12th August 1944.
The entire apostolic college is round Jesus. Sitting on the grass, in the cool shade of a thicket, near a stream, they are all eating bread and cheese and drinking the cool clear water of the stream. Their dusty sandals give to understand that they have walked a long way and perhaps the disciples wish but to rest on the long fresh grass.
But the Tireless Walker is not of the same mind. As soon as he deems that the hottest hour is over, He gets up, goes on to the road and looks... He then turns round and says: « Let us go. » Nothing else.
When they reach a crossroads, where four dusty roads meet, Jesus resolutely takes the one in a north-east direction.
« Are we going back to Capernaum? » asks Peter.
Jesus replies: « No. » Just: no.
« We are going to Tiberias, then » insists Peter, who is anxious to know.
« Not there either. »
« But this road takes one to the Sea of Galilee... and Tiberias and Capernaum are there... »
« And there is also Magdala » says Jesus with a half-serious expression to satisfy Peter's curiosity.
« Magdala? Oh!... » Peter is somewhat scandalised, which makes me think that the town is ill-famed.
« Yes, to Magdala. Do you consider yourself too honest to enter that town? Peter, Peter!... For My sake you will have to enter not towns of pleasure but real brothels... Christ did not come to save those who are already saved, but those who are lost... and you shall be Peter, or Rock, not Simon, for that purpose. Are you afraid of becoming contaminated? No! Not even this one, see (and He points at the very young John) will suffer any harm. Because he does not want, as you do not want, as your brother and John's brother do not want, as none of you, for the time being, wants. As long as one does not want, no harm is done. But one must not want resolutely and perseveringly. You will obtain will-power and perseverance from the Father, by praying with sincere intentions. Not all of you will be able to pray thus, in future... What are you saying, Judas? Do not be too self-confident. I, Who am the Christ, constantly pray to have strength against Satan. Are you better than I am? Pride is the opening through which Satan penetrates. Be vigilant and humble, Judas. Matthew, since you are familiar with this place, tell Me: is it better to go to the town this way, or is there another road? »
« It depends, Master. If You want to go to the area of Magdala where fishermen and poor people live, this is the road. But I do not think this is the case but I am telling You to give You a complete answer if You want to go where the rich people are, then in about one hundred yards, You have to leave this road and take another one, because their houses are approximately in this direction and it is necessary to go back... »
« We will go back because I want to go to the residential area of the wealthy people. What did you say, Judas? »
« Nothing, Master. It is the second time that You ask me in a very short time. But I have never spoken. »
« Not with your lips, no. But you have spoken, grumbling in your heart. You have grumbled with your guest: your heart. It is not necessary to have an interlocutor, in order to speak. We say many words to ourselves... But we must not moan or calumniate, not even with our own ego. »
The group proceeds in silence. The main road becomes a town street, paved with one handbreath wide square stones. The houses are more and more splendid and magnificent, surrounded by luxuriant flourishing gardens and orchards. I am under the impression that the elegant Magdala was for the Palestinians a kind of place of pleasure like some towns around our lakes in Lombardy: Stresa, Gardone, Pallanza, Bellagio and so on. Among the rich Palestinians there are many Romans, who must have come from other places, such as Tiberias or Caesarea, possibly officials of the Governor or merchants who export to Rome the most beautiful products of the Palestinian colony.
Jesus proceeds, sure of Himself, as if He knew where to go. He follows the contour of the lake, which reflects the houses and gardens built on its limits.
A loud noise of crying people can be heard from a sumptuous house. It is the voices of women and children. The shrill voice of a woman shouts: « My son! My son! »
Jesus turns round and looks at His apostles. Judas steps forward. « No, not you » orders Jesus. « You, Matthew. Go and find out. »
Matthew goes and comes back: « A brawl, Master. A man is dying. A Jew. The man who wounded him, a Roman, has run away. His wife, mother and children have rushed to help him... But he is dying. »
« Let us go. »
« Master... Master... It happened in the house of a woman... who is not his wife. »
« Let us go. »
Through the wide open door they enter a large hall which opens on to a lovely garden. The house seems to be divided by this kind of covered peristyle, which is full of pots with green plants, statues and inlaid articles. It is a mixture of a hall and greenhouse. In a room, the door of which opens on to the hall, there are some women weeping. Jesus goes in confidently. But He does not pronounce His usual greeting.
Among the men present there is a merchant who obviously knows Jesus, because as soon as he sees Him, he says: « The Rabbi of Nazareth! » and greets Him respectfully.
« Joseph, what is the matter? »
« Master, a stab wound in his heart... He is dying. »
« Why? »
A gray-haired unkempt woman stands up she was kneeling near the dying man holding his limp hand and with distracted face and voice she shouts: « Because of her, because of her... She has turned him into a devil... Mother, wife, children no longer existed for him! Hell will have you, Satan! »
Jesus looks up and His eyes follow the trembling accusing hand and in a corner, against the dark red wall, He sees Mary of Magdala, more immodest than ever, wearing, I would say, nothing on half of her body, because she is half naked from the waist upwards, draped in a kind of hexagonal net decorated with little round objects which look like tiny pearls. But as she is in a half light, I cannot see her well.
Jesus lowers His eyes once again. Mary, lashed by His indifference, stands up, whereas before she seemed somewhat depressed, and strikes a defiant pose.
« Woman » says Jesus to the mother. « Do not curse. Tell Me. Why was your son in this house? »
« I told You. Because she infatuated him. She did. »
« Silence. So, he was in sin, too, because he is an adulterer and an unworthy father of these innocent children. He therefore deserves his punishment. In this life and in the next one there is no mercy for those who do not repent. But I feel sorry for your grief and for these innocent children. Is your house far? »
« About one hundred yards. »
« Lift the man and take him there. »
« It is not possible, Master » says Joseph, the merchant. « He is breathing his last. »
« Do as I tell you. »
They place a board under the body of the dying man and the procession slowly moves out. They cross the street and go into a shady garden. The women go on crying loudly.
As soon as they enter the garden, Jesus addresses the mother. « Can you forgive? If you forgive, God will forgive. We must be kind-hearted, to obtain grace. He has sinned and will sin again. It would be better for him to die, because, if he lives, he will fall into sin again and he will have to answer also for his ingratitude to God Who has saved him. But you and these innocent ones (and He points at the wife and children) would give yourselves up to despair. I have come to save, not to lose. Man, I tell you: stand up and be cured. »
The man begins to recover. He opens his eyes, sees his mother, wife and children and lowers his head shamefully.
« Son, son » says the mother. « You were dead, if He had not saved you. Come to your senses. Don't be infatuated for a...»
Jesus interrupts the old woman. « Be quiet, woman. Have mercy, as mercy was granted to you. Your house has been sanctified by a miracle, which is always the evidence of God's presence. That is why I could not work it where there was sin. You, at least, must endeavour to keep it such, even if he will not. Take care of him now. It is fair that he should suffer a little. Be good, woman. And you. And you little ones. Goodbye. » Jesus has laid His hand on the heads of the two women and of the children.
He then goes out passing in front of the Magdalene who followed the procession as far as the entrance of the house where she remained leaning against a tree. Jesus slackens His pace as if He were waiting for His disciples, but I think He does so to give Mary a chance of making a gesture. But she does not.
The disciples reach Jesus and Peter cannot help muttering between his teeth an epithet appropriate to Mary, who, wishing to strike an attitude, bursts into a laugh of a weak triumph. But Jesus heard Peter's word and addresses him severely: « Peter. I do not insult. Do not insult. Pray for sinners. Nothing else. »
Mary stops her trilling laughter, lowers her head and runs away, like a gazelle, towards her house.