are expecting? »
« I am » replies Jesus.
He salutes bowing again and runs to inform the landlord.
In fact before Jesus reaches the boundary of the house – completely surrounded by a high hedge of evergreens, which replace here the high wall around Lazarus' house and isolates it from the road, being at the same time the continuation of the garden around the house, richly planted with trees and at present very bare of foliage – Joseph of Arimathea, in his wide fringed robe, comes to meet Him and bows very low with his arms folded on his chest. It is not the humble salutation of a person who acknowledges in Jesus the God become Flesh and who humbles himself by kneeling to the ground to kiss His feet or the hem of His tunic, but it is a salutation of deep respect. Jesus also bows and then gives His greeting of peace.
« Come in, Master. You have made me happy by accepting my invitation. I was not expecting so much compliance from You. »
« Why not? I go also to Lazarus' house and… »
« Lazarus is a friend of Yours… I am a stranger. »
« You are a soul seeking the truth. The Truth, therefore, does not reject you. »
« Are You the Truth? »
« I am the Way, the Life and the Truth. Who loves and follows Me will have the certain Way, the blessed Life and will know God; because God, besides being Love and Justice, is Truth. »
« You are a great Doctor. Wisdom emanates from every word of Yours. » He then turns to Simon: « I am happy that you have come back to my house, too, after such a long absence. »
« I was not absent of my own accord. You are aware of my fate and of how many tears were shed during the life of the little Simon of whom your father was so fond. »
« I know. And I think that you know that I never spoke one word against you. »
« I know everything. My faithful servant told me that I am indebted also to you, if my property was respected. May God reward you for it. »
« I was influential in the Sanhedrin and I made use of my position to help, with justice, a friend of my house. »
« Many were the friends of mine and many were influential in the Sanhedrin. But they were not as just as you are… »
« And who is this? I seem to have met him… But I do not know where… »
« I am Thomas, called Dydimus… »
« Ah! Yes! Is your old father still alive? »
« Yes, still alive. In his business, with my brothers. I left him for the Master. But he is happy that I did. »
« He is a true Israelite, and, since he has got to the point of believing that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, he can but be happy that his son is amongst His favorites. »
They are now in the garden, near the house.
« I have kept Lazarus. He is in the library, reading a summary of the last meetings of the Sanhedrin. He did not want to stay because… I know that You are already aware… That is why he did not want to stay. But I said: “No. It is not fair that you should be so ashamed. No one will insult you in my house. Please stay. Who ignores his surroundings is alone against the whole world. And since in the world there is more wickedness than goodness, who is alone is knocked down and trodden on.” Was I not right? »
« You were and You did the right thing » replies Jesus.
« Master… today there will be Nicodemus and… Gamaliel. Do You mind? »
« Why should I? I acknowledge his wisdom. »
« Yes. He was anxious to see You… and he wanted to insist on his point of view. You know… ideas. He says that he has already seen the Messiah, and that he is waiting for the sign that He promised him, at His revelation. He also says that You are “a man of God”. He does not say: “the Man”. He says: “a man of God”. A rabbinical subtlety, isn't it? You are not offended, are You? »
« Subtlety. You are right. We must bear with them. The best ones will prune by themselves all the superfluous branches that make, them bear foliage and no fruit, and will come to Me. »
« I wanted to inform You of his words, because he will certainly repeat them to You. He is frank » points out Joseph.
« A rare virtue which I appreciate very much » replies Jesus.
« Yes. I also said to him: “But Lazarus of Bethany is with the Master.” I told him… because… well, because of his sister. But Gamaliel replied: “Is she present? No? Well then? The mud falls off the garment which is no longer in the mud. Lazarus has shaken it off himself. And he does not contaminate my garment with it. And then I am of the opinion that if a man of God goes to his house, I, a doctor of the Law, can go there too.” »
« Gamaliel's judgement is correct. He is a Pharisee and a doctor to the backbone, but still honest and just. »
« I am happy to hear You say so. Master, here is Lazarus. »
Lazarus bends down to kiss Jesus' tunic. He is happy to be with Him, but he is obviously agitated while waiting for the guests. I am sure that poor Lazarus, to his well known torment, known to men because handed down by history, has to add these moral sufferings, unknown to and ignored by most people, that is, the dreadful sting of the thought: « What will this man say to me? What does he think of me? How does he consider me? Will he offend me by means of words or scornful glances? » A sting that tortures all those who have a blot in their families.
They have now entered the very rich hall where the tables have been laid and they are waiting only for Gamaliel and Nicodemus, because four other guests have already arrived. I hear them being introduced with their respective names: Felix, John, Simon and Cornelius.
There is a great stir and rushing of servants when Nicodemus and Gamaliel arrive. Gamaliel is always stately in his snow-white robe which he wears with regal majesty. Joseph rushes to meet him and their reciprocal salutations are pompous exchanges of respect. Also Jesus is bowed and He bows to the great rabbi who greets Him with the salutation: « The Lord be with You » to which Jesus replies: « And may His peace always be your companion. » Also Lazarus bows down and all the others do likewise.
Gamaliel sits at the centre of the table, between Jesus and Joseph. Lazarus is beside Jesus, Nicodemus beside Joseph. The meal starts after the ritual prayers, which Gamaliel says after an oriental exchange of courteousness among the three main personages, that is, Jesus, Gamaliel and Joseph.
Gamaliel is very dignified but not proud. He listens more than he speaks. But anyone can understand that he ponders on every word of Jesus and often looks at Him with his deep dark severe eyes. When Jesus becomes silent because a subject has been exhausted, Gamaliel revives the conversation by means of a suitable question.
Lazarus at first is somewhat confused. But later he takes heart and he speaks, too.
No direct allusion is made to Jesus' personality until the meal is almost over. Then a discussion starts between the guest named Felix and Lazarus, who is later joined and supported by Nicodemus and finally by the guest named John, on miracles as proof in favor or against a person.
Jesus is silent. He sometimes smiles in a mysterious way, but is silent. Also Gamaliel is quiet. His elbow is leaning on the bed and he is staring at Jesus. He seems to be wishing to decipher some supernatural word engraved on the pale smooth skin of Jesus' thin face. He seems to be analysing every fibre of it.
Felix maintains that John's holiness is incontestable and from such undisputed and indisputable holiness he draws a conclusion unfavorable to Jesus Nazarene, the author of many famous miracles. He says:
« Miracles are not a proof of holiness because the life of the prophet John is devoid of them, and yet no one in Israel leads a life like his. There are no banquets, no friendships, no comforts for him. He suffers and is imprisoned for the sake of the Law. He lives in solitude, because although he has disciples, he does not live with them and he finds faults also in the most honest and thunders out against everybody. Whereas… eh! this Master here of Nazareth, has worked miracles, it is true, but I see that He, too, loves what life offers and does not disdain friendships and, forgive me if one of the Elders of the Sanhedrin says this to You, he is too easy in giving, in God's name, forgiveness and love to well known sinners marked by anathema. You should not do that, Jesus. »
Jesus smiles, but does not speak. Lazarus replies in His stead: « Our powerful Lord is free to direct His servants as and where He wishes. He granted the power of working miracles to Moses. He did not grant it to Aaron, His first High Priest. So? What is your conclusion? Is one more holy than the other? » Certainly answers Felix.
« Then Jesus is more holy, because He works miracles. »
Felix is disconcerted. But he raises a captious objection: « Aaron had already been given the pontificate. It was enough. »
« No, my friend » replies Nicodemus. « His pontificate was a mission. A holy mission, but nothing more than a mission. Not always and not all the high priests of Israel were holy men. And yet they were high priests, even if they were not holy. »
« You are not saying that the High Priest is a man devoid of grace!… » exclaims Felix.
« Felix… don't let us play with fire. You, Gamaliel, Joseph, Nicodemus and I, we all know many things… » says the guest named John.
« What? What? Gamaliel, say something!… » Felix is scandalized.
« If he is fair, he will speak the truth which you do not want to hear » say the three men who are bitter against Felix.
Joseph endeavors to bring about peace. Jesus is silent as well as Thomas, the Zealot and the other Simon, the friend of Joseph. Gamaliel seems to be playing with the fringes of his robe, but he looks at Jesus inquisitively.
« Speak then, Gamaliel » shouts Felix.
« Yes, do speak » say the three opponents.
« I say: the frailties of the family are to be concealed » says Gamaliel.
« That's not an answer! » shouts Felix. « It looks as if you are admitting that there are faults in the house of the High Priest. »
« He is the soul of truth » reply the three men.
Gamaliel draws himself up and turns towards Jesus. « Here is the Master Who overshadows the most learned men. Let Him speak about it. »
« You wish so and I obey. I say: a man is a man. A mission is beyond man. But man, invested with a mission, becomes capable of accomplishing it as a superman, when through a holy life, he has God as his friend. It is He Who said: “You are a priest according to the order given by Me.” What is written on the Pectoral? “Doctrine and Truth”. That is what the High Priest ought to possess. Doctrine is acquired by constant meditation, aiming at the knowledge of the Most Wise One. Truth is achieved by means of absolute loyalty to good. Who intrigues with evil, finds Falsehood and loses Truth. »
« Very well! You have replied as a great rabbi. I, Gamaliel, am telling You. You surpass me. »
« Let Him explain then, why Aaron did not work miracles and Moses did » raves Felix.
Jesus replies readily: « Because Moses had to impose himself on the dull, heavy and even hostile mass of the Israelites and had to succeed in having ascendancy over them, in order to bend them to the will of God. Man is the eternal savage and the eternal child. He is struck by what exceeds the common order of things. And a miracle is such. It is a light waved before dimmed eyes, it is a sound produced near plugged ears. It wakes people up. It draws their attention. It makes them say: “God is here.” »
« You are saying that to Your own benefit » retorts Felix.
« To My benefit? What do I gain by working a miracle? Do I look taller if I stand on a blade of grass? Such is a miracle with regard to holiness. There are saints who never worked miracles. There are magicians and necromancers, who work them by means of dark powers, that is, they do superhuman things, which, however, are not holy, and they are demons. I shall be I, even if I work no more miracles. »
« Excellent! You are great, Jesus! » approves Gamaliel.
« And according to you, who is this great man? » urges Felix addressing Gamaliel.
« The greatest prophet I know, both with regard to His deeds and to His words » replies Gamaliel.
« He is the Messiah, I am telling you, Gamaliel. Believe me, you are wise and just » says Joseph.
« What? You too, the guide of the Judaeans, the Elder, our glory, are falling into this idolatry of a man? Who can prove to you that He is the Christ? I will not believe Him even if I see Him work miracles. Why does He not work one in front of us? You that praise Him, should tell Him, and you, too, that defend Him » says Felix to Gamaliel and Joseph.
« I did not invite Him to amuse my friends and I beg you to remember that He is my guest » replies Joseph gravely.
Felix gets up and goes away, a cross and rude man.
There is silence. Jesus turns to Gamaliel: « Are you not asking for miracles to believe? »
« It will not be the miracles of a man of God to remove the thorn I have in my heart, that is, three questions that are always without an answer. »
« Which questions? »
« Is the Messiah alive? Was it that one? Is it this one? »
« It is He, I tell you, Gamaliel! » exclaims Joseph. « Don't you think that He is holy? Different? Powerful? You do? Well, then? What are you waiting to believe? »
Gamaliel does not reply to Joseph. He turns to Jesus: « Once… do not be upset, Jesus, if I am tenacious of my ideas… Once, when the great wise Hillel was still alive, we both believed that the Messiah was in Israel. There was a great brightness of a divine sunshine on that cold day in a bitter winter! It was Passover… Men were worried about the frozen crops… I said, after I heard those words: “Israel has been saved! As from today there will be abundance in the fields and blessings in our hearts! The Expected One has revealed Himself in His first refulgence.” And I was not wrong. You may all remember the harvest of that embolismic year, a year of thirteen months, as it happens also this year. »
« Which words did you hear? Who spoke them? »
« One… a little more than a child… but God was shining on His innocent gentle face… I have been thinking of it and remembering it for the last nineteen years… and I try to hear that voice again… that spoke words of wisdom… In which part of the world does He now live? I ponder… He was God. In the appearance of a little boy in order not to frighten men. And like lightning that dashing across the sky appears flashing northwards, southwards, eastwards and westwards, He, the Divine Being, in His appearance of merciful beauty, with the face and voice of a child and a divine mind, wanders on the earth to say to men: “I am.” So I think… When will He come back to Israel?… When? And I think: when Israel will become the altar for His feet; and my heart moans seeing the abjection of Israel: never. Oh! What a harsh reply! But true! Can the Holiness descend into Its Messiah as long as there is abomination amongst us? »
« It can and does descend, because it is Mercy » replies Jesus.
Gamaliel looks at Him pensively and then asks: « What is Your true Name? »
And Jesus stands up, stately, and says: « I am Who I am. The Thought and the Word of the Father. I am the Messiah of the Lord. »
« You?… I cannot believe it. Great is Your Holiness. But that Child, in Whom I do believe, said then:
“I will give a sign… These stones will vibrate when My hour comes.” I am awaiting that hour to believe. Can you give it to me, to convince me that You are the Expected One? »
They are now both standing, tall, stately, one in his wide white linen robe, the other in his plain dark red woollen tunic, one elderly, the other young, both with deep dominating eyes, staring at each other. Jesus then lowers His right arm, which He had folded on His chest, and as if He were swearing, He exclaims: « You want that sign? And you will have it! I repeat the far off words: “The stones of the Temple of the Lord will vibrate hearing My last words.” Wait for that sign, doctor of Israel, a just man, and then believe, if you wish to be forgiven and saved. Blessed before time, if you could believe before! But you cannot. Centuries of wrong beliefs, on a just promise, and heaps of pride, are your bulwark against Truth and Faith. »
« You are right. I will wait for that sign. Goodbye. The Lord be with You. »
« Goodbye, Gamaliel. May the Eternal Spirit enlighten you and guide you. »
They all greet Gamaliel who goes away with Nicodemus, John and Simon (the Sanhedrin member). Jesus, Joseph, Lazarus, Thomas, Simon Zealot and Cornelius stay.
« He will not bend!… I would like him to be one of Your disciples. He would be of conclusive weight in Your favor… But I am unable » says Joseph.
« Do not worry. No weight can save Me from the storm which is already approaching. But Gamaliel, if he does not bend in My favor, will not bend against Christ either. He is one who is waiting… » It all ends.