21st March 1945.
When Jesus, having climbed the last hill, reaches the tableland, He sees Bethany bright in the December sunshine which makes the barren country less depressing. The sunshine also makes less gloomy the green spots of cypress-trees, young oaks and carob trees, which grow here and there, and look like courtiers intent on bowing to some very tall regal palms which stand upright and solitary in most beautiful gardens.
In Bethany, in fact, there is not only Lazarus' beautiful house. There are also other dwellings of rich people, perhaps citizens of Jerusalem, who prefer to live here, near their property, and their large beautiful villas with well tended gardens stand out amongst the small houses of the peasants. And it is strange to see in this hilly place some palm trees evoke memories of the East, with their slender trunks and stiff tassel-like heads, behind the jade green leaves of which one instinctively endeavors to see a yellowish boundless desert. Here instead are backgrounds of silver-green olive trees or ploughed fields, completely devoid for the time being of any trace of corn. There are also skeleton-like fruit trees, with dark trunks and tangled branches as if they belonged to souls that writhe in an infernal torture.
Jesus also sees at once one of Lazarus' servants who is on sentry duty. He bows deeply and asks leave to take the news of His arrival to his master, and as soon as he is granted permission he departs.
In the meantime peasants and townsfolk rush to greet the Rabbi, and a young woman, who is certainly not an Israelite, peeps out over a laurel hedge, which encloses a beautiful house with its green scented foliage. Her peplum or, if I remember the name correctly, her stole, makes me think that she is either Greek or Roman. It is so long as to form a light train, but it is wide, of soft snow-white wool brightened by a border embroidered with a brilliant Greek fret, in which golden threads shine. It is held tight at her waist by a belt identical to the border. Also her hair-style, which consists of a gold hair-net holding in place a complicated hair-dressing that is curly in the front, then smooth, ending in a large tuft on the nape of her neck, gives me the same impression. She looks around herself inquisitively attracted by the trilling shouts of the women and the hosannas of the men. She then smiles scornfully, when she sees that they are going towards a poor man who has not even a little donkey to ride and is walking amongst fellows like himself, who are even less charming than he is. She shrugs her shoulders and with a bored gesture goes away, followed, as if by dogs, by a group of multicolored stilt-birds, amongst which there are two white ibises and many-colored flamingoes, as well as two herons, as red as fire, with small trembling silverlike crowns on their heads, the only white part of their splendid golden flamed plumage.
Jesus looks at her for a moment, then He listens again to a big old man… who would like his legs not to be as weak as they are. Jesus caresses him and encourages him to be… patient, because it will soon be springtime and with the beautiful April sunshine he will feel stronger.
Maximinus arrives, a few yards ahead of Lazarus. « Master… Simon told me… that You are going to his house… Sorrow for Lazarus… but it is understood… »
« We shall talk about it later. Oh! My friend! » Jesus hastens towards Lazarus, who seems embarrassed, and kisses him on his cheek. They have in the meantime reached a lane that leads to a little house situated between the orchard of Lazarus and those of other people.
« So, You really want to go to Simon's house? »
« Yes, My friend. I have all my disciples with Me and I prefer so… »
Lazarus accepts the decision but does not reply. He only turns round to the little crowd following them and says: « Go. The Master needs a rest. »
I now see how powerful Lazarus is. They all bow to his words and withdraw while Jesus greets them kindly: « Peace to you. I will let you know when I am going to preach. »
« Master » says Lazarus now that they are alone, ahead of the disciples who are talking to Maximinus a few yards behind. « Master, Martha is weeping bitter tears. That is why she did not come. But she will come later. I weep only in my heart. But we say: it is just. If we had known that she was coming… But she never comes for the feast days… True… when does she ever come?… I say: the devil has driven her here just today. »
« The devil? And why not her angel by God's order? But you must believe Me, even if she were not here, I would have gone to Simon's house. »
« Why, my Lord? Had You no peace in my house? »
« So much peace that after Nazareth it is the dearest place to Me. But tell Me: why did you say to Me: “Come away from the Clear Water”? Because of the approaching ambush. Is it not so? Well, then, I am placing Myself in the land of Lazarus, but I am not putting Lazarus in the situation of being insulted in his own house. Do you think that they would respect you? To trample on Me, they would tread on the Holy Ark… Let Me do as I wish. At least for the time being. Then I will come. In any case nothing forbids Me to have My meals with you and nothing prevents you from coming to Me. But make them say: “He is in the house of one of His disciples.” »
« And am I not one? »
« You are My friend, which is more than a disciple for anybody's heart. It is a different thing for wicked people. Let Me do as I wish. Lazarus, this house is yours… but it is not your house. The beautiful rich house of Theophilus' son. And that is very important for pedantic people. »
« You say so… but it is because it's because of her. I had almost convinced myself to forgive her but if she causes You to go away, upon my word, I will hate her »
« And you will lose Me completely. Renounce that idea at once, or you will lose Me at once… Here is Martha. Peace to you, My gentle hotel-keeper. »
« Oh! Lord! » Martha is on her knees weeping. She has let down the veil which was laid on her hair dressed in the shape of a diadem, so that strangers may not see her tears. But she does not think to conceal them from Jesus.
« Why these tears? Truly, you are wasting them! There are so many reasons to weep, and to make something valuable with tears. But to weep for that reason! Oh! Martha! You do not seem to know any longer Who I am! You know that I have only the exterior appearance of a man. My heart is divine and it beats as a divine thing. Come on. Get up and come into the house… and with regard to her… leave her alone. Even if she came to laugh at Me, I tell you to leave her alone. She is not herself. It is he who keeps hold of her that makes her an instrument of perturbation. But here is One Who is stronger than her master. The struggle is now directly between Me and him. You must pray, forgive, have patience and believe. Nothing else. »
They go into the little house, which is a square one surrounded by a porch which makes it look longer. There are four rooms inside, divided by a cross-shaped corridor. The usual external staircase leads to the top of the porch which therefore becomes a terrace and gives access to a very large room, as wide as the house. Once it was certainly used as a store room but now it is clean and completely empty. Simon, who is beside his old servant, whose name I hear is Joseph, receives the guests and says: « You could speak to the people here, or take Your meals… as You wish. »
« We will think about that. In the meantime go and tell the others that the people can come after their meal. I will not disappoint the good people here. »
« Where shall I tell them to go? »
« Here. The day is a mild one. The place is sheltered from the winds. The bare orchard will not be damaged if people come into it. I will speak to them here, from the terrace. You may go. »
Lazarus is left alone with Jesus. Martha, who has to provide for so many people, has become the « good hotel-keeper » again and is working downstairs with the servants and the apostles preparing tables and beds.
Jesus lays one arm round Lazarus' shoulders and leads him out of the large room. They walk on the terrace that encircles the house in the lovely sunshine that makes the day mild and from above Jesus watches the work of the servants and disciples and smiles at Martha who comes and goes and looks up at Him. Although she looks grave she is not quite so upset as erstwhile. He looks also at the beautiful view around the place and with Lazarus mentions various places and people and at last He suddenly asks: « So Doras' death was like a stick stirred in the serpents' nest? »
« Oh! Master! Nicodemus told me that never before was a meeting of the Sanhedrin so violent! »
« What have I done to the Sanhedrin to upset it so much?. Doras died a natural death killed by his wrath, in the presence of a considerable crowd. I did not allow anyone to be lacking in respect to his dead body. So… »
« You are right. But they… are out of their minds with fear. And… do You know that they said they must find You committing a sin so that they may kill You? »
« Well, in that case do not worry! They will have to wait until the hour of God!»
« But Jesus! Do You know of whom we are talking? Do You know of what Pharisees and Scribes are capable? Do You know what Annas' soul is like? Do You know who his deputy is? Do You know… What am I saying? Of course You know! So it is quite useless for me to tell You that they will invent a sin in order to be able to accuse You. »
« They have already found it. I have already done more than what is necessary. I have spoken to Romans, to prostitutes… Yes. To prostitutes, Lazarus. One of them, do not look at Me so frightened,… one of them always comes to listen to Me and she was given hospitality in a stable of your steward, upon My request, because, to be near Me, she was living in a pigsty… »
Lazarus is petrified with astonishment. He does not stir. He looks at Jesus as if he saw someone shockingly strange and amazing.
Jesus rouses him smiling: « Have you seen Mammon? » He asks him.
« No… I have seen Mercy. But… I understand, those of the Council do not. And they say it is a sin. So it is true! I thought… Oh! What have You done? »
« My duty, My right and My desire: I endeavored to redeem a soul that had fallen. You can therefore see that your sister will not be the first mud I will approach and over which I will bend. Neither will she be the last. I wish to sow flowers and make them grow in mud: the flowers of bounty. »
« Oh! God! My God!… But… Master, You are right. It is Your right, Your duty and Your desire. But hyenas do not understand that. They are such foul carrion that they do not smell, they cannot smell the scent of lilies. And also where they grow, the mighty carrion smell sin and they do not realize that it comes from their own stench… I beg You. Do not stop in any place for a long time. Go, wander about, without giving them time to reach You. Be like a night fire, dancing on the stems of flowers, swift, elusive, disconcerting in its movements. Do that. Not out of cowardice, but out of love for the world that requires You to live to be sanctified. Corruption is increasing. Oppose sanctification to it… Corruption!… Have You seen the new woman citizen in Bethany? She is a Roman married to a Judaean. He is also observant. But she is an idolater and as she could not live comfortably in Jerusalem, because her neighbors complained of the animals she kept, she came here. Her house is full of animals which we consider unclean and… she is the most unclean of them all, because she lives laughing at us and with looseness which… I am not in a position to criticise because… But I say that whilst no one sets foot in my house because of Mary, who weighs heavily on the family with her sin, they go to the house of that woman. But she is in Pontius Pilate's good books and lives without her husband. He is in Jerusalem, she is here. And so they pretend, he and they, that they do not become profaned by coming here and that they do not realize that they are profaned. Hypocrisy! They live up to their necks in hypocrisy! And before long they will be drowned in it. Sabbath is the banquet day… And they are members of the Council! One of Annas' sons is the most devoted visitor. »
« I have seen her. Yes. Leave her alone. And leave them alone. When a doctor prepares a medicine, he mixes the ingredients and the water seems to become tainted, because he beats them and the water becomes cloudy. Then the dead parts are deposited and the water becomes clear again, although it is saturated with the juices of the healthy ingredients. That is what is happening now. Everything in mixed and I work with everybody. Then the dead parts will be deposited and thrown away and the living ones will remain active in the great sea of the people of Jesus Christ. Let us go downstairs. They are calling us. »…
… and the vision resumes when Jesus goes back up on the terrace to speak to the people of Bethany and nearby villages, who have gathered to hear Him.
« Peace to you. Even if I were silent, the wind would carry to you the words of My love and of the hatred of other people. I know that you are excited because you are aware of the reason why I am here amongst you. But let it be only an excitement of joy and bless with Me the Lord Who makes use of evil to give joy to His children, by leading, under the spur of wickedness, His Lamb amongst the lambs, to save Him from the wolves.
See how good the Lord is. As water flows into the sea, so a river and a stream flowed into the place where I was. A river of loving kindness, a stream of burning bitterness. The former was the love of you all, from Lazarus and Martha to the last inhabitant in the village, the latter was the unfair hatred of those who not being able to reach the Good which calls them, accuse the Good of being Evil. And the river said: “Come, come back to us. May our waves surround, isolate and defend You. May they give You what the world denies You.” The wicked stream hissed threats and wanted to kill with its poison. But what is a stream when it is compared with a river, and what when compared with the sea? Nothing. And the poison of the stream was reduced to nothing, because the river of your love overwhelmed it, and only the kindness of your love flowed into the sea of My love. Nay, it did a good turn, it brought Me back to you. Let us bless the Most High Lord for it. »
Jesus' powerful voice rings out through the calm silent air. Jesus, bright in the sunshine, waves and smiles from the terrace. On the ground, the people listen to him blissfully: a flourish of faces raised towards Him and smiling at the harmony of His voice. Lazarus is near Jesus, with Simon and John. The others are scattered amongst the crowd. Also Martha goes upstairs and sits down on the floor at Jesus' feet, looking towards her house, visible beyond the orchard.
« The world belongs to bad people. Paradise to good people. That is the truth and the promise. May your certain strength rest upon such promise. The world passes, Paradise does not. If by being good you gain it, you will enjoy it forever. So? So why get upset at what bad people do? Do you remember Job's lamentations? They are the eternal lamentations of those who are good and oppressed; because the flesh moans, but it should not moan, and the more it is trampled on, the more it should raise the wings of its soul in the jubilation of the Lord.
Do you think that those are happy who appear to be happy, because by legal means and even more by illegal ones they have opulent granaries, vats full to the brim and jars overflowing with oil? No. They taste the blood and tears of other people in all their meals, and their beds seem to be bristling with thorns, so much they feel remorse. They rob the poor and despoil orphans, they rob their neighbors to hoard goods, they oppress whoever is inferior to them in power and in wickedness. It does not matter. Never mind. Their kingdom is of this world. But what will be left at their death? Nothing. Unless you wish to call a treasure the pile of sins that they will take with themselves and with which they present themselves to God. Never mind. They are the children of darkness, rebels to the Light and they are unable to follow the bright paths of the Light. When God makes the morning Star shine, they call it the shadow of death and as such they think it is contaminated and they prefer to walk in the glitter of their filthy gold and hatred, which blazes only because the things of hell shine with the phosphorous of the lakes of eternal perdition… »
« My sister, Jesus… Oh! » Lazarus sees Mary stealing behind a hedge of his orchard to come as close as possible. She stoops as she walks but her fair hair shines like gold against the dark box. Martha is about to get up. But Jesus presses His hand on her head and she is compelled to stay where she is. Jesus speaks louder.
« What shall we say of those unhappy people? God gave them time to do penance but they misuse it in order to sin. But God does not lose sight of them, even if He seems to. And the moment comes when, either because the love of God pierces their hard hearts, as a thunderbolt penetrates a rock or because the total mass of crimes carries the wave of their filth right into their throats and nostrils – and they are disgusted, at last they are disgusted with that taste and that stench which are nauseating also to other people and fill their own hearts – the moment comes when they loathe it and a feeling desiring good roots in their hearts. Each soul then cries: “Who will allow me to go back to former times, when I was a friend of God? When His light shone in my heart and I walked in its rays? When the amazed world was silent before my justice and who saw me said I was blessed? The world craved for my smiles and my words were received like the words of an angel and the hearts of my relatives leapt with pride in their chests. And what am I now? I am an object of derision to young people, of horror to elderly people, I am the subject of their songs and they spit scornfully in my face.”
Truly, that is how in certain moments the souls of sinners speak, the souls of the true Jobs, because there is no greater misery for man than to lose God's friendship and His Kingdom forever. And they must arouse pity. Only pity. They are poor souls, who out of idleness or rashness, have lost the eternal Spouse. “On my bed, at night, I sought him whom my heart loves. I sought but did not find him.” In fact in the darkness one cannot distinguish the spouse, and the soul, spurred by love, being thoughtless because enveloped by a spiritual night, seeks and wants to find relief from its torture. And the soul thinks it can be found with any love. No. Only one is the love of the soul: God. Those souls, spurred on by the love of God, wander seeking love. It would be sufficient for them to wish to have light and they would have Love as their consort. They wander like sick people, groping for love and they find all the loves, all the foul things that man has so called, but they do not find the Love, because the Love is not gold, pleasure, power, but God.
Poor souls! Had they been less lazy and had they risen at the first invitation of the eternal Spouse, of God Who says: “Follow Me”, of God Who says: “Open to Me”, they would not have opened the door, in the outburst of their awakened love, when the disappointed Bridegroom was already far and had disappeared… And they would not have desecrated the holy impulse of the need of love in a mire which disgusts even unclean animals, as it is so useless and strewn with trite troubles, which were not flowers but thorns which torture but do not crown. Neither would they have known the sneering words of the patrol guards, of the whole world, which, like God, but for opposite reasons, does not lose sight of the sinner, but waylays him to mock at him and criticise him.
Poor souls beaten, despoiled and wounded by the whole world! Only God does not join in such pitiless scornful stone throwing. But He lets His tears drop to cure the wounds and put an adamantine dress on His creature. Always His creature… Only God… and the children of God with the Father. Let us bless the Lord. He wanted Me to come back here for the sake of sinners to say to you: “Forgive. Always forgive. Make every bad thing become a good one and every offence a grace.” I do not only say to you “make”. I say: imitate My attitude. I love and bless My enemies because through them I have been able to come back to you, My friends. Peace be with you all. »
The women in the crowd wave veils, the men branches: then all slowly depart after greeting Jesus.
« Will they have seen my shameless sister? »
« No, Lazarus. She was well concealed behind the hedge. We were able to see her because we were up here, the others could not see her. »
« She had promised us… »
« Why was she not to come? Is she not a daughter of Abraham? I want you, My brothers, and you, My disciples, to swear that you will not let her understand anything. Leave her alone. Will she laugh at Me? Never mind. Will she weep? Leave her alone. Will she be staying? Leave her alone. Will she be wanting to run away? Leave her alone. The secret of the Redeemer and of redeemers is to be patient, good, persevering and to pray. Nothing else. Every gesture is too much in the case of certain diseases… Goodbye, My friends. I am staying here to pray. Each of you may go to his own task and may God be with you. »
And it all ends