2nd February 1946.
They come out of the Temple, overcrowded with people and plunge into the swarming streets, where everybody is making haste in the last preparations for Passover and late-comers are anxiously looking for a room, a hall, any place at all, to use as a supper-room, where to consume the lamb.
It is thus easy to meet people but it is also easy not to recognise one another in the dense agitated crowd, as one sees faces of all ages, of all the regions where there are Israelites, and where the pure blood of Israel, through mixture of blood or simply through mimicry, has become like other races. One can thus see Jews who are like Egyptians or look like Nubians because of their thick prominent lips, snub noses and facial angle; others with small fine features, slender bodies, witty eyes make one understand that they come from the Greek colonies or are crossed with Greeks; whereas tall robust men, with rather square faces, clearly show that they are connected with the Latin race; and there are many who modem people would say are Circassians or Persians with a resemblance of Mongolian or Indian eyes in the very white faces of the former and the olive-hued faces of the latter. A beautiful kaleidoscope of faces and garments! The result is that one's eyes become tired and one ends up by looking without seeing. But what escapes one is noticed by another.
It is therefore understandable that what escapes the Master, Who is always absorbed in thought when He is left in peace, without being asked questions, is noticed by this one or that one of His followers. And the apostles, those who are closer to Jesus, point out to one another what they see and talk to one another in low voices making worldly comments... on the people they Point out.
One such biting comment on an ex-disciple who passes by haughtily, pretending he does not see them, is heard by Jesus, Who asks: « To whom were those words referred?»
« To that blockhead over there» says James of Zebedee. « He pretended he did not see us, and he is not the only one to do so. But when he wanted to be cured and was looking for You, he did see us! I hope he gets a malignant pustule!»
« James!! Are you standing beside Me with such feelings while you are getting ready to consume the lamb? In actual fact you are more inconsistent than he. He went away openly when he felt he could not do what I said. You, instead, have remained but you do not do what I say. Are you not perhaps a greater sinner than he?»
James blushes so deeply that he looks congested, and he withdraws behind his companions, as he is humiliated.
« It hurts to see them behave like that, Master!» says John to support his brother who has been reproached. « Our love rebels seeing their estrangement...»
« Of course. But do you think that you can bring them back to love by so doing? Discourteous acts, bad words, insults have never brought a rival or a man of different opinion to where he should be led. It is through kindness, patience, charity, persevering notwithstanding refusals, that you achieve your purpose. I understand and pity your hearts, which suffer seeing that I am not loved. But I would like to see and know that you are more supernatural in your acts and means to make Me loved. Come on, James, come here. I did not speak to humiliate you. Let us love and understand one another, at least among ourselves, My dear friends... There is already so much incomprehension and sorrow for the Son of man!»
James, who is cheerful again, goes back beside Him.
They walk for some time in silence, then Thomas bursts into a thundering exclamation: « But it's really a shame!»
« What?» asks Jesus.
« The meanness of so many people! Master, don't You see how many pretend they do not know You?»
« So what? Will their behaviour change one iota of what has been written about Me? No, it will not. Only with regard to themselves what could be written will change. Because in the eternal books it could be said of them: “Good disciples”, whereas it will be written: “They were not good, the coming of the Messiah meant nothing to them.” Dreadful words, you know? Worse than: “Adam and Eve sinned.” Because I can cancel that sin. But I will not be able to cancel the sin of those who deny the Word Saviour... Let us go this way. I will stop with My brothers, with Simon Peter and James in the suburb of Ophel. Judas of Simon also will remain with Me. But Simon Zealot, John and Thomas will go to Gethsemane to get the bags...»
« Yes, so Jonah's lamb will not go down his throat the wrong way» says Peter, who is still angry. The others laugh...
« Be good! There is no reason to be astonished if he is afraid. You might feel the same tomorrow.»
« Me, Master? The sea of Galilee is more likely to turn into wine than I am to be afraid» states Peter confidently.
« And yet... the other evening... Oh! Simon! You did not look so brave on the staircase of Chuza's palace» remarks Judas of Kerioth pungently, without being too ironic... but sufficiently sarcastic to bite Peter.
« I was afraid for the Lord, that is why I was worried! For no other reason.»
« Very well! Let us hope that we shall... never be afraid, so that we may not cut a bad figure, eh!» replies Judas of Kerioth, clapping him on his shoulder, protectingly and maliciously...
At any other moment his behaviour would have given rise to a reaction. But Peter, since the previous evening, is full of... admiration for Judas and puts up with him in everything.
Jesus says: « Philip and Nathanael with Andrew and Matthew, please go to Lazarus' palace and tell them that we are coming.»
The four apostles part and the others proceed with Jesus. The disciples, with the exception of Stephen and Isaac, go with the apostles sent to the palace.
At the Ophel suburb there is a further parting. Those bound for Gethsemane go away quickly with Isaac. Stephen remains with Jesus, the sons of Alphaeus, Peter, James and the Iscariot and to avoid stopping at the cross-roads, they proceed slowly in the same direction as those who have gone to Gethsemane. They go along the same little street along which Jesus will be taken by His torturers on the evening of Holy Thursday. Now, about midday, it is empty. After a short distance they come to a little square with a fountain shaded by a fig-tree, which is opening its little tender leaves above the calm water.
« There is Samuel of Annaleah» says James of Alphaeus, who must know him well. The young man is about to enter a house carrying a lamb... and other foodstuffs.
« He is preparing the Passover supper also for his relative» remarks Judas of Alphaeus.
« Has he settled here now? Had he not gone away?» asks Peter.
« Yes, he has settled here. They say that he is flirting with the daughter of Cleopas, the sandal-maker. She is wealthy...»
« Ah! So why does he say that Annaleah left him?» asks the Iscariot.
« That's a lie!»
« Man often makes use of lies. And he does not realise that by doing so he takes the wrong path. The first step, one step, is enough, and one can no longer get free... It is birdlime... it is a labyrinth... a snare... A sloping snare...» says Jesus to Judas of Kerioth.
« What a pity! He seemed such a good man last year!» says James of Zebedee.
« Yes. I really thought that he would imitate his girl-friend devoting himself entirely to You and forming a couple of married angels and Your servants. I would have sworn to it!...» says Peter.
« My dear Simon! Never swear on the future of man. It is the most uncertain of all things. No element, existing at the time of the oath, can guarantee a safe oath. There are criminals who become saints, and there are just people, or apparently just, who become criminals» Jesus replies to him.
Samuel in the meantime, after going into the house, has come out once again to draw water at the fountain... He thus sees Jesus. He looks at Him with obvious contempt and hurls at Him what is certainly an insult, although I do not understand it, as it was spoken in Hebrew.
The Iscariot jumps forward all of a sudden, he catches him by the arm, shaking him like a tree from which one wants ripe fruit to drop: « Is that how you speak to the Master, you sinner? Down, on your knees, at once! Apologise to Him, you foul tongue of a dirty pig! Down! Or I'll break your neck!» Handsome Judas is furious in his sudden violence! His countenance has changed fearfully. Jesus tries to calm him in vain. He does not release his hold until he sees the sinner kneeling on the muddy earth around the fountain.
« Forgive me» says the unlucky fellow between his teeth, feeling Judas' fingers torture him like pincers. But he says so badly, only because he is forced to it.
Jesus replies: « I am not angry. But you still are, notwithstanding what you say. Words are useless unless they are uttered with one's heart. But you are still cursing Me in your heart. And you are thus twice guilty. Because you accuse Me and you hate Me for a reason, which your conscience, from its very depth, tells you is not true. And because you are the only one who is at fault, not Annaleah, not I. But I forgive you everything. Go and try to become honest and pleasing to God. Let him go, Judas.»
« I am going. But I hate You! You have led Annaleah astray, and I hate You...»
« But you have found consolation with Rebecca, the sandalmaker's daughter. And you have sought consolation since Annaleah was your fiancee, and although ill, she thought of you only...»
« I was a widower... I thought I already was... and I was looking for a wife... I have now gone back to Rebecca because... because Annaleah does not want me» says Samuel to justify himself, when he realises that his mischief has been discovered.
Judas Iscariot concludes: « ... and because Rebecca is very rich. She is as ugly as an old worn-out sandal... and as old as a sole lost along the way... but rich, oh! very rich!...» and he laughs sarcastically, while the other runs away.
« How do you, know?» asks Peter.
« Oh!... it is easy to find out where there are virgins and money!»
« Well! Shall we go along this little street, Master? This square is as hot as an oven. It is shaded and windy» implores Peter who is perspiring.
They walk slowly, waiting for the others to come back. The street is deserted. A woman comes out of a door and prostrates herself at Jesus' feet weeping.
« What is the matter?»
« Master!... Are You already purified?»
« Yes. Why are you asking Me?»
« Because I wanted to tell You... But You cannot approach him. He is all rotten... The doctor says that he is infected. I will call the priest after Passover... and... Hinnom will receive him. Don't say that it is my fault. I did not know... He worked at Joppa for many months and he came back saying that he had injured himself. I have used balms and I have bathed him with aromatic herbs... But they do not help. I applied to a herbalist. He gave me some powders for the blood... I separated the children... the bed... because I was beginning to realise. He got worse. I sent for the doctor. He said to me: “Woman, you know what your duty is and I know mine. It is an injury caused by lust. Separate him from yourself, I will separate him from the people, the priest from Israel. He should have thought about it when he was offending God, you and himself. Let him expiate now.” He promised not to say anything until after the Feast of the Unleavened Bread. But if You had mercy on the sinner, on me who love him and on the five innocent children...»
« What do you want Me to do for you? Do you not think that he who sinned should expiate?»
« Yes, Lord! But You are the Living Mercy!» All the faith of which a woman is capable is in her voice, in her eyes, in her kneeling attitude, with her arms stretched out towards the Saviour.
« And what are his feelings?»
« He is disheartened... What else could he be, Lord?»
« A supernatural feeling of repentance, of justice would be sufficient to obtain mercy!...»
« Yes. He should say: “I have sinned. My sin deserves this and much more, but I ask those whom I offended to have mercy on me.”»
« I have already had pity on him. You, God, have mercy on him. I cannot say to You: come in... I am not touching You myself either... But if You want I will call him and I will make him speak from the terrace.»
« Yes, do.»
The woman, with her head inside the door of the house, shouts in a loud voice: « Jacob! Jacob! Go up to the roof. Look out. Don't be afraid.»
A few moments later the man appears at the parapet of the terrace. His face is yellowish and swollen, his neck and one hand are bandaged... the wreck of an infected man... He looks with the watery eyes of a man affected by dishonourable diseases. He asks: « Who wants me?»
« Jacob, the Saviour is here...» The woman says no more but she looks as if she wanted to hypnotise the sick man and instill her thoughts into him...
The man, whether he perceives her thoughts, or through a spontaneous act, stretches his arms and says: « Oh! free me! I believe in You! It is terrible to die like this!»
« It is terrible to fail in one's duty. You did not think of that! You did not think of your children!»
« Have mercy, Lord... On them, on me... Forgive me!» And he leans on the low wall weeping. His bandaged hand is protruding as well as his arm, which is uncovered as his sleeve is pulled up and is spotted with pustules, and swollen: a repulsive sight... The man, in his present position, is like a macabre puppet or a corpse abandoned there and about to decay. A pitiful and disgusting sight at the same time.
The woman is weeping, still on her knees, in the dust. Jesus seems to be waiting for a further word.
At last it is heard among sobs: « I implore You with contrition in my heart! At least assure me that they will not starve... and then... I will go with resignation... But save my soul, o Blessed Saviour! At least that!»
« Yes, I will cure you. For the innocent children's sake and to give you the opportunity to become just. Do you understand? Remember that the Saviour cured you. God will absolve you of your sins according to how you respond to this grace. Goodbye. Peace to you woman.» And He almost runs away to meet those who are coming from Gethsemane. Not even the shouts of the man who feels and sees that he has been cured can stop Him, or those of his wife...
« Let us go along this lane, to avoid passing there again» says Jesus after He has joined the others. They walk along a miserable lane, which is so narrow that two people can hardly go along it walking side by side and if one should meet a donkey with a pack-saddle, one would have to stick to the wall like a stamp. The light is very faint because the roofs almost touch each other. It is a solitary, silent, bad smelling lane. They proceed in single file to the end of it. Then at a little square, crowded with boys, they all get together.
« Why did You say those words to that man? You never said them before...» asks Peter curiously.
« Because that man will be one of My enemies. And his future sin will aggravate his present fault.»
« And You cured him?!» they all ask with surprised countenance.
« Yes. For the innocent children's sake.»
« H'm! He will fall ill again...»
« No, he will take care of his body, after the fright he had and what he suffered. He will not be taken ill again.»
« But he will sin against You, as You said. I would have let him die.»
« You are a sinner, Simon of Jonah.»
« And You are too good, Jesus of Nazareth» replies Peter. They disappear in a central street and I no longer can see them.
A note of mine.
I have recognised both the man who was cured and Samuel. The former is the man who hit Jesus' head with a stone at His Passion. I recognise him better than his wife, who was sorrowful then as she is now and I recognise the house, which has a characteristically tall door with three steps. Likewise, notwithstanding the mask of hatred that transforms him, I recognise in Samuel the young man who kills his mother with a kick in order to be able to go and strike the Master with a cudgel.