27th January 1946.
The followers of Jesus certainly do not stand out for their courage! The news brought by Judas has the same effect as the apparition of a hawk over a threshing-floor crowded with chicks or the presence of a wolf on the edge of a cliff close to a flock of sheep! The faces of most of them, particularly of the men, show signs of fear or at least of anxiety. I think that many of them are under the impression that a sword or a lash is already pressing against their skin or that they will be thrown into dungeons awaiting trial and that is probably the least penalty of which they are thinking. The women are not so excited. More than anything else they are worried about their sons or husbands, whom they advise to steal away in little groups through the country.
Mary of Magdala rebels against such waves of exaggerated fear: « Oh! How many gazelles there are in Israel! Are you not ashamed of trembling thus? I told you that in my house you will be safer than in a stronghold. So come! And upon my word I can assure you that nothing will happen to you. If in addition to those mentioned by Jesus there are other people who feel that they will be safer in my house, let them come. There are enough beds for a century. Come on, make up your minds, instead of fainting with fear! I only ask Johanna to send her servants after us with foodstuffs. Because there is not enough in the house for everybody, and it is now evening. A good meal is the best cure for a faint-heart.» She is not only imposing in her white dress, but her beautiful eyes are also quite ironical and she looks down on the frightened group crowding into Johanna's hall.
« I will send them at once. You may go, Jonathan will follow you with the servants, and I will come as well, because I want to have the pleasure of following the Master, without being afraid, I can assure you, so much so, that I will bring the children with me» says Johanna. She withdraws to give the necessary instructions while the vanguard of the frightened army look cautiously out of the main door, and when they see that there is nothing to be afraid of, they dare go out into the street and set out, followed by the others.
The group of the virgins is in the centre, immediately after Jesus, Who is in the first lines. The women are behind the virgins... and then the less brave ones, whose backs are protected by Mary of Lazarus, who has joined the Roman ladies, as they have decided not to part from the Master so early. Then Mary of Lazarus runs ahead to say something to her sister and the seven Roman ladies are left with Sarah and Marcella, who are also in the rearguard by order of Mary, also with a view to letting the seven Roman ladies pass unnoticed.
Johanna arrives quickly holding the children by the hand, and behind her there is Jonathan and some servants laden with bags and baskets. They bring up the rear, but no one pays attention to the little group, as the streets are crowded with people going home or to their camps and in the faint light faces are not easily recognised. Mary of Magdala is now in the first line with Johanna, Anastasica and Eliza, and she leads the guests to her house through narrow side-streets.
Jonathan is walking quite close to the Roman ladies, to whom he speaks as if they were the servants of the richest women disciples. Claudia takes advantage of the situation to say to him: « Man, please go and call the disciple who brought the news. Tell him to come here. But speak to him in such a way as not to draw the attention of other people. Go!» Her dress is a plain one, but her attitude is unintentionally imposing, typical of a person accustomed to giving orders. Jonathan opens his eyes wide, trying to see, through her lowered veil, who is the woman speaking to him thus. But he cannot see the flashing eyes of the imperious woman. He must realise that the woman who has spoken to him is not a servant, and he bows to her before departing.
He reaches Judas of Kerioth who is talking animatedly to Stephen and Timoteus, and he pulls his sleeve.
« What do you want?»
« I have something to tell you.»
« Tell me.»
« No. Come with me. You are wanted, for alms, I think...»
The excuse is a good one and it is accepted peacefully by Judas' companions and enthusiastically by Judas himself, who goes back quickly with Jonathan.
He is now at the rear line. « Woman, this is the man you wanted» says Jonathan to Claudia.
« Thank you for serving me» she replies with her veil still lowered. She then addresses Judas: « Please stop for a moment and listen to me.»
Judas, who has heard her refined way of speaking and has seen two wonderful eyes through her thin veil and perhaps feels there is the prospect of a great adventure, agrees without any objection.
The group of the Roman ladies parts. Plautina and Valeria remain with Claudia, the others go on. Claudia looks around. She sees the lonely little street in which they have stopped, and with her beautiful hand she removes her veil, uncovering her face.
Judas recognises her and after a moment's astonishment, he bows greeting her with a mixture of Jewish gestures and a Roman word:« Domina!»
« Yes, it is I. Stand up and listen. You love the Nazarene. You are anxious about His welfare. You are right. He is a virtuous man and must be defended. We respect Him as a great just man. The Jews do not respect Him. They hate Him. I know. Listen. Understand properly what I say, remember it well and act accordingly. I want to protect Him. Not like the lewd girl of a little while ago, but honestly and virtuously. When your love and your sagacity make you understand that there is a danger for Him, come or send someone. Claudia dominates over Pontius. Claudia will obtain protection for the Just One. Is that clear?»
« Perfectly clear, domina. May our God protect you. If at all possible, I will come myself. But how can I get to you?»
« Always ask for Albula Domitilla. That is another name I use, but no one is amazed if she speaks to Jews, because she takes care of my liberality. They will think that you are a client. Will that humiliate you?»
« No, domina. It is an honour to serve the Master and have your protection.»
« Yes, I will protect you. I am a woman but I belong to the Claudi family. I am more powerful than all the mighty ones in Israel, because Rome is behind me. In the meantime take this. It's our offering for the poor of the Christ. But... I would like to remain among the disciples this evening. Arrange that for me and you will be protected by Claudia.»
The words of the patrician have a miraculous effect on a man like the Iscariot. He is in his seventh heaven!... He dares to ask her: « But will you really help Him?»
« Yes, I will. His Kingdom deserves to be established, because it is a kingdom of virtue. It is welcome, against the foul waves that cover present kingdoms and disgust me. Rome is great, but the Rabbi is by far greater than Rome. We have eagles on our banners and the proud monogram. But He will have Genii and His holy Name on His. Rome and the Earth will be really great when they put that Name on their banners, and His sign will be on standards, temples, arches and columns.»
Judas is astonished, ecstatic, in a dream. He tosses the heavy purse given to him, and does so mechanically, nodding assent all the time...
« Now let us go and join them. We are allied, are we not? Allied to protect your Master and the King of honest souls.»
She lowers her veil and nimbly runs off to reach the group ahead of her, followed by the other ladies and by Judas, who is panting not so much because of his physical effort as for what he has heard. The last disciples are entering Lazarus' building when they reach them. They go in quickly and the heavy iron door is closed with a loud noise of latches bolted by the keeper.
A solitary lamp, held by the keeper's wife, hardly lights up the white square hall of Lazarus' house. The house is obviously uninhabited, although it is well kept and tidy. Mary and Martha lead the guests into a large room, certainly used for banquets, the walls of which are covered with precious cloths showing their arabesque decorations as chandeliers are lit and lamps are placed on sideboards, on precious chests laid around the walls, or on the tables, which are on one side, ready to be used, but which have not been used for a long time. Mary orders them to be brought to the centre of the room and laid for supper with the foodstuff that Johanna's servants are taking out of bags and baskets and putting on the sideboards.
Judas takes Peter to one side and whispers something in his ear,
I see Peter open his eyes wide and shake his hand as if he had burned his fingers, while he exclaims: « By thunders! What are you saying?»
« Yes, look. Just imagine! We no longer need be afraid! There is no longer any reason to be so depressed!»
« But that's too much! But what did she say? That she will really protect us? May God bless her! But which one is she?»
« The tall slender one, wearing a turtle-dove dress. She is looking at us...» Peter looks at the tall woman, whose face is regular and grave, and whose eyes are kind but imperious.
« And... how did you manage to speak to her? Did you not feel...»
« No, not at all.»
« And yet you hated their contact! Like me, like everybody...»
« Yes, but I overcame that feeling for the Master's sake. As I overcame my desire to part company with my old companions of the Temple... Oh! Everything for the Master! My mother and you all think that I am shady. You recently blamed me for the friends I have. But if I did not cultivate their friendship, which is very painful to me, I would not learn many things. There is no sense in closing our eyes or sealing our ears with wax lest the world should come into us through our eyes or ears. When one is in an enterprise like ours, one's eyes and ears must be absolutely free and watchful. We must watch over Him, His wealth, His mission, and the foundation of this blessed kingdom...»
Many of the apostles and some disciples have approached them and are listening, nodding assent. In fact no one can say that Judas is wrong in what he is saying!
Peter, being honest and humble, admits it and says: « You are quite right! Forgive me for my reproaches. You are worth more than I am and you know what to do. Oh! Let us go and tell the Master, His Mother and yours! She was so worried!»
« Because evil tongues have hinted... But be silent for the time being. Later... See? They are sitting at the table and the Master is beckoning to us to go...»
... It is a quick meal. Also the Roman ladies, sitting at the table of the women and mixed with them, so that Claudia is between Porphirea and Dorcas, are eating in silence what is put before them. They exchange mysterious smiles and meaningful nods with Johanna and Mary of Magdala. They look like school-children on holiday.
When supper is over Jesus tells them to form a square with their seats and sit down in order to listen to Him. He places Himself in the centre and begins to speak in the middle of a square of attentive faces, where only the little innocent eyes of Dorcas' baby, who is sleeping in his mother's lap, are closed, while the eyes of Mary, sat on Johanna's knees, and those of Matthias, cuddled on Jonathan's, are becoming heavy with sleep.
« O disciples gathered here in the Name of the Lord, or attracted here by the desire of Truth, a desire that still comes from God, Who wants light and truth to be in all hearts, listen.
This evening we have been allowed to be all together, and this has been caused by wicked people who want us to be scattered. Owing to the limitations of one's senses, one is not in a position to realise how deep and vast is this union, true dawn of the future unions that will take place when the Master is no longer among you in His body, but will be with you with His spirit. You will then know how to love, and how to practice My doctrine. For the time being you are like babies who are breast-fed. You will then be like adults and will be able to take all kinds of food without any harm. And then you will be able to say, as I say now: “Come to me, all of you, because we are all brothers and because He sacrificed Himself for us all.”
There are too many prejudices in Israel! And they are like arrows injuring charity. I am speaking openly to you, loyal followers, because there are no traitors among you, or people with prejudicial ideas, which separate or lead to misunderstanding, obstinacy and hatred against Me, Who points out to you the ways of future times. I cannot speak in a different way. And from now on I will speak less, because I see that words are useless or almost useless. You have heard enough to become perfectly holy and learned. But you have made little progress, you brother-men particularly, because you like My words but you do not practise them. From now on, in a more and more pressing manner, I will make you do what you will have to do when the Master has gone back to Heaven, from which He came. I will let you watch what the future Priest is. Rather than My words, you must pay attention to My deeds, repeat them, learn them, add them to My teaching. You will thus become perfect disciples.
What has the Master done and what has He made you do and practise to day? Charity in its multiform ways. Charity towards God. Not just the charity of vocal ritual prayer. But active charity, which renews you in the Lord, despoiling you of the spirit of the world and of the heresies of heathenism, which is to be found not only in heathens, but also in Israel, in the many customary practices that have replaced the true holy Religion, as open and simple as all things coming from God. Not good deeds, or apparently good to be praised by men, but holy deeds to deserve the praise of God.
Every man who was born will die. You are aware of that. But life does not end with death. It continues in a different form and lasts forever with a reward for those who were just, and a punishment for those who were wicked. The knowledge of a definite judgement must not paralyse you during your lifetime or at the hour of your death. It must be a spur and a restraint, a spur urging you to do good, a restraint deterring you from evil passions. So be true lovers of the true God, always operating with the aim of deserving Him in the future life.
You men, who love grandeur, which grandeur is greater than to become children of God, that is, gods? And you who shun pain, which certainty of suffering no longer is there as that awaiting you in Heaven? Be holy. Do you want to establish a kingdom on the Earth? Do you feel that snares are laid for you and are you afraid that you may not succeed? If you behave as holy people, you will succeed. Because the very authority ruling over us will not be able to stop you, notwithstanding all its cohorts, because you will convince the cohorts to follow My holy doctrine as I, without any violence, have convinced the women of Rome that the Truth is here...»
« Lord!...» exclaim the Roman ladies seeing that their presence has been disclosed.
« Yes, women. Listen and remember. I tell My followers from Israel and I tell you, who are not from Israel but whose souls are just, what is the statute of My Kingdom.
No rebellions. They are of no use. We are to sanctify the authorities imbuing them with our holiness. It will be a long but successful work. With meekness and patience, without foolish haste or human deviations, by obeying when obedience is not noxious to your own souls, you will succeed in turning the authorities, now ruling over us in a pagan way, into Christian authorities protecting us. Do your duty as subjects towards authorities, as you do your duty as believers towards God. You must consider each authority a means of elevation, not of oppression, because it gives you the opportunity to sanctify it and yourselves, through examples and heroism.
And as you are faithful believers and good citizens, be also good husbands and wives; be holy, chaste, obedient, fond of each other, united to bring up your children in the Lord. Be fatherly and motherly to your servants and slaves, because they also have bodies and souls, feelings and affections like yourselves. If death deprives you of your husband or wife, if possible, do not be anxious to get married again. Love orphans, also on behalf of your deceased companion. You, servants, be subject to your masters, and if they are faulty, sanctify them through your own example. You will have great merit in the eyes of the Lord. In future, in My Name, there will be no more servants and masters, but brothers. There will be no different races, but brothers. There will be no more oppressors and oppressed, hating one another, because those who are oppressed will call their oppressors brothers.
And you, who are of the same faith, love one another, helping one another, as I made you do today. But do not confine your help to the poor, to the pilgrims, to the sick people of your own race. Open your arms to everybody, as Mercy opens them to you. Let those who have more, help those who have little or nothing. Let those who are more learned teach those who do not know or know little, and let them teach patiently and humbly, remembering that you really knew nothing before I taught you. Seek Wisdom not to add lustre to your names, but to obtain assistance in proceeding in the way of the Lord.
Let married women love virgins, and the latter love the former, and both love widows. You are all useful in the Kingdom of the Lord. The poor must not envy the rich and the rich must not cause hatred through display of wealth and hardness of heart. Take care of orphans, sick and homeless people. Open your hearts, before opening your purses and your homes, because if you give assistance with an ill grace, you do not honour but you offend God, Who is present in every unhappy person.
I solemnly tell you that it is not difficult to serve the Lord. It is enough to love the true God and your neighbour, whoever that may be. I will be present every time you cure a sore or a disease. And everything you do for Me in future, if it is good, it will be done to Me; if it is bad, it will still be done to Me. Do you want to make Me suffer? Do you want to lose the Kingdom of peace, do you want to miss the opportunity of becoming gods, just by not being good to your neighbour?
Never again shall we be all united as we are now. More Passovers will come... but it will not be possible for us to be together for many reasons, first because of partly holy and partly excessive caution, and every excess is faulty, so that we will have to be separated; secondly because I shall not be with you in future Passovers... But remember this day. In future you are to do, not only at Passover, but always, what I made you do today.
I have never deceived you, stating that it is easy to belong to Me. To belong to Me means not only living in the Light and Truth, but it also implies eating the bread of conflict and persecution. But the stronger you are in love, the stronger you will be in struggles and persecutions.
Believe in Me. For what I really am: Jesus Christ, the Saviour, Whose Kingdom is not of this world, Whose coming means peace to good people, Whose possession means knowledge and Possession of God, because he who has Me in himself and has himself in Me, is in God, and has God in his spirit now, and will have Him later in the celestial Kingdom forever.
Night has fallen. Tomorrow is Preparation Day. Go. Purify yourselves, meditate, celebrate a holy Passover.
And you women of a different race, but whose spirits are righteous, go. May the good will by which you are animated be for you the way to come to the Light. In the name of the poor, as I am poor Myself, I bless you for your generous alms, and I bless you for your kind intentions to the Man Who has come to bring love and peace to the Earth. Go! And you, Johanna, and anybody else who is not afraid of snares, may go.»
A whispering of astonishment runs through the meeting while the Roman ladies, who are now only six as Eglah is staying with Mary of Magdala, put into a bag the waxed tablets written by Flavia while Jesus was speaking, and go out after bidding goodbye to everybody collectively. The astonishment is such that no one moves, with the exception of Johanna, Jonathan and Johanna's servants, who are carrying the sleeping children in their arms. But after the hollow noise of the main door being closed tells the remainders that the Romans ladies have gone, the whispering becomes a clamour.
« Who are they?»
« Why were they here?»
« What have they done?»
And above all Judas shouts: « Lord, how do You know about the rich offering they gave me?»
Jesus calms the uproar with a gesture and He says: « They were Claudia and her lady-companions. And while the other ladies of Israel, fearing the wrath of their husbands, or having the same minds and hearts of their husbands, dare not become My followers, the despised pagan ladies, with holy astuteness know how to come to learn the Doctrine which, even if for the time being it is accepted in a human way, still serves to elevate... And this girl, previously a slave, but of Jewish extraction, is the flower offered by Claudia to Christ's followers, as she has been made free and entrusted to the faith of Christ. With regard to My knowing about their offering... Oh! Judas! Everybody but you should ask Me that question! You know that I see in men's hearts.»
« So You know that I spoke the truth when I said that they were laying snares and that I baffled them when I went to make... guilty people speak?»
« That is true.»
« Please say that in a loud voice, that my mother may hear... Mother, I am boy, but not a scoundrel... Mother, let us make peace. Let us love and understand each other, united in serving our Jesus.»
And Judas goes humbly and lovingly to embrace his mother, who says: « Yes, son! Yes, my Judas. Good! Good! Be always good, my child! For yourself, for the Lord! For your poor mother!»
The hall is now full of excitement and comments, and many state that it was not wise to receive the Roman ladies and they reproach Jesus.
Judas hears them, He leaves his mother and hastens to defend the Master. He informs them of his conversation with Claudia and concludes: « Her help is not to be neglected. We have been persecuted even before she came among us. Let her do as she wishes. And remember, it is better not to say a word to anybody. Consider that if to be friendly with heathens is dangerous for the Master, it is just as dangerous for us. The Sanhedrin which, after all, is held back by fear of Jesus because of a lively dread of lifting its hand against the Anointed of the Lord, would not hesitate one moment to kill us like dogs, as we are poor common men. Instead of putting on scandalised looks, remember that only a little while ago you were like frightened sparrows and bless the Lord for helping us through unexpected means, even if you may think they are not legal. They are, however, strong enough to establish the Kingdom of the Messiah. We shall be able to do anything if Rome defends us! Oh! I am no longer afraid! This is a great day! More for this thing than for anything else... Ah! when You will be our Head! What a meek, strong, blessed power! What peace! What justice! The strong friendly Kingdom of the Just One! And the world will be coming slowly to it!... Prophecies will be fulfilled! Crowds, nations... the world will be at Your feet! Oh! Master! You will be the King, and we will be Your ministers... Peace on the Earth, glory in Heaven... Jesus Christ of Nazareth, King of the stock of David, Messiah and Saviour, I greet You and adore You!» and Judas, who seems to be in raptures, concludes prostrating himself: « Your Name is known on the Earth, in Heaven and even in Hell. Your power is infinite. Which strength can resist You, o Lamb and Lion, Priest and King, three times Holy?» and he remains prostrated on the floor in the hall, which is struck dumb with amazement.