2nd September 1946.
The varied green shades of the countryside around Bethany come into sight as soon as one climbs over a spur of the mountain and sets foot on the southern slope, descending along a zigzag path towards Bethany. The silvery green of olive-trees, the bright green of apple-orchards with a few yellow leaves showing early here and there, the ruffled and more yellowish green hue of vines, the dark dense green of oaks and carob-trees mixed with the brown of fields already ploughed and waiting to be sown and with the fresh green of kitchen gardens and of meadows in which new grass is growing, look like a multicoloured carpet to anyone overlooking Bethany and surroundings. And towering over the green below, the fanshaped leaves of date-palms, always elegant and reminiscent of the East.
The little town of En-shemesh, lying in the middle of the greenery and all lit up by the sun which is beginning to set, is soon overcome, and also the large fountain rich in water a little to the north of Bethany is also left behind, then the first houses appear amid the green... They have arrived after a long tiring journey. And although they are very tired, they seem to regain strength simply by being near the friendly house in Bethany.
The little town is quiet, almost empty. Many inhabitants must have already moved to Jerusalem for the feast. So Jesus is unnoticed until He arrives near Lazarus' house. Only when He is near the garden which has now grown wild - where all the stilt-birds were -, He meets two men who recognise and greet Him and then ask: « Are You going to see Lazarus, Master? You are doing a good thing, because he is very ill. We are coming from his house after taking him the milk of our asses, as it is the only food, together with a little fruit juice and honey, which his stomach still accepts. His sisters do nothing but weep. They are worn out with watching at his bedside and with grief... And he does nothing but pine for You. I think that he would be already dead, if his keen desire to see You had not kept him alive so far. »
« I am going at once. God be with you. »
« And... will You cure him? » they ask inquisitively.
« The will of God will be revealed on him together with the power of the Lord » replies Jesus perplexing them and He hastens towards the gate of the garden.
A servant sees Him and rushes to open it, but without any exclamation of joy. As soon as the gate is opened he kneels down venerating Jesus and says in a sorrowful voice: « You have come at the right moment, Lord! And may Your arrival bring joy to this house full of tears. Lazarus, my master... »
« I know. Be resigned, all of you, to the will of the Lord. He will reward you for sacrificing your wills to His. Go and call Martha and Mary. I will wait for them in the garden. »
The servant hurries away and Jesus follows him slowly after saying to the apostles: « I am going to Lazarus. You can have a rest, as you need it... »
In fact, while the two sisters appear at the door and have difficulty in recognising the Lord, so tired are their eyes with watching and weeping, and the sun shining into their eyes makes it more difficult for them to see, other servants come out of a side door to meet the apostles and they take them away.
« Martha! Mary! It is I. Do you not recognise Me? »
« Oh! the Master! » exclaim the two sisters and they run towards Him prostrating themselves at His feet stifling their sobs with difficulty. Kisses and tears fall upon Jesus' feet as previously in the house of Simon, the Pharisee.
But this time Jesus, while receiving the streaming tears of Martha and Mary, does not remain stiff as He did then. Now He bends down, He touches their heads blessing them and compels them to stand up saying: « Come. Let us go under the jasmine pergola. Can you leave Lazarus? »
More by nodding than by words, while sobbing, they say yes. And they go under the shady bower on whose dark leafy branches a few persistent jasmine little stars are still white and fragrant.
« Now, tell Me... »
« Oh! Master! You have come to a really sad house! We are dazed with grief. When the servant said to us: “There is someone looking for you” we did not think of You. And when we saw You, we did not recognise You. See? Tears have scalded our eyes. Lazarus is dying!... » and fresh tears interrupt the words of the two sisters who have been speaking alternately.
« And I have come... »
« To cure him?! Oh! my Lord! » says Mary, her eyes shining with hope through her tears.
« Ah! I said so! If He comes... » says Martha joining her hands in a joyful gesture.
« Oh! Martha! Martha! What do you know of God's acts and decrees? »
« Alas, Master! Will You not cure him?! » they both exclaim plunging back into grief.
« I say to you: have unlimited faith in the Lord. Persevere in having it despite innuendoes and events, and you will see great things when your hearts no longer have any reason to hope to see them. What does Lazarus say? »
« He echoes Your words. He says to us: “Do not doubt God's kindness and power, no matter what may happen. He will intervene on your and on my behalf, and on behalf of many, of all those who, like me and you, will remain faithful to the Lord.” And when he is fit to do so, he explains the Scriptures to us, he does not read anything else nowadays, and he speaks to us of You, and he says that he will die in a happy period of time because the era of peace and forgiveness has begun. But You will hear him... because he says also other things which make us weep even more than we do for our brother... » says Martha.
« Come, Lord. Every minute that passes is stolen from Lazarus' hope. He used to count the hours and would say: “He will certainly be in Jerusalem for the feast and He will come... We know many things which we do not tell Lazarus in order not to grieve him, and we did not have so much hope, because we thought that You would not come to avoid those who are looking for You... Martha was fully convinced of that. I was not so sure... because if I were You, I would face my enemies. I am not a woman who is afraid of men. And now I am not even afraid of God. For I know how good He is to repentant souls... » says Mary and she casts a loving glance at Him.
« Are you not afraid of anything, Mary? » asks Jesus.
« Of sin... and of myself... I am always afraid of falling again into evil. I think that Satan must have a mortal hatred of me. »
« You are right. You are one of the souls most hated by Satan. But you are also one of the most loved by God. Bear that in mind. »
« Oh! I do. And that remembrance is my strength! I remember what You said in Simon's house. You said: “Many sins are forgiven her because she has loved much.”, and You said to me: “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” You said “your sins”. Not many. All of them. And so I think that You loved me, my God, without limit. Now if my poor faith of those days, the faith of a soul laden with faults, achieved so much from You, will my present faith not be able to defend me from Evil? »
« Yes, Mary. Be vigilant and watch over yourself. It is humility and prudence. But have faith in the Lord. He is with you. »
They go into the house. Martha goes to her brother. Mary would like to serve Jesus. But Jesus wants to go to Lazarus first. And they enter the semi-dark room, where the sacrifice is being consumed.
« Master! »
« My friend! »
Lazarus lifts his emaciated arms, while Jesus lowers His to embrace the body of His languishing friend. A long embrace. Then Jesus lays the invalid down again on the cushions and gazes at him compassionately. But Lazarus smiles. He is happy. In his ravaged face only his hollow eyes shine brightly, lit by the joy of having Jesus there.
« See? I have come. And I shall be staying with you for a long time. »
« Oh! You cannot, my Lord. They do not tell me everything. But I know enough to be able to tell You that You cannot. To the sorrow they give You, they have added mine, my part, by not allowing me to die in Your arms. But since I love You I cannot be so selfish as to detain You here with me, in danger. You... I have already seen to it... You must change places continually. All my houses are open to You. The guardians have been given instructions and also the stewards of my lands. But do not go to Gethsemane to stay there. They keep a strict watch over it. I mean the house. You can go among the olive-trees, particularly the upper ones, and You can go there along many paths, without them finding out. Marjiam, do You know that he is already here? He was questioned by some people when he was in the oil-mill with Marcus. They wanted to know where You were and whether You would be coming. The boy gave them a very clever reply: “He is an Israelite and will come. Which way I do not know, as I left Him at Merom.” So he did not give them the opportunity to say that You are a sinner and he did not lie. »
« Thank you, Lazarus. I will listen to you. But we will often meet just the same. » And He gazes at him again.
« Are You looking at me, Master? See how I am reduced? Like a tree which in autumn is stripped of its leaves, I am despoiled of my flesh, my strength and of the hours of my life. But I speak the truth when I say that, if I am sorry that I shall not live long enough to see Your triumph, I rejoice at departing so that I shall not see the hatred which is increasing against You, powerless as I am to check it. »
« You are not powerless; you never are. You see to your Friend, even before He arrives. I have two houses of peace, and I can say that they are equally dear to Me: the one in Nazareth and this one. If My Mother is there: the celestial love almost as great as Heaven for the Son of God, here I have the love of men for the Son of man. The friendly, faithful, venerating love... Thanks, My friends! »
« Will Your Mother never come? »
« At the beginning of springtime. »
« Oh! then I shall never see Her again... »
« Yes, you will. I am telling you and you must believe Me. »
« I believe everything, Lord. Also what facts disprove. »
« Where is Marjiam? »
« In Jerusalem with the disciples. But he comes here in the evening. He will be here shortly. And Your apostles? Are they not with You? »
« They are with Maximinus who is succouring them as they are tired and exhausted. »
« Have you walked much? »
« Yes, very much, without stopping. I will tell you about it... But rest now. I bless you for the time being. » And Jesus blesses him and withdraws.
The apostles are now with Marjiam and with almost all the shepherds and they are speaking of the insistence of the Pharisees to find out about Jesus. They say that such inquisitiveness roused their suspicions, so much so that their disciples decided to guard each road leading into Jerusalem in order to warn the Master.
« In fact » says Isaac « we are scattered along all the roads a few stadia from the Gates and we watch one night each in turns. This is our turn. »
« Master » says Judas laughing « they say that at the Joppa Gate there was half of the Sanhedrin and they were quarrelling because some of them remembered the words I spoke at Engannim, some swore that they heard that You had been to Dothan, some instead said that they had seen You near Ephraim, and thus they were furious because they did not know where You were... » and he laughs thinking of the trick he had played on Jesus' enemies.
« They will see Me tomorrow. »
« No. We will go tomorrow. We have already made our plans: all in a group and making ourselves conspicuous. »
« I do not want that. You would tell lies. »
« I swear to You that I will not lie. If they say nothing to me I will say nothing to them. If they ask me whether You are with us, I will reply: “Can't you see that He is not here?”, and if they wish to know where You are I will say: “Look for Him yourselves. How do you expect me to know where the Master is just now?” In fact I will certainly not be in a position to know whether You are in the house, here, or in the orchards, or I do not know where. »
« Judas, Judas, I told you... »
« And I say that You are right. But my behaviour perhaps is not the simplicity of a dove, but it is the prudence of a serpent. You are the dove, I the serpent. And together we will form the perfection which You taught us. » He assumes the attitude of Jesus when He teaches and imitating the Master to perfection he says: « “I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves. Be therefore as wise as serpents and as simple as doves... Do not worry about what to say, as the words will then be put on your lips, because it is not you that speak, but the Spirit speaks in you... When they persecute you in one town, flee into another until the Kingdom of the Son of man comes... I remember them and it is now time to put them into practice. »
« I did not say them thus, neither did I say only those » objects Jesus.
« Oh! at present it is necessary to remember only those and to speak them thus. I know what You mean. But until faith in You is confirmed, and it is a stone in Your Kingdom, it is better not to surrender to the enemies. Later... we will say and do the rest... » And Judas' expression is so brightly intelligent and impish that he conquers everybody, except Jesus, Who sighs. Judas is really the seducer who lacks nothing to triumph over men.
Jesus is pensive and sighs... But He surrenders as He feels that Judas' precaution is not entirely wicked. And the Iscariot expounds his plan triumphantly.
« So we will go tomorrow and the day after tomorrow until the day after the Sabbath. And we will stay in a hut made with branches, in the valley of the Kidron, like perfect Israelites. They will get tired waiting for You... and then You will come. In the meantime You will stay here, in peace and You will rest. You are exhausted, my Master. And we do not want that. When the gates are closed one of us will come and tell You what they do. Oh! it will be lovely to see them disappointed! »
They all agree and Jesus does not offer any resistance. Perhaps the fact that He is really dead tired, perhaps His desire to give comfort to Lazarus, all possible comfort before the final struggle, contribute to His yielding. Perhaps also the real necessity of being free until He can accomplish all the necessary deeds, so that Israel may have no doubt about His Nature before condemning Him... He says: « Let it be so. But avoid discussions and lies. Be silent, but do not lie. Now let us go, because Martha is calling us. Come, Marjiam. I find you in better form... » and He goes away speaking to the boy, with one arm round his shoulder.