27th August 1945.
The house in Nazareth would be the most suitable for spiritual elevation. There is peace, silence, order. Holiness seems to exude from its stones, from the trees of the kitchen garden, or to pour from the serene thatch which forms a heavenly dome over it. In actual fact it exhales from Her Who lives in it, and moves about quickly and silently, with Her unchanged youthful gait and light step, as when She entered the house as a bride, and with the same smile which soothes and caresses.
The sun, in this early morning hour, is shining on the right hand side of the house, the one close to the first undulation of the hill, and only the tops of trees benefit from it, first of all the olive-trees planted near the terrace to retain the earth by means of their roots: they are the surviving olive-trees of Joachim's olive-grove, huge contorted trees with their thicker branches rising towards the sky as if they were invoking its blessing or were praying also from that peaceful place. Once the grove consisted of many trees, which like praying pilgrims formed a long procession extending as far as the fields where olive-grove and fields became grazing ground, whereas there are only a few trees left now within Joachim's mutilated property. The next to benefit from the sunshine are the tall strong almond and apple-trees, forming sunshades over the garden with their branches, then there is a pomegranate enjoying the rays of sunlight, and last the fig-tree near the house, when the sun already caresses the well cultivated flowers and vegetables in rectangular flower-beds and along the hedges planted under pergolas laden with grapes.
Buzzing bees, like flying golden drops alight on everything that may give them sweet scented juices. A small honeysuckle shoot is attacked by them as well as a hedge of bell-shaped flower bunches, the name of which I do not know, but must be night flowers, as they are about to close, and their scent is very strong. The bees hasten to suck them before they fold their petals to sleep in the corolla.
Mary goes quickly from the nest of the doves to the little fountain, and from there to the house, doing Her work, and yet, while doing so, She manages to admire Her flowers or the doves cooing along the paths or flying around the house and the kitchen garden.
Judas Iscariot comes back laden with plants and scions. « Hail, Mother. They gave me everything I wanted. I ran back so that they may not get injured. But I hope that they will take root as the honeysuckle did. Next year Your garden will be like a flowery basket. And You will thus remember poor Judas and his stay here » he says, carefully taking out from a bag some plants, the roots of which are enveloped in earth and damp leaves, and some scions from another bag.
« Thank you, Judas. Thank you very much, indeed. You have no idea how happy I am to have that honeysuckle near the little grotto. When I was a little girl, over there, at the end of those fields, which belonged to us in those days, there was a lovelier grotto, and ivy and honeysuckles adorned it with their branches and flowers, forming a kind of curtain and shelter for tiny lilies growing inside the grotto, which the delicate embroidery of maidenhair made completely green. Because there was a spring there... In the Temple I often thought of that grotto and I tell you that when I prayed before the Veil of the Holy, as a virgin of the Temple, I did not perceive God more strongly. Nay, I must say that I dreamed there of the sweet conversations of My soul with My Lord... My Joseph prepared this one for Me, with this fine stream of water, not so much because of its utility, as to give Me the joy of a grotto like the other one... Joseph was good, and considerate of the least details... And he planted a honeysuckle and ivy, the latter is still alive, the former died during the years of our exile... He replanted it later. But it died three years ago. You have planted it once again. It has taken root, see? You are a very clever gardener. »
« Yes. When a child I loved plants so much and my mother taught me how to take care of them... Being with You, Mother, I feel as if I were a boy again and I discover my old skill. I do it to please You. You are so good to me!...» replies Judas, working skillfully in setting the plants in the most suitable places. Near the hedge of the night flowers he places a tangle of roots, which I do not know whether they are lilies of the valley or some other flower. « They will do well here » he says pressing with a little hoe the earth on to the buried roots. « Too much sunshine is not good for them. Eleazar's servant did not want to give me them. But I insisted so much that he gave them to me. »
« They did not want to give Joseph those Indian jasmines. But he did some work for them without asking for payment in order to get them for Me. They have flourished more and more. »
« There You are, Mother. I will now water them and they will be all right. » He waters them and then washes his hands in the fountain.
Mary looks at him: he is so different from Her Jesus, and so different as well from the Judas of certain stormy hours; She scans him, approaches him and laying a hand on his arm She kindly asks him: « Are you feeling better, Judas? In your soul, I mean. »
« Oh! Mother! So much better! I am in peace. And You can see it. I find pleasure and salvation in humble things and in being with You. I should never leave this peace, this quietude. Here... How far is the world from this house!...» And Judas looks at the garden, the plants, the little house... He concludes: « But if I stayed here I would never be an apostle. And I want to be one...»
« However, believe Me, it would be better for you to be a just soul rather than an injust apostle. If you feel that contact with the world upsets you, if you realise that the praises and honours of an apostle hurt you, give it up, Judas. It is better for you to be a simple believer in My Jesus, but a holy believer, rather than be a sinful apostle. »
Judas lowers his head pensively. Mary leaves him to his meditation and goes into the house, to Her housework.
Judas remains still for some time, he then walks up and down under the pergola. His arms are folded, his head is lowered. He is engrossed in thought, then he begins to speak and gesticulate to himself. His monologue is incomprehensible. His gestures are typical of a person anguished with clashing ideas. He seems to be invoking and rejecting, or pitying, or cursing something, his inquisitive countenance becomes frightened, anguished, until his face has the expression of his worse moments... and he stops abruptly in the middle of the path, remaining still for some time, with a real diabolic countenance... He covers his face with his hands and runs up the hillock of the olive-trees, away from Mary's sight, and he weeps hiding his face in his hands, until he calms down and remains sat, leaning with his back against on olive-tree, as if he were bewildered...
... It is no longer morning, but the end of a glorious sunset. Nazareth opens the doors of its houses, which have been closed all day against the fierce summer heat of an eastern day. Women, men, children come out into the kitchen gardens or on to the roads still warm but no longer sunny, seeking cool air at the fountain, or playing or talking... waiting for supper. Men, women, children greet one another in loud voices, they chatter, laugh, shout...
Judas also goes out and turns his steps to the fountain carrying copper pitchers. He is noticed and indicated by the people of Nazareth with the nickname «the disciple of the Temple», which sounds to him like sweet music. He passes by greeting people kindly, but also with a little reserve, which if it is not yet proud haughtiness, it is very close to it.
« You are very good to Mary » a citizen with a long beard says to him.
« She deserves that and more. She really is a great woman of Israel. You are lucky to have such a citizen. »
The praise of the woman of Nazareth delights the people who repeat to one another what Judas said.
The apostle has in the meantime reached the fountain where he waits for his turn and he is so kind as to carry the pitchers of an elderly woman, who cannot bless him enough, and he fills the jars of two women, who are hampered by the suckling each carries in her arms. Sorting their veils they whisper: « May God reward you. »
« Love for our neighbour is the first duty of a friend of Jesus » replies the Iscariot bowing. He then fills his own pitchers and goes back home.
The head of the synagogue of Nazareth and other people stop him on his way home, and invite him to speak on the following Sabbath. « You have been here with us over two weeks and you have not taught us any lesson apart from your kindness to us all » complains the head, who is with other elders of the village.
« But if the speeches of your greatest son are not pleasant to you, how can you be satisfied with the sermon of one of His disciples, who is a Judaean over and above? » replies Judas.
« Your suspicion is an unfair one and it grieves us. Our invitation is sincere. You are a disciple and a Judaean. That is true. But you are of the Temple. So you may speak. Because there is doctrine in the Temple. Joseph's son is only a carpenter...»
« But He is the Messiah! »
« He says so... But is it true? Or is it delirium? »
« But, people of Nazareth, what about His holiness! His holiness » Judas is scandalised at the incredulity of the Nazarenes.
« It is great. That is true. But between that and being the Messiah!... And then... Why does He speak so harshly? »
« Harsh? No. He does not seem harsh to me. Well, He is too sincere and too intolerant, that is true. He leaves no fault untouched, He does not hesitate to denounce abuses... and people do not like that. He always brings up a sore point. And that hurts. But He does it because of His holiness. Surely! That is the only reason. I have said to Him several times: “Jesus, You are damaging Your reputation.” But He will not listen to me!...»
« You are very fond of Him, and learned as you are you could guide Him. »
« Oh! not learned... But practical, yes. I am of the Temple, you know!? I am familiar with customs. I have friends. Annas' son is like a brother to me. If you want something from the Sanhedrin, just tell me... But let me take the water to Mary now, as She is waiting for me for supper. »
« Come back later. It is cool on my terrace. You will be among friends and we shall be able to talk...»
« Yes, goodbye » and Judas goes home where he apologises to Mary for being late as he was held up by the head of the synagogue and by the elders of the village. And he concludes: « They would like me to speak on Sabbath... The Master did not tell me to speak. What do You say, Mother. Guide me. »
« Speak to the head of the synagogue... or to the synagogue? »
« To both. I would not like to speak to any of them because they are against Jesus and also because it seems a sacrilege to me to speak where He is by right the only Master there. But they insisted so much! They want me after supper... I have almost promised them to go. And if You think that by speaking I may be able to mitigate their spirit of resistance to the Master, which is so unpleasant, I will go and speak to them although it is so burdensome to me. I will speak as best I can, very simply, endeavouring to be very patient in view of their stubbornness. Because I have realised that it is worse to be hard. Eh! I will not make again the mistake I made at Esdraelon! The Master was so upset about it! He did not say anything to me, but I understood. I will not do it again. But I would like to leave Nazareth after persuading the people that, Jesus is the Messiah and is to be believed and loved. » Judas is speaking while sitting at the table, at Jesus' place and eating what Mary has prepared for him. And it hurts me to see Judas sitting in that place, in front of Mary Who serves him like a mother.
She now replies: « It would be a good thing if Nazareth understood the truth and accepted it. I will not hold you back, you may go. No one can say better than you whether Jesus deserves love. Consider how much He loves you and He shows it by always excusing you and satisfying you whenever possible... Let that consideration inspire you with holy words and deeds. »
The supper is soon over. Judas goes to water the flowers in the garden before it gets too dark and he then goes out, leaving Mary on the terrace intent on folding the clothes She had hung out to dry. And Judas, after greeting Alphaeus of Sarah and Mary of Clopas who are talking standing at the door of the latter, goes straight to the house of the head of the synagogue.
Also the Lord's two cousins are present with other six elders. After pompous greetings they all sit gravely on seats adorned with cushions and they refresh themselves drinking anise or mint water, which must be very cool because the metal pitcher is moist outside owing to the difference in temperature between the ice cold water and the still warm air, notwithstanding the breeze blowing from the hills to the north of Nazareth stirs the tree-tops.
« I am glad you agreed to come. You are young. A little relaxation is good for you » says the head of the synagogue who is full of attention towards Judas.
« I was afraid of bothering you if I had come earlier. I know that you are rather disdainful towards Jesus and His followers...»
« Disdainful? No. Skeptical... and we are hurt by His... let us admit it... by His too crude truth. We were under the impression that you disdained us and that is why we did not invite you. »
« I disdain you? On the contrary! I understand you very well... Of course! But I am sure that at the end peace will be made between you and Him. It suits both you and Him. It suits Him because He is in need of everybody, and it suits you because it does not pay to be considered enemies of the Messiah. »
« And do you think that He really is the Messiah? » asks Joseph of Alphaeus. « There is no trace in Him of the royal figure predicted by the prophets. Perhaps it is because we remember Him as a carpenter... But... Where is the liberating king in Him? »
« David also appeared to be only a little shepherd. But you know that there has been no greater king than David. Not even Solomon in all his glory was so great. Because, after all, Solomon only continued David's work, but was never inspired like him. Whereas David! Just consider the figure of David! It is gigantic! His regality almost reaches up to Heaven. Do not doubt the royalty of the Christ, basing your judgement on His genealogy. David was king and shepherd. More truly: shepherd and then king. Jesus is king and carpenter. Or better still: carpenter and later king. »
« You speak as a rabbi. One can see that you have been brought up in the Temple » says the head of the synagogue. « And could you let the Sanhedrin know, that I, the head, am in need of the help of the Temple for a private reason? »
« Of course! Certainly! With Eleazar! Just imagine! And then Joseph the Elder, you know? The wealthy man from Arimathea. And then Sadoc, the scribe... and then... All you have to do is to tell me! »
« Well, be my guest tomorrow. We will talk about it. »
« Your guest? No. I cannot leave Mary, that holy and sorrowful woman. I came here specially to keep Her company...»
« What is the matter with our relative? We know that She is healthy and, although poor, She is happy » says Simon of Alphaeus.
« Yes. And we never leave Her. My mother is always with Her. And my wife and I, too. Although... Although I cannot forgive Her for being so weak with Her Son. And also for grieving my father, who because of Jesus died with only two of his sons at his bedside. And then... But family troubles are not to be proclaimed publicly » says Joseph of Alphaeus with a sigh.
« You are right. They should be whispered in a low voice and confided to a friendly heart. The same applies to many troubles. I have mine as well, as a disciple... But it's better not to speak of them! »
« On the contrary, let us speak of them. What is the matter? Trouble for Jesus? We do not approve of His behaviour. But we are His relatives. And we are ready to side with Him against His enemies. Speak up! » says Joseph again.
« Trouble? No! I was just saying... The sorrows of a disciple are manifold! Not only because of the behaviour of his Master with friends and enemies, harming Himself, but also because it is grievous to see that He is not loved. I wish you all loved Him...»
« But what can we do? You said that yourself! His behaviour is such... He was not like that before leaving His Mother » says the head of the synagogue apologetically. « Is that true, what do you all say? »
They all agree solemnly, speaking highly of the silent, meek, retired Jesus of the past.
« Who could have imagined that He was to become what He is now? He was completely devoted to house and relatives. Now instead? » remarks an elderly Nazarene.
Judas exclaims with a sigh: « Poor woman! »
« Well, what do you know? Tell us, speak up! » shouts Joseph.
« Nothing more than you know. Do you think that it is pleasant for Her to be left alone? »
« If Joseph had lived as your father did, that would not have happened » states another elderly Nazarene sententiously.
« Don't believe that, man. It would have been the same. When one takes an idea into one's head!...» says Judas.
A servant brings some lamps and lays them on the table, because it is a moonless night although the sky is sparkling with stars. More drinks are brought at the same time and the head of the synagogue offers them to Judas at once.
« Thank you. I cannot stay any longer. I must go back to Mary » he says getting up.
Also Alphaeus' two sons stand up saying: « We will come with you. We are going the same way...» and they part greeting one another ceremoniously while the six elders remain with the head of the synagogue.
The streets are now deserted and silent. People can be heard talking in low grave voices on the terraced roofs. Children are already sleeping in their little beds and thus their shrill voices resembling the twittering of joyful birds are not heard. From the terraces of the wealthier houses the faint glow of oil lamps descends with the low voices of people.
Alphaeus' sons and Judas walk for a little while without speaking, then Joseph stops and taking Judas' arm he says: « Listen. I realise that you know something that you did not wish to mention in the presence of strangers. But now you must tell me. I am the oldest in the family and it is my right and my duty to know everything. »
« And I came here for the purpose of telling you and thus protect the Master, Mary, your brothers and your reputation. It is something painful to tell and to hear. Very painful to be done. Because it looks like playing the spy. But please understand me properly. It is not so. It is only love and prudence. I know many things, which you know as well. My friends of the Temple told me. And I know that they are dangerous for Jesus and for the good name of the family. I have tried to make the Master understand. But I was not successful. On the contrary, the more I advise Him, the worse He behaves, thus causing people to criticise and hate Him more and more. The reason is that He is so holy that He cannot understand what the world is like. In short, it is sad to see a holy thing perish through the heedlessness of its founder. »
« But what is it? Tell us everything. And we will take action. Is that right, Simon? »
« Of course. But it seems impossible to me that He is imprudent and acts against His mission...»
« But if this kind young man, who loves Jesus, says so!? See what you are like. You are always like that: uncertain, hesitating. You always leave me alone at the crucial moment. The whole family is against me. You have no pity for our reputation and for our poor brother who is ruining Himself! »
« No! He is not ruining Himself! But He is injuring Himself, that's what He is doing. »
« Speak up! » insists Joseph while Simon is perplexedly silent. « I would speak... But I would like to be certain that you will not make any mention to Jesus... Swear it. »
« We swear it on the holy Veil. Speak up. »
« And you must not relate to your mother, and least of all to your brothers what I am going to tell you. »
« You can be certain of our silence. »
« And will you say nothing to Mary? In order not to grieve Her. It's your duty to see to the peace of that poor Mother, in silence, as I do. »
« We will not say anything to anybody. We swear it. »
« Well listen... Jesus no longer confines Himself to approaching Gentiles, publicans and prostitutes, to offending Pharisees and other important people. But He does things that are absolutely absurd... Just imagine that when in Philistia, He made us go about taking with us a black billy-goat. Now He has a Philistine among His disciples. And before that, the boy He picked up? You have no idea what comments were made. And a few days ago He took a Greek girl, a slave, who had run away from her Roman master. And His speeches are contradictory to our well known wisdom. In short He seems to be mad. And He damages Himself. In Philistia He intruded also into a ceremony of wizards, competing face to face with them. He defeated them, but... scribes and Pharisees hate Him. But what will happen if they happen to hear about such things? You must intervene and stop...»
« That's serious, very serious. But how could we know? We are here... And even now, how will we be able to find out? »
« And yet it is your duty to intervene and stop Him. His Mother is a mother, and She is too good. You must not abandon Him thus. For His own sake and for the sake of the world. Also His continuous driving away demons... It is rumoured that He is assisted by Beelzebub. You can imagine whether that can do Him any good. In any case, what kind of a king will He ever become if the crowds laugh at Him just now or are scandalised? »
« But... does He really do such things? » asks Simon incredulously.
« Ask Him yourself. He will tell You that He does. Because He even boasts about it. »
« You should let us know...»
« I certainly will! When I see something new I will send you word. But... please, never say a word to anybody! »
« We swore it. When are you leaving? »
« After the Sabbath. There is no reason why I should stay here any longer. I have done my duty. »
« And we thank you for it. Eh! I said that He had changed. And you, brother... you would not believe me... Can you now see whether I was right? » says Joseph of Alphaeus.
« I can hardly believe, it. Judas and James, after all, are not fools. Why have they not told us? If such things are really happening, why have they not taken action? » says Simon of Alphaeus.
« Man, you will not disgrace me by refusing to believe my words! », answers back Judas resentfully.
« No!... but... That's enough. Forgive me if I say: I will believe when I see things myself. »
« All right. You will soon see and then you will have to say to me: “You were right.” Well. There is your house. I leave you. God be with you. »
« God be with you, Judas. And... listen. Don't speak to anyone about that. For our reputation...»
« I will be as silent as the grave. Goodbye. »
And he goes away at a good pace. He enters the house serenely and goes up to the terrace where Mary, with Her hands in her lap, is contemplating the sky crowded with stars. In the light of the little lamp that Judas has lit to climb the steps, tears can be seen shining on Mary's cheeks.
« Why are You weeping, Mother? » asks Judas anxiously.
« Because I think that there are more snares in the world than stars in the sky. Snares for My Jesus...» Judas looks at Her attentively and he seems upset. But She concludes kindly: « But I am comforted by the love of His disciples... Love My Jesus... love Him... Do you wish to stay here, Judas? I am going down to My room. Mary of Clopas has already gone to bed after preparing the leaven for tomorrow. »
« Yes. I will remain up here. It is lovely here. »
« Peace be with you, Judas. »
« Peace be with You, Mary. »