3rd January 1946.
Jesus enters the quiet green Garden of Gethsemane.
Marjiam is still with Him and he laughs thinking of how anxiously Peter must be rushing to join them. He says: « Oh! Master! I wonder how he must be grumbling! And if You had gone on to Bethany instead of stopping here, he would be in a desolate state.»
Jesus also smiles looking at the youth and He replies: « Yes. He will overwhelm Me with his moaning. But it will teach him to be more careful the next time. While I was speaking, he was not paying attention, but talking to other people...» (Peter earlier had been distracted while Jesus was teaching, and did not notice Him leaving).
« There were asking him questions, Lord» says Marjiam, who no longer laughs, but tries to justify Peter.
« One can make a gesture with good grace that one will reply later, when the Word of the Lord has finished speaking. Remember that, for your future life, when you will be a priest. You must exact the greatest respect while you teach and in the place where you teach.»
« But then, Lord, it will be poor Marjiam who will be speaking...»
« It does not matter. It is always God Who speaks through the lips of His servants, in the hours of their ministry. And as such He is to be listened to in silence and with respect.»
Marjiam pulls a wry face, which is expressive of his internal feeling.
Jesus notices it and says: « Are you not convinced? Why such an expression? Speak, son, without any fear.»
« My Lord, I was just wondering whether God is on the lips and in the hearts of His priests at present, and I wag terrorised at the thought that future priests may be like them... And I concluded saying that... many priests make the Lord cut a poor figure... I have certainly committed a sin... But they are so nasty and greedy, so arid... that...»
« Do not judge. But remember your sensation of disgust. Bear it in mind in future. And with all your strength avoid being like those who disgust you and ensure that those under your direction are not like them either. Make the evil you see be useful for a good purpose. Every action and piece of knowledge must be changed into good through righteous judgement and will.»
« Oh! Lord! Before we go into the house, which is already in sight, please reply to another question! You do not deny that priests at present are faulty. You tell me not to judge. But You judge. And You can do so. And You judge with justice. Now listen, Lord, to my question. When priests of the present speak of God and of religion, we know what the majority of them are like, but I am referring to the worst among them, are we to listen to them as being truthful?»
« Yes, My son, always. Out of respect for their mission. When they perform actions pertaining to their ministry, they are no longer Annas, a man, or Sadoc, a man, and so forth. They are “the priest.” Always separate poor humanity from ministry.»
« But if they act even so badly...»
« God will provide. And then!... Listen, Marjiam! There is no man entirely good or entirely wicked. And no one is so entirely good as to be entitled to judge his brothers as being completely wicked. We must bear in mind our own faults, and set against them the good qualities of those we want to judge, we shall then have the right measure for a charitable judgement. I have not yet found a completely wicked man.»
« Not even Doras, Lord?»
« Not even him, because he is an honest husband and a loving father.»
« Not even Doras' father?»
« He, too, was an honest husband and a loving father.»
« But he was nothing but that!»
« He was nothing but that. But in that respect he was not wicked. So he was not totally wicked.»
« Is Judas not wicked either?»
« But he is not good.»
« He is not totally good as he is not totally wicked. Are you not convinced of what I am saying?»
« I am convinced that You are totally good and that You are completely devoid of wickedness. Yes, I am persuaded that You are so. So much so, that You never accuse anyone...»
« Oh! My dear son! If I uttered the first syllable of a word of accusation, you would all assail the person accused, like wild beasts!... I prevent you from doing so, so that you may not get stained with the sin of rash judgement. Try to understand Me, Marjiam. It is not the question that I do not see evil, where there is evil, or that I do not see the mixture of good and evil in some people. Neither it is the question that I do not understand whether a soul rises above or falls below the level to which I led it. It has nothing to do with all that, son. But it is a matter of prudence to avoid lack of charity in you. And I will always do so. Also in future, when I shall have to declare My opinion on a person. Do you not know, son, that at times a word of praise and of encouragement is of more avail than many reproaches? Do you not know that out of one hundred very bad cases, considered as relatively good, at least half become really good, because, after being helped by My word, they are assisted also by very kind people, who would otherwise shun men who are pointed out as being very wicked? Souls are to be supported, not depressed. But if I were not the first to support them and cover up their faults, pressing you to be kind to them and assist them, you would never devote yourselves to them with active clemency. Remember that, Marjiam...»
« Yes, Lord... (a deep sigh). I will remember that... (another deep sigh)... But it is so difficult in the face of certain evidence...»
Jesus stares at him. But He can only see the upper part of the forehead of Marjiam, who has lowered his face.
« Marjiam, look up. Look at Me. And tell Me: which evidence is it difficult to ignore?»
Marjiam gets mixed up... His bronzed face blushes... He replies: « Well... there are many, Lord...»
Jesus insists: « Why did you mention Judas? Because he is one “evidence.” Perhaps the one which is more difficult for you to overcome... What has Judas done to you? In what did he scandalise you?» and Jesus lays His hand on the shoulder of the youth, who has blushed so much that he has become deep purple.
Marjiam looks at Him with tears shining in his eyes, he then frees himself and runs away shouting: « Judas is a desecrator!... But I cannot tell... Respect me, Lord!...» and he hides in the wood, called in vain by Jesus, Who makes a gesture of disheartened grief.
But His voice has drawn the attention of the people in the house at Gethsemane. And Jonah appears at the kitchen door with Jesus' Mother, followed by the women disciples: Mary of Clopas, Mary Salome and Porphirea. When they see Jesus they set out to meet Him.
« Peace be with you all! Here I am, Mother!»
« All alone? Why?»
« I came ahead of the others. I left them at the Temple... But I was with Marjiam....»
« And where is my son now? I don't see him» asks Porphirea who looks rather upset.
« He went up there... But he will be here shortly. Have you enough food for everybody? The others will soon be here.»
« No, Lord, we have not. You said that You were going to Bethany...»
« Of course... But later I thought that it was better to come here. Go quickly to get what is necessary and come back at once. I will stay here with My Mother.»
The women disciples obey at once without any objection.
Jesus remains alone with Mary and they walk slowly under the thick tree branches, through which thin needlelike sunbeams filter delineating tiny golden circles on the green grass.
« I am going to Bethany after our meal, with Simon.»
« Simon of Jonah?»
« No, Simon Zealot. And I am taking Marjiam with Me...» Jesus becomes silent and pensive.
Mary notices and asks: « Has Marjiam displeased You?»
« No, Mother. On the contrary! What makes You think so?»
« Why are You pensive?... Why were You calling him so insistently? And why did he leave You? Why did he run away from You as if he were ashamed? He did not even come to greet his mother and Me!»
« The boy ran away because of a question of Mine».
« Oh!...» Mary is deeply astonished. She is silent for a short while, then She whispers, as if She were talking to Herself: « The couple in the Earthly Paradise ran away after their sin, when they heard the voice of God... But we must understand the boy, Son. He is growing into a man... and perhaps... Satan bites every man, Son» says Mary in a pitiful imploring voice...
Jesus looks at Her and says: « How motherly You are! You are the “Mother”! But do not think that the boy has sinned. On the contrary, I assure You that he is suffering because he has been hurt by a striking disclosure. He is pure and very good... I will take him with Me today, so that he may realise, without being told, that I understand him. Words would be of no use, and in any case I would not be able to find any which could justify the desecration of innocence.» Jesus utters the last words in a severe voice.
« Oh! Son! Is it as bad as that? I will not ask You any name. But if any of us was able to upset the boy, it could only be one... What a demon!»
« Let us go and look for Marjiam, Mother. He will not run away from You.»
They go and find him behind a hawthorn bush.
« Were you gathering flowers for Me, My dear son?» asks Mary going towards him and embracing him...
« No, but I was longing for You» says Marjiam with his face still wet with tears.
« And I have come. Let us go now, because today you are going to Bethany with My Jesus! And you must be dressed properly.»
Marjiam's face shines with joy, as he has already overcome his embarrassment, and he says: « Just He and I?»
« And Simon Zealot.»
Marjiam, who is still a boy, leaps for joy and runs out of his hiding place and falls on Jesus' chest. He is excited.
But Jesus smiles and encourages him saying: « Go and see whether your father has arrived.» And while Marjiam runs away, Jesus remarks: « He is still a child, although so sensible in thought. It is a real crime to upset his heart. But I will take the necessary action» and He walks towards the house with Mary.
Before they arrive there they see Marjiam running back towards them. « Master... Mother... There are some people... some of those who were in the Temple... The proselytes... There is a woman... A woman who wants to see You, Mother... She says that she met You in Bethlehem... Her name is Naomi.»
« I met so many women, then! But let us go...»
They arrive at the little opening where the house is. A group of people are waiting for Jesus and as soon as they see Him they prostrate themselves. But a woman stands up at once and runs towards Mary throwing herself at Her feet and calling Her by Her name.
« Who are you? I do not remember you. Stand up.»
The woman stands up and is about to speak when the apostles arrive panting.
« Lord, why did You do that? We have been running about Jerusalem like crazy people. We thought that You had gone to Johanna's or to Annaleah's... Why did You not remain with us?» they ask rather confusedly.
« Since we are now all together, there is no sense in explaining why. Let this woman speak in peace.»
They all gather round her to listen to her.
« You do not remember me, o Mary of Bethlehem. But for thirty-one years I have remembered Your name and Your face as the symbols of mercy. I had come from far, too, from Perga, because of the Edict. And I was pregnant. But I was hoping to get back home in time. My husband was taken ill on the way and he languished and died in Bethlehem. I gave birth to my child twenty days before he died. And my crying pierced the sky and desiccated my breast and turned my milk into poison. And both my son and I became covered with blisters... And we were thrown into a cavern and left there to die... Well... You were the only one who came cautiously, now and again, for a full month, and You brought us food and treated our sores, weeping with me and suckling my child, who owes his life to You... You risked being stoned because they called me the “leper woman”... Oh! My sweet star! I have not forgotten that. I went away when I was cured. And at Ephesus I heard of the slaughter. I looked for You for such a long time. I could not believe that You had been killed with Your Son during that dreadful night. But I never found You. Last summer a man from Ephesus heard Your Son, he found out who He was, he followed Him for some time and was with Him and with other people at the Tabernacles... And when he came back, he told me. And I came to see You, Holy Mother, before I die. I came to bless You for every drop of milk You gave my John, depriving Your blessed Son of it...» The woman is weeping, in a respectful attitude, with her head slightly bent, holding Mary's arms with her hands...
« One should never refuse to feed a baby, sister. And...»
« Oh! no. I cannot be Your sister! You are the Mother of the Saviour, and I was a poor forlorn woman, far from her house, a widow with a suckling, whose breast was as dry as a torrent in summer... I would have died without You. You gave me everything and I was able to go back to my brothers, who are merchants in Ephesus, thanks to You.»
« We were two mothers, two poor mothers, with two babies, in the wide world. It was your grief to be a widow, and Mine to be pierced because of My Son, as old Simeon told me in the Temple. I only did my duty as a sister by giving you what you no longer had. Is your son alive?»
« He is over there. And Your holy Son cured him this morning. May He be blessed for that!»
And she prostrates herself before the Saviour shouting: « John, come and thank the Lord.»
A man, of the same age as Jesus, leaves his companions and comes forward. He is strong and his face is honest, even if he is not handsome. But the expression of his deep eyes is beautiful.
« Peace to you, brother of Bethlehem. Of what disease did I cure you?»
« Of blindness, Lord. I had lost one eye, and I was about to lose the other one. I was the head of the synagogue, but I could no longer read the sacred rolls.»
« You will now read them with greater faith.»
« No, Lord. I will now read You. I want to remain with You as one of Your disciples, without setting up a claim for the milk that I sucked from the breast that nourished You. The days of one month are nothing and cannot create any tie, but the mercy of Your Mother in the past and Yours this morning are everything.»
Jesus addresses the woman: « And what do you say?»
« That my son will belong to You twice. Accept him, Lord. And the dream of poor Naomi will be fulfilled.»
« Very well. You will belong to the Christ.» And turning towards His apostles He says: « Receive your companion in the name of the Lord.»
The proselytes are elated with emotion. All the men would like to remain, but Jesus says firmly: « No. You will remain what you are. Go back to your homes, preserve your faith and wait for the hour to be called. And may the Lord be always with you. Go.»
« Shall we find You here again?» they ask.
« No. Like birds that fly from branch to branch, I move around without resting. You will not find Me here. I have no itinerary and no dwelling place. But if it is just, we shall meet again and you will hear Me. Go. Let the woman stay with the new disciple.»
And He enters the house followed by the women and the apostles who are deeply moved and comment on the episode which they ignored so far, and on Mary's sublime charity.
And Jesus goes to Bethany at a good pace. Simon Zealot and Marjiam are beside Him. They are both very happy to have been chosen for that visit.
Marjiam, who is now in better spirits, asks many questions about the woman who came from Ephesus and whether Jesus was aware of the fact.
« I did not know. The kind actions of My Mother are countless and are done in such mild silence that they are generally unknown.»
« But the episode is really beautiful» says the Zealot.
« Yes, so much so that I want to let John of Endor know. What do You think, Master? Shall we find his letters at Bethany?»
« I am almost certain that we shall.»
« We should find also the woman who was cured of leprosy» remarks the Zealot.
« Yes. She complied with the precepts faithfully. But the time of her purification must now be over.»
Bethany appears on its tableland. They pass in front of the house where once there were peacocks, flamingoes and stilt-birds. The house is now closed and forsaken. Simon notices it.
But his remark is interrupted by the cheerful greeting of Maximinus, who appears at the gate. « Oh! Holy Master! How much happiness in so much grief!»
« Peace to you. Why grief?»
« Because Lazarus is suffering terribly with his ulcerated legs. And we do not know what to do to relieve his pain. But he will feel better, at least spiritually, when he sees You.»
They go into the garden and while Maximinus runs ahead, they walk slowly towards the house.
Mary of Magdala runs out shouting adoringly: « Rabboni» and she is followed more calmly by Martha. They both look very pale like people who have suffered and lost sleep.
« Stand up. Let us go to Lazarus at once.»
« Oh! Master! Master, You can do everything, cure my brother!» implores Martha.
« Yes, good Master! He suffers more than he can bear! He is worn out and he groans with pain. He will certainly die, if he continues so. Have mercy on him, Lord!» urges Mary.
« I am full of mercy. But the time of miracle has not yet come for him. Let him be strong and be strong with him. Help him to do the will of God.»
« Ah! Do You mean that he must die?!» asks Martha moaning and weeping.
And Mary, whose eyes are shining with tears and love, a double love, for Jesus and her brother, exclaims: « Oh! Master, but in this way You prevent me from following and serving You, and You prevent my brother from enjoying my resurrection. Do You not want Lazarus' house to rejoice because of a resurrection?»
Jesus looks at her smiling kindly and wittily and He says: « Just for one? One only? Come on! You do not think much of Me if you think that I can do one thing only! Be good and strong. Let us go. And do not weep like that. You would dispirit him with grievous suspicion.» And He sets outs ahead of them.
In order to nurse Lazarus more comfortably, they have placed him in a room near the library, opposite the dining hall. Maximinus shows Him the door, but lets Jesus go in alone.
« Peace to you, Lazarus, My dear friend!»
« Oh! Holy Master! Peace to You. There is no more peace for me, for my body. And my soul is depressed. I am suffering so much, Lord! Give me the dear order: “Lazarus, come out” and I will rise completely cured to serve You...»
« I will give it to you, Lazarus. But not now» replies Jesus embracing him.
Lazarus is very thin and yellowish, with deep-set eyes. He is clearly very ill and weak. He weeps like a child showing his bluish swollen legs, with sores, which I think are varicose and are bleeding in several parts. He perhaps hopes that by showing Jesus the dreadful situation, He may be moved and work the miracle. But Jesus covers the sores delicately with the linen bandages sprayed with balm.
« Have you come to stay here?» asks Lazarus disappointedly.
« No, but I will come here frequently.»
« What? Are You not spending Passover with me this year either? I made them bring me here on purpose. At the Feast of the Tabernacles You promised me that You would stay with me for a long time after the Dedication...»
« And I will. But not now. Shall I annoy you if I sit here, on the edge of your bed?»
« Oh! no. On the contrary the coolness of Your hand seems to mitigate the heat of my fever. Why are You not staying, Lord?»
« Because as you are tormented by sores, I am tormented by enemies. Although Bethany is considered to be within the limits for the Supper for everybody, in My case it would be considered a sin, if I celebrated Passover here. Everything I do is considered sinful by the Sanhedrin and the Pharisees...»
« Ah! the Pharisees! That is true! But in my house, then... At least that!»
« Of course! But I will mention it at the last moment, as a precaution.»
« Yes! Do not trust them. Everything went well with John. You know? Ptolmai came yesterday with other people and he brought some letters for You. My sisters have them. But where are Martha and Mary? Are they not doing the honours of the house to You?» Lazarus is restless like many sick people.
« Do not worry. They are outside with Simon and Marjiam. I came with them. And I do not need anything. I will call them.» And He calls those who had wisely remained outside.
Martha goes out and comes back with two rolls which she hands to Jesus. In the meantime Mary informs them that a servant of Nicodemus has said that he has come ahead of his master, who is coming with Joseph of Arimathea. And at the same time Lazarus remembers a woman who « came yesterday in Your name» he says.
« Ah! Yes! Do you know who she is?»
« She told us. She is the daughter of a rich man from Jericho, who went to Syria many years ago, when he was young. He called her Anastasica in remembrance of the flower of the desert. However, she would not reveal the name of her husband» explains Martha.
« It is not necessary. He repudiated her and thus she is only “the disciple.” Where is she?»
« She was tired and she is sleeping. She had a hard time during the last days and nights. If You wish so, I will call her.»
« No. Let her sleep. I will see to her tomorrow.»
Lazarus looks at Marjiam admiringly. Marjiam is on tenterhooks. He would like to know the contents of the rolls. Jesus notices it and opens them. Lazarus says: « What? Does he know?»
« Yes, he does, as well as the others, with the exception of Nathanael, Philip, Thomas and Judas...»
« You did the right thing in not letting him know» exclaims Lazarus. « I have many doubts and fears...»
« I am not unwise, My dear friend» says Jesus interrupting him and He reads the rolls and then He relates the main pieces of news, that is, that the two have settled down, that the school is thriving and that everything would be proceeding very well, if John's health were not declining. But He can say no more because they are informed of the arrival of Nicodemus and Joseph.
« May God protect You, Master! Always, as this morning!»
« Thank you, Joseph. And you, Nicodemus, were you not there?»
« No, I was not. But I heard that You had arrived and I thought I should come to Lazarus's house, as I was almost certain that I would find You here. And Joseph joined me.»
They speak of the events of the morning, standing around the bed of Lazarus, who is greatly interested in them and seems relieved of his suffering.
« But Gamaliel, Lord! Did You hear him?» asks Joseph of Arimathea.
« Yes, I did.»
Nicodemus says: « I instead say: But Judas of Kerioth, Lord! After You left I found him shouting like a demon in the middle of a group of disciples of the rabbis. He was accusing and defending You at the same time. And I am sure that he was convinced that he was doing the right thing. They wanted to find fault with You, and were certainly instigated to do so by their teachers. He refuted their accusations heatedly saying: “My Master has one fault only! He does not enhance His power enough. He misses good opportunities. He wearies good people with His excessive meekness. He is King! And He must act as a King. You treat Him as a servant because He is so meek. He ruins Himself by being nothing but meek. The only thing that counts with you, vile cruel people, is the lash of absolute violent power. Oh! why can I not make a violent Saul of Him!”»
Jesus shakes His head without saying anything.
« And yet, he loves You in his own way» remarks Nicodemus.
« What a disconcerting man!» exclaims Lazarus.
« Yes. You are right. Although I have been with him for two years, I do not understand him yet» confirms the Zealot.
Mary of Magdala stands up with the majesty of a queen and in her beautiful voice she proclaims: « I have understood him more than anybody else: he is abomination placed close to Perfection. And there is nothing else to be said» and she goes out to perform a task and takes Marjiam with her.
« Perhaps Mary is right» says Lazarus.
« I think so, too» says Joseph.
« And what do You think, Master?»
« I say that Judas is a “man.” As Gamaliel is. A limited man close to infinite God. Man is so limited in thought, that unless he breathes in a supernatural atmosphere, he can accept one idea only, with which he becomes encrusted and remains forever. And he does so even against evidence, stubbornly and obstinately, even out of faith in what has struck him most. Gamaliel, after all, has faith, like few people in Israel, in the Messiah, Whom he recognised and of Whom he got a glimpse in a Child. And he is faithful to the words of that Child... And the same applies to Judas. Saturated as he is with the Messianic idea, as most people in Israel entertain it, and in which he was confirmed by the first manifestation he had of Me, he sees and wants to see Christ as king. An earthly powerful king... and he is faithful to such opinion. Oh! How many, even in future, will ruin themselves because of an erroneous concept of faith, stubborn against reason! But what do you think? That it is easy to follow truth and justice in everything? What do you think? That it is easy to reach salvation just because one is Gamaliel or the apostle Judas? No. I solemnly tell you that it is easier for a boy, for a common believer to be saved, than it is for one elevated to a special task or mission. Generally the pride of their vocation overwhelms those who are called to a special destiny, and such pride opens the door to Satan and rejects God. It is easier for stars to fall than it is for stones. The Cursed One strives to put stars out and he insinuates himself crookedly to lever up the chosen ones and thus overturn them. If a thousand or ten thousand men fall into common errors, their ruin effects them only. But if one appointed to a special destiny falls and becomes the instrument of Satan instead of God's, his voice instead of “mine”, his disciple instead of “mine”, then the ruin is much greater and may even bring about deep heresies, which injure countless souls. The good I give will bear much good if it falls on humble ground, which will remain humble. But if it falls on proud ground or which becomes proud because of the gift received, then the good turns into evil. Gamaliel was granted one of the first manifestations of the Christ. It was to be his early call to the Christ. That is why he is deaf to My Voice calling him. Judas was granted to be an apostle: one of the twelve apostles among the thousands of men in Israel. It was to be his sanctification. But what will it be?... My friends, man is the eternal Adam... Adam had everything. Everything except one thing. He wanted that one. And if man would only remain Adam! Very often he becomes Lucifer. He has everything except divinity. He wants that. He wants the supernatural to astonish, to be applauded, feared, known, celebrated... And in order to have something which God only can give gratuitously, he embraces Satan, who is the Monkey of God and gives simulated supernatural gifts. Oh! How horrible is the fate of those demons! I leave you, My friends. I will withdraw for a little while. I need to concentrate on God...»
Jesus, Who is quite upset, goes out... Those who are left: Lazarus, Joseph, Nicodemus and the Zealot, look at one another.
« Did you notice how upset He was?» Joseph asks Lazarus in a low voice.
« I did. He seemed to be seeing a dreadful sight.»
« What can be worrying Him?» asks Nicodemus.
« He only and the Eternal Father know» replies Joseph.
« Do you know what it is, Simon?»
« No. He has certainly been depressed for months.»
« May God save Him! But hatred is certainly growing.»
« Yes, Joseph. Hatred is growing... I am afraid that Hatred will soon overcome Love.»
« Don't say so, Simon! If that must happen I will no longer ask to be cured! It is better to die than watch the most dreadful error.»
« The most dreadful sacrilege, you should say, Lazarus...»
« And yet... Israel is quite capable of that. It is ready to repeat the gesture of Lucifer by going to war with the Blessed Lord» says Nicodemus with a sigh.
Sad silence follows, as if each of them had a lump in his throat... It is getting dark in the room where four honest people are meditating on future criminals.