15th February 1946.
Solomon's little house, which I saw in the vision of the resurrection of Lazarus in 1944, without knowing its owner, is one of the last houses in the only road that takes one to the river, in this poor out-of-the-way village: one little village of boatmen, where the houses of the... “wealthier” people are situated along the little dusty road, and the others are spread at random among the trees of the embankments. They are not many. I do not think that they are fifty in all. And they are so small, that they could be all contained in one of those tenement houses in large modern towns. Springtime now makes them appear less miserable, because it adorns them with its freshness, while garlands of bindweed or festoons of vines, or cheery smiling yellow flowers of vegetable marrows adorn the coarse fences marking the boundaries of properties, the borders of roofs, the doors of houses. There is also an odd rose, which seems out of place in its beauty in the midst of baskets and nets, of yellow mustards in bloom and of the early pods of humble swinging beans.
Also the road looks prettier, because the cane-brake at its end, has not only the hard berries of the dusty knots, but it is also decorated with plumes, and wild gladioli display their sword-shaped leaves and bright-coloured flower spikes, while light bindweeds with threadlike stems embrace canes and knots winding round them and at each twirl they put forth the very delicate chalice of their little lilac-pink flower. And myriads of birds make love among the reed-thickets, flirting on the canes, swinging on the bearbines, enlivening the green marshy embankments with their chirping and many-coloured feathers.
Jesus pushes the little rustic gate admitting to a small kitchen garden or courtyard. If it was a kitchen garden, now it is certainly a wild entanglement of grass, if it was a courtyard it is still a disorder of weeds sown by the wind. Only some vegetable marrows have been wise by clinging to the only vine and fig-tree, climbing up to put forth the smiling mouths of their flowers close to the miniature bunches of grapes of the vine, or to the tiny tender fig leaves, which at their joints, in the cradles of the stalks, have the hard gems of the fig-flowers just formed. Stinging-nettles are tormenting the apostles' bare feet, so much so that Peter and Thomas pick up two worm-eaten oars and are busy beating the irritating plants to lessen their poisonous effect.
In the meantime James and John are trying to turn the big rusty lock, and when they succeed, they open the rustic door, entering a kitchen room smelling mouldy and close. Dust and cobwebs decorate the walls. A rough table, some benches and seats and a shelf furnish it; there are two doors in one of the walls.
Peter explores... « There is a little room with one bed only. It's good for Jesus... And there? Ah! I see! This is the store-room, the lumber-room, the barn and the rats' nest... Look how they run! They have gnawed away everything these months. But now I will see to you, don't you worry. Master... can we act as if we were at home here?»
« That is what Solomon said.»
« Very well! Listen, brother, and you, James. Come here and close all these holes. And you, Matthew stand here at the door with Judas, and make sure that not even one mouse gets out. Just imagine that you are still the kind toll-collector at Capernaum. No customer escaped you then, not even if he became as thin as a lizard after hibernating... And you go and get as much weed as you can in the kitchen garden and bring it here. And You, Master, go... wherever You like, while I will fix these filthy devils, which have ruined these good nets and have eaten the whole keel of a boat...» And while speaking he gathers together gnawed bits of wood, bits of nets reduced like tow, faggots... everything in the middle of the room, and when he gets the green grass, he places it on top of the rest and then sets fire to the lot and runs out when the first spirals of smoke rise from the pile. And he laughs saying: « Let all the Philistines die!»
« But you are not going to set everything on fire?» asks Simon Zealot.
« No, my dear. Because the damp green grass chokes the flames, and the flames exhale smoke from the grass and thus, as good allies, the dry and green elements help each other in taking revenge. Can you smell how it stinks? And before long you will hear screams! Who told me that swans sing before dying? Ah! Syntyche did! The mice will be singing, too, shortly.»
Judas Iscariot suddenly stops laughing and remarks: « We have not been able to find out anything about her. And we have heard nothing of John of Endor. I wonder where they have ended up.»
« In the right place certainly» replies Peter.
« Do you know where?»
« I know that they are no longer here to be harassed by ill-will.»
« Have you ever inquired about them? I have.»
« I have not. I am not interested in knowing where they are. I am quite satisfied thinking and praying that they may persevere in holiness.»
Thomas says: « Some rich Pharisees asked me about them. They are customers of my father. I replied that I do not know.»
« And are you not anxious to know?»
« I am not and that is the truth...»
« Listen! Listen! The smoke is having effect. But let us go out, otherwise we shall be choking, too» says Peter. And the distraction puts an end to the discussion.
Jesus is in the kitchen garden and is straightening the stems of legumes, creeping on the ground, which have come up from seed fallen there.
« Are You working as a kitchen gardener?» asks Philip smiling.
« Yes. It upsets Me to see a plant creep uselessly, whereas it is destined to rise towards the sun and bear fruit.»
« A beautiful subject-matter for a sermon, Master» remarks Bartholomew. « Yes. Beautiful. But everything can be used as a subject, when one knows how to meditate.»
« We will help You, too. Come on! Who will go down to the river to get some canes for the legumes?»
The younger disciples go away laughing, and the elder ones get busy weeding carefully.
« Oh! One can see that it is a kitchen garden like that. There is no salad. But there are leeks, garlic, vegetables, fine herbs and legumes. And vegetable marrows! How many of them! The vine needs pruning and the fig-tree wants to be cleared...»
« But, Simon, we are not staying here!...» says Matthew.
« But we shall come here often. He said so. And it will do us no harm to have a little order here. Look! There is also a jasmine, poor thing, under this cascade of marrows. If Porphirea saw this plant so dejected, she would weep over it, and she would talk to it as to a child. Of course, before she had Marjiam she used to talk to her flowers as if they were her children... Here you are! I have made room here. I removed the marrow because... Oh! Here are the boys with the canes and a... Master, there is work for You. He is blind!»
In fact James, John, Andrew and Thomas come in, laden with canes, and Thomas is almost carrying a poor old man, covered with rags; his eyes are white with cataracts.
« Master, he was trying to find chicory on the banks and almost fell into the water. He has been left alone for some months, because the son who kept him died, and his daughter-in-law went back to her house and he... lives as best he can. Is that right, father?»
« Yes, it is. Where is the Lord?» he says turning round his veiled eyes. « He is here. Can you see that long whiteness? It's Him.»
But Jesus comes forward and takes him by the hand. « Are you alone, poor father? And you cannot see?»
« No, I cannot. When I could, I made baskets and eel-pots and I made also nets. But now... I can see more with my fingers than with my eyes, and looking for herbs, I make mistakes, and at times I have suffered from stomach disorder because of harmful herbs.»
« But in the village...»
« Oh! They are all poor and with many children, and I am old... If a donkey dies... one is sorry. But if an old man dies!... What is an old man? What am I? My daughter-in-law took everything away. If she had only taken me with her, like an old sheep, that I might be near my grandchildren... my son's children...» he weeps resting his head on the chest of Jesus, Who holds him in His arms caressing him.
« Have you got a house?»
« She sold it.»
« And how do you live?»
« Like an animal. At first the people in the village helped me, Then they became tired...»
« Solomon in that case is no longer of the same race, because he is generous» remarks Matthew.
« With us, though. Why did he not give the house to the old man?» asks Philip.
« Because the last time he came here, I had a house. Solomon is good. But for some time the people of the village have said that he is mad, and they no longer do what Solomon had taught them» says the old man.
« Would you be willing to stay with Me?»
« Oh! I would no longer regret my grandchildren!»
« Even if you were to remain poor and blind, would you be happy just by serving Me?»
« Yes!» A trembling yes, and yet so firm...
« All right, father. Listen. You cannot travel about as I do. And I cannot remain here. But we can love each other and do each other a good turn.»
« You can, yes, to me. But I... What can old Ananias do?»
« You can take care of the house and of the kitchen garden so that I may find them in good order when I come back? Do you like the idea?»
« Yes, I do! But I am blind... The house I will become accustomed to the walls. But the kitchen garden How can I take care of it, if I cannot tell one herb from another? Oh! How lovely it would be to serve You thus, Lord! And end my life thus...» The old man is pressing his hands against his heart, dreaming of what is impossible.
Jesus bends smiling and kisses his dimmed eyes...
« But I... I am beginning to see... I can see... Oh! Oh!...» He staggers in his joy and would fall if Jesus did not support him.
« Eh! what joy does!...» says Peter in a deeply moved voice.
« And hunger... He says that he has been living for days on chicory, without any oil or salt...» concludes Thomas.
« Yes, that is why we brought him here. To feed him...»
« Poor old soul!» they all exclaim sympathetically.
The old man recovers his senses and weeps. The poor tears of old people so sad also when they are tears of joy, and he whispers: « Now... now I can serve You, Blessed One!» and he wants to bend to kiss Jesus' feet.
« No, father. Now we shall go inside and we shall have something to eat. Then we will give you a tunic and you will be among sons, and we shall have a father who will welcome us every time we come back and will bless us every time we depart. We will go and find two doves, so that you may always have living creatures around you. We will get seed for the kitchen garden and you will sow them in the soil and you will sow faith in Me in the hearts of the people here.»
« I will teach them charity, for they have none!»
« Yes, also charity. But be kind...»
« Oh! I will be. I did not say one harsh word to my daughter-in-law when she left me. I understood and I forgave.»
« I read that in your heart. That is why I loved you. Come. Come with Me...» And Jesus goes into the house holding the old man by the hand.
Peter looks at them, and with the back of his hand he wipes off a tear, before resuming his work.
« Are you weeping, brother?» Peter does not reply. Andrew insists: « Why are you weeping, brother?»
« Mind your own business, the weeds in this case. If I am weeping it's because... it's because I know why...»
« Tell us, too, be good» say several apostles.
« It's because, these lessons... given so... they touch my heart more than when He thunders imposingly...»
« But we see the King in Him then!» exclaims Judas.
« And here we see the Saint. Peter is right» says Bartholomew.
« But He must be powerful in order to reign.»
« And He must be holy in order to redeem.»
« I agree, with regard to souls. But with regard to Israel...»
« Israel will never be Israel unless souls become holy.»
The conflicting opinions bounce backwards and forwards.
The old man comes out with a water-jug in his hand. He is going to the fountain. He is so happy that he is entirely different from the man he was previously.
« Old father, listen. According to you, what does Israel need to become great?» Andrew asks him. « A king or a saint?»
« It needs God. That God Who is praying and meditating in there. Ah! My sons! Be good, you who follow Him! Be good, very good! Ah! what a gift the Lord has given you! What a gift!» and he goes away raising his arms towards the sky whispering: « What a gift! What a gift!»...