29th June 1945.
In the peace of the Sabbath Jesus rests near a flax field in bloom belonging to Lazarus. Rather than « near » I should say that He is immersed in the tall flax, and sitting on the edge of a furrow He is engrossed in thought. Only an odd silent butterfly flutters near Him or a lizard rustles nearby, looking at Him with its jet-black eyes, raising its little triangular head with its light throbbing throat. There is nothing else. In the late afternoon also the least sigh of wind has become silent among the tall stalks.
From far away, perhaps from Lazarus' garden, the song of a woman can be heard and the joyful shouting of the boy who is playing with someone. Then one, two, three voices call: « Master! Jesus! »
Jesus rouses Himself and stands up. Although the fully grown flax is very tall, Jesus emerges a good height above the blue-green sea.
« There He is, John! » shouts the Zealot.
And John in turn calls: « Mother! The Master is here, in the flax field. »
And while Jesus approaches the path leading to the houses, Mary arrives.
« What do You want, Mother? »
« My Son, some Gentiles have come with some ladies. They say that they heard from Johanna that You were here. They also said that they have been waiting for You all these past days near the Antonia... »
« Ah! I know! I will come at once. Where are they? »
« At Lazarus' house, in his garden. He is loved by the Romans and does not feel the repugnance towards them that we do. He let them go into the large garden with their carts, so that no one would be scandalised... »
« All right, Mother. They are Roman soldiers and ladies. I know. »
« And what do they want from You? »
« What many in Israel do not want: light. »
« But how and what do they believe You are? God perhaps? »
« Yes, in their way of thinking. It is easier for them to accept the idea of the incarnation of a god in mortal flesh, than it is for us. »
« So they believe in Your faith... »
« Not yet, Mother. I must destroy theirs, first. For the time being they consider Me a wise man, a philosopher, as they say. But both their desire to become acquainted with philosophical doctrines and their inclination to believe the incarnation of a god as possible, are of great help to Me in leading them to the true Faith. Believe Me, they are more ingenuous in their way of thinking, than many Israelites. »
« But are they sincere? It is rumoured that the Baptist... »
« No. Had it been for them, John would be free and safe. Nonrebellious people are left in peace. On the contrary I can assure You that for them to be a prophet – they say a philosopher because the loftiness of supernatural wisdom is still philosophy to them – is a guarantee of respect. Do not worry, Mother. No harm will come to Me from that end... »
« But the Pharisees... if they find out, what will they say about Lazarus also? You are You... and You are to bring the Word to the world. But Lazarus!... They already offend him so much... »
« But they cannot touch him. They know that he is protected by Rome. »
« I leave You, Son. Here is Maximinus, he will take You to the Gentiles » and Mary, Who had walked beside Jesus all the time, withdraws quickly, and goes towards the Zealot's house. Jesus on the other hand goes through a little iron door in the garden wall, into a distant part of the garden, where it actually becomes an orchard and precisely near the place where Lazarus will be buried later.
Lazarus also is there, but no one else. « Master, I took the liberty of giving them hospitality... »
« You did the right thing. Where are they? »
« Over there, in the shade of the boxes and laurels. As You can see they are at least five hundred steps from the house. »
« That is all right... May Light come to you all. »
« Hail, Master! » greets Quintilian, who is wearing civilian clothes.
The ladies stand up to greet Jesus. They are Plautina, Valeria and Lydia; there is also another elderly woman, but I do not know who she is or whether she is of the same rank as the others. They are all wearing very plain clothes without any sign of distinction.
« We were anxious to hear You, but You never came. I was on duty when You arrived. But I never saw You. »
« Neither have I seen at the Gate of the Fish a soldier, who was a friend of Mine. His name was Alexander... »
« Alexander? I am not sure whether he is the one I am thinking of. I know that some time ago, in order to calm the Jews, we had to remove a soldier who was guilty of... speaking to You. He is now at Antioch. But perhaps he will come here again. How boring they are... they want to rule even now that they are subject! One has to be clever to avoid greater trouble... They make life difficult for us, believe me... But You are good and wise. Will You speak to us? I may be leaving Palestine soon, and I would like to have something to remind me of You. »
« Yes, I will speak to you. I never disappoint anyone. What do you wish to know? »
Quintilian looks at the ladies inquisitively.
« Whatever You wish, Master » says Valeria.
Plautina stands up again and says: « I have been thinking a lot... there is so much I would like to know... everything, to be able to judge. But if I may ask, I would like to know how can a faith, Yours, for instance, be built on a ground which You said is devoid of true faith. You said that our beliefs are vain. So we have nothing. How can we achieve something? »
« I will take as an example something that you have. Your temples. Your really beautiful sacred buildings, the only imperfection of which is that they are dedicated to Nothing, can teach you how one can achieve faith and where to place it. Watch. Where are they built? Which place, if at all possible, is chosen for them? How are they built? The place is generally spacious, open and elevated. And when it is not spacious and open, it is made so by demolishing what encumbers and obstructs it. If it is not elevated, they increase its height by means of a stereobate more elevated than the normal three steps employed for temples placed on a natural elevation. They are generally surrounded by a sacred enclosure, formed by colonnades and porches inside which are enclosed the trees sacred to the gods, fountains and altars, statues and stelae and are usually preceded by a propylaeum beyond which is the altar where prayers to the deity are said. In front of it there is the place for the sacrifice, because the sacrifice precedes the prayer. Very often, and particularly in the more magnificent ones, a peristyle encircles them with a garland of precious marbles. Inside there is the front vestibule, outside or inside the peristyle, the cell of the deity and the rear vestibule. Marbles, statues, pediments, acroteria and gables, all polished, precious and decorated, make the temple a most noble building also for the coarsest sight. Is it not so? »
« Yes, it is, Master. You have seen and studied them very well » confirms Plautina praising Jesus.
« But we know that He never left Palestine!? » exclaims Quintilian.
« I never left Palestine to go to Rome or Athens. But I am acquainted with Greek and Roman architecture and I was present when the genius of man decorated the Parthenon because I am wherever there is life or a manifestation of life. Wherever a wise man meditates, a sculptor sculptures, a poet writes, a mother sings over a cradle, a man toils in fields, a doctor fights diseases, a living being breathes, an animal lives, a tree vegetates, I am there together with Him from Whom I come. In the rumble of the earthquake or in the peal of thunder, in the light of stars or in flood-tide and ebb-tide, in the flight of eagles or in the buzzing of mosquitoes, I am there with the Most High Creator. »
« So... You... You know everything. Both thoughts and deeds of men? » asks Quintilian again.
« Yes, I do. »
The Romans look at one another amazed. There is a long silence then Valeria timidly begs: « Expand on Your idea, Master, so that we may know what to do. »
« Yes. Faith is built as they build the temples of which you are so proud. They make space for the temple, they free it from obstructions, they elevate it. »
« But where is the temple in which one should put faith, the true deity? » asks Plautina.
« Faith, Plautina, is not a deity. It is a virtue. There are no deities in true faith. There is only One and True God. »
« So... He is up there, in His Olympus, all by Himself? And what does He do if He is alone? »
« He is Self-sufficient and takes care of everything in creation. I have just told you that God is present also in the buzzing of a mosquito. He does not get bored, do not worry. He is not a poor man, the master of an immense empire in which he feels he is hated and lives trembling with fear. He is Love and lives loving. His Life is continuous Love. He is Self-sufficient because He is infinite and most powerful, He is Perfection. So numerous are the things created that live because of His continuous will, that He has no time to grow weary. Tedium is the fruit of idleness and vice. In the Heaven of the True God there is neither idleness nor vice. Soon, in addition to angels which now serve Him, He will have a great crowd of just people rejoicing in Him and the crowd will grow greater and greater with the future believers in the True God. »
« Are the angels genii? » asks Lydia.
« No, they are spiritual beings like God Who created them. »
« What are genii, then? »
« As you imagine them, they are falsehood. They do not exist, as you imagine them. But owing to the instinctive need of men to search for the truth, you also have realised that man is not only flesh and that there is something immortal in his perishable body. And that is the consequence of the incentive of the soul, which is alive and present also in heathens, and suffers in them, as it is disappointed in its desires, because it is famished longing for the True God Whom it remembers, in the body in which it dwells and which is guided by a pagan mind. And the same applies to towns and nations. And thus you believe, you feel the need to believe in “genii.” And thus you give yourselves an individual genius, a family, a town, a national genius. You have the “genius of Rome”, the “genius of the emperor.” And you worship them as lesser deities. Come to the true faith. You will become acquainted and friendly with your angel, whom you will venerate, but not worship. Only God is worshipped. »
« You said: “Incentive of the soul which is alive and present also in heathens, and suffers in them because it is disappointed.” But from whom does the soul come? » asks Publius Quintilian.
« From God. He is the Creator. »
« But are we not born of woman through union with man? Also our gods are born thus. »
« Your gods do not exist. They are phantoms of your mind which needs to believe. Because such need is more peremptory than the need to breathe. Also he, who says he does not believe, does believe. He believes in something. The simple statement: “I do not believe in God” presupposes another faith. In oneself, perhaps, or in one's proud mind. But one always believes. It is like thinking. If you say: “I do not want to think”, or: “I do not believe in God”, by those two simple sentences you prove that you are thinking: that you do not want to believe in Him Whom you know to exist and that you do not want to think. With regard to man, to express the concept correctly you must say: “Man, like all animals, is born through the union of male and female. But the soul, that is the thing which distinguishes the animal-man from the animal-brute, comes from God. He creates it as and when a man is procreated, or rather: when he is conceived in a womb and He infuses it in the body which otherwise would be only animal.” »
« And have we got it? We pagans? According to Your fellow-countrymen it would not appear to be so... » says Quintilian ironically.
« Every man born of woman has it. »
« But You said that sin kills it. If so, how can it be alive in us sinners? » asks Plautina.
« You do not sin against faith, because you believe that you are in the Truth. When you become acquainted with the Truth and you persist in your error, then you will commit sin. Likewise, many things which are sinful for Israelites, are not so for you. Because no divine law forbids you. One sins when one consciously rebels against the order given by God and says: “I know that what I am doing is wrong. But I want to do it just the same.” God is just. He cannot punish one who does the wrong thing thinking that he is doing the right one. He punishes those, who being able to tell Good from Evil, choose the latter and persist in it. »
« So we have a soul and it is alive and present in us? »
« Yes, it is so. »
« And it suffers? Do You really think that it remembers God? We do not remember the womb that bore us. We could not tell what its inside was like. If I have understood You correctly, the soul is spiritually born of God. Can it possibly remember Him if our body does not remember the long time it was in a womb? »
« The soul is not material, Plautina. An embryo is. In fact the soul is infused when the foetus is already formed (1). The soul is, like God, eternal and spiritual. It is eternal from the moment it is created, whereas God is the Most Perfect Eternal Being and thus has no beginning in time and will have no end. The soul, the lucid, intelligent, spiritual work of God, does remember. And it suffers, because it longs for God, the True God, from Whom it comes, and it hungers for God. That is why it spurs the torpid body to endeavour to approach God. »
(1) Jesus' intent in speaking to the Roman ladies is not to specify the moment of the infusion of the soul into a body, but to prove the existence of the soul, its spiritual nature and divine origin, as opposed to the material nature and human origin of the body, and to clarify that He states that the soul is infused into the embryo when the latter is sufficiently formed to receive the soul, that lucid an intelligent as it is, has flashes of remembrance of its origin from God before being infused into a body.
« So we have a soul as those whom you call “the just people” of your nation have? Exactly the same? »
« No, Plautina. It depends on what you mean. If you mean according to its origin and nature, it is exactly the same as the souls of our saints. But if you refer to its formation, then I say that it is different. And if you mean according to the perfection reached before death, then it may be completely different. But that does not apply only to you heathens. Also a son of our people can be completely different from a saint, in future life. A soul is subjected to three phases. The first is creation. The second a new creation. The third is perfection. The first is common to all men. The second is peculiar to just people who through their will elevate their souls to a more complete revival, joining their good deeds to the perfection of God's work, whereby their souls are spiritually more perfect and form a connection link between the first and third ones. The third is peculiar to the blessed souls, or saints, if you prefer so, who have exceeded by a thousand degrees the initial stage of their souls, a stage suitable to man, and have transformed them into something suitable to rest in God. »
« How can we make room, clearance and elevation for our souls? »
« By demolishing the useless things you have in your “ego.” Clear it of all wrong knowledge, and with the debris make the elevation for the sovereign temple. A soul is to be carried higher and higher, on the three steps. Oh! you Romans love symbols. Look at the three steps in a symbolic light. They can tell you their names: penance, patience, perseverance. Or: humility, purity, justice. Or: wisdom, generosity, mercy. Or, finally, the splendid trinomial: faith, hope, charity. Look also at the symbol of the ornate strong enclosure which encircles the area of the temple. You must surround your soul, the queen of the body, the temple of the Eternal Spirit, with a barrier which may protect it without obstructing light or oppressing it with ugly sights. An enclosure which must be safe and free from the love and desire of what is inferior: flesh and blood, and must aim at what is superior: the spirit. The chisel of freedom is your will power, which will smooth comers, and remove clefts, stains and flaws in the marble of your ego, so that it may be perfect round your souls. And at the same time, the enclosure protecting the temple is to be used by you as a merciful shelter for the more unhappy people who do not know what Charity is. The porches: they are the effusion of love, of piety, of your desire that more people may come to God, and are like the loving arms stretched like a veil over the cradle of an orphan. And beyond the enclosure: the most beautiful and most scented trees are a homage to the Creator. The trees, planted on a soil previously barren and subsequently cultivated symbolise all kinds of virtues and form the second living flowery enclosure around the sanctuary; and among the trees, that is among the virtues, there are the fountains, a further effusion of love and another purification before approaching the propylaeum near which one must sacrifice one's carnality and repudiate all forms of lust before ascending the altar. And then you may proceed further, to the altar and lay your offer on it and finally, crossing the vestibule, you may approach the cell, where God is. And what will the cell be like? Abundance of spiritual wealth, because you can never adorn God too much. Have you understood? You asked Me how Faith is built. I said to You: “Following the method employed to build temples.” You can see that it is true.
Is there anything else you wish to ask Me? »
« No, Master. I think that Flavia has written what You said. Claudia wants to know. Have you written everything? »
« I have written everything most accurately » replies the woman handing over the waxed tablets.
« The wax will last and it will be possible to read them. »
« It is wax. It is easily cancelled. Write everything in your hearts. It will never cancel. »
« Master, they are encumbered with vain temples. We are throwing Your words against them to demolish them. But it is a long task » says Plautina sighing. And she concludes: « Remember us in Your Heaven... »
« You may rest assured that I will. I leave you. I want you to know that your visit has been very dear to Me. Goodbye, Publius Quintilian. Remember Jesus of Nazareth. »
The ladies say goodbye and are the first to go away. Then Quintilian, who is somewhat pensive, leaves. Jesus watches them go away with Maximinus who leads them back to their wagons.
« What are You thinking of, Master? » asks Lazarus.
« That there are many unhappy people in the world. »
« And I am one of them. »
« Why, My dear friend? »
« Because everybody comes to You, except Mary. Is she the greatest ruin? »
Jesus looks at him and smiles.
« You are smiling? Are You not sorry that Mary cannot be converted? Are You not sorry that I am suffering? Martha has done nothing but weep since Monday evening. Who was that woman? Don't You know that for the whole day we hoped it was she? »
« I am smiling because you are an impatient child... And I am smiling because I think that you are wasting energy and tears. Had it been she, I would have rushed to tell you. »
« So it was not she? »
« Oh! Lazarus!... »
« You are right. Patience! Still patience!... Master, here are the jewels that You gave me to sell. They have become money for the poor. They were beautiful. Ladies' jewels. »
« They belonged to “that” woman. »
« I thought so. Ah! Had they been Mary's... But she!... I am losing hope, my Lord!... »
Jesus embraces him without speaking for a little while. He then says: « Please do not mention those jewels to anybody. She must disappear, without being admired or desired any longer, like a cloud driven elsewhere by the wind, without leaving any trace in the blue sky. »
« You may be sure, Master... and, in exchange, bring me Mary, our unhappy Mary... »
« Peace be with you, Lazarus. I will keep My promise. »