7th August 1945.
We are once again in the synagogue at Nazareth, but on a Sabbath.
Jesus has read the apologue against Abimelech and ends with the words: « “May, fire come from the thorn bush and devour the cedars of Lebanon” ». He then hands the roll to the head of the synagogue.
« Are You not reading the rest? You ought to read it, so that they may understand the apologue » says the head.
« It is not necessary. The days of Abimelech are very remote. I will apply the old apologue to the present time.
Listen, people of Nazareth. You already know the moral of the apologue against Abimelech, as you have been instructed by the head of your synagogue, who in his days was instructed by a rabbi, who had learned from another rabbi and so on for ages, always with the same method and the same conclusions. You will hear a different moral from Me. And I ask you to make use of your intelligence and not to be like the ropes of a well pulley, which, until they are worn out, run from the pulley down to the water, and then from the water back up to the pulley, without ever changing. Man is not a rope or a mechanical device. Man has been gifted with intelligence and must make use of it on his own behalf, according to needs and circumstances. Because if the letter of the word is eternal, circumstances change. Those are poor masters who do not want the trouble or the satisfaction of extracting each time new teachings, that is the spirit that the ancient wise words always contain. They will be like echoes, which can but repeat, even dozens of times, the same word, without ever adding one word of their own.
Mankind – the forest in fact, where all kinds of trees, shrubs and herbs are gathered, represents mankind – feels the need to be led by someone who would take upon himself all the glory and the even greater burden of authority and responsibility for the happiness or unhappiness of his subjects: someone who would be responsible to the subjects, to neighbouring countries, and what is more dreadful, to God. Because it is true that crowns and social pre-eminence, whichever they may be, are granted by men, but they are allowed by God, without Whose condescension no human power can be imposed. Which explains the sudden unimaginable changes of dynasties, which were considered everlasting and of powers which seemed untouchable, and which, when they overstepped the limit in punishing or trying people, were overthrown by the same people, with God's permission, and became nothing but dust or, at times, sewer filth. I said: people feel the need to elect someone who will take upon himself all responsibilities towards his subjects, towards neighbouring nations and towards God, which is the most dreadful of all. Because if the judgement of history is dreadful and the interests of people endeavour in vain to change it, because future events and people will restore it to its original terrible truth, God's justice is even more relentless, because it is not affected by any pressure whatsoever, neither is it subject to changes of humour or opinion, as men too often are, and above all it is not subject to wrong judgement. Those, therefore, who are elected leaders of peoples and makers of history ought to act with the heroic justice of saints, in order not to become ill-famed in future centuries and be punished by God forever.
But let us go back to Abimelech's apologue. So the trees wanted to have a king and went to the olive-tree. But the latter, being a sacred tree and consecrated to supernatural use because of its oil that burns in front of the Lord and is a predominant element in tithes and sacrifices, and forms the holy balm to anoint altars, priests and kings, and for its properties I would say it is almost thaumaturgic and as such is used both on healthy and sick bodies, the olive-tree replies: “How could I fail my holy supernatural vocation to degrade myself in worldly matters?” Oh! How gentle was the reply of the olive tree! Why is it not learned and repeated by all those whom God elects to a holy mission, at least by those? Because in actual fact it should be pronounced by every man as a reply to the suggestions of the demon, because every man is king and a son of God, gifted with a soul, which makes him a regal divine son, called to a supernatural destiny. His soul is an altar and a house. The altar of God, the house where the Heavenly Father descends to receive the love and reverence of His son and subject. Every man has a soul, and as each soul is an altar, every man is thereby a priest, a guardian of the altar and in Leviticus it is written: “The Priest shall not profane himself.” Man, therefore, ought to reply to the temptations of the Demon, of the world and of the flesh: “Can I stop being spiritual and busy myself with material sinful matters? “The trees went then to the fig-tree, inviting it to reign over them. But the fig-tree replied: “How can I forego my sweetness and my excellent fruit to become your king?”
Many apply to a meek and kind man to have him as their king. Not so much because they admire his kindness, but because they hope that by being very kind he will end up by being a king they can make fun of, from whom they can obtain anything they wish and whom they can abuse as they like. But kindness is not weakness. It is goodness. It is just, intelligent, firm. Never mistake kindness for weakness. The former is virtue, the latter a fault. And because it is a virtue it gives those who possess it a righteous conscience, which enables them to resist human solicitations and allurements, aiming at bending them towards worldly interests, which are not the interests of God, remaining faithful to their destiny, at all costs. A kind-minded man will never repel reproaches with bitterness, neither will he ever harshly reject those who ask his help. On the contrary, smiling sympathetically he will always say: “Leave me to my peaceful destiny. I am here to comfort you and help you, but I cannot become king, according to your expectations, because I am interested in one regality only, for the welfare of your soul and mine: spiritual regality.” The trees went to the vine and asked it to be their king. But the vine replied: “How can I forego being mirth and strength to come and reign over you?”
To be king always leads to spiritual gloom, both because of responsibilities and of remorse, because a king who does not commit sin and does not cause himself to feel remorse is more rare than a black diamond. Power allures while it shines from afar like a lighthouse, but when one reaches it, one realises that it is not a star but only the faint light of a firefly. Furthermore, power is but a strength tied with the multitude of ropes of thousands of interests stirred up around a king: the interests of courtiers, of allies, of relatives and personal ones. How many kings swear to themselves while being anointed with oil: “I will be impartial” and later are unable to be so? Like a strong tree, which does not rebel against the first embrace of flexible or thin ivy saying: “It is so slender that it can do me no harm”, on the contrary it is pleased to be decked with it and to be its protector supporting its climbing, so a king, very often, I could say always, yields to the first embrace of the interest of a courtier, of an ally, or a personal one or of a relative, who applies to him and he is pleased to be their munificent protector. “It is such a trifle!” he says, even if his conscience warns him: “Be careful!” And he thinks that it can harm neither his power nor his good name. Also the tree believes that. But the day comes when the ivy, growing in strength and in length, more and more voracious in sucking the lap of the soil and more and more anxious to climb up and conquer the sun and light, embraces, branch after branch, the whole big tree, overwhelms it, chokes it and kills it. And it was so slender! And the tree was so strong!
The same applies to kings. A first compromise with their mission, a first shrugging of shoulders at the voices of their conscience, because praise is pleasant and it is delightful to be a sought after protector, and the moment comes when the king no longer reigns, but the interests of other people have taken over and imprison the king, they gag him and suffocate him, and if they have become stronger than he is, they kill him when they see that he is slow in dying. Also a common man, who is still a king in his spirit, is lost if he accepts a lower regality out of pride or greed. And he loses his spiritual serenity that comes to him from his union with God. Because the Demon, the world and the flesh can give an illusory power and joy, but at the cost of the spiritual cheerfulness that comes from the union with God.
O cheerfulness and strength of the poor in spirit, you really deserve that man may say: “How can I accept to become king in the inferior part, if by forming an alliance with you, I lose my internal strength and joy, Heaven and its true royalty?” And those blessed poor in spirit, who aim at possessing only the Kingdom of Heaven and despise all other riches not pertaining to that Kingdom, can also say: “How can we fail in our mission, which is to yield ripe fortifying juices and joyful juices for brotherly mankind that lives in the arid desert of animality and whose thirst is to be quenched so that it will not die and has need to be nourished with vital juices like a child without a nurse? We are the nurses of mankind that has lost the breast of God, and wanders barren and sick and would die of despair or tortured by the darkest scepticism, if it did not find us who, with the good-humoured activity of those who are free from every earthly tie, could convince them that there is a Life, a Joy, a Freedom, a Peace. We cannot forego such Charity for the sake of an interest that is miserable.”
The trees then went to the thorn bush, which did not reject them.
But it imposed severe terms. “If you want me as your king, you must come under me. But if after electing me, you will not comply, I will make every thorn of mine a burning torture and I will devour you all, including the cedars of Lebanon.”
Such is the regality that the world accepts as true! Arrogance and ferocity are mistaken by corrupt mankind for true royalty, whereas meekness and goodness are considered foolish weak sentiments. Man will not submit to God, but he submits to Evil. He is seduced by it and consequently he is burnt by it.
That is Abimelech's apologue. But now I will propose another one to you. It does not refer to far away and past events. But to present things and near at hand.
The animals decided to elect a king for themselves. And since they were shrewd they thought of electing one who would not frighten them being strong or wild. So they discarded the lion and all felids. They said they did not want rostrate eagles or any other kind of bird of prey. They did not trust the horse, which with its speed could reach them and see what they were doing; and they trusted even less the donkey, which they knew to be very patient, but also subject to sudden rage and equipped with powerful hooves. They were horrified at the idea of having a monkey as their king, because monkeys are too intelligent and revengeful. Under the pretext that the snake had favoured Satan in seducing man, they said that they did not want it as their king, notwithstanding its graceful colours and its smart movements. In actual fact they did not want it because they were aware of its silent gait, its powerful muscles and the dreadful effect of its poison. Could they possibly choose as their king a bull or any other animal gifted with pointed horns? Never! “Also the devil has them” they said. But they were thinking: “Should we one day rebel, it will wipe us out with its horns.”
After so much discarding, they saw a little fat white lamb hopping merrily on a green meadow, butting his mother's round udder. He had no horns and his eyes were as meek as the April sky. He was docile and simple. And he was satisfied with everything: with the water of the little stream where he used to drink dipping his rosy little muzzle into the water; with the many-flavoured little flowers that gratified both his eyes and palate; with the thick grass where it was pleasant to lie when he was full; with the clouds, which seemed as many little lambs roving about the blue meadows up there, and inviting him to play running in the field as they did in the sky; and, above all, he was pleased with the caresses of his mother, as she still allowed him to suckle now and again while she licked his white fleece with her pinkish tongue; with the safe fold, which was well sheltered from winds, and with its soft fragrant litter, where it was lovely to sleep beside his mother. “He is pleased. He has neither weapons nor poison. He is naive. Let us make him our king.” And they did. And they were proud of him because he was beautiful and kind, admired by nearby people and loved by his subjects because of his patient meekness.
The days passed and the lamb became a ram and said: “The time has now come when I must really reign. Now I am fully aware of my mission. The will of God, Who permitted me to be elected king, has formed me for my mission and has given me the capability to reign. It is therefore just that I should exert it in a perfect manner, also because I do not want to neglect the gifts of God.” And when' he saw that his subjects were doing things contrary to morality, or to charity, kindness, loyalty, moderation, obedience, respect, prudence, and so on, he raised his voice to warn them. His subjects laughed at his wise and kind bleating, which did not frighten them like the roar of felines, or the screech of vultures when they dive onto a prey, or the hiss of a snake, or the barking of a frightful dog.
The lamb, which was now a ram, did not limit himself to bleating. He went to the culprits to bring them back to their duties. But the serpent slipped away through his legs. The eagle flew away and thus deserted him. The felines pushed him aside with their paws threatening: “For the time being our soft paws are only pushing you aside. But see what is in them? Claws.” Horses and similar racers began to gallop round him, making fun of him. Strong elephants and other pachyderms pushed him about with their trunks, while monkeys threw objects at him from tree-tops.
The lamb, which had become a ram, at last was angry and said: “I did not want to use my horns or my strength. Because my neck is powerful indeed, and in fact it will be taken as a model to knock down war obstacles. I did not want to make use of it, because I prefer to use love and persuasion. But since you will not yield to such weapons, I will use force, because if you fail in your duties towards me and towards God, I do not want to fail in my duty towards God and towards you. I was elected to this position by you and by God, to guide you to Justice and Good. And I want Justice and Good, that is Order, to reign here.” And he punished with his horns, but only slightly, because he was kind, an obstinate cur, which continued to molest its neighbours and later with his most powerful neck he broke down the door of the den where a greedy selfish pig had stored up victuals to the detriment of other animals, and knocked down also the liana thicket, which two lustful monkeys had chosen for their illicit love affairs.
“This king has become too strong. He really wants to reign. And he wants us to live as wise animals. That is not to our liking. We must dethrone him” they decided. But a shrewd monkey suggested: “We must do it only under the pretext of a just reason. Otherwise we shall cut a bad figure with nearby peoples and we shall be disliked by God. Therefore let us spy on every action of the lamb, which has become a ram, so that our accusation may appear a just one.” “I will see to that” said the snake. “And I, too” said the monkey. So they never lost sight of the lamb, as one crawled on the grass and the other remained on tree-tops, and every evening, when he retired to rest after the fatigue of his mission and to ponder on the measures to be taken and the words to be used to put down the rebellion and overcome the sinful habits of his subjects, all the animals gathered, with the rare exception of a few honest faithful ones, to listen to the report of the two spies and traitors. Because that is what they were.
The snake would say to its king: “I follow you because I love you, and should I see you being attacked, I want to be able to defend you.” The monkey used to say: “How much I admire you! I want to help you. Look: from here I can see that someone is committing a sin beyond that meadow. Run there”, and then it would say to its companions: “Today also he took part in the banquet of some sinners. He pretended to go there to convert them, but in actual fact he was an accomplice of their orgy.” And the snake reported: “He even went outside the limits of his people, as he approached butterflies, blue-bottles and slimy snails. He is not faithful. He deals with impure foreigners.”
That is what they were saying behind the back of the innocent lamb, and they thought that he did not know. But the spirit of the Lord, Who had formed him for his mission, enlightened him also on the plots of his subjects. The lamb could have fled indignantly, cursing them. But he was kind and humble-hearted. And he was full of love. His mistake was to love. And an even greater mistake was to persevere in his mission, loving and forgiving, at the cost of death, to accomplish God's will. Oh! What mistakes these are with men. Unforgivable! So much so that it was condemned because of them. “Let him be killed; so that we may be free from his oppression.” And the snake took upon itself to kill the lamb because the snake is always the traitor...
That is the other apologue. It is for you to understand it, people of Nazareth! Because I love you, I wish you to remain at least at the level of a hostile people, without going beyond that. The love for the land where I came when a child, and in which I grew up loving you and being loved, compels Me to say to you all: “Do not be more than hostile. Do not let history say: 'His traitor and His unjust judges came from Nazareth.' ”
Goodbye. Be righteous in judging and firm in willing. The former virtue applies to you all, my fellow-citizens. The latter to those among you who are not upset by dishonest thoughts. I am going... Peace be with you. »
And Jesus, sorrowfully, with His head lowered, leaves the synagogue of Nazareth, in a painful silence, broken by two or three voices only, expressing approval.
He is followed by the apostles. Alphaeus' sons are the last ones. And their eyes do not certainly look like the meek eyes of a lamb... They glare upon the hostile crowd and Judas Thaddeus does not hesitate to plant himself in front of his brother Simon and say to him: « I thought my brother was more honest and of a stronger character. »
Simon lowers his head and is silent. But the other brother, supported by other people of Nazareth, exclaims: « You ought to be ashamed of offending your eldest brother! »
« No. I am ashamed of you. Of all of you. Nazareth is not a stepmother, but a perverted stepmother to the Messiah. But listen to my prophecy. You will shed enough tears to feed a fountain, but they will not serve to wash out the true name of this town and your own from history books. Do you know what that name is? “Stupidity.” Goodbye. »
James' salutation is gentler: he wishes them the light of wisdom. And they go out with Alphaeus of Sarah and two young men, who, if I am not wrong, are the two ass-drivers who escorted the donkeys that were used to go to Johanna of Chusa, when she was about to die.
The crowds, who have remained dumbfounded, whisper: « But where did He get so much wisdom? »
« And how can He work miracles? Because He really works miracles. The whole of Palestine talks about it. »
« Is He not the son of Joseph, the carpenter? We have all seen Him, at the bench of the carpenter of Nazareth, making tables and beds, adjusting wheels and locks. He did not even go to school and His Mother was His only teacher. »
« A scandal which also our father criticised » says Joseph of Alphaeus.
« But your brothers also finished school with Mary of Joseph. »
« Eh! My father was weak with his wife... » replies Joseph again.
« In that case, also your father's brother? »
« Yes. »
« But is He really the carpenter's son? »
« Can't you see Him? »
« Oh! So many are like one another! I think He is one who says He is, but He is not. »
« Where is Jesus of Joseph, then? »
« Do you think that His Mother would not recognise Him? »
« His brothers and sisters are here and they all say that He is their relative. Is that right, you two? »
The two sons of Alphaeus nod assent.
« Well, then, He is either mad or possessed, because what He says cannot come from a workman. »
« We should not listen to Him. His alleged doctrine is either delirium or possession. »
Jesus is standing in the square waiting for Alphaeus of Sarah who is speaking to a man. And while He is waiting, one of the assdrivers, who had stopped at the door of the synagogue informs Him of the slander uttered in the synagogue.
« Do not let it grieve you. A prophet generally is not honoured in his fatherland or at home. Man is so foolish that he believes that one must be almost out of this world to be a prophet. And fellow citizens and relatives all know and remember more than anybody else the human nature of their fellow-citizen or relative. But the truth is always triumphant. And now I say goodbye to you. Peace be with you. »
« Thank you, Master, for curing my mother. »
« You deserved it because you believed. My people here are inert, because there is no faith here. Let us go, My friends. We shall be leaving tomorrow at dawn. »