11th December 1945.
The magnificent stars of a clear night in the month of March are shining in the eastern sky and they are so large and bright that the vault of heaven seems to have stooped down like a canopy over the terrace of the house that welcomed Jesus. It is a very tall house, situated in one of the highest parts of the town, so that the infinite horizon spreads out before those who look in every direction. And if the earth disappears in the darkness of the night, which is not brightened by moonlight, as the moon is waning, the sky is glittering with countless stars. It is really the victory of the firmament, which triumphantly displays its garden beds of stars, its Galatea grasslands, its planetary giants and forests of constellations in opposition to the fleeting vegetation of the earth, which, even when it is age old, is still one hour old, as compared with those that exist since God made the firmament. And when one is lost looking up there, and one's eyes roam along the wonderful avenues, where the trees are stars, one seems to hear the voices and songs of those splendid forests, of that huge organ of the most sublime cathedral, in which I like to imagine that the winds of racing stars are bellows and registers and the stars launched in their trajectories are voices. And one seems to perceive all that, particularly because the silence of the night, while Gadara is asleep, is total. No fountain whispers, no bird sings. The world is asleep, as well as all creatures. Men, who are less innocent than other creatures, are sleeping more or less peacefully in their dark homes.
But a tall dark shadow, which is just visible because of the contrast of the white face and hands against its dark garment, comes out of the door of the room that opens onto the lower terrace, there is in fact another higher one on the upper room, and is followed by another lower shadow. They are walking on tiptoe to avoid awaking those who are perhaps sleeping in the room underneath and they climb on tiptoe the outside little staircase, which takes to the top terrace. They then take each other's hand and they go and sit down on the bench that lies against the high parapet surrounding the terrace. The low bench and the high parapet conceal everything from their eyes. Even if it were bright moonlight illuminating the world, they would see nothing. Because the town is completely concealed and also the dark shadows of nearby mountains are hidden in the darkness of the night. Only the sky is displayed to them with its springtime constellations and the magnificent stars of Orion: of Rigil and Betelgeuse, of Aldebaran, of Perseus, Andromeda and Cassiopeia and the Pleiades united like sisters. And Sapphirine Venus covered with diamonds, and Mars of pale ruby, and the topaz of Jupiter are the kings of the starry population and they palpitate as if they wished to greet the Lord, hastening their palpitations of light for the Light of the world.
Jesus raises His head to look at them and rests it against the high wall, and John imitates Him getting lost looking up there where the world can be ignored... Then Jesus says: « And now that this contemplation has cleansed us, let us pray.» He stands up and John does likewise. A long, silent, pressing prayer, said with all their souls, their arms stretched out crosswise, with their faces raised towards the east, where the first pale hint of moonlight appears. And then the « Our Father» said together, slowly, not once but three times, with increasing insistence in asking, as is clearly expressed by their voices. And their entreaty is so ardent that it separates their souls from their bodies, launching them along the ways of the Infinite.
Then there is silence. They sit down where they were before, while the moon whitens the sleeping earth more and more.
Jesus lays His arm on John's shoulder and draws him towards Himself saying: « So tell Me what you feel you must tell Me. What has My John seen, with the assistance of spiritual light, in the gloomy soul of his companion?»
« Master... I regret having said that to You. I will commit two sins...»
« Because I will grieve You revealing what You do not know, and... because... Master, is it a sin to speak of the evil we see in other people? It is, isn't it? So, how can I speak about it, offending against charity!...» John is depressed.
Jesus enlightens his soul: « Listen, John. According to you, who is worth more, the Master or a fellow-disciple?»
« The Master, Lord. You are worth the most.»
« And what am I according to you?»
« The Beginning and the End. You are Everything.»
« Since I am Everything, do you think that I know everything?»
« Yes, my Lord. That is why there is a great contrast in me. Because I think that You know and suffer. And because I remember that one day You told me that at times You are the Man, only the Man, and thus the Father lets You know what it is to be a man, who must behave according to reason. And I think also that God, out of pity for You, may conceal this unpleasant truth from You...»
« Cling to that idea, John, and speak confidently. It is not a sin to confide what you know to Him Who is “Everything” for you. Because He Who is “Everything” will not be scandalised, will not grumble or lack charity, not even by thought, towards the unhappy fellow. It would be a sin if you said what you know to anyone who is not capable of being full of love, to your companions for instance, who would backbite and assail the culprit mercilessly, injuring him and themselves. It is therefore necessary to be merciful, the more merciful, the poorer the soul is in front of us, affected by many diseases. A doctor, a compassionate nurse, a mother are not much upset if a person is not seriously ill and they do not fight hard to cure him. But if a son, or a man, is seriously ill, and his life is in danger, either because of intervening gangrene or paralysis, how they strive to cure him overcoming repugnance and fatigue. Is it not so?»
« Yes, it is, Master» replies John who has taken his habitual posture with his arm round the Master's neck and his head reclined on His shoulder.
« Well, not everybody knows how to be merciful to diseased souls. Consequently one must be careful in revealing their trouble, so that the world may not shun them and hurt them through contempt. A sick man who realises that he is being derided, becomes gloomy and gets worse. If instead he is nursed with cheerful hope, he may recover because the hopeful good humour of those nursing him inspirits him and stimulates the effect of medicines. But you know that I am Mercy and I will not humble Judas. So you may speak without scruple. You are not a spy. You are a son who with loving anxiety confides to his father the evil discovered in a brother so that the father may cure him. Come on...»
John heaves a long sigh, then lowers his head further, letting it slide on to Jesus' chest, and says: « How grievous it is to speak of putrid things!... Lord... Judas is lewd... and tempts me to commit obscene things. I do not mind if he derides me. But it grieves me that he should come to You, filthy with his love affairs. Since he came, he has tempted me several times. When we happen to be alone - and he takes advantage of every opportunity - he does nothing but speak of women... and I am as disgusted with it as if I were immersed in some fetid matter that threatened to enter my mouth...»
« Are you deeply upset by that?»
« What? Upset? My soul shudders. Reason cries against such temptations... I do not want to be corrupted...»
« How does your body react?»
« It shrivels with disgust.»
« Nothing else?»
« No, Master, and I weep because I think that Judas could not cause a graver offence to a man who has consecrated his life to God. Tell me: will that be detrimental to my offering?»
« No. Not more than a handful of mud thrown against a diamond plaque. It will not affect or penetrate the plaque. A cup of clean water poured over it is enough to clean it. And it becomes more beautiful than before.»
« Cleanse me, then.»
« Your charity and your angel cleanse you. There is nothing left on you. You are a clean altar on which God descends. What else does Judas do?»
« Lord, he... Oh! Lord!» John's head slides lower.
« He... It is not true that the money he gives You for the poor belongs to him. It is the money of the poor that he steals, to be praised for being generous, which is not true. He was wild because when You came back from mount Tabor, You took all the money away from him. And he said to me: “There are spies among us.” I replied: “Spies of what? Have you stolen, perhaps?” “No” he replied to me, “but I am far-sighted and I have two purses. Someone told the Master and He ordered me to hand everything over, and He was so authoritative that I was compelled to do so.” But it is not true, Lord, that he does so because he is provident. He does that to have money for himself. I could bear witness to that and I am almost certain that I would be telling the truth.»
« Almost certain! That uncertainty is indeed a slight fault. You cannot accuse him of being a thief, if you are not absolutely certain. The actions of men at times appear to be faulty, whereas they are good.»
« That is true, Master. I will not accuse him any more, not even in my own mind. But it is true that he has two purses, and that the one he says belongs to him and he gives to You, is instead Yours and he does so to be praised. I would not do that, because I feel that it is not right.»
« You are right. What else have you to tell Me?»
John raises his frightened face, opens his mouth to speak, then closes it and falls on his knees hiding his face in the tunic of Jesus, Who lays a hand on his head.
« So, speak up! You may have misjudged things. I will help you to consider them properly. You must also tell Me what you think of the probable causes of Judas' sinning.»
« Lord, Judas feels that he does not have the strength he would like to have to work miracles... You are aware that it has always been his ambition... Do You remember Endor? Instead... he is the one who works fewer miracles. Since he came back, he has not been able to do anything... and during the night he moans in his dreams, as if they were nightmares and... Master!»
« Come on. Tell Me, everything.»
« And he curses... and practises witchcraft. This is not a lie and there is no doubt about it. I saw him myself. He chooses me as his companion, because I sleep soundly. Nay, because I used to sleep soundly. Now, I must admit it, I watch him and my sleep is not so sound, because I hear him as soon as he moves... Perhaps I did the wrong thing. But I pretended to be asleep to see what he was doing. And twice I have heard and seen him do horrible things. I am not an expert in sorcery, but that is what it is.»
« Does he do that by himself?»
« Sometimes he does, sometimes he does not. I followed him at Tiberias. He went into a house. I inquired later who lives there. It is a man who practises sorcery with other people. And when Judas came out, almost at daybreak, I gathered from the words they spoke that they are familiar with one another and they are many... and not all strangers. He asks the demon to give him the Power that You do not give him. That is why I renounce my part so that the Father may give it to him and he may sin no more.»
« You ought to give him your soul. But neither the Father nor I would allow that...»
There is a long silence. Then Jesus says with a tired voice: « Let us go, John. Let us go downstairs. We will rest until dawn.»
« You look more depressed than before, Lord! I should not have told You!»
« No. I already knew. But you have taken a load off your chest... and that is what matters.»
« Lord, must I avoid him?»
« No. Do not be afraid. Satan can do no harm to people like John. He terrorises them, but he cannot take away the grace that God continuously grants them. Let us go. I will speak in the morning and then we will go to Pella. We must make haste, because the river is already swollen with the thawing snow and the rain of the past days. It will soon be in spate, particularly because a haloed moon forebodes heavy rain...»
They go downstairs and disappear in the room underneath the terrace.
It is morning. A morning in the month of March, when the sky clears and becomes overcast alternately. But clouds overwhelm clearings, trying to take possession of the sky. The breaths of warm air make the air heavy with a veil of dust that is probably blown from the tableland.
« If the wind does not change, there is going to be rain» states Peter coming out of the house with the others.
Jesus comes out last; He says goodbye to the women of the house, while the landlord joins Him. They go towards a square.
After a few steps, they are stopped by a Roman non-commissioned officer who is with other soldiers. « Are You Jesus of Nazareth?»
« Yes, I am.»
« What are You doing?»
« I am going to speak to the crowds.»
« In the square.»
« A sedicious speech?»
« No. Precepts of virtue.»
« Be careful! Don't tell lies! Rome has had enough of false gods.»
« If you come, too, you will see that I am not telling lies.»
The man who gave Jesus hospitality feels that he must put in a word: « Since when is a rabbi asked so many questions?»
« He has been denounced as agitator.»
« Agitator, Him? You are making a blunder, Marius Severus. He is the meekest man on the earth. I can assure you.»
The officer shrugs his shoulders and replies: « So much the better for Him. But that is the denunciation that the centurion received. He may go. He has been warned.» And he turns round and goes away with his subordinates.
« Who has done that? I don't understand!» many of the people present say.
Jesus replies: « Never mind. It does not matter. Let us go while there are many people in the square. Later we shall go away from here, too.»
The square looks like a business place. It is not a market, but not much different from a market, because there are warehouses around it, with all kinds of goods stored in them. And they are crowded with people. So there are many people also in the square and as some of them point out Jesus, a crowd soon gathers round the « Nazarene». In the crowd there are all kinds of people and of every country. Some are there out of veneration, some out of curiosity.
Jesus makes a gesture that He is about to speak. « Let us listen to Him!» says a Roman coming out of a warehouse.
« Shall we not be listening to a lamentation?» replies his companion.
« Don't you believe that, Constant. He is not so boring as our usual orators.»
« Peace to those listening to Me! It is written in Ezra, in Ezra's prayer: “What shall we say now, my God, after what happened? Because, if we have deserted Your commandments, which You ordained through Your servants...”»
« Stop, You who are speaking. We will give You the subject» shout a handful of Pharisees who elbow their way through the crowd. The escort appears almost immediately and stops at the nearest corner. The Pharisees are now before Jesus. « Are You the Galilean? Are You Jesus of Nazareth?»
« I am!»
« Praised be the Lord that we have found You!» Their ugly faces are so rancorous that they do not show much joy for the meeting...
The oldest one speaks: « We have been following You for several days, but You had always left when we arrived.»
« Why are you following Me?»
« Because You are the Master and we want to be instructed by You with regard to a dark passage of the Law.»
« There are no dark passages in the Law of God.»
« Not in the Law. But, eh! eh!... “superimpositions”, as You say, eh! eh!, have been made to the Law and have caused obscurity.»
« A dim light, at most. And it is enough to turn one's mind to God to dispel it.»
« Not everybody can do that. We, for instance, are left in the dim light. You are the Rabbi, eh! eh! So help us.»
« What is it that you want to know?»
« We want to know whether it is lawful for a man to repudiate his wife for any reason whatsoever. It is something that happens frequently and every time it causes a stir wherever it happens. People apply to us to know whether it is lawful. And we reply according to each case.»
« And you approve what happened in ninety per cent of the cases. And the remaining ten per cent, which you do not approve, concerns the poor or your enemies.»
« How do You know?»
« Because that is what happens in all human things. And I would add a third group of people: those who would be more entitled to it, if divorce were lawful: that is, real pitiful cases, such as incurable leprosy, life imprisonment, or unmentionable diseases...»
« So, according to You, it is never lawful.»
« Neither according to Me, nor according to the Most High, or anyone with a righteous soul. Have you not read, that the Creator, at the beginning of times, created man and woman? And He created them male and female; and it was not necessary for Him to do so, because He could have created a different way of procreation for the king of Creation, whom He made in His image and likeness, and it would have been a good way, even if it differed from every other natural way. And He said: “For this reason man will leave his father and mother and will join himself to his wife and they will become one body.” So God joined them in one unity. Thus they are no longer “two”, but “one” body only. So, what God united, because He saw that “it is a good thing”, man must not divide, because if that should happen, it would no longer be a good thing.»
« Why then did Moses say: “If a man has taken a wife, but she does not find favour with him through something disgraceful, he will give her a writ of dismissal and send her away from his house”?»
« He said so because of the hardness of your hearts, to avoid, by means of his order, too grave disorders. That is why he allowed you to repudiate your wives. But it was not so from the beginning. Because a woman is worth more than an animal, which according to the caprice of its master or the free circumstances of nature, copulates with this or that male, a soulless body that copulates for procreation. Your wives have souls, as you do, and it is not fair that you should tread on them pitilessly. If in her condemnation it is said: “You will be subject to the power of your husband and he will lord it over you”, that must take place according to justice and not with arrogance offending against the rights of a free soul worthy of respect. By repudiating your wives, which is not lawful, you give offence to the soul of your companion, to the twin body which joined yours, to the whole woman, whom you married, demanding honesty in her, whilst you, o perjurers, are dishonest, disabled, at times corrupt, when you go to her, and you continue to be so, taking every opportunity to strike her and give a wider scope to your unappeasable lust. Prostitutors of your wives! On no account can you separate from the woman who is joined to you according to the Law and Blessing. Only in the case that grace touches you, and you understand that woman is not a possession but a soul, and has therefore equal rights as yours to be recognised as part of man and not an object for his pleasure, and only in the case that your heart is so hard as not to be able to raise her to the dignity of wife, after enjoying her as a prostitute, only to remove the scandal of two who live together without the blessing of God on their union, you may send her away. Because in that case yours is not union but fornication, often not honoured by the birth of children, because they are suppressed against nature or sent away as a disgrace. In no other case. Because if you have illegitimate children from your concubine, it is your duty to put an end to the scandal by marrying her, if you are free. I am not taking into consideration the case of adultery consumed to the detriment of an unaware wife. In that case the stones of lapidation and the fire of Sheol are holy. But for him who sends away his legitimate wife because he is satiated with her, to take another one, there is but one sentence: he is an adulterer. And also he who takes the repudiated woman is adulterer, because if man has arrogated to himself the right to separate what God has joined, the matrimonial union continues in the eyes of God, and cursed is the man who takes a second wife without being a widower. And cursed is he who, after repudiating his wife and abandoning her to the dangers of life, which compel her to get married again to have her daily bread, takes her back when she becomes a widow of her second husband. Because, although she is a widow, she was an adulteress through your fault, and you would redouble her adultery. Have you understood, Pharisees, who are tempting Me?»
They go away thoroughly humiliated, without replying.
« He is a severe man. If He were in Rome He would see that the filth there is even more fetid» says a Roman.
Also some of the Gadara people grumble: « It is difficult to be men, if one must be so chaste!...»
And some say in louder voices: « If that is the situation of a man with respect to his wife, it is better not to get married.»
And the apostles also make the same remarks while they resume going towards the country, after leaving those of Gadara. Judas says so scornfully. James of Zebedee speaks with respect and consideration, and Jesus replies to both of them: « Not everybody understands that properly. Some in fact prefer to remain single in order to be free to indulge their vices. Some to avoid the possibility of sin, not being good husbands. But only few are granted to understand the beauty of being free from sensuality and also from the honest desire of woman. And they are the holiest, the freest, the most angelical on the earth. I am referring to those who become eunuchs for the Kingdom of God. Some men are born such. Some are made such. The former are monstrosities to be pitied, the latter are abuses to be repressed. But there is a third category: the voluntary eunuchs, who without any violence against themselves, and thus with double merit, comply with God's request and live like angels, so that the forlorn altar of the earth may still have flowers and incense for the Lord. They deny their inferior part satisfaction, so that their superior part may grow greater and bloom in Heaven in the flower-beds closest to the throne of the King. And I solemnly tell you that they are not mutilated, on the contrary they are gifted with what most men lack. They are thus not the object of foolish sneering words, but of great veneration. Let those understand that who should understand it, and respect it, if they can.»
Those who are married among the apostles whisper to one another. « What is the matter with you?» asks Jesus.
« And what about us? We were not aware of that, and we got married. But we would like to be as You say...» says Bartholomew on behalf of everybody.
« You are not forbidden to do so as from now onwards. Live continently, considering your companion as a sister and you will have great merit in the eyes of God. But quicken your steps, so that we may be at Pella before it begins to rain.»