29th March 1946.
Jesus arrives there at dawn, when the air is fresh and cool. And the fertile fields of good Nicodemus are beautiful in the early sunshine. They are beautiful notwithstanding that the corn has been cut in many of them and they thus have the tired look of fields after the death of the corn, which in golden piles, or stretched on the ground like corpses, awaits being carried to the threshing-floors. And many other flowers die with the corn: sapphire star-shaped cornflowers, violet snapdragons, the minute corollas of scabiouses, the ephemeral chalice of harebells, the smiling radiant crowns of camomiles and daisies, showy scarlet poppies, and hundreds of other flowers, which star-shaped, in spikelike clusters, in bunches, in radiant crowns were previously smiling where there is now yellowish stubble. But the pain of the ground despoiled of its corn is comforted by the foliage of the fruit trees, which look more and more joyful because of the fruit growing on them with many different hues and on which dew drops, not yet dried by the sun, shine like diamond dust.
Farmers are already busy at their work. They are happy because the hard work of harvest time is almost over. And they sing while cutting, and laugh happily, competing with one another in cutting quicker with the sickle or tying sheaves... There are several groups of well-fed peasants who are happy to work for their good master. At the edges of the fields or behind the reapers, there are children, widows, old people, waiting to glean and they are waiting peacefully, because they know that there is plenty for everybody, as is customary, « by Nicodemus' order», as a widow explains to Jesus, Who had asked her.
« He watches to ensure that a large number of ears are deliberately not tied in the sheaves, and left for us» she says. « And not satisfied with so much charity, after taking a just quantity of corn in proportion to the seed, he gives out the rest to us. Oh! He does not wait for the Sabbatical year to do that! But he always does that to help the poor with his crops, and he does the same with his olive-trees and vineyards. That is why God blesses him with wonderful harvests. The blessings of the poor are like dew on seeds and flowers, and thus each seed yields more ears and no flower falls before the fruit sets. And he told us that this year the whole lot will be given to us, because this is a year of grace. I do not know to which grace he refers. Unless it is because, as is rumoured among us poor people and among his happy servants... because he is secretly a disciple of Him, Who is said to be the Christ, and preaches one should love the poor, in order to show love to God... Perhaps You know Him, if You are Nicodemus' friend... because friends are generally fond of the same people... Joseph of Arimathea, for instance, is a great friend of Nicodemus, and it is rumoured that he, too, is a friend of the Rabbi... Oh! what have I said! May God forgive me! I have wronged the two good masters of our plain!...» The woman is upset.
Jesus smiles and asks: « Why, woman?»
« Because... Oh! tell me, are You a true friend of Nicodemus and Joseph, or are You one of the Sanhedrin, one of the false friends who would harm those two good people, if they knew for certain that they are friends of the Galilean?»
« Do not worry. I am a true friend of those two good men. But you know many things, woman! How did you get to know them?»
« Oh! we all know! The high classes with hatred; the low ones with love. Because, even if we do not know Him, we love the Christ, we the forlorn ones, whom He only loves and teaches to love. And we tremble for Him... The Judaeans, Pharisees, scribes and priests are so wicked!... But I am scandalising You... Forgive me. My tongue... is the tongue of a woman and cannot keep quiet... But it is because they are the cause of all our sorrows, the powerful ones who oppress us mercilessly, and compel us to fast on days which are not prescribed by the Law, but imposed by the necessity of finding money to pay all the tithes which they, the rich ones, have levied on poor people... And it is because all our hopes are in the Kingdom of this Rabbi, Who, if He is so good now that He is persecuted, what will He be when He is king?»
« His Kingdom is not of this world, woman. He will have neither palaces nor armies. He will not impose human laws. He will not make donations of money. But He will teach the better ones to do so. And the poor will find not two or ten or one hundred friends among the rich, but all those who believe in the Master will join their wealth together to assist their needy brothers. Because from now on your fellow-creature will no longer be called “neighbour”, but “brother”, in the name of the Lord.»
« Oh!...» The woman is astonished, dreaming of such an era of love. She caresses her children, smiles, then raises her head and says: « So You assure me that I have not wronged Nicodemus... speaking to You? I did it so spontaneously... Your eyes are so kind!... Your countenance so serene!... I don't know... I feel as safe as if I were near an angel of God... That's why I spoke...»
« You have done no harm. Be sure of that. On the contrary, you have praised My friend so highly that I will commend him as well, and he will be dearer to Me than ever... Do you live here?»
« Oh! no, Lord. I come from a village between Lydda and Bethdagon. But when one needs relief, Lord, one runs even if the road is a long one! The winter months... the months of starvation are longer...»
« And eternity is longer than life. People ought to have for their souls the same care they have for their bodies, and run where there are words of life...»
« And that is what I do with the disciples of Rabbi Jesus, the good one, You know? The only good Rabbi of the too many rabbis we have.»
« You do the right thing, woman» says Jesus smiling, but making gestures to Andrew and James of Zebedee, who, are with Him whereas the others have gone towards Nicodemus house, to stop gesticulating to make the woman understand that it is Rabbi Jesus Who is speaking to her.
« Of course I do the right thing. I do not want to be guilty of not loving and believing Him... They say that He is the Christ... I do not know Him. But I want to believe. Because I think that those who refuse to accept Him as such will be in trouble.»
« And supposing His disciples were mistaken?» asks Jesus tempting her.
« That's not possible, Lord. They are too good, humble and poor, to think that they are following a man who is not holy. In any case... I have spoken to people who were cured by Him. Do not commit the sin of not believing, Lord! You would damn Your soul... After all... I think that if we were all mistaken and He were not the promised King, He is certainly holy and a friend of God, if He speaks those words and cures souls and bodies... And it is always a good thing to esteem good people.»
« What you say is true. Persist in your faith... There is Nicodemus...»
« Yes, with the disciples of the Rabbi. In fact they go round the country evangelizing the reapers. Yesterday also we ate their bread.»
Nicodemus, with his tunic tucked up, is coming forward without noticing the Master and he tells the peasants not to pick up any of the ears that have been cut. « We have enough bread for ourselves... Let us give the gift of God to those who have none. And let us give it to them without any fear. A late frost might have destroyed our crops. Not one seed has been lost. Let us give God's bread back to Him by giving it to His unhappy children. And I can assure you that next year's harvest will be even more plentiful, ten times richer, because He said so, “an overflowing measure will be given to those who give.”»
The peasants, respectful and happy, listen to their master nodding assent. And Nicodemus, from one field and one group to another, repeats his kind instructions.
Jesus, half-hidden by a curtain of canes near a partition ditch, approves and smiles. The more Nicodemus approaches Him, the more He smiles, as their meeting and the disciple's surprise are now very close at hand.
In fact Nicodemus jumps over the ditch to go into other fields... and becomes petrified before Jesus Who stretches His arms towards him. At last he recovers his power of speech: « Holy Master, how come You are here with me, may You be blessed?»
« To become acquainted with you, if there was any such need, through the words of the most sincere witnesses: those whom you overwhelm with charity...»
Nicodemus is on his knees, prostrated on the ground and also the disciples, led by Stephen and Joseph from Emmaus on the mountains, are on their knees. The peasants and the poor people present understand and they all prostrate themselves venerating the Master, seized with astonishment.
« Stand up. Up to a little while ago I was the Wayfarer who inspired confidence... Continue to consider Me as such. And love Me without any fear. Nicodemus, I sent the ten apostles who are missing, to your house...»
« I spent the night outside to watch that an order was carried out...»
« Yes, and God blesses you for that order. Which voice told you that this year, and not the next one, is a year of grace, for instance?»
« ... I do not know... And I know... I am not a prophet. But I am not a fool. And a light from Heaven was added to my intelligence. My Master... I wanted the poor to enjoy the gifts of God, while God is still among the poor... And I dared not hope to have You, to give a sweet flavour and sanctifying power to these crops, to my olive-groves, vineyards and orchards, which will be for the poor children of God, my brothers... But now that You are here, raise Your blessed hand and bless them, so that with the nourishment of the body, the holiness emanating from You may descend into those who will feed on them.»
« Yes, Nicodemus. Yours is a just desire approved of by Heaven.» And Jesus opens His arms to bless.
« Oh! Wait! That I may call the peasants» and with a whistle he whistles three times and the shrill sound spreads in the calm air causing reapers, gleaners and curious people to rush from everywhere. A little crowd...
Jesus opens His arms and says: « Through the power of the Lord, for the desire of his servant, may the grace of health, both of soul and body, descend upon every grain, every grape, olive and fruit and may it prosper and sanctify those who eat of them with good spirit, free from concupiscence and hatred, and willing to serve the Lord by obeying His divine perfect Will.»
« So be it» reply Nicodemus, Andrew, James, Stephen and the other disciples... « So be it» reply the people of the crowd standing up, as they had knelt down to be blessed.
« Stop the work, My friend. I want to speak to them.»
« A gift in a gift. Thank You on their behalf, Master!»
They go into the shade of a thick orchard and wait for the arrival of the ten who had been sent to the house. They in fact arrive panting and disappointed at not finding Nicodemus.
Jesus then begins to speak:
« Peace be with you. I wish to propose a parable to all of you standing here around Me, so that each of you may avail himself of the teaching and of the part that is more suitable to him. Listen.»
A man had two sons. He approached the first one and said: “Son, come and work in your father's vineyard today.” It was a great sign of honour on his father's side. He in fact thought that his son was capable of working where up to then his father had worked. He obviously saw in his son good will, perseverance, capability, experience and love for his parent. But the son, whose mind was somewhat distracted by worldly things and who was afraid of being taken for a servant – Satan makes use of such mirages to avert people from Good – fearing mockery and perhaps also reprisal from his father's enemies, who dared not threaten him but would not have so much respect for the son, replied: “I will not go. I do not feel like it.” The father then went to the other son, saying to him what he had already said to the first one. And the second son replied: “Yes, father, I will go at once.” But what happened? The first son whose mind was honest, after a first moment of weakness in temptation, a moment of rebellion, repented having disgusted his father, and without saying anything went to the vineyard, where he worked all day until late in the evening, and then went back home with peace in his heart, having fulfilled his duty. The second son, instead, untruthful and weak, went out, that is true, but he then wasted his time wandering about the town making useless visits to influential people from whom he hoped to get some benefit. And he said to himself, in his heart: “Father is old and will not leave the house. I will tell him that I obeyed and he will believe me....” But when evening came also for him and he went back home, his tired look of an idle person, his creaseless clothes, and his uncertain way of greeting caused his father to watch him and compare him with his first son. The latter, in fact, had come back tired, dirty, untidy, but jovial and sincere. He looked humble and kind, as if he wished to say to his father, without boasting, that after all he had fulfilled his duty: “I love you truly, so much so, that to make you happy I resisted temptation.” And the comparison spoke clearly to the intelligent father, who embraced his son saying: “May you be blessed because you have understood love!.”
In fact, what do you think? Which of the two had loved? You will certainly say: “He who did the will of his father.” And who did it? The first or the second son?»
« The first» replies the crowd by one consent.
« Yes, the first. Also in Israel, and you complain about it, in the eyes of God are not holy those who beat their chests saying “Lord! Lord!”, without being really repentant of their sins in their hearts – in fact their hearts become harder and harder – neither are those holy, who ostentatiously devote rites to be regarded as saints, whereas in private they lack charity and justice. Neither those are holy who rebel against the Will of God Who sends Me, and they contest it as if it were the will of Satan, which will not be forgiven. Those are not the ones who are holy in the eyes of God. But those are holy who acknowledging that everything that God does is well done, accept the Messenger of God and listen to His word in order to be able to do what the Father wants in a better and better way: they are holy and dear to the Most High. I solemnly tell you: ignorant and poor people, publicans and prostitutes will go before many who are called “masters”, “powerful”, “holy”, and they will enter the Kingdom of God. And it will be just. Because John came to Israel to lead her on the ways of Justice and too many in Israel did not believe him – Israel who calls herself “learned and holy” – but publicans and prostitutes did believe him. And I came, and the learned and holy ones do not believe Me, but poor and ignorant people and sinners do believe in Me. And I have worked miracles; and they did not believe even them, neither do they repent for not believing. On the contrary, they hate Me and those who love Me. Well, I say: “Blessed those who can believe in Me and thus do the will of God, in Whom there is eternal salvation.” Increase your faith and persevere. You will possess Heaven, because you knew how to love the Truth. Go. May God be always with you.»
He blesses them and dismisses them and then, walking beside Nicodemus, He goes towards the house of His disciple to rest during the hot hours of the day.