3rd February 1946.
When Jesus enters the palace, He sees that it is crowded with servants from Bethany, who are busy making preparations. Lazarus, who is lying on a little bed and is suffering very much, greets the Master with a faint smile. He hastens towards him, bending kindly over the little bed and asking: « You have suffered a great deal, My dear friend, because of the jolting of the wagon, have you not?»
« Very much, Master» replies Lazarus, so exhausted that the very memory of what he felt makes tears well up in his eyes.
« Through My fault! Forgive Me!»
Lazarus takes one of Jesus' hands up to his face, rubs his skinny cheek against it, kisses it and whispers: « Oh! It was no fault of Yours, Lord! I am so happy that You are celebrating Passover with me... my last Passover!...»
« With God's will, notwithstanding everything, you will celebrate many more, Lazarus. And your heart will always be with Me.»
« Oh! I am a finished man! You are consoling me... but it is all over. And I am sorry...» He weeps.
« See, Lord? Lazarus does nothing but weep» says Martha compassionately. « Tell him not to cry. He wears himself out!»
« The body still has its rights. It is painful to suffer, Martha, and the flesh weeps. And it needs relief. But the soul is resigned, is it not, My friend? Your just soul is willing to do the will of the Lord...»
« Yes... But I weep because, since You are so persecuted, You will not be able to assist me at the hour of my death... I shudder at the thought of death, I am afraid to die... But if You were here, I would not feel thus. I would take shelter in Your arms... and I would fall asleep like that... What shall I do? How shall I be able to die without feeling that I do not want to obey the dreadful Will?»
« Cheer up! Do not let that worry you! See? You are making your sisters weep... The Lord will help you so paternally that you will not be afraid. Sinners must be afraid...»
« But You, if You can, will You come to me when I am in agony? Promise me!»
« I promise that and even more.»
« While they are preparing, tell me what You have done this morning...»
And Jesus, sitting on the edge of the little bed, holding one of Lazarus' skinny hands in His own, tells him in detail what happened, until Lazarus, who is exhausted, falls asleep. Jesus does not leave him even then. He remains still in order not to disturb his refreshing slumber and makes signs to make the least possible noise, so much so that Martha, after bringing a refreshment to Jesus, withdraws on tiptoe, drawing the heavy curtain and closing the solid door. The noise of the busy house is thus deadened to a barely perceptible low sound. Lazarus is sleeping. Jesus is engrossed in prayer and meditation.
Some hours pass thus, until Mary of Magdala brings a small lamp, because it is getting dark and the windows are closed.
« Is he still sleeping?» she whispers.
« Yes. He is very calm. It will do him good.»
« He has never slept so long for months... I think that the fear of death made him restless. With You close to him he is not afraid of anything... He is fortunate!»
« Why, Mary?»
« Because he will be able to have You beside him when he dies. But I...»
« Why not?»
« Because You want to die... soon. And who knows when I will die. Let me die before You, Master!»
« No, you will have to serve Me for a long time yet.»
« So I am right in saying that Lazarus is fortunate!»
« All the beloved ones will be as fortunate as he is, even more so...»
« Who are they? The pure, are they not?»
« Those who know how to love totally. You, for instance, Mary.»
« Oh! My Master!» Mary throws herself down, on the multi-coloured mat that covers the floor of this room, and she remains there, adoring her Jesus.
Martha, who is looking for her, looks into the room. « Come on, then! We must prepare the red hall for the supper of the Lord.»
« No, Martha. Give that room to the most humble guests, to Johanan's peasants, for instance.»
« Why, Master?»
« Because each poor man is Jesus and I am in all of them. Always love the poor whom no one loves, if you want to be perfect. Prepare for Me in the entrance-hall. If you leave open the doors of the many rooms opening on to it, everybody will be able to see Me and I shall see everybody.»
Martha, who is not very happy, objects: « What? You in the entrance-hall?... It is not worthy of You!...»
« Go, do as I say. It is most worthy to do what the Master advises.»
Martha and Mary go out noiselessly and Jesus remains patiently to watch His friend who is resting.
Supper has now begun, with a distribution of the guests, which from a human point of view is not very just, but with a superior view aiming at giving honour and love to those who are usually neglected by the world.
Thus Johanan's peasants with Marjiam, Isaac and other disciples, to make up the ritual number, are sitting in the splendid regal red hall, the vault of which is supported by two columns of red porphyry, between which a long table has been placed. In the hall where they had supper the previous evening there are some more of the most humble disciples. In the white hall, a dream of white splendour, there are the virgin-disciples, and with them, only four in number, there are Lazarus' sisters and Anastasica and other young women. But the queen of the feast is Mary, the preeminent Virgin. In the next room, which is perhaps a library because all around the walls there are tall dark bookcases, which perhaps contain or contained rolls, there are the widows and the wives and they are looked after by Eliza of Bethzur and Mary of Alphaeus. And so on.
But what strikes one is to see Jesus in the marble entrance-hall. It is true that the refined taste of Lazarus' sisters has turned the square entrance into a large hall, which is brighter, more embellished and splendid than any hall. But it is still the entrance! Jesus is with the Twelve, but Lazarus is beside Him. And with Lazarus there is also Maximinus.
The supper proceeds according to the rite... and Jesus shines with joy and pleasure being in the centre of all His faithful disciples.
When the supper is over, the last chalice has been consumed and the last psalm sung, all those who were in the different rooms crowd into the entrance. But they cannot all go in, because the table takes up much room.
« Let us go into the red hall, Master. We will push the table against the wall and we will all be around You» suggests Lazarus beckoning to the servants to do so.
Jesus, Who is sitting in the centre, between the two precious columns, under the bright chandelier, on a tall pedestal formed with two bed-seats used for the supper, now really looks like a king on a throne in the midst of His courtiers. His linen tunic, which He put on before supper, shines as if it were woven with precious threads, and looks even whiter against the opaque red of the walls and the bright red of the columns. And His countenance is really divine and regal while He speaks or listens to those around Him. Even the most humble ones, whom He wanted near Him, speak confidently, mentioning their hopes, their worries with simplicity and faith, as they feel that they are loved in a brotherly way by the others.
But the happiest among so many happy people is Marjiam's grandfather! He does not part from his grandson even for one moment, and he delights in looking at him and listening to him... Now and again, as he is sitting beside Marjiam, who is standing, he rests his white head on the chest of his grandson, who caresses it.
Jesus sees him do this several times and He asks him: « Father, is your heart happy?»
« Oh! very happy, my Lord! I cannot believe that it is true. I have but one desire now...»
« The one I mentioned to my son. But he does not approve of it.»
« What is your desire?»
« I would like to die, if possible, in this peace. Soon, at least. Because I have already received the greatest blessing. No human being can have more on the Earth. I want to go... suffer no more... go... How rightly You spoke in the Temple, Lord! “Offering sacrifice from the property of the poor is as bad as slaughtering a son before his father's very eyes.” Only his fear of You prevents Johanan from emulating Doras. He is forgetting what happened to the other one, his fields are thriving and he fertilises them with our perspiration. Is perspiration not the property of the poor workman, his very self that is worn out with work exceeding his strength? He does not beat us, he gives us enough to enable us to work. But does he not exploit us more than his oxen? Will you tell Him, o my companions...»
Johanan's new and old peasants nod assent.
« H'm! I think that... Yes, that Your words have made him a greater vampire... to their detriment... Why did You say them, Master?» asks Peter.
« Because he deserved them. What do you say, you workers of his fields?»
« Oh! yes! The first months... it was all right. But now... it is worse than before» avers Micah.
« The bucket of the well is pulled down by its own weight» declares John the priest.
« Yes, and a wolf soon grows weary of looking like a lamb» confirms Hermas.
The women, who are deeply moved, whisper to one another.
Jesus looks at the poor peasants with eyes wide with pity, and He is anguished at not being able to relieve them.
Lazarus says: « I offered absurd amounts of money to have those fields and give these men peace. But I did not succeed in getting them. Doras hates me, he is exactly like his father.»
« Well... we shall die thus. It is our destiny. But the time for us to rest in Abraham's bosom will certainly come!» exclaims Saul, another peasant of Johanan's.
« In God's bosom, son! In God's bosom. Redemption will be completed, Heaven will be open and you will go to Heaven and...»
Somebody hammers at the main door, which resounds loudly. The guests become agitated.
« Who is it?»
« Who goes about in Passover evening?»
« Herod's soldiers?»
But while the agitation spreads, Levi, the caretaker of the palace, appears. « Forgive me, Rabbi» he says « there is a man who wants You. He is in the entrance. He looks very depressed. He is old and looks like a man of the people. He wishes to see You at once.»
« Hey! This is no evening for miracles! Tell him to come back tomorrow...» says Peter.
« No. Every evening is the hour for miracles and mercy» says Jesus standing up and descending from His seat to go towards the hall.
« Are You going alone? I will come with You» says Peter.
« No, stay where you are.» He goes out with Levi.
Near the heavy main door, at the other end of the entrance, which is now in half-darkness as all the lights have been put out, there is a very excited old man. Jesus approaches him.
« Stop, Master. I have perhaps touched a dead body and I do not want to contaminate You. I am the relative of Samuel, Annaleah's fiance. We were eating our supper and Samuel drank all the time... as it is not right to do. But the young man seems to have become mad for some time. It's remorse, Lord! He was half-drunk and while drinking again he was saying: “So I cannot remember whether I told Him that I hate Him. Because, I must tell you that I cursed the Rabbi.” And he looked like Cain to me, because he went on repeating: “My wickedness is too great. I do not deserve to be forgiven! I must drink! I must drink to forget. Because it is written that he who curses his God will carry his sin and must die.” He was raving like that when a relative of Annaleah's mother came into the house to ask about the repudiation. Samuel, who was almost drunk, replied with coarse words and the man threatened to take him to justice for the damage he was causing to the family honour. Samuel slapped his face. They came to blows... I am old, my sister is old, the servant and the maid are also old. What could the four of us and the two girls, Samuel's sisters, do? All we could do was to shout and try to separate them! Nothing else... And Samuel took the hatchet with which we had prepared the firewood for the lamb and hit the man on the head with it... He did not split his head, because he hit him with the butt-end and not the blade. The man staggered babbling and fell... We did not shout any longer... as we did not wish to attract the attention of people... We bolted the door... We were terrified... We poured some water on the man's head hoping he would come round. But he babbled all the time. He was certainly dying. At times he seemed dead. So I ran here to call You. His relatives will be looking for him tomorrow, perhaps earlier. And they will come to us, because they certainly know that he came. And they will find him dead... And Samuel, according to the Law, will be killed... Lord! Lord! Disgrace is already on top of us... We don't want that! For the sake of my sister, Lord, have mercy on us! He cursed You... But his mother loves You... What shall we do?»
« Wait for Me here. I will come» and Jesus goes back to the hall and from the door He calls: « Judas of Kerioth, come with Me.»
« Where, Lord?» asks Judas obeying promptly.
« You will see. All of you stay here in peace and love. We shall soon be back.»
They go out the hall, through the entrance and leave the house. Through deserted dark roads they soon reach the tragic house.
« Samuel's house?! Why?...»
« Be quiet, Judas. I brought you with Me, because I rely on your common sense.»
The old man has made himself known. They go in. They go upstairs, to the supper room, where they dragged the injured man.
« A dead man?! But Master, we will be contaminated!»
« He is not dead. You can see that he breathes and you can hear him groan. I will now cure him...»
« But his head has been struck! It's a crime! Who committed it?... And on the day of the lamb!» Judas is terrified.
« It was he» says Jesus pointing at Samuel, who is curled up in a corner, closer to death than the dying man, panting for breath with terror as the other man has the death-rattle in his throat, with part of his mantle over his head not to see and not to be seen, looked at with terror by everybody, except his mother, who with horror at the crime feels the torture of a guilty son already condemned by the rigid law of Israel. « Do you see to what result a first sin leads? To this, Judas! He began by perjuring himself over the girl, then over God; he then became slanderer, liar, blasphemer, then he took to drinking and now he is a murderer. That is how one becomes subject to Satan, Judas. Always bear it in mind...» Jesus is dreadfully solemn while He points at Samuel with His arm outstretched.
He then looks at Samuel's mother, who clinging to a shutter can hardly stand up and struck with terror seems to be dying, and He sadly says: « Judas, that is how poor mothers are killed by no weapon other than the crimes of their sons!... I feel sorry for her. I feel sorry for mothers! I, the Son, Who will see no mercy for His Mother...»
Jesus weeps... Judas looks at Him in bewilderment... Jesus bends over the dying man and lays His hand on his head. He prays.
The man opens his eyes. He looks stunned and amazed... but he soon revives. He sits up helping himself with his arms. He looks at Jesus and asks: « Who are You?»
« Jesus of Nazareth.»
« The Holy One! Why are You here with me! Where am I! Where is my sister and her daughter? What happened?» He tries to remember.
« Man, you called Me the Holy One. So, do you believe that I am such?»
« Yes, Lord. I do. You are the Messiah of the Lord.»
« So, is My word sacred to you?»
« Yes, Lord, it is.»
« Then...» Jesus stands up. He is imposing: « Then I, as Master and Messiah, order you to forgive. You came here and You were insulted...»
« Ah! Samuel! Of course!... The hatchet! I will denounce...» he says getting up.
« No. Forgive in the name of God. That is why I cured you. You care for Annaleah's mother because she has suffered. Samuel's mother would suffer even more. So forgive.»
The man hesitates somewhat. He looks at the injurer with evident ill-feeling. He looks at the anguished mother. He looks at Jesus Who commands him... He cannot make up his mind.
Jesus stretches His arms towards him, and draws him to His chest saying: « For My sake!»
The man begins to weep... To be thus in the arms of the Messiah, to feel His breath in his hair and a kiss where the wound was!... He weeps...
Jesus says: « Yes, is that true? You forgive him for My sake? Oh! blessed be the merciful! Weep, do weep on My Heart. Let all ill-feeling come out with your tears! All new! All pure! There you are! Be meek! Oh! meek, as a child of God ought to be...»
The man looks and, still weeping, says: « yes. Your love is so sweet! Annaleah is right! I now understand her... Woman, do not weep any more! Let bygones be bygones. No one will learn anything from my mouth. Enjoy your son, providing he can give you joy. Goodbye woman. I am going back to my house» and he is on the point of going out.
Jesus says to him: « I am coming with you, man. Goodbye, mother. Goodbye, Abraham. Goodbye, girls.» Not a word to Samuel, who finds no word either.
His mother tears the mantle off his head, and as a result of what she suffered, she rushes upon her son: « Thank your Saviour, you heartless man! Thank Him, you worthless man!...»
« Leave him, woman. His word would be of no value. Wine makes him silly and his soul is dull. Pray for him... Goodbye.»
He goes downstairs, in the street He joins Judas and the other man, He frees Himself from old Abraham, who wants to kiss His hands, and He begins to stride out in the early moonlight.
« Do you live far from here?» He asks the man.
« At the foot of Moriah.»
« Then we must part.»
« Lord, You have preserved me for my children, my wife, my life. What shall I do for You?»
« Be good, forgive and be quiet. Never, for any reason whatsoever, are you to say one word on what happened. Will you promise?»
« I swear to it on the Sacred Temple! However, I regret I cannot say that You saved me...»
« Be just, and I will save your soul. And you will be able to say that. Goodbye, man. Peace be with you.»
The man kneels down greeting Him. They part.
« How dreadful!» says Judas now that they are alone.
« Yes. Horrible. Judas, you are not to speak either.»
« No, Lord, I will not. But why did You want me with You?»
« Are you not happy to have My confidence?»
« Oh! Very! But...»
« But because I wanted you to ponder on what falsehood, greed for money, orgy and the lifeless practice of a religion, which is no longer felt and practised spiritually, can lead to. What did the symbolic supper mean to Samuel? Nothing! A guzzling. A sacrilege. And through it he became homicidal. Many in future will be like him, and with the taste of the Lamb in their mouths, not of a lamb born of a sheep, but of the divine Lamb, they will commit crimes. Why? How? Are you not inquiring why? I will tell you just the same: because they will have prepared that hour through previous deeds performed carelessly first, and stubbornly later. Remember that, Judas.»
« Yes, Master, I will. But what shall we tell the others?»
« That a man was seriously ill. It is the truth.»
They turn the corner of a street and I no longer see them.