13th May 1945.
From a vegetable garden, which is beginning to flourish in all its furrows, Jesus enters a very large kitchen where the two elder Maries (Mary of Clopas and Mary Salome) are cooking the supper.
« Peace to you! »
« Oh! Jesus! Master! » The two women turn round and greet Him, one holding in her hands a lovely fish, which she is gutting, the other still holding a pot full of vegetables, which are boiling, and which she has just removed from the fire to see whether they were cooked. Their kind withered faces, flushed by the fire and work, smile out of joy and seem to become younger and lovelier in their happiness.
« It will be ready in a moment, Jesus. Are You tired? You must be hungry » says aunt Mary, who has the familiarity of a relative and loves Jesus, I think, more than her own children.
« Not more than usual. But I will certainly eat with relish the good food that you and Mary have prepared for Me. And the others will do the same. Here they are coming. »
« Your Mother is upstairs. You know! Simon came... Oh! I am as happy as a lark this evening! No. Not really because... You know when I would be as happy as a king. »
« Yes, I know. » Jesus draws His aunt close to Himself and kisses her forehead and then says: « I know your desire and your sinless envy of Salome. But the day will come when you will be able to say like her: “All my sons belong to Jesus.” I am going to My Mother. »
He goes out, climbs the little outside staircase and goes on to the terrace, which covers a full half of the house, whereas the other half is taken up by a very large room, from which come out the strong voices of men, and at intervals, Mary's gentle voice, the limpid virginal voice of a girl, which years have not affected, the same voice that said: « I am the handmaid of the Lord » and which sang lullabies to Her Baby.
Jesus goes near noiselessly, smiling because He hears His Mother say: « My home is My Son. I do not suffer being away from Nazareth, except when He is away. But if He is near Me... oh! I need nothing else. And I am not afraid for My house... You are there...»
« Oh! Look, there is Jesus! » shouts Alphaeus of Sarah, who facing the door, is the first to see Jesus.
« Yes, here I am. Peace to you all. Mother! » He kisses His Mother on Her forehead and is kissed by Her. He then turns to the unexpected guests, who are His cousin Simon, Alphaeus of Sarah, Isaac the shepherd and one Joseph who was received by Jesus at Emmaus after the verdict of the Sanhedrin.
« We went to Nazareth and Alphaeus told us that we had to come here. We came. And Alphaeus wanted to come with us, and also Simon » explains Isaac.
« I could not believe I was coming » says Alphaeus.
« I also wanted to see You, stay a little time with You and with Mary » concludes Simon.
« And I am very happy to be with you. I did the right thing in not staying any longer as the people of Kedesh desired, where I arrived coming from Gherghesa to Merom and going round the other side of the lake. »
« Is that where You came from? »
« Yes, I visited the places where I had already been and even farther away. I went as far as Giscala. »
« What a long road! »
« But what a great harvest! Do you know, Isaac. We were the guests of rabbi Gamaliel. He was very kind to us. And then I met the synagogue leader of the Clear Water. He is coming, too. I entrust him to you. And then... and then I gained three disciples...» Jesus smiles frankly, blissfully.
« Who are they? »
« A little old man at Korazim. I helped him some time ago, and the poor man, who is a true Israelite without prejudice, to show Me his love, has worked his area, as a perfect ploughman works the soil. The other is a boy, five years old, perhaps a little more. Intelligent and brave. I spoke also to him the first time I was at Bethsaida and he remembered better than adults. The third is an old leper. I cured him near Korazim one evening a long time ago and then I left him. I have now found him again, announcing Me on the mountains in Naphtali. And to confirm his words he shows what is left of his hands, cured but partly impaired, and his feet, which have also been cured but are deformed, and yet he walks a long way. People realise how ill he was when they see what is left of him and they believe his words which are dressed with tears of gratitude. It was easy for Me to speak there, because there was one who had already made Me known and had led other people to believe in Me. And I was able to work many miracles. So much can be done by one who really believes...»
Alphaeus nods assent without speaking, continuously absent-minded, while Simon lowers his head under the implicit reproach, and Isaac rejoices wholeheartedly because of the joy of his Master, Who is about to tell of the miracle worked shortly before on Eli's little grandchild.
But supper is ready, and the women, with Mary, prepare the table in the large room and take the dishes there and then withdraw downstairs. Only the men remain and Jesus offers, blesses and hands out the portions.
But only a few mouthfuls of food had been taken, when Susanna goes upstairs saying: « Eli has come with servants and many gifts. But he would like to speak to You. »
« I will come at once, or better still, tell him to come up. »
Susanna goes out and comes back shortly afterwards with old Eli and two servants who are carrying a large basket. Behind them the women, with the exception of the Most Holy Mary, are casting curious glances.
« God be with You, my benefactor » greets the Pharisee.
« And with you, Eli. Come in. What do you want? Is your grandson not well again? »
« Oh! He is very well. He is jumping in the kitchen garden like a little kid. Before I was so dumbfounded and bewildered that I failed to fulfill my duty. I wish to show You my gratitude and I beg You not to refuse the little I am offering You. A little food for You and Your friends. It is the produce of my fields. And... I would like... I would like to have You at my table tomorrow. To thank You once again and honour You, with my friends. Do not refuse, Master. I would understand that You do not love me and that if You cured Elisha, it was only for his sake, not mine. »
« Thank you. But no gifts were needed. »
« Every great and learned man accepts them. It's the custom. »
« And I do. But I accept very willingly one gift only, nay, I look for it. »
« Which is? If I can, I will give it to You. »
« Your hearts. Your thoughts. Give Me them. For your own good. »
« But I consecrate mine to You, blessed Jesus! Can You doubt it? Yes, I... I did You wrong. But now I have understood. I have also heard of the death of Doras, who offended You... Why are You smiling, Master? »
« I was remembering something. »
« I thought You did not believe what I was saying. »
« Oh! no. I know that you were moved by Doras' death. Even more than by this evening's miracle. But do not be afraid of God, if you have really understood, and if from now on you wish to be My friend. »
« I can see that You really are a prophet. It is true, I was more afraid... I was coming to You more out of fear of punishment like Doras', than because of the accident. And this evening I said: “There you are. The punishment has come. And it is even more severe because it did not strike the old oak in its own life, but in its love, in its joy for life, by striking the little oak, in which I rejoiced.” I understood that it would have been just as it was for Doras...»
« You understood that it would have been just. But you did not believe yet in Him Who is good. »
« You are right. But it is no longer so. Now I have understood. So, are You coming to my house tomorrow? »
« Eli, I had decided to leave at dawn. But I will postpone My departure by one day, that you may not think that I despise you. I will be with you tomorrow. »
« Oh! You really are good. I will always remember it. »
« Goodbye, Eli. Thank you for everything. This fruit is beautiful, and the cheese must be as tasty as butter, and the wine certainly very good. But you could have given everything to the poor in My name. »
« There is something for them, if You wish so, at the bottom, under the rest. It was an offering for You. »
« Well, we will distribute it tomorrow together, before or after the meal, as you prefer. May the night be a peaceful one for you, Eli. »
« And for You. Goodbye » and he goes away with his servants.
Peter, who with all the mimicry of which he is capable, has pulled out the contents of the basket, to hand it back to the servants, puts the purse on the table in front of Jesus and says, as if he were concluding an internal speech: « And it will be the first time that the old owl gives alms. »
« It is true » confirms Matthew. « I was greedy, but he surpassed me. He doubled his capital by usury. »
« Well... if he mends his ways... It's a good thing, is it not? » says Isaac.
« It certainly is a good thing. And it appears to be so » state Philip and Bartholomew.
« Old Eli a convert! Ah! Ah! » Peter laughs heartily.
Simon, the cousin, who has been pensive all the time, says: « Jesus, I would like... I would like to follow You. Not like these. But at least as the women do. Let me join my mother and Yours. They are all coming... I, I, a relative... I do not expect to have a place amongst the disciples. But at least... at least as a good friend...»
« May God bless you, my son! How long have I been waiting to hear you say that! » shouts Mary of Alphaeus.
« Come. I reject no one, neither do I force anyone. I do not even exact everything from everybody. I take what you can give Me. It is a good thing that the women are not always alone, when we go to places unknown to them. Thank you, brother. »
« I am going to tell Mary » says Simon's mother and she adds: « She is down in Her little room, praying. She will be happy. »
...It is rapidly growing dark. They light a lamp to go down the staircase which is already dark in twilight, and some go to the right, some to the left, to rest.
Jesus goes out, and walks to the shore of the lake. The village is quiet, the streets are deserted, there is no one on the shore or on the lake in the moonless night. There are only stars to be seen in the sky and the murmur of the surf to be heard on the shingly shore. Jesus goes on board the beached boat, sits down, lays one arm on the edge and rests His head on it. I do not know whether He is thinking or praying.
Matthew approaches Him very quietly: « Master, are You sleeping? » he asks in a low voice.
« No, I am thinking. Come here beside Me, since you are not sleeping. »
« I thought You were upset and I followed You. Are You not satisfied with Your day's work? You touched Eli's heart, You acquired Simon of Alphaeus as a disciple...»
« Matthew, you are not a simple man like Peter and John. You are astute and learned. Be also frank. Would you be happy because of those conquests? »
« But... Master... They are always better than I am and You told me, on that day, that You were very happy because of my conversion...»
« Yes. But you were really converted. And you were genuine in your evolution towards Good. You came to Me without any elaboration of thought, you came through the will of your spirit. But Eli is not like that... neither is Simon. Only the surface of the former has been touched: the man-Eli is shocked. Not the spirit-Eli. That is always the same. When the excitement caused by the miracles on Doras and his little grandchild is over, he will be the same Eli as yesterday and as always. Simon!... he, too, is nothing but a man. If he had seen Me insulted instead of honoured, he would have pitied Me, and as always, he would have left Me. This evening he heard that a little old man, a child, a leper can do what he, although a relative, cannot do; he saw the pride of a Pharisee bend before Me and he decided: “Also I.” But those conversions brought about by the spur of human evaluations, are not the ones that make Me happy. On the contrary, they dishearten Me. Stay with Me, Matthew. It is not a moonlight night, but at least the stars are twinkling. In My heart this evening there is nothing but tears. Let your company be the star of your distressed Master...»
« Master, if I can... You can imagine! The trouble is that I am always a poor miserable man, a good for-nothing. I have sinned too much to be able to please You. I am not good at speaking. I do not yet know how to say the new, pure, holy words, now that I have left my old language of fraud and lust. And I am afraid I will never be able to speak to You and about You. »
« No, Matthew. You are a man, with all the painful experience of a man. You are the one, who, having tasted mud and tasting now the celestial honey, can tell the two flavours, and give their true analysis, and understand and make your fellow creatures understand now and later. And they will believe you, because you are the man, the poor man, who by his own will, becomes the just man dreamt of by God. Let Me, the Man-God, lean on you, the mankind I have loved to the extent of leaving Heaven for you, and dying for you. »
« No, not to die. Don't tell me that You are dying for me! »
« Not for you, Matthew, but for all the Matthews of the world and centuries. Embrace Me, Matthew, kiss your Christ, for yourself and for everybody. Relieve My tiredness of an unappreciated Redeemer. I relieved you of your tiredness of a sinner. Wipe away My tears, because My bitterness, Matthew, is that I have been so little understood. »
« Oh! Lord, Lord! Yes. Of course!...» and Matthew, sitting near the Master and clasping Him with one arm, comforts Him with his love...