24th June 1946.
« Where, Master? » asks Peter who has completed the manoeuvres and preparations for navigation and is with his boat at the head of the little flotilla which, laden with people, is ready to follow the Master.
« To Magdala. I promised Mary of Lazarus. »
« All right » replies Peter and he manoeuvres the rudder in order to tack in the right direction.
Johanna is in the boat with the Master, the Blessed Virgin, Mary of Clopas, Marjiam, Matthew, James of Alphaeus and a man whom I do not know. She points at the many boats on the lake in the quiet summer evening, which softens the glow of sunset with cascades of purple veils, as if heaven rained showers of amethysts or of trusses of wistaria in bloom. She remarks: « Perhaps the boats of the Roman ladies are among those. It is one of their favourite amusements to simulate fishing in these placid evenings. »
« But they will be farther south » observes the man whom I do not know.
« Oh! no, Benjamin. They have fast craft and experienced sailors. They come up as far as here. »
« For all they have to do... » grumbles Peter, and he continues through his beard, as he is an intolerant fisherman who considers navigation and fishing a profession, not a pastime, almost a religion completely regulated by severe useful laws, and its improper usage seems a profanation to him: « With their incense, their flowers and perfumes and other demoniacal things they contaminate the water; with their music, loud cries and language they disturb the fish; with their smoky lamps they frighten them; with their cursed nets cast inconsiderately they spoil the bottom and damage reproduction... It should be forbidden. The Sea of Galilee belongs to Galileans, who are also fishermen, not to prostitutes and their partners... If I were the master! I would fix you, you filthy heathen boats, you floating sinks of vice, alcoves sailing to bring here, on these waters of God, of our God, to His children, your... Oh! look! They are coming straight here! Can one stand that!... Can one allow... Can... »
Jesus interrupts the accusatory oration, by which Peter gives vent to his spirit of Israelite and fisherman, flushing, suffocating with rage, panting as if he were struggling against infernal forces, and He says with a peaceful smile: « It is a good job that you are not the master. Fortunately you are not! For them and for yourself. Because you would prevent them from following a good impulse, thus an impulse impressed on their spirits - pagan, I agree, but naturally good - impressed on their spirits by the Eternal Mercy which guides these creatures, who are not guilty of being born Romans and not Jews. And God looks at them with merciful eyes because He sees that they tend to what is good. And you would harm yourself because you would commit an act against charity and one against humility... »
« Humility? I don't understand... Being the master of the lake, it would be lawful for me to dispose of it as I like. »
« No, Simon of Jonah. No. You are wrong. Also the things which belong to us, belong to us because God grants them to us. So, even if we possess them for a limited period of time, we must always consider that He Who possesses everything without any limitation of time or measure is One only. One only is the Master. Men... Oh! they are only administrators of crumbs of the great Creation. But He is the Master, My Father and yours and of all living beings. Further, He is God, thus most perfect in all His thoughts and actions. Now if God looks benignly at the movement of these heathen hearts towards the Truth, and does not only look, but encourages such movement, communicating to it a stronger and stronger motion towards Good, do you not think that you, a man, by wanting to stop it, actually want to prevent God from doing something? And when do you stop anything? When you do not consider it good. So this is what you would be thinking of your God: that He is doing a deed which is not good. Now, if it is not right to judge our brothers, because every man has his faults and his faculty of knowing and judging is so limited that seven times out of ten his judgement is wrong, it is absolutely wicked to judge God in His action. Simon, Simon! Lucifer wanted to judge God in one of His thoughts and he considered it wrong and wanted to take the place of God, thinking that he was more just than God. You know, Simon, what Lucifer achieved. And you know that all the pains we suffer have come because of that pride... »
« You are right, Master! I am a poor wretch! Forgive me, Master! » And Peter, who is always impulsive, leaves the tiller of the rudder to throw himself at Jesus' feet, while the boat, suddenly left to itself, and just on the crest of a wave, yaws and heels in a fearful manner amidst the screams of Mary of Clopas and Johanna and the shouts of those in the light twin boat, when they see Peter's heavy boat coming straight for them.
Fortunately Matthew is quick in taking the rudder, and the boat resumes its course after pitching dreadfully, also because the others, to keep away from it, have used their oars with vigorous strokes, thus agitating the water.
« Hey! Simon! Once you were insolent to the Romans, whom you treated as landlubbers, because they were coming straight for us. But now you are cutting a bad figure... and, what is more, in their presence. Look how they are all standing in their boats to see... » says the Iscariot teasing Peter and pointing at the Roman boats, which are now so close, in the sheet of water before Magdala, that those on board are able to see clearly, notwithstanding that the purple veils of the evening have become darker and darker dimming daylight.
« You have also lost a hamper and a small bucket, Simon. Shall we try to fish them up with the hooks? » says James of Zebedee, from another boat, which is now close at hand, because, after the incident, they have all crowded round Peter's boat.
But how did you manage to do that? It never happens to you! » exclaims Andrew from another boat.
Peter replies to them all, one after the other, whilst they have almost spoken all together. « Have they seen me? It does not matter! I wish they had seen also my heart in the same way and... Well, better not say that, Peter... But you must know that you are not hurting me. It was not a wrong manoeuvre, it happened for a good purpose, one that can mortify me... Don't worry, James! Old things went to the bottom... I wish I could throw out after them also the old man persisting in me! I would be prepared to lose everything, even my boat, to be just as the Master wants me... How did I manage? Eh! I proved to myself, to my pride, which wants to teach even God things of the spirit, that I am an utter beast also in matters concerning boats... It serves me right. I made a parable of myself for myself... Didn't I, Master? »
Jesus smiles nodding... Sitting astern, in His habitual place, white against the darkening air, tranquil, His hair blowing gently in the evening breeze, He stands out in the twilight like an angel of peaceful brightness.
The Roman boats have reached them.
« They have very good boats and perfect sails... not to mention the sailors! They go as fast as halcyons! They exploit every puff of wind and even the slightest currents... »
« Almost all the oarsmen are from Crete or from the Nile region » explains Johanna.
« The sailors of the delta are most skilled, and so are those from Crete. But also those from Italy are very good... They pass through Scylla and Charybdis... and that is enough to say that they are very good » admits the unknown man whose name is Benjamin.
« Where are we going, Lord? To Magdala, or... Look! Those of Magdala are coming here... »
In fact all the little boats of that village hasten to depart from the shingly shore and the little harbour, laden, nay, frightfully overladen with people, so much so that the gunwales are almost on a level with the surface of the water and they are steering with difficulty towards the boats from Capernaum.
« No. Let us stop here offshore from the town. I will speak from the boat... »
« The trouble is that... Those imprudent people want to be drowned. Look, Master! It is true that the lake is as smooth as a millpond... but water is always water... and weight is weight... and there... they seem to think that they are on land and not on water... Tell them to go back... They will be drowned... »
« Man of little faith! Do you not remember that while you believed in My invitation, you walked on water as on solid ground? They have faith. And thus, in spite of the laws of balance between weight and density, the waters will support those overloaded boats. »
« If that happens... this is really the evening of a great miracle... » murmurs Peter shrugging his shoulders, casting the little anchor to secure the boat, which remains thus in the centre of a circle of boats, some from Capernaum, some from Magdala and some from Tiberias. These last ones are those of the Roman ladies, and they prudently remain behind those from Capernaum, towards the centre of the lake.
Jesus faces away from them. He looks towards those of Magdala, towards the large shady garden of Mary of Lazarus, towards the little houses, the whiteness of which, spread as they are along the shore, stands out in the night.
The lake, no longer agitated by prows and oars, has become calm again: a large sheet of plateglass veined with silver in the early moonlight and strewn with scales of topazes and rubies where the flames of torches or the light of lamps, placed on every prow, are mirrored in the lake.
Faces look strange in the contrast of the red-yellow lights or of the moonbeams; some appear very clear, some can hardly be seen as they are, some seem cut into two, lengthwise or horizontally, with only the forehead or only the chin lit up, or with one cheek only, half a face, with a clean-cut profile, as if there was nothing on the other side. Some eyes are shining, some look like empty eye-sockets, and likewise, some mouths are seen smiling cheerfully displaying strong teeth, while others seem to be erased from the shaded faces.
But to make it possible for everybody to see Jesus, the boats from Capernaum and Magdala hand over a large number of lamps, which are placed at Jesus' feet, on the little benches, while some are hung on the inactive oars, some are placed in the bow and stern, and some are even hung up in clusters on the mast, the sail of which has been struck. Jesus' boat is thus resplendent in a circle of boats left without lamps, and He is now clearly visible, as He is floodlit. Only the Roman boats still look reddish because of their red torches, the flames of which flicker in the very light breeze.
« Peace be with you! » begins Jesus standing up, steady notwithstanding the light pitching of the boat, and stretching out His arms to bless. He then goes on, speaking slowly, to be heard by everybody, and His voice carries powerfully and harmoniously over the silent lake.
« A short time ago one of My apostles suggested a parable to Me which I will now propose to you and it may be useful to everybody, as everybody can understand it. Listen to it.
A man, sailing on the lake on a calm evening like this and feeling sure of himself, presumed that he was faultless. He was most skilled in manoeuvring and consequently he considered himself superior to all the other people he met on the lake, many of whom were on it to amuse themselves and thus they lacked the experience which comes from habitual work done to earn one's living. Further, he was a good Israelite and so he thought that he possessed all virtues. Finally, he was really a good man. Now, one evening when he was sailing confidently, he took the liberty of passing judgement on his neighbour. A neighbour, according to him, so remote as not to be considered as neighbour. No tie of nationality, or of trade or faith joined him to that neighbour and thus, without any restraint of national, religious or professional solidarity, he derided him frankly, nay, severely, and he complained at not being the master of the place, because, if he were, he would drive his neighbour from it, and in his intolerant faith, he almost reproached the Most High for allowing those other people, who were different from him, to do what he did and to live where he lived.
In his boat was a friend, a good friend who loved him with justice and therefore wanted him to be wise and, when necessary, corrected his wrong ideas. So that evening, this friend said to the boatman: “Why such thoughts? Is not the Father of men one only? Is He not the Lord of the Universe? Does perhaps His sun not shine on all men to warm them, and do His clouds perhaps not rain on the fields of Gentiles as they do on those of Hebrews? And if He does that for the material needs of man, will He not provide likewise for their spiritual necessities? And would you suggest to God what he must do? Who is like God?”
The man was good. In his intolerance there was much ignorance, many wrong ideas, but his will was not evil, he had no intention of offending God, on the contrary it was his intention to defend His interests. Upon hearing those words he threw himself at the feet of his wise friend and asked him to forgive him for speaking foolishly. He asked him so impetuously, that he almost caused a disaster, sinking the boat and drowning those in it, because in his anxiety to ask for forgiveness, he neglected rudder, sails and currents. Thus after his first mistake of evil judgement, he made another error of wrong manoeuvre, and proved to himself that he was not only a poor judge but also a clumsy sailor.
That is the parable. Now listen. According to you, was that man forgiven by God or not? Remember: he had sinned against God and his neighbour by judging the actions of both and he almost became the homicide of his companions. Meditate and reply... »
And Jesus folds His arms and looks around at all the boats, as far as the most remote ones, at the Roman boats, which display a line of attentive faces of patricians and oarsmen, looking over the gunwales...
The people speak in low voices and confer with one another... A hardly audible murmur of voices which mingles with the barely sensible lapping of the water against the hulls. The judgement is a difficult one. The majority, however, are of the opinion that the man was not forgiven because he had sinned. No, he was not forgiven at least as far as the first sin was concerned...
Jesus hears the murmur become louder in that sense and smiles while His most beautiful eyes shine even at night like two sapphires in the rays of the moon, which is more and more beautiful and bright, so much so that many put out torches and lamps and remain with only the phosphorescent moonlight.
« Put out these lights as well, Simon. They are as tiny as sparks when compared with the stars and planets with which this sky is strewn' says Jesus to Peter who is in suspense waiting to hear the judgement of the crowds. And Jesus caresses His apostle, while the latter stretches out to detach the lamps, and He asks him in a low voice: « Why do you look so upset? »
« Because this time You are having me judged by the people... »
« Oh! Why are you afraid of them? »
« Because... like me... they are unfair... »
« But it is God Who judges, Simon! »
« Yes. But You have not yet forgiven me and You are now awaiting their judgement to do so... You are right, Master... I am incorrigible... But... why this judgement of God for Your poor Simon?... »
Jesus lays His hand on his shoulder and He does so easily because Peter is in the lower part of the boat and Jesus is standing on a stern board, thus much above Peter. And He smiles... but does not reply to him. He instead asks the people: « Well? Speak up. Boat by boat. »
Alas! Poor Peter! If God had judged him according to the opinion of the people who are present, He would have condemned him. With the exception of three boats, all the others, including the apostolic ones, condemn him. The Romans do not give their opinions, and they are not asked to do so, but it is obvious that they also judge that the man is to be condemned, because they wave from one boat to the other - there are three of them - with thumbs down.
Peter's frightened rolling eyes look up at Jesus' face and they meet an even kinder glance coming from His sapphire eyes, just like peace, and he sees a face bright with love bend over him while he feels being drawn against Jesus' side, so that his grey-haired head is against Jesus' chest, while the arm of the Master clasps him embracing his shoulder.
« That is how man judges. But God does not judge so, My children! You say: “He was not forgiven.” I say: “The Lord did not even see in him anything to be forgiven.” Because forgiveness presupposes fault. But in this case there was no fault. No, do not grumble, shaking your heads. I repeat: there was no fault here. When is it that a fault occurs? When there is the will to commit a sin, the knowledge of sinning and the persistence to want to sin also after knowing that a certain action is sinful. It all depends on the will by which one performs an action, whether it is virtuous or sinful. When one does something which is apparently good, but does not know that it is a good action, nay, one believes that it is a bad action, one commits a sin as if one had performed a bad action, and viceversa.
Take, as an instance, a man who has an enemy who knows that he is ill. He knows that by the doctor's order his enemy must not drink any cold water, nay, any liquid whatsoever. He goes to visit him, feigning friendliness. He hears him moan: “I am thirsty! I am thirsty!” and simulating pity, he hastens to give him some icy water from a well, saying: “Drink, my friend. I love you and I cannot bear to see you suffer so much from thirst. Look. I brought you this water on purpose, it is so cool. Drink it, for a great reward is given to those who assist sick people and give drink to the thirsty” and by giving him to drink, he causes his death. Do you think that that action, good in itself because it comprised two works of mercy, is a good one now that it has been performed for a wicked purpose? No, it is not.
And again: a son who has a drunken father and who locks the wine-cellar so that he may not drink himself to death, takes his money and imposes himself severely on him so that he may not go about the village, drinking and ruining himself, do you think that he sins against the fourth commandment simply because he reproaches his father and he acts as head of the family also with regard to his father? To all appearance he makes his father suffer and seems to be guilty. In actual fact he is a good son, because his will is good, as he wants to save his father from death. It is always one's will which sets value on one's deeds.
And again: is the soldier who kills in war a homicide? No, if his spirit does not agree to slaughter and if he fights because he is compelled to do so, and he does so with the least humanity which the hard law of war and his subaltern situation impose.
Therefore that boatman, who through the good will of believer, patriot and fisherman, could not stand those who, according to him, were desecrators, did not sin against the love for his neighbour, but he only had the wrong idea of love for our neighbour. Neither did he sin against respect for God, because his resentment against God came from his good, but not well balanced or bright spirit of believer. And he did not commit homicide because he caused the boat to heel through his good will to ask for forgiveness.
So you must always distinguish. God is Mercy more than intransigence. God is good. God is a Father. God is Love. That is the true God. And the true God opens His heart to everybody, saying to everybody: “Come.”, pointing His Kingdom to everybody. And He is free to do so, because He is the Only, Universal, Creator, Eternal Lord.
I beg you, you people of Israel. Be just. Remember these things. Beware lest they should be understood by those whom you consider unclean, while they remain incomprehensible to you. Also excessive and disorderly love for religion and fatherland is sinful, because it becomes selfishness. And selfishness is always the reason and cause of sin.
Yes. Selfishness is a sin, because it sows in hearts an evil will, which makes people rebel against God and His commandments. The mind of a selfish person no longer sees God or His truth clearly. Pride exhales fumes in the egoist and dims the truth. The mind, which in the fog no longer sees the pure light of truth as it saw it before becoming proud, begins the process of queries, and from queries it passes on to doubt, from doubt to indifference not only with regard to love and trust in God and His justice, but also in respect of the fear of God and of His punishment. And thus the easiness to sin, and from such easiness the solitude of the soul which departs from God, and as it no longer has the will of God as guidance, it lapses into the law of its own will of sinner.
Oh! the will of a sinner is a nasty chain, one end of which is in the hands of Satan, and the other end is fastened together with a cannon ball to the feet of man to hold him there, a slave, in filth, bent, in darkness. Is it then possible for man not to commit mortal sins? Is it possible for him not to commit them, if he is urged only by his evil will? Only then God does not forgive. But when man is animated by good will, and performs also spontaneous acts of virtue, he certainly ends up by possessing the Truth, because good will leads to God, and God, the Most Holy Father, bends lovingly, pitifully, leniently to assist, to bless, to forgive His children who have good will.
So the man of that boat was fondly loved because, as he did not wish to sin, he had committed no sin.
Go in peace, now, to your homes. The stars have filled the whole sky and the moon is clothing the world with purity. Go, and be as obedient as the stars and become as pure as the moon. Because God loves those who are obedient and pure in spirit, and He blesses those who in all their actions apply their good will to love God and their brothers and to work for His glory and their benefit. Peace be with you! »
And Jesus stretches out His arms again blessing, while the circle of the boats move away, breaks up, and each boat resumes its course.
Peter is so happy that he does not think about moving. Matthew shakes him: « Are you not moving, Simon? I am not very experienced... »
« That's true!... Oh! My Master! So You had not condemned me?! And I was so afraid... »
« Be not afraid, Simon of Jonah. I took you to save you, not to lose you. I took you because of your good will... Cheer up. Take the rudder and look at the North Star and go with confidence, Simon of Jonah. Never hesitate... In all your navigations... God, your Jesus, will always be standing beside you in the prow of your spiritual boat. And He will always understand you, Simon of Jonah. Do you understand? Always. And He will not have to forgive you because you may also fall, like a weak child, but you will never have the evil will to fall... Be happy, Simon of Jonah. »
And Peter nods... he is too moved to be able to speak, suffocated by love, and his hand is rather shaky on the rudder, but his face shines with peace, with confidence, with love, while he looks at His Master standing beside him, on the edge of the little boat, like a bright white archangel.