7th October 1946.
The house of Joseph is not the house of Joseph of Arimathea, but that of an old Galilean of Sephoris, a friend of Alphaeus' sons, particularly of the older ones, as he was a friend, and perhaps a distant relative of old Alphaeus, now dead. And, if I am not mistaken, he has business dealings with the sons of Zebedee for the dried fish trade, as the fish is imported from the lake of Gennesaret to the capital with other products of Galilee, dear to the Galileans who have emigrated to Jerusalem. That is what I gather from the conversation of Alphaeus' two sons and John with Thomas.
Jesus instead is a little behind with Manaen, to whom He entrusts the task of going to Joseph of Arimathea and to Nicodemus asking them to call on Him. This Manaen does at once. Jesus joins the three apostles again for a moment, exhorting them once again to be prudent when speaking « for the sake of the levite who has saved them », then He parts from them and strides away towards a little path...
But John soon joins Him.
« Why have you come? »
« We could not leave You all alone... so I came. »
« And do you think that you could defend Me by yourself against so many? »
« I am not sure. But at least I would die before You. And I would be satisfied. »
« You will die a long time after Me, John. But do not regret it. If the Most High leaves you in the world, He does so that you may serve Him and His Word. »
« And after... »
« After you will continue to serve. As long as you should live to serve Me as both our hearts would wish. But you will serve Me also after your death. »
« How shall I do that, my Master? If I am in Heaven with You, I will worship You. I shall not be able to serve You on the Earth after I have departed from it... »
« Do you really think so? Well, I tell you that you will serve Me until My new advent, the final one. Many things will dry up before the last times, just as rivers dry up, and from blue wholesome flowing water-courses they become dusty mould and arid stones. But you will still be a river resounding My word and reflecting My light. You will be the supreme light left to remind people of Christ. Because you will be a completely spiritual light and in the last times there will be a struggle of darkness against light, of the flesh against the spirit. Those who persevere in faith, will find strength, hope and comfort in what you have left after you, and which will still be you... and above all will still be Me, because you and I love each other, and where you are I am, and where I am you are. I promised Peter that My Church, which will have My Stone as its head and foundation, will not be demolished by the repeated and fiercer and fiercer assaults of Hell, but now I tell you that what will still be I, and that you will leave as light for those seeking the Light, will not be destroyed, notwithstanding that Hell will try to annihilate it in every way. Nay: even more! Also those who believe in Me in an imperfect manner, because although they accept Me they will not accept My Peter, will always turn to your lighthouse like boats without pilots and without compass, which steer in their storms towards a light, because light means also salvation. »
« But what shall I leave, my Lord? I am... poor... ignorant... I have but love... »
« There you are: you will leave love. And the love for your Jesus will be word. And many, also among those who will not belong to My Church, who will not belong to any church, but will seek light and comfort as incentives to their unsatisfied spirits, for need of compassion in their grief, will come to you and will find Me. »
« I wish the first to find You were these cruel Judaeans, these Pharisees and scribes... But I am not of so much use... »
« Nothing can be added to a full vessel. But do not be discouraged... But here we are at Joseph's. Knock and let us go in. »
It is a narrow tall house, with a low storehouse on one side, rank-smelling with stacked goods; and beside the latter there is a yard which is dark because of the wall dominating it and looks almost like an inn, as inns were in those days: porticoes for goods, stables for donkeys, small rooms or dormitories for guests. Here there is a badly paved yard, a basin, two low dark stables, a rustic roofing as portico attached to the house and with a rough door opening into the storehouse. And beyond it, the house I have mentioned, old and dark, with a narrow tall door which opens onto three stone steps worn by use.
John knocks at the door and waits until a peep-hole is opened and the wrinkled face of an old woman looks through it in the dim light: « Oh! John! I'll open at once. God be with you » utters the mouth in the wrinkled face, and the door is opened with the loud noise of bolts.
« I am not alone, Mary. The Master is with me. »
« Peace also to Him, the honour of Galilee, and happy is the day bringing the feet of the Holy One to the house of a true Israelite. Come in, Lord. I am going to inform Joseph at once. He is making the last deliveries because the sun sets early in the sad month of Ethanim. »
« Leave him to his work, woman. We are stopping here until tomorrow. »
« A great joy for us. We have been waiting for You for a long time. And also a few days ago Your brother Joseph sent for news of You. But my husband will give You better information. Now, You can stay here... And I will leave You, Lord, because I am finishing baking the bread. It must be baked before sunset. If there is anything You need, John knows where to find me. »
« Go in peace. We do not need anything except hospitality. »
They remain alone for some time. Then a little swarthy face appears from behind the curtain separating the room from a corridor and casts sidelong glances, fearful and curious at the same time. « Who is that boy? » Jesus asks John.
« I don't know, Lord. He was not here on previous occasions. It is true that since I have been with You, I have never come here on my father's business. Come here, child. »
The boy comes forward with short steps. « Who are you? »
« I am not telling you. »
« Why? »
« I don't want to hear bad words said to me. If you say them, I will answer back, and Joseph does not want that. »
« That's something new! Master, what do You think of that? » and John laughs, amused as he is with the reasons of the little fellow.
Jesus also smiles and lifts His hand to draw the child to Himself and watches him. He then says: « And do you know who I am? »
« Yes, I know! You are the Messiah, Who will conquer all the world, then no bad words will be spoken to children like me. »
« You are not from Israel, are you? »
« I am circumcised... and it was very painful. But... but hunger also was painful and... and not to have mummy any more... and nobody... But it hurts also to hear that one... that we... » he weeps having lost his primitive self-confidence.
« He must be a foreign orphan, John. Joseph must have accepted him out of pity and had him circumcised... » explains Jesus to John, who is amazed at the child's reasoning and tears. And Jesus lifts the boy bodily and puts him on His knees. « Tell Me your name, child. I love you. Jesus loves all children and little orphans in particular. I have one as well, and his name is Marjiam and he... »
« And I, too, because I (his thin voice becomes a hardly audible whisper) because I am a Roman... »
« I told you. And you are an orphan, are you not? »
« Yes... I do not remember my father. My mother... yes, I remember her. She died when I had already grown up... and I was left all alone, and nobody wanted me. From Caesarea on foot, following wayfarers, after the master had gone far away. And so hungry. And if I said my name, blows... Because they understood by my name, eh?! Then I came here, for a feast, and I was hungry. I went into the stables with a caravan and I hid in the straw to eat the forage and carobs of the donkeys. And a donkey bit me and I screamed and they rushed in and wanted to hit me. But Joseph said: “No, He has done it and He says that we must do what He does. And I am taking the boy and will make him an Israelite.” And he took me and looked after me with Mary and he gave me another name because mine... But my mother called me Martial... » and tears begin to stream down his cheeks once again.
« And I will call you Martial as your mother did. It was very kind of Joseph to do what he did. You must love him. »
« Yes, but I must love You more. He says so. He always says: “if one day you should meet Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, love Him with your whole being, because it is through Him that you have been saved from error.” Mary, in the other room, was saying to the servant that the Messiah was in the house, and I came to see who had saved me. »
« I did not know that Joseph had done this. He was so... stingy... I would never have thought that he could... Poor Joseph! Stingy and disgusted with his sons. They had no respect for his grey hair. »
« I know. But see? Perhaps this child instills new life into him and... he forgets. God rewards him thus for what he did for the boy. What is your name, now? »
« An ugly name. I like only the beginning of it, because it is like mine: Manasseh is my name!... But Mary, who understands, calls me “Man”. » And the boy repeats it with such a desolate expression that Jesus and John cannot help smiling.
And Jesus to comfort him explains: « Manasseh is a name with a kind meaning for us. It means: the Lord has made me forget all my suffering. Joseph gave it to you meaning that you will make him forget all his grief. And you will do so, My child, to be grateful to him. You yourself with your new name say that the Lord has loved you so much that he has given you a new father, a new mother and a home. Is it not so? »
« Yes, when it is explained thus, yes... But Joseph says that I must forget also my house. I do not want to forget my mother! »
Jesus looks at John, and John looks at the Master and above the dark head of the boy they exchange meaningful glances...
« Your mother is not to be forgotten. Joseph did not make himself clear, or, more likely, you have misunderstood him. He certainly meant that you must forget all the grief of the past, the sorrow for your house, because now you have this one and you must be happy. »
« Ah! that's all right. And Mary is good to me and makes me happy. Even now she is baking cakes. I will go and see whether they are ready and I will bring some to You as well » and he slides down from Jesus' knees and runs out of the room. The noise of his bare feet fades away in the long corridor.
« There is always this hard tendency even in the best among us! They pretend what is impossible! The children of God's people are more severe than God Himself! Poor child! Can one expect a child to forget his mother because he is now circumcised? I will tell Joseph. »
« I did not really know that he had done this. My father, like many Galileans, comes here at festivals. And he has not spoken to me about this as if he knew nothing about it... But I hear Joseph's voice... »
Jesus stands up and so does John, ready to greet with due respect the landlord who is coming in and who, in turn, bows repeatedly and ends by kneeling at Jesus' feet.
« Stand up, Joseph. I have come, as you see. »
« Forgive me if I kept You waiting. Friday is always a busy day! Hail, John. Have you news of Zebedee? »
« Not since the Tabernacles, when I saw him. »
« Well, I can tell you that he is well and so is Salome. Fresh news. This morning's. With the last delivery of fish. And I can also tell You, Master, that Your relatives are all well at Nazareth. The man who came will depart the day after the Sabbath. If you wish to send word... Are you alone? »
« No. The others will be here shortly... »
« Very well! There is room for everybody. This is a faithful house. I am sorry that Mary has been busy baking the bread and I with sales. We left you all alone... We failed to honour and keep You company as befits a guest. And a great guest! »
« A son of God like you, Joseph. Those who follow the Law of God are all equal. »
« Eh! no. You are You. I am not a fool like these Judaeans. You are the Messiah! »
« That is by the will of God. But by My will and duty I am a son of the Law like you. »
« Eh! Those who slander You cannot say and do what You are saying now and You always do! »
« But you do much of what I teach. I have seen the boy, Joseph... »
« Ah! Have You seen him? He came! He knows that I do not want that! In Your case... I am glad. But it might have been someone else... »
« So? What would have happened? »
« That... I do not like that, that's it! »
« Why, Joseph? Not to be praised? Your thought is praiseworthy. But the child might think that you are ashamed to show him... »
« And it's true! »
« True? Why? Tell Me. »
« Well. The boy is not a Hebrew born of Hebrews, not even of proselytes, or of a Hebrew mother and heathen father. He is the son of two Romans, a freed couple who lived in the house of a Roman at Caesarea on Sea. He kept the child while he remained there. But when he went away, he left the boy who remained alone. The Hebrews obviously would not accept him. The Romans... You know what the Romans are like... And those Romans of Caesarea above all! The boy, begging... »
« Yes, I know. He arrived here and You accepted him. God has marked your deed in Heaven. »
« And I had him circumcised! And I changed his name. His name! Pagan! Idolatrous! But I do not want him to mix with people and to remember his past. »
« Why, Joseph! » Jesus asks kindly and He continues: « The boy suffers for that. He remembers his mother. It is understandable! »
« But it is also understandable that I should not wish to be criticised for accepting a... »
« An innocent. Nothing else, Joseph. Why are you afraid of the opinion of men, when a higher judgement, the divine one, confirms that your action is a holy one? Why are you ashamed, out of respect for public opinion, or for fear of retaliation, of a good deed? Why do you want to set for the boy an example of duplicity, such as arises from changing his name and cancelling his past, out of fear of being prejudiced? Why do you want to instill into the child contempt for his father and mother? See, Joseph, you have accomplished a praiseworthy deed, but you are covering it with dust, with such... imperfect ideas. You imitated one of My actions. You received My words. Which is good. But why do you not make My imitation perfect by completing it candidly and saying: “Yes. The boy was a Roman. And I did not feel disgust at him, because he is a son of the Creator like you. I only wanted him to be in our Law and I had him circumcised.”? Really... The true circumcision is about to come and the new incision will be made in men's hearts, from which the suffocating ring of treble concupiscence will be removed, thus even if the child had remained innocent until that time... But I do not wish to reproach you for that. You, a Hebrew, did the right thing in making him a Hebrew. But leave him his name. Oh! In future how many people named Martial, and Caius, and Felix, and Cornelius, and Claudius and so forth, will belong to the Christ and to Heaven! That is possible also for the boy, who knows nothing about Hebrews and Gentiles, and who will become of age when the new and true Law will be established with the new Temple and new priests, and not as you think, and he will be examined by God and found worthy of His new Temple. Leave him with the name given to him by his mother. It is still a motherly caress to him. I understand what you meant by calling him Manasseh. But let him be Martial. And to those who ask you about him, you may say: “Yes, he is Martial. Almost like the disciple of the Christ, the boy to whom Mary gave that name.” Be brave in goodness, Joseph. And you will be great, so great. »
« Master... as You wish. I do not want to upset You. And do You think that... I did the right thing also as a man? »
« Yes, you did. Your sorrow has made you good. So everything you have done is well done. And this deed is a good one. »
Some knocks at the main door interrupt the conversation.