3rd August 1945.
When the boat moors in the little harbour of Tiberias, many idlers walking near the little pier come to see who has arrived. There are people of all ranks and nationalities. Thus the long many-coloured Jewish tunics, the dark heads and imposing beards of Israelities mix with the short, sleeveless, white woollen garments and the clean shaven short-haired heads of sturdy Romans and with the even scantier garments covering the agile effeminate bodies of Greeks. The latter seem to have absorbed the skillful art of their remote fatherland even in posing, and look like statues of gods descended upon the earth in mortal bodies, enveloped as they are in white tunics, with classic faces adorned with curly scented hair and arms laden with bracelets, which their affected movements cause to shine.
Many women of pleasure are mingled with the Romans and Greeks, who do not hesitate to show their love affairs in squares and streets, whereas Palestinians refrain from this, although many gaily indulge in free love with ladies of leisure at home. This clearly appears to be the case because courtesans call several Jews familiarly by their names, among them being a Pharisee adorned with ribbons, notwithstanding the fact that the Jews give the women ugly looks.
Jesus moves towards that part of the town where the more elegant people gather together. These people are mainly Romans and Greeks with a few courtiers of Herod's and some rich merchants from the Phoenician coast, presumably from Sidon and Tyre, as they are talking of those towns and emporia and ships. The external porches of the Thermal baths are full of such elegant idle people who kill time discussing petty topics, such as the favourite discobolus or the most agile and smartest athlete in Graeco-Roman wrestling. Or they chatter of fashion and banquets and make appointments for pleasure trips inviting to them the most beautiful courtesans or the perfumed curly-haired ladies who come out from the Thermal baths or other buildings, pouring into this hall-like artistic marmoreal centre of Tiberias.
The passing group is bound to rouse intense curiosity that becomes really morbid when someone recognises Jesus, having seen Him at Caesarea and there is also someone who recognises the Magdalene although she is completely enveloped in her mantle, with her veil lowered over her forehead and cheeks, so that little of her face can be seen, as she is walking with her head bent.
« It's the Nazarene Who cured Valeria's daughter » says a Roman.
« I would love to see a miracle » another Roman replies to him.
« I would like to hear Him speak. They say He is a great philosopher. Shall we ask Him to speak? » asks a Greek.
« Don't interfere, Theodate. His head is in the clouds and He talks accordingly. A tragedian would like Him for a satire » replies another Greek.
« Don't become impatient, Aristobolus. He is apparently descending from the clouds and is discussing sound arguments. See how many lovely young women He has got with Him » exclaims a Roman jokingly.
« But that is Mary of Magdala! » shouts a Greek, who then calls: « Lucius! Cornelius! Titus! Look: Mary is over there! »
« It's not her! Mary like that? Are you drunk? »
« It is Mary, I am telling you. She cannot deceive me, even if she is so disguised. »
Romans and Greeks crowd round the apostolic group, which is crossing the square adorned with arcades and fountains. Some women join the curious men and it is a woman who goes almost under Mary's face to see her properly and is dumbfounded when she sees that it is Mary.
She asks her: « What are you doing in this guise? » and laughs mockingly.
Mary stops, straightens herself, raises one hand and uncovers her face throwing her veil back. It is Mary of Magdala, the powerful lady against whatever is despicable and mistress of her own feelings, who appears. « It is I, yes » she says in her beautiful voice while her beautiful eyes are flashing. « It is I. And I am revealing myself, so that you may not think that I am ashamed of being with these holy people. »
« Oh! Mary with holy people! Come away. Do not degrade yourself! » exclaims the woman.
« I have been degraded up till now. But not now. »
« Are you mad? Or is it a whim? » she replies.
A Roman winking and joking says: « Come with me. I am more handsome and merrier than that moustached hired mourner who mortifies life and makes a funeral of it. Life is beautiful! A triumph. A joyful orgy! Come. I will excell everybody in making you happy » and the swarthy young man whose foxlike face is rather handsome, endeavours to touch her.
« Go away! Don't touch me. You spoke the truth: the life you lead is an orgy. And a most shameful one. I loathe it. »
« Oh! But up till recently it was your kind of life » replies the Greek.
« She is playing the virgin now! » sneers a Herodian.
« You will ruin those holy people! The Nazarene will lose His halo with you. Come with us » insists a Roman.
« You had better come with me and follow Him. Stop being animals and become at least men. »
A chorus of laughter and mockery is their reply.
Only an elderly Roman says: « Respect the woman. She is free to do what she likes. I will defend her. »
« Listen to the demagogue! Did last night's wine upset you? » asks a young man.
« No. He is hypochondriac because his back is aching » replies another.
« Go to the Nazarene and ask Him to scratch it for you. »
« I will go and ask Him to scratch off the filth I picked up being with you » replies the elder.
« Oh! Crispus has become corrupt at the age of sixty » say many laughing, while they form a circle round him.
But the man named Crispus is not worried at being scorned and he begins to walk behind the Magdalene and they reach Jesus Who has stopped in the shade of a beautiful building which occupies two sides of the square with porticoes and benches.
And Jesus has already come to grips with a scribe who reproaches Him for being in Tiberias with such company.
« And why are you here? So far with regard to Tiberias. And I tell you also that there are souls to be saved in Tiberias as well, nay, more here than anywhere else » replies Jesus.
« They cannot be saved: they are Gentiles, heathens, sinners. »
« I came for sinners. To make the True God known to everybody. To everybody. I came also for you. »
« I do not need masters or redeemers. I am pure and learned. »
« I wish you were learned enough to understand your own condition! »
« And You to know how prejudicial is to You the company of a prostitute. »
« I forgive you also on her behalf. In her humility she has cancelled her sin. You have doubled yours in your pride. »
« I have no sins. »
« You have the capital one. You are loveless. »
The scribe says: « Raca! » and goes away.
« It is my fault, Master! » says the Magdalene. And seeing the pale face on the Blessed Virgin she moans: « Forgive me. I am causing Your Son to be insulted. I will withdraw... »
« No. You shall stay where you are. I want it » says Jesus in an incisive voice. His eyes flash with majesty and there is such authority emanating from His whole person that it is almost impossible to look at Him! He then adds more kindly: « Stay where you are. If anyone cannot bear being near you, let him go away, by himself. »
And Jesus resumes walking towards the western part of the town.
« Master! » calls the stout elderly Roman who defended the Magdalene.
Jesus turns round.
« They call You Master, and I call You thus as well. I was anxious to hear You speak. I am part philosopher and part worldly sinner. But perhaps You could make an honest person of me. »
Jesus stares at him saying: « I am leaving the town where base human animality reigns and mockery is sovereign. » And He resumes walking.
The man follows Him with difficulty and perspiring, because Jesus is striding and he is bulky and rather old and weighed down by vices. Peter looks back and tells Jesus.
« Let him walk. Do not bother about him. »
Shortly afterwards the Iscariot says: « But that man is following us. It is not right! »
« Why? Out of pity or is there another reason? »
« Pity him? No. Because farther back there is the scribe and other Jews following us. »
« Leave them alone. It would have been better if you had pitied him instead of pitying yourself. »
« You, Master. »
« No: yourself, Judas. Be frank in acknowledging your feelings and confessing them. »
« I really pity the elder as well. It is difficult, You know, to keep up with You! » says Peter perspiring.
« It is always difficult to follow Perfection, Simon. »
The man follows them without tiring, endeavouring to stay near the women, to whom, however, he does not speak.
The Magdalene is weeping silently under her veil.
« Do not weep, Mary » says Our Lady comforting her and taking her by the hand. « Later the world will respect you. The first days are the most painful ones. »
« Oh! It is not for my own sake! It is because of Him! I would never forgive myself if I were the cause of trouble for Him. Did You hear what the scribe said? I am prejudicial to Him. »
« Poor daughter! Do you not know that such words have been hissing around Him like so many snakes long before you thought of coming to Him? Simon told Me that they accused Him of that even last year, because He cured a woman leper, once a sinner, whom He saw only when He worked the miracle and never again, and was older than I am, and I am His Mother. Do you not know that He had to come away from the Clear Water because a poor sister of yours had gone there to be redeemed? How can they accuse Him if He is without sin? By telling lies. And where do they find them? In His mission among men. His good deed is used as evidence of His sin. Whatever My Son should do, they would always consider it a sin. If He retired to a hermitage, He would be guilty of neglecting the people of God. If He comes among the people, He is guilty of doing that. He is always guilty, as far as they are concerned. »
« Then, they are hatefully wicked! »
« No. They are stubbornly blind to the Light. My Jesus is the Eternal Misunderstood One. And He will be more and more so. »
« And does that not grieve You? You seem so serene to me. »
« Be quiet. I feel as if My heart were wrapped in burning thorns. And every time I breathe I am pierced by them. But He must not know! I strive to appear serene, in order to support Him by My serenity. If His Mother does not console Him, where is My Jesus going to find comfort? On which breast can He recline His head without being wounded or calumniated by doing so? It is only fair that I, forgetting the thorns that rend My heart and the tears that I drink in My hours of solitude, should lay a soft loving mantle, a smile, at any cost, to leave Him quieter... quieter, until... until the wave of hatred will be such that nothing will be of any avail. Not even the love of His Mother... » Two tears stream down Mary's pale face.
The two sisters, deeply moved, look at Her. « But we are here and we love Him. Then the apostles... » says Martha to comfort Her.
« Yes, you are here. And He has the apostles... They are still much inferior to their task... And My grief is deeper because I know that He is aware of everything... »
« So He knows that I am willing to obey, even to the extent of immolating myself, if necessary? » asks the Magdalene.
« He does. You are a great joy for Him on His hard way. »
« Oh! Mother! » and the Magdalene takes Mary's hand and kisses it effusively.
Tiberias ends at the vegetable gardens of the suburbs. Beyond them there is the dusty road that leads to Cana; on one side there are orchards, on the other meadows and fields parched by the summer sun.
Jesus proceeds into an orchard to rest in the shade of thick trees. The women reach Him first and then the panting Roman arrives; he is utterly exhausted. He remains a little aside, does not speak, but watches.
« Let us take some food while we are resting » says Jesus. « There is a well over there and a peasant near it. Go and ask him to let us have some water. »
John and Thaddeus go. They come back with a pitcher dripping water, followed by the peasant who offers some wonderful figs.
« May God reward you with good health and a rich harvest. »
« May God protect You. You are the Master, are You not? »
« I am. »
« Will You be speaking here? »
« There is no one here who wants Me to speak. »
« I do, Master. I wish it more that I wish water which is so good when one is thirsty » shouts the Roman.
« Are you thirsty? »
« Yes, very. I have followed You from town. »
« Fountains of cool water are not lacking in Tiberias. »
« Do not misunderstand me, Master, or feign to misinterpret me. I followed You to hear You speak. »
« Why? »
« I do not know why or how. It happened seeing her (and he points at the Magdalene). I do not know. Something said to me: “He will tell you what you do not yet know.” And I came. »
« Give the man some water and figs. That he may refreshen his body. »
« And what about my mind? »
« Minds are refreshened by the Truth. »
« That is why I followed You. I looked for the truth in human knowledge. I found corruption. Even in the best doctrines there is something which is not good. I have become so disheartened that I am disgusted and a disgusting man without any other future but the hour I live. »
Jesus stares at him while eating the bread and figs that the apostles have brought Him.
The meal is soon over.
Jesus, still sitting, begins to speak as if He were just giving a simple lesson to His apostles. Also the peasant remains nearby.
« Many are those who look for the Truth throughout their lives, without reaching it. They look like fools who are anxious to see and yet hold bronze blinkers before their eyes and they grope searching convulsively so that they go farther and farther away from the Truth, or they hide it by throwing on it various things that their foolish search shifts and causes to fall. Nothing but that can happen to them, because they look for the Truth where the Truth cannot be. To find the Truth you must join intellect to love and look at things not only with wise eyes, but with good eyes. Because bounty is worth more than wisdom. He who loves will always find a path leading to the Truth.
To love does not mean to take delight in the flesh or for the flesh. That is not love. It is sensuality. Love is affection from soul to soul, from superior part to superior part, so that man does not see in his companion a slave, but the mother of his children, and nothing else, that is, the half that forms with man a whole, capable of procreating life or more lives; that is, the companion who is the mother and sister and daughter of man, who is weaker than a newborn baby or stronger than a lion, according to circumstances, and who as mother, sister and daughter is to be loved with confident protective respect. Whatever is not what I say, is not love. It is vice. It does not lead upwards, but downwards: not to the Light, but to Darkness; not to the stars, but to filth. You must love your woman to be able to love your neighbour. And you must love your neighbour to know how to love God. And the way to the Truth is found.
That is where the Truth is, o men who are looking for it. The Truth is God. That is where the key to understand knowledge is to be found. The faultless doctrine is God's doctrine. How can man answer all his questions if God is not with him to give him the answers? Who can disclose the mysteries of creation, only and simply those mysteries, but our Supreme Maker, Who made creation? Who can understand the living marvel, which is man, the being in whom the animal perfection is united to the immortal perfection, which is the soul, whereby we are gods, if our souls are alive, that is free from those actions which would abase a brute, and which, however, man commits and of which he is proud?
O men, searching for the Truth, I will repeat Job's words to you: “If you would learn more, ask the cattle, seek information from the birds of the air. The creeping things of the earth will give you lessons, and the fishes of the sea will tell you all.” Yes, the earth, this verdant flowery earth, the fruit swelling on trees, the proliferating birds, the winds blowing clouds, the sun that for centuries and millennia has risen unerringly, everything speaks of God, everything explains God, everything reveals and discovers God.
If Science is not based on God, it becomes error and does not elevate but abases. Knowledge is not corruption if it is religion. He whose knowledge is based on God will not fall, because he is conscious of his dignity and believes in his eternal future. But you must look for the real God, not for phantoms that are not gods, but mere frenzies of men still enveloped in spiritual ignorance so that there is not even the shadow of wisdom in their religions or the shadow of truth in their faith.
Every age is capable of becoming wise. Nay, once again in Job it is written: “At dusk a noonday light will rise for you and when you think your end has come, you will rise like the morning star. You will be full of confidence because of the hope waiting for you.”
Good will is sufficient to find the Truth, which sooner or later will be found. But once it has been found, woe to those who do not follow it, but imitate the obstinate people of Israel, who, although already in possession of the thread to find God, that is, everything written in the Book about Me, will not surrender to the Truth, nay they hate it, amassing in their minds and hearts the barrenness of hatred and formulae. And they do not know that because of excessive weight the earth will open under their steps, which they think are the steps of triumphers, whereas they are the steps of slaves of formalism, of hatred, of selfishness. And they will be swallowed up and will be thrown headlong into the abyss where those go who are consciously guilty of a paganism that is more guilty than the heathenism that people have adopted by themselves in order to have a religion on which to base their behaviour.
As I do not reject those who repent amongst the children of Israel, so I do not reject those idolaters who believe in what they were given to believe and who inwardly implore: “Give us the Truth.”
I have spoken to you. Let us rest now under these green trees, if this man will allow us. We shall go to Cana in the evening. »
« Lord, I am leaving You. But as I do not wish to desecrate the wisdom that You have given me, I will leave Tiberias this evening, I am going away from this country. I will retire to the coast of Lucania with my servant. I have a house there. You have given me much. I realise that You cannot give more to the old Epicurean. But what You have given me is enough to enable me to build up my mind. And... pray Your God for old Crispus. He was Your only listener in Tiberias. Pray that I may hear You again, before Libitina (1) clasps me, so that, through the capability which I think I will be able to create within me, I may understand You and the Truth better. Hail, Master. » And he salutes in the Roman way.
(1) Ancient Roman goddess of sepultures, whose name was used by Latin poets as synonymous with death.
When he passes near the women who are sitting a little aside, he bows to Mary of Magdala and says: « Thank you, Mary. It was a good thing that I knew you. You have given the searched for treasure to your old feast companion. If I arrive where you already are, I will owe you that. Goodbye. » And He goes away.
The Magdalene presses her hands against her heart and her face shows wonder and radiance. Then, she drags herself on her knees before Jesus. « Oh! Lord! So it is true that I may lead people to Good? Oh! My Lord. That is too kind of You! » And bending until her face touches the grass, she kisses Jesus' feet and wets them once again with tears: the tears of gratitude of the great lover of Magdala.