16th of June 1944. Later, 10.30 a.m.
I see Jesus wearing a white tunic with His dark-blue mantle thrown over His shoulder, while He is walking along a woody path. It is woody because there are trees and shrubs on both sides. Narrow tracks cut through the green entanglement, but it is not a solitary place remote from any village, as they often meet other people. I would say that it is the road linking two villages close to each other, running through the fields of the villagers. The country is flat, and mountains can be seen in the distance. I do not know what place it is.
Jesus, Who was speaking to His disciples, stops and listens, looking round, He then takes a little path in the thicket and goes towards a large group of small trees and shrubs. He bends and searches. And He finds. There is a nest in the grass. I do not know whether it was knocked down by a storm, as one would think from the damp soil and the branches still dripping, as is usual after a storm, or whether anybody tampered with it and left it there, not to be caught with the brood in his hands. I do not know. I can only see a small nest interwoven with hay and full of dry leaves, down of plants and wool, among which five little birds, only a few days old, are stirring and chirping: they are reddish, without feathers, rather ugly looking because of their wide open beaks and bulging eyes. High above, on a tree, their parents are screeching desperately.
Jesus picks up the little nest carefully. He holds it in the hollow of one hand and He looks for the spot where it was or where it can be placed safely. He finds a tangle of brambles so compact that it looks like a little basket, and so deep in the bush as to be safe. Without minding the thorns which scratch His arms, after handing the nest to Peter - and the apostle so elderly and stout looks funny with the little nest in his short rough hands - Jesus rolls up His long wide sleeves and works to make the entangled branches more concave and thus safer. It is done. He takes the nest and places it in the bush and secures it by pulling long cylindrical blades of grass which look like very thin reeds. The nest is now safe. Jesus stands aside and smiles. He then gets one of the apostles, who is carrying his sack across his shoulder, to give Him a piece of bread and He crumbles some on the ground, on a stone. Jesus is now happy. He turns round to go back to the main road while the birds fly down to the rescued nest screeching with joy.
A little group of men is standing on the roadside. Jesus finds them facing Him and looks at them. His smile fades away and His face becomes very severe, I would say sombre, while it was so compassionate when He was picking up the nest and so happy when He had arranged it safely.
Jesus stops. And He continues to look at His unexpected witnesses. He seems to be looking at their hearts with their secret thoughts. He cannot go any farther because the group have blocked the path. But He is silent.
But Peter does not keep quiet. « Let the Master pass » he says.
« Be quiet, Nazarene » replies one of the group. « How did your Master take the liberty of going into my wood and do manual labour on the Sabbath? »
Jesus looks straight at him with a strange expression. It is and it is not a smile. And if it is a smile it is not one of approval. Peter is about to reply. But Jesus asks: « Who are you? »
« The landlord of this place. Johanan ben Zaccai. »
« A renowned scribe. For what do you reproach Me? »
« For profaning the Sabbath. »
« Johanan ben Zaccai, do you know Deuteronomy? »
« Are you asking me? Me, a true rabbi of Israel? »
« I know what you want to tell Me: that I, as I am not a scribe, but a poor Galilean, cannot be a “rabbi”. But I ask you once again: “Do you know Deuteronomy?” »
« Certainly better than You do. »
« To the letter... certainly, if you wish to think so. But do you know it in its true meaning? »
« What is said is said. There is but one meaning. »
« True, there is but one meaning. And it is a meaning of love; or, if you do not want to call it love, of mercy; or if it annoys you to call it so, say: of humanity. And Deuteronomy says: “If you see your brother's sheep or his ox straying, even if they are not close at hand, you must not make off, but you will take them back to him, or you will keep them until he comes for them.” It says: “If you see your brother's donkey or ox fall, do not pretend you have not seen, but help him to put it on its feet again.” It says: “If in a tree or on the ground you find a nest with the mother bird sitting on the chicks or the eggs, you must not take the mother (because she is sacred to procreation) you may take the chicks only.” I saw a nest on the ground and the mother weeping over it. I felt sorry for her because she was a mother. And I gave her chicks back to her. I did not think I was profaning the Sabbath by consoling a mother. We must not let the sheep of our brother go astray, but the Law does not say that it is a sin to put a donkey on its feet again on a Sabbath. It says only that we must have mercy on our brother and humanity for the donkey, a creature of God. I thought that God had created that mother that she might procreate, and that she had obeyed God's command, and that to prevent her from bringing up her offspring was to interfere with her obedience to a divine command. But you do not understand that. You and your friends consider the letter, not the spirit. You and your friends do not consider that you infringe the Sabbath twice, nay, three times, by degrading the divine Word to the pettiness of human mentality, by interfering with a command of God and by lacking in mercy towards your neighbour. In order to injure by means of a reproach, you do not consider that it is wrong to speak unnecessarily. This, which is also work, but neither useful, nor necessary, nor good, does not seem a profanation of the Sabbath to you.
Johanan ben Zaccai, listen to Me. As today you have no mercy on a blackcap and according to Pharisaic practice you would let her die of grief, and you would let her offspring perish miserably, left at the mercy of asps or wicked people, likewise tomorrow you will have no mercy on a mother and you will make her die a miserable death and you will have her offspring killed, saying that it is right to do so out of respect to your law. To yours, not to God's. To the law which you and those like you have made to oppress the weak so that you, the strong ones, may triumph. But see. The weak always find a saviour. Whereas the proud, those who are strong according to the law of the world, will be crushed under the weight of their own heavy law. Goodbye, Johanan ben Zaccai. Remember this hour and mind you do not profane yourself another Sabbath with the satisfaction of a crime committed. »
And Jesus casts a fulminating glance at the irascible old man, whose face is red with anger, and looking down on him, because the scribe is short and stout and Jesus seems a palm-tree compared with him, He passes by walking on the grass, because the scribe does not step aside.
« I wanted to uplift your spirit with a true vision, even if it is not mentioned in the Gospels.
This is the lesson for you: that I have so much mercy on little birds without nests, even if the name instead of being blackcap, is Mary or John. And I take care to give them a nest again, when an event has deprived them of it.
And this is the lesson for everybody. That too many know the words of the Law, still too many although they are few, because everybody ought to know them, but they know the “words” only. They do not live them. That is the error.
Deuteronomy prescribed humane laws, because men in those days, because of their spiritual childhood, were brutal and halfsavage. They had to be led by hand along the flowery paths of pity, respect, love for the brother who lost an animal, for the animal which fell, for the bird sitting on eggs, to teach them to rise to higher pity, respect, love. But when I came I perfected the Mosaic rules and I opened wider horizons. The letter was no longer “everything”. The spirit became “everything”. Beyond the little human act for a nest and its inhabitants, it is necessary to consider the secret meaning of My gesture: that I, the Son of the Creator, bowed before the work of the Creator. That brood also is His work.
Oh! happy those who can see God in everything and serve Him with spirit of reverent love! And woe to those, who like a snake, cannot raise their heads above their filth and as they cannot sing the praises of God, Who reveals Himself in the work of their brothers. They bite them because of the excess of poison choking them. There are too many who torture the better ones saying, to justify their perversity, that it is right to do so out of respect to the law. Their law. Not God's. But if God cannot stop their wicked deeds, He can avenge His “little ones”.
And let this be given to those who deserve it. May My vigilant peace be with you. »