24th June 1945.
The beautiful morning invites people to leave their homes and beds and go for a walk and the people living in the Zealot's house get up very early and like bees at sunrise, they go out to breathe the pure air in Lazarus' orchard round the hospitable house. They are soon joined by Lazarus' guests, that is, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, Andrew and James of Zebedee. The sun shines in joyfully through all the windows and wide open doors and illuminates the simple tidy rooms with a golden hue, which brightens the shades of clothes and enlivens the hues of hair and eyes.
Mary of Alphaeus and Salome are busy serving the men who enjoy a hearty appetite. Mary instead is watching one of Lazarus' servants who is sorting Marjiam's hair, cutting it with greater skill than his first barber ever did. « That will do for the time being » says the servant. « Later, when you have offered God the curls of your childhood, I will cut it shorter. The warm season is coming and you will feel better without any hair on your neck. And your hair will grow stronger. It is dry, weak and has been neglected. See, Mary? It needs some attention. I will now put some oil on it to keep it in place. Can you smell the lovely scent, my boy? It is oil which Martha uses. It is very good. Almond, palm and medulla of the finest quality with a rare essence. My mistress told me to keep this little jar for the boy. Oh! Here you are! You now look like the son of a king » and the servant, who is probably the barber of Lazarus' house, pats Marjiam on the cheek, greets Mary and goes away looking quite satisfied.
« Come and let Me dress you » says Mary to the boy who has on only a short tunic with short sleeves; I think it is a shirt or what was used in those days as a shirt. By its fine linen I gather that it must have belonged to Lazarus when a boy. Mary takes off the towel in which Marjiam was enveloped and puts on him a linen vest puckered round the neck and cuffs, and a red woollen robe with wide neck and sleeves. The shining snow-white linen protrudes from the neck-opening and the sleeves of the red dull cloth. Mary's skillful hands must have adjusted the length of the robe and of the sleeves during the night, and it now fits the boy, particularly when Mary girds his waist with a soft sash adorned with a woollen white and red tassel. The child no longer looks like the poor little creature of a few days earlier.
« Now go and play, but do not get dirty, while I get ready » says Mary, caressing him. And the boy bounds out happily, looking for his big friends.
Thomas is the first one to see him: « How lovely you are! Fit for a wedding! You make me cut a poor figure » says plump Thomas who is always merry and genial. And he takes him by the hand saying: « Let us go and see the women. They were looking for you to feed you. »
They go into the kitchen and Thomas causes the two Maries, who are bent over the kitchen-stove, to start, when he shouts in his loud voice: « There is a young man here looking for you » and laughing he introduces the boy who was hiding behind his robust back.
« Oh! dear! Come here that I may give you a kiss! Look, Salome, how lovely he is! » exclaims Mary of Alphaeus.
« He is, indeed! All he needs now is to become more robust. But I'll see to that. Come here, that I may kiss you, too » replies Salome.
« But Jesus is going to entrust him to the shepherds...» objects Thomas.
« Not on your life! My Jesus is mistaken here. What can you men do or pretend you can do? You are only good at quarrelling – because, incidentally, you are rather quarrelsome... like little goats which are fond of one another and gore one another with their horns – at eating, speaking and you have a thousand needs and you claim the Master to pay all His attention to you... otherwise you become sulky... Children need mothers. Is that right? What is your name? »
« Marjiam. »
« Of course! But blessed be my Mary! She could have given you an easier name! »
« It's almost like Hers! » exclaims Salome.
« Yes, but Hers is more simple. There aren't those letters in the centre of it... They are too many...»
The Iscariot, who has just come in, says: « She gave a name which is precise in its meaning, according to the genuine old language. »
« All right. But it is difficult, and I will take one letter away and say Marziam. It is easier and the world will not collapse because of that. Is that right, Simon? »
Peter, who is passing by the window speaking to John of Endor, looks in and asks: « What do you want? »
« I was saying that I shall call the boy Marziam. It is easier. »
« You are right, woman. If the Mother allows me, I will call him thus, too. But how wonderful you look! So do I, eh? Look! »
In fact he is perfectly tidy, his cheeks have been shaved, his hair cut, his beard trimmed and scented with oil, his clothes show no creases and his sandals are so clean that they look like new ones. I do not know what he has polished them with. The women admire him and he laughs happily.
The boy has finished eating and goes out to meet his great friend, whom he always calls: « Father ».
And there is Jesus coming from Lazarus' house together with the latter. The boy runs towards Him and Jesus says: « Peace be with us, Marjiam. Let us exchange the kiss of peace. »
Lazarus, greeted by the boy, caresses him and gives him a sweet.
They all gather round Jesus. Also Mary, wearing a turquoise woollen dress on top of which a darker mantle is draped, comes towards Her Son smiling.
« We can go, then » says Jesus. « You, Simon, with My Mother and the boy, if you still wish to buy his robe, now that Lazarus has seen to it. »
« Of course I do! And then... I will be able to say that once I walked beside Your Mother. A great honour. »
« Go, then. Simon, you will take Me to your leper friends...»
« Really, Master? Then, if You do not mind, I will run ahead, to gather them... You will reach me. You know where they are...»
« All right, go. The others can do what they like. You are all free until Wednesday morning. At the third hour everybody is to be at the Golden Gate. »
« I am coming with You, Master » says John.
« Also I » says his brother James.
« And we, too » say the two cousins.
« I will come, too » says Matthew, and Andrew after him.
« And I? I would like to come, too... but if I go to do the shopping, I cannot come...» says Peter, pressed by two desires.
« It can be done. We shall go to the lepers first, while My Mother with the boy goes to the house of a friend in Ophel. We will reach Her later and you will go with Her, while the others and I go to Johanna's. We will meet at Gethsemane for our meal and towards sunset we will come back here. »
« If You allow me, I will go to see some friends...» says Judas Iscariot.
« I have already told you. Do what you like. »
« In that case, I will go to my relatives. Perhaps my father has already come. If he is there, I will bring him to see You » says Thomas.
« What about us two? What do you say, Philip? We could go and see Samuel. »
« Very good » Philip replies to Bartholomew.
« And what about you, John? » Jesus asks the man of Endor. « Do you prefer to remain here and sort out your books, or do you wish to come with Me? »
« Really, I would prefer to come with You... My books... I am already less fond of them. I prefer to read You, the Living Book. »
« Come, then. Goodbye, Lazarus...»
« I will come, too. My legs are a little better, and after we have seen the lepers, I will leave You and go to Gethsemane and wait for You there. »
« Let us go. Peace to you, women. »
They remain all together until they are near Jerusalem. Then they part, the Iscariot goes on his own and enters the town probably through the Gate near the Antonia Tower; Thomas, Philip and Nathanael walk for about ten more yards with Jesus and their companions and then enter the town through the suburb of Ophel, together with Mary and the boy.
« And now, let us go and see those unhappy people! » says Jesus, and turning His back to the town He goes towards a desolate place on the slope of a rocky hill which lies between the two roads from Jericho to Jerusalem. A strange place, similar to a flight of steps after the first slope, up which climbs a path, so that there is a drop of at least three yards from the first terrace to the path, and the same from the second one. It is an arid, dead... extremely sad place.
« Master » shouts Simon the Zealot I am here. Stop where You are, that I may show You the way...» and the Zealot, who was leaning against a rock to be in the shade, comes forward and leads Jesus up the steps of a path leading towards Gethsemane, but separated from it by the road that from the Mount of Olives goes to Bethany.
« Here we are. I lived among the tombs of Siloam and my friends are here. Some of them. The others are at Ben Hinnom, but cannot come... They would have to cross the road and would be seen. »
« We shall go also to them. »
« Thank You! On their part and mine. »
« Are they many? »
« Winter has killed most of them. But here there are still five of those to whom I had spoken. They are waiting for You. There they are, on the edge of their prison...»
There are probably ten monsters. I say « probably », because if five, who are standing up, are clearly visible, the others, because of the greyish hue of their skin, the deformity of their faces and the fact that they hardly protrude from the stone barrier, cannot be counted accurately and they may be more than five or less. Among those standing up there is only one woman. One can tell only by her white dishevelled hair hanging coarse and dirty over her shoulders down to her waist. There is no other sign by which one could tell her sex, because the disease, which is in an advanced stage, has reduced her to a skeleton, destroying all feminine forms. Likewise among the men, only one still has traces of moustaches and beard. All the others have been depilated by the destructive disease.
They shout: « Jesus, our Saviour, have mercy on us! » and they stretch out their deformed or ulcerated hands. « Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us! »
« What do you want Me to do for you? » asks Jesus looking towards their misery.
« We want You to save us from sin and from this disease. »
« Your will and repentance will save you from sin...»
« But if You wish, You can cancel our sins. At least those, if You do not want to cure our bodies. »
« If I say to You: “Choose either one or the other”, which one would you prefer? »
« God's forgiveness, Lord. To be less desolate. »
Jesus has a gesture of approval. He smiles brightly, raises His arms and shouts: « Let it be granted. I want it. »
Granted! The grace might be granted for their sins, or for their disease, or for both, and the five unhappy people remain uncertain. But the apostles have no uncertainty and they can but shout their hosannas when they see the leprosy disappear as fast as a flake of snow that falls on a fire. The five then understand that the full grace has been granted to them. Their shouting resounds like a cry of victory. They embrace one another and throw kisses at Jesus, as they cannot prostrate themselves at His feet. They then turn to their companions saying: « And you still refuse to believe? What miserable wretches are you? »
« Good! Be good! Your poor brothers need time to think. Say nothing to them. Faith is not imposed, it is preached with peace, kindness, patience and perseverance. That is what you will do after your purification, exactly as Simon did with you. After all, the miracle preaches by itself. You who have been cured, will go to the priest as soon as possible. You, who are still ill, wait for us this evening. We will bring you some food. Peace be with you. »
Jesus descends again on to the road followed by the blessings of everybody.
« And now let us go to Ben Hinnom » says Jesus.
« Master... I would like to come. But I realise that I cannot. I will go to Gethsemane » says Lazarus.
« Go, Lazarus. Peace be with you. »
While Lazarus is slowly walking away, the apostle John says: « Master, I will go with him. He walks with difficulty and the road is not very good. I will join You later at Ben Hinnom. »
« Yes, you may go. Let us go. »
They cross the Kidron, walk along the southern side of Mount Tophet and enter the little valley completely strewn with tombs and filth. There is not one tree or any shade from the sun, which blazes down on this southern side heating the stones of these new hellish terraces where the stinking smell of burning rubbish increases the heat. And inside the sepulchres, similar to crematoria, there are poor bodies, which are wasting away... Siloam may be unpleasant in winter, damp as it is and facing north, but this place must be dreadful in summer...
Simon Zealot lets out a shout calling them, and first three lepers, then two, then one, and another one come, as best they can, to the prescribed limit. There are two women here, and one of them is holding by the hand a horrible looking boy whose face is particularly affected by leprosy. He is already blind... And there is a noble looking man, notwithstanding his miserable state. He speaks on behalf of everybody: « Blessed be the Messiah of the Lord, Who has come down to our Gehenna, to free from it those who hope in Him. Save us, o Lord, because we are perishing! Save us, Saviour! King of the House of David, King of Israel, have mercy on Your subjects. Oh! Shoot of the stock of Jesse, of Whom it is said that in Your time there will be no evil, stretch out Your hand and pick up the remains of Your people. Cast away this death from us, wipe our tears, because that is what is said of You. Call us, Lord, to Your delicious pastures, to Your fresh waters, for we are thirsty. Lead us to the eternal hills where there is no sin or sorrow. Have mercy, Lord...»
« Who are you? »
« John, one of the Temple. I was probably infected by a leper. As You can see, I caught the disease only recently. But these!... Some of them have been awaiting death for years, and this little girl came here even before she could walk. She does not know what is the creation of God. What she knows or what she remembers of the wonders of God are these tombs, this merciless sun and the stars at night. Have mercy on the guilty and the innocent ones, o Lord, our Saviour. » They have all knelt down stretching out their hands.
Jesus weeps at so much misery. He then opens His arms shouting: « Father, I want it: health, life, sight and salvation for them. » He remains with His arms stretched out praying intensely with all His spirit. He seems to become thinner and to rise in prayer, a flame of love, white and powerful in the powerful gold of the sun.
« Mummy, I can see! » is the first cry, which is answered by the shout of the mother who clasps her cured little girl to her heart; then the shouts of the others and of the apostles... The miracle has been worked.
« John, as you are a priest, you will lead your companions in the rite. Peace be with you. Towards evening we shall bring some food also to you. » He blesses and is about to go away.
But John, the leper, shouts: « I want to follow Your steps. Tell me what I must do, where I must go to preach You! »
« In this desolate barren land, which must turn to the Lord. Let the town of Jerusalem be your field. Goodbye. »
« And now let us go to My Mother » He says to the apostles. « But where is She? » ask many of them.
« In a house known to John. In the house of the girl who was cured last year. »
They enter the town, covering a good deal of the thickly populated suburb of Ophel until they reach a little white house.
With His usual kind salutation He enters the house, the door of which is half open and one can hear the sweet voice of Mary, the silvery voice of Annaleah and the thick voice of her mother. The girl prostrates herself adoring and her mother kneels down. Mary stands up.
They would like to keep the Master with His Mother. But Jesus promises to go back some other day, He blesses them and says goodbye. Peter goes away with Mary and is very happy. They are both holding the boy by his hands and they look like a happy family. Many people turn round to look at them. Jesus watches them go away smiling.
« Simon is happy! » exclaims the Zealot.
« Why are You smiling, Master? » asks James of Zebedee. « Because I see a great promise in that group. »
« Which promise, Brother? What do You see? » asks Thaddeus.
« This is what I see: that I shall be able to go away with a peaceful mind, when the time comes. I need not be afraid for My Church. Then it will be small and slender like Marjiam. But My Mother will be there to hold it by the hand and to be its Mother; and there will be Peter as its father. In his honest rough hands I can place the hand of My dawning Church without any worry. He will give it the strength of his protection. My Mother the strength of Her love. And the Church will grow... like Marjiam... He is really the symbol-child! May God bless My Mother, My Peter and their child and ours! Now let us go to Johanna's. »
7... And once again, in the evening, we are in the little house in Bethany. Many have already withdrawn, because they were tired. Peter is walking up and down the path, often looking up to the terrace where Jesus and Mary are sitting talking. John of Endor, instead, is speaking to the Zealot sitting under a pomegranate-tree in full blossom.
Mary has already spoken a great deal because I can hear Jesus say: « Everything You told Me is just and I will bear in mind its justice. And I say that also Your advice concerning Annaleah is right. It is a good sign that the man has accepted it so readily. It is true that the people high up in Jerusalem are dull-minded and envious, I could also say that they are filthy. But in the humble people there are pearls of unknown value. I am glad that Annaleah is happy. She belongs more to Heaven than to the earth, and perhaps the man, who has now understood the concept of the spirit, realises that and he respects her almost religiously. His intention to go elsewhere, so that no human sentiment may upset the pure vow of his girl, proves it. »
« Yes, My Son. Man perceives the perfume of virgins... I remember Joseph. I did not know which words to use. He was not aware of My secret... And yet he helped Me to disclose it with the intuition of a saint. He had perceived the scent of My soul... Also John, see?... How peaceful he is! And everybody seeks him. Even Judas of Kerioth, although... No, Son. Judas has not changed. I know and You know. We do not speak because we do not want to start war. But even if we do not speak, we know... and even if we do not speak, the others realise... Oh! My Jesus! The younger apostles told Me today, at Gethsemane, the episode at Magdala and the other one of Sabbath morning... Innocent children speak... because they see through the eyes of their angels. But also old people have an idea... They are not wrong. He is an elusive being... Everything is elusive in him... and I am afraid of him and I have on My lips the same words of Benjamin at Magdala and of Marjiam at Gethsemane, because I feel the same disgust for Judas as children do. »
« Not everybody can be John!...»
« I do not pretend that! In that case, it would be paradise on the earth. But, see, You told Me about the other John... A man who killed... but I feel only sorry for him. Judas frightens Me. »
« Love him, Mother! Love him, for My sake! »
« Yes, Son, I will. But not even My love will serve. It will only make Me suffer and make him guilty. Oh! Why did he come to You? He upsets everybody, he offends Peter who deserves all respect. »
« Yes. Peter is very good. I would do anything for him, because he deserves it. »
« If he heard You, he would say with his good frank smile: “Ah! My Lord, that is not true!” And he would be right. »
« Why, Mother? » But Jesus smiles, because He has already understood.
« Because You are not satisfying him by giving him a son. He told Me all his hopes, his desires... and Your refusals. »
« And did he not tell You the reasons justifying them? »
« Yes, he did and he added: “It is true... but I am a man, a poor man. Jesus persists in seeing a great man in me. But I know that I am a poor fellow, and so... he could give me a child. I got married to have them... and I will die without any.” And he said – pointing at the boy who, delighted because of the lovely dress bought by Peter, had kissed him, saying: “Beloved father” – he said: “See, when this little creature, whom only ten days ago I did not know, says that to me, I feel that I become softer than butter and sweeter than honey and I weep, because... every day that goes by, takes this child away from me.” »
Mary becomes silent, watching Jesus, studying His face, waiting for a word... But Jesus has placed His elbow on His knee, resting His head in His hand and is silent, looking at the green expanse of the orchard.
Mary takes His hand and caressing it She says: « Simon has this great desire... When I went with him, he did nothing but speak to Me about it, and his reasons are so good that... I could say nothing to keep him quiet. They are the same reasons that all women and mothers think of. The boy is not strong. If he were as strong as You were... oh! he could have faced the life of a disciple without any fear. But he is so thin!... He is very intelligent, very good... but nothing more. When a little dove is so delicate, you cannot throw it in the air to let it fly very early, as you do with strong ones. The shepherds are good... but they are still men. Children need women. Why do You not leave him with Simon? While You refuse him a son of his own, born of him, I understand the reason. A son is like an anchor. And Simon, who is destined to such a great task, cannot be hindered by anchors. But You must agree that he is to be the “father” of all the sons You will be leaving him. How can he be a father if he has had no training with a child? A father must be sweet. Simon is good, but not sweet. He is impulsive and intolerant. Only a little creature can teach him the fine art of being indulgent to whoever is weak... Consider Simon's destiny... He is Your successor after all! Oh! I must say that cruel word! But for all the sorrow it causes Me saying it, listen to Me. I would never advise You anything unless it were good. Marjiam... You want to make a perfect disciple of him... But he is only a boy. You... You will be going before he is a man. To whom then can You give him, to complete his formation, better than Simon? Finally, poor Simon, You know how much trouble he has had, with his mother-in-law, also because of You. And yet he has not picked up a tiny part of his past, of his freedom of a year ago, to be left in peace by his mother-in-law, whom not even You have been able to change. And his poor wife? She is longing so much to love and be loved. Her mother... oh! Her husband? A dear domineering man... No affection is ever given to her without exacting too much... Poor woman!... Leave her the boy. Listen, Son. For the time being we will take him with us. I will come to Judaea, too. You will take Me to one of My companions of the Temple, who is almost a relative, because she is of the House of David. She lives at Bethzur. I will be pleased to see her, if she is still alive. Then, when we go back to Galilee, we will give him to Porphirea. When we are near Bethsaida, Peter will take him. When we come here, so far, the boy will stay with her. Ah! You are smiling now! So You are going to please Your Mother. Thank You, My Jesus. »
« Yes, let it be done, as You wish. » Jesus stands up and calls out loud: « Simon of Jonas: come here. »
Peter starts and rushes down the steps. « What do You want, Master? »
« Come here, you usurper and corrupter! »
« Me? Why? What have I done, Lord? »
« You have corrupted My Mother. That is why you wanted to be alone. What shall I do with you? »
But Jesus smiles and Peter recovers confidence. « Oh! » he says. « You really frightened me! But now You are laughing... What do You want from me, Master? My life? I have but that, because You have taken everything... But if You want, I will give it to You. »
I do not want to take anything from you. I want to give you something. But do not take advantage of your victory and do not disclose the secret to the others, you most artful fellow who defeats the Master by means of the weapon of His Mother's word. You will have the boy, but...»
Jesus can say no more, because Peter, who had knelt down, bounces to his feet and kisses the Master with such delight that he makes the words die on His lips.
« Thank Her, not Me. But remember that this must be of assistance to you, and not an impediment...»
« My Lord, You will not have to repent of the gift... Oh! Mary! May You be always blessed, You holy and good...» And Peter, who has fallen on his knees again, weeps, kissing Mary's hand...