5th March 1945.
It is such an awful day that there is not even one pilgrim. It is raining in torrents and the threshing floor is a pool on which dry leaves are floating. I wonder where all the leaves have come from, some have been blown by the wind, which howls and shakes doors and windows. The kitchen, which is gloomier than ever, because to keep the rain out it is necessary to close the door, is full of smoke, which the wind blows back down the chimney and causes the disciples to cough and their eyes to water.
« Solomon was right » states Peter. « Three things drive a man out of his house: a quarrelsome wife… and I left mine at Capernaum to quarrel with her brothers-in-law, a smoky fireplace and a leaky roof. We have the last two things. But I will see to this chimney tomorrow. I will go up on the roof and you, James, John and Andrew, will come with me. We will raise the chimney and cover its top with slates. »
« And where are you going to find the slates? » asks Thomas.
« We will take them off the shed. If it rains there, it will not be a disaster. But in here… Are you sorry that your dishes will no longer be decorated with sooty drops? »
« Most certainly not! I wish you could do that! See what a sight I am. It rains on my head when I am here near the fire. »
« You look like an Egyptian monster » says John laughing.
Thomas, in fact, has queer black smutty commas on his chubby good-natured face. Always merry as he is, he is the first to laugh and also Jesus laughs, because, just when he is speaking, another sooty drop falls on his nose, blackening its point.
« Since you are a weather expert, what do you think of it? Will it last long like this? » the Iscariot, who has changed completely during the last few days, asks Peter.
« I will tell you in a minute. I am going to play the star-gazer » replies Peter, who goes to the door, opens it a little and puts his head and hand out. He then states: « A low southern wind. Heat and thick fog… H'm! There is little… » Peter becomes quiet, he comes back in slowly, sets the door ajar, and casts sidelong glances.
« What is the matter? » ask three or four of the disciples.
But Peter beckons them to be quiet. He looks round. He then whispers: « That woman is here. She drank some water of the well and took one of the faggots left in the yard. It is wet and will not burn… She is going away. I will go after her. I want to see… » He goes out cautiously.
« But where does she live, if she is always here? » asks Thomas.
« And she is here in this weather! » says Matthew.
« She certainly goes to the village, because the day before yesterday she was also buying bread there » says Bartholomew.
« She is really determined in wearing her veil! » remarks James of Alphaeus.
« Or she has a very good reason for it » concludes Thomas.
« But will she really be the one referred to by that Jew yesterday? » asks John. « They are always such liars! »
Jesus has kept quiet all the time, as if He were deaf. They all look at Him, fully aware that He knows. But He is working with a sharp knife at a piece of soft wood which He slowly turns into a very useful large fork to take vegetables out of boiling water. And when He finishes it, He offers His work to Thomas who has devoted himself entirely to cooking.
« You are really clever, Master. But… will You tell us who she is? »
« A soul. To Me you are all “souls”. Nothing else. Men, women, old people, children: souls, and nothing but souls. Children are white souls, young boys blue souls, young people pink souls, just people gold souls, sinners are pitched souls. But only souls. And I smile at the white souls because I seem to be smiling at angels; and I rest among the blue and pink flowers of good young people; and I rejoice at the precious souls of the just; and I toil and suffer, to make the souls of sinners precious and splendid. Faces?… Bodies?… They are nothing. I know you and recognize you because of your souls. »
« And what kind of a soul is she? » asks Thomas.
« A soul less curious than the souls of My friends, because she is not inquisitive, does not ask questions, comes and goes without a word or a look. »
« I thought she was a whore or a leper. But I changed my mind because… Master, if I tell You something, will You not reproach me? » asks the Iscariot who goes and sits on the ground near Jesus' knees; he has changed completely, he is humble, kind and even more handsome in his modest mien than when he behaves as the pompous and haughty Judas.
« I will not reproach you. Tell Me. »
« I know where she lives. I followed her one evening… pretending I was going out to get some water, because I noticed that she always comes to the well when it is dark… One morning I found a silver hair-pin on the ground… just near the rim of the well… and I realized that she had lost it. Well, she lives in a little wooden hut in the forest. Perhaps it is used by peasants. But it is half rotten. And she put some faggots on it as a roof. Perhaps that is why she wanted that faggot. It is a den. I don't know how she can live in it. It would hardly suffice for a big dog or a small donkey. It was moonlight and I could see it clearly. It is almost buried in blackberry bushes, it is empty inside and there is no door. That's why I changed my mind and I realized that she is not a prostitute. »
« You should not have done that. But, tell Me the truth: did you do anything else? »
« No, Master. I would have liked to see her, because I have noticed her since Jericho and I seem to recognize her light step with which she walks rapidly wherever she wishes. Also her figure must be supple and… beautiful. Of course, one can easily see that, notwithstanding all her clothes… But I did not dare spy upon her while she was going to lie down on the ground. Perhaps she took her veil off. But I respected her… »
Jesus stares at him, then He says: « And you suffered for that. But you have told the truth. And I am telling you that I am pleased with you. The next time it will not cost you so much to be good. It is the first step that matters. Well done Judas! » and Jesus caresses him.
Peter comes back in. « Master! That woman is crazy! Do You know where she is? Almost on the river bank, in a little wooden hut under a thicket. Perhaps once it was used by fishermen or woodcutters… Who knows? I would never have thought that a poor woman could live in such a damp place, buried in a ditch under a heap of bushes. I said to her: “Speak and tell me the truth. Are you a leper?” She replied in a whisper: “No.” “Swear it.” I said. And she said: “I swear it.” “Be careful, if you are and you do not say so and you come near our house and I find out that you are not clean, I will have you stoned. But if you are persecuted, if you are a thief or a murderer, and you are staying here because you are afraid of us, do not be afraid of any harm. But come out of there. Don't you see that you are lying in water? Are you hungry? Are you cold? You are shivering. I am an old man, you can see that. I am not courting you. I am old and honest. So listen to me.” That's what I said. But she would not come. We will find her dead because she is lying in the water. »
Jesus is pensive. He looks at the twelve faces which are staring at Him. He then asks: « What do you think we should do? »
« Master, what You decide! »
« No. I want you to decide. It is a matter in which also your reputation is involved. And I must not do violence to your right to defend it. »
« In the name of mercy I say that we cannot leave her there » says Simon.
And Bartholomew: « I would say that we should put her in the big room for today. Don't the pilgrims go there? So she can go there, too. »
« She is a creature like anybody else, after all » remarks Andrew.
« In any case, there is no one coming today, so… » points out Matthew.
« I suggest that we should give her hospitality for today, and tomorrow we will tell the steward. He is a good man » says Judas Thaddeus.
« You are right! Good! And he has many empty stables, too. A stable is still a royal palace as compared to that small sunken dingy! » exclaims Peter.
« Go and tell her then » says Thomas encouragingly.
« The younger ones have not yet spoken » points out Jesus.
« As far as I am concerned, I am happy with what You do » says His cousin James. And the other James and his brother say together: « We, too. »
« I am only worried if by sheer bad luck a Pharisee should happen to come here » says Philip.
« Oh! Even if we lived up in the clouds, do you think they would not accuse us? They do not accuse God because He is far away. But if they could have Him near themselves, as Abraham, Jacob and Moses had, they would reproach Him… According to them, who is faultless? » says Judas Iscariot.
« Well, then, go and tell her to take shelter in the big room. Peter, go with Simon and Bartholomew. You are elderly and she will not feel too uneasy with you. And tell her that we will give her some warm food and a dry dress. That is the one that Isaac left. See, everything can be useful. Also a woman's dress given to a man… »
The younger ones laugh because there must have been some funny story with regard to the dress in question.
The three elder ones go out… and they come back shortly afterwards.
« It took some doing… but at the end she came. We swore to her that we will never disturb her. I will now take her some straw and the dress. Give me the vegetables and some bread. She has not even got anything to eat today. In fact… who would go about in this deluge? » And good Peter goes out with his gifts.
« And now there is an order for everybody: under no circumstance one may go into the room. Tomorrow we will do the necessary. You must become accustomed to doing good for the sake of good, without any curiosity or desire to get entertainment out of it, or anything else. See? You were complaining today that we would not have done anything useful. We have loved our neighbor. Could we have done anything greater? If she is an unhappy woman, and she certainly is, can our help not give her much greater relief, warmth and protection than the little food, the poor dress, the sound roof we have given her? If she is a guilty woman, a sinner, a creature seeking God, will our love not be the most beautiful lesson, the most powerful word, the clearest indication to lead her on to the path of God? »
Peter comes in very quietly and listens to his Master.
« See, My friends. Israel has many teachers, and they speak all the time… But souls remain as they were. Why? Because the souls hear the words of their teachers but they see also their deeds. And their deeds destroy their words. And the souls remain where they were, if they do not even go backwards. But when a teacher does what he says and in all his actions he behaves like a saint, also when he only performs a material action, such as giving bread, a dress, a lodging to a suffering neighbor, he gets souls to proceed and reach God, because his very actions say to his brothers: “God exists and God is here.” Oh! Love! I solemnly tell you that he who loves saves himself and others. »
« What You say is true, Master. That woman said to me: “Blessed be the Savior and He Who sent Him, and you all with Him” and though I am a poor man she wanted to kiss my feet and she was weeping behind her thick veil… Who knows!… Let us hope that no night-bird will arrive from Jerusalem… Otherwise, who will save us? »
« Our conscience will save us from the judgement of our Father. That is enough » says Jesus. And He sits at the table after blessing and offering the food.
It all ends.