28th October 1946.
Jesus dismisses the disciples Levi, Joseph, Matthias and John, whom He met I do not know where and to whom He entrusts the new disciple Sidonia named Bartholmai. This happens at the first houses in Bethany. And the shepherd disciples go away with the newcomer and with seven other men who were with them. Jesus looks at them go away, He then turns round to look at His apostles and He says: « And now let us wait here for Judas of Simon... »
« Ah! You noticed that he has gone? » say the others who are surprised. « We thought that You were not aware of it. There was such a large crowd. And You were speaking all the time, first with the young man and then with the shepherds... »
« I noticed that he had gone from the very first moment. Nothing escapes My notice. That is why I went to some friendly houses, telling them to send Judas to Bethany, if he should look for Me... »
« God forbid! » grumbles the other Judas between his teeth.
Jesus looks at him, but pretends that He has not heard, and He goes on, speaking to everybody, as He sees that they are all of the same opinion as Thaddeus (faces, at times, speak better than words):
« This will be a good rest while waiting for his return. It will be of comfort to everybody. Then we will go towards Tekoah. The weather is cold but it is clearing up. I will evangelize that town, then we will come back up passing through Jericho and we will go to the other bank. The shepherds told Me that many sick people are looking for Me and I sent word that they need not set out on the journey, and that they should wait for Me there. »
« Well, let us go » says Peter with a sigh.
« Are you not glad to go to Lazarus' house? » Thomas asks him.
« I am glad. »
« You don't seem to be, the way you say it. »
« It is not because of Lazarus. It's because of Judas... »
« You are a sinner, Peter » says Jesus admonishing him.
« I am. But... he, Judas of Kerioth, is he not a sinner since he goes away, is insolent and a torture? » bursts out Peter angrily, as he cannot stand the situation any longer.
« He is. But if he is, you must not be. None of us must be. Remember that God will ask us, - I say: will ask us, because God Father entrusted that man to Me before entrusting him to you - to account for what we did to redeem him. »
« And do You hope to succeed, Brother? I cannot believe it. You, I believe this, You know the past, the present and the future. So You cannot be mistaken about that man. And... But it is better if I don't tell You the rest. »
« It is in fact a great virtue to be able to be silent. But you had better know that to foresee more or less exactly the future of a heart does not exempt anyone from persevering until the end to save a heart from being ruined. Do not fall into the fatalism of Pharisees who maintain that what is destined must take place and nothing can prevent what is destined from being accomplished, and with such reasoning they justify their sins and will justify their final act of hatred against Me. Many a time God awaits the sacrifice of a heart, that overcomes its nausea and indignation, its antipathy, even if justified, to rescue a spirit from the quagmire into which it is sinking. Yes, I tell you. Many times God, the Almighty, the Everything, waits for a creature, a mere nothing, to make or not to make a sacrifice, to say a prayer, in order to condemn or not condemn a spirit. It is never late, never too late, to try and hope to save a soul. And I will give you proof of that. Even on the threshold of death, when both the sinner and the just man who is anxious about him, are about to leave the Earth to appear at the first judgement of God, one can always save or be saved. Between the cup and the lips, says the proverb, there is always room for death. I instead say: between the extremity of agony and death there is always time to obtain forgiveness, for oneself or for those whom we want to be forgiven. »
Not one word is uttered by anybody.
Jesus, who by now has arrived at the heavy gate, calls a servant to have it opened. And He goes in and asks after Lazarus.
« Oh! Lord! See? I have just come back from gathering bay-leaves and the leaves of the camphor tree, and cypress-berries and other leaves and scented fruit to boil them with wine and resins, and prepare baths for our master with them. His flesh is coming off in bits and it is impossible to withstand the stench. You have come, but I do not know whether they will let You pass... » Lest the very air should hear, he lowers his voice to a whisper saying: « Now that it is no longer possible to conceal the sores, the mistresses do not receive anybody... lest... You know... Lazarus is not really loved by many people... But many, and for many reasons, would be glad if... Oh! don't let me think of this as it is the terror of the whole household. »
« And they are right. But do not be afraid. That misfortune will not take place. »
« But... will he be able to recover? A miracle of Yours... »
« He will not recover. But that will serve to glorify the Lord. »
The servant is disappointed... Jesus cures everybody but does nothing here!... But only a sigh expresses his thought. He then says: « I am going to the mistresses to announce You. »
Jesus is surrounded by the apostles who are interested in Lazarus' conditions and are filled with dismay when Jesus informs them. But the two sisters are about to arrive. Their flourishing although different beauty seems dulled with grief and with the fatigue of protracted watching at Lazarus' bedside. Pale, humble, emaciated, their eyes, once so bright, tired, without rings or bracelets, wearing two dark grey dresses, they look more like maidservants than mistresses. They kneel down at a distance from Jesus, offering Him nothing but tears. Resigned, silent tears flowing from an internal source and unable to stop.
Jesus approaches them. Martha stretches out her hands whispering: « Move away, Lord. We are really afraid by now that we have infringed the law on leprosy. But we cannot, o God, we cannot have such an ordinance against our Lazarus! But please do not come near us, as we are unclean as we touch nothing but sores. We alone. Because we have kept everybody else away, and everything is placed on the threshold for us, and we take it and wash and burn things in the room next to our brothers. See our hands? They are corroded by the caustic lime which we use for the vases we have to hand back to the servants. We think that by doing so we are less guilty » and she weeps.
Mary of Magdala, who has been silent so far, moans in her turn: « We should call the priest. But... I, I am the more guilty one because I oppose that and I say that it is not the dreadful cursed disease in Israel. It is not, it is not! But so many hate us and so much, that they would say it is. Your apostle Simon was declared a leper for much less! »
« You are neither priest nor doctor, Mary » says Martha sobbing.
« I am not. But you know what I have done to be certain of what I am saying. Lord, I went and covered the whole valley of Hinnom, all Siloam, all the sepulchres near En Rogel. I went dressed as a maidservant, veiled, in the first light of dawn, loaded with foodstuffs, medicated waters, bandages and clothes. And I gave, I gave everything. I said that it was a vow I had made for him whom I loved. And it was true. I only asked to see the sores of the lepers. They must have thought that I was mad... Who ever wishes to see those horrors?! But after laying my offering at the edges of the crags, I asked to see. And they were above me, I was farther down; they were amazed, I was disgusted; they wept, and I wept; and I looked and looked! I looked at bodies covered with scales, with crusts, with sores, I looked at corroded faces, at white hair stiffer than bristles, at eyes exuding pus, at cheeks through which I could see teeth, at skulls on living bodies, at hands which had become claws of monsters, at feet resembling knobby branches... stench, horror, rottenness. Oh! if I sinned worshipping flesh, if I took delight in my senses of sight, smell, hearing, touch, in what was beautiful, scented, harmonious, soft and smooth, oh! I can assure you that my senses have been purified in the mortification of such sights! My eyes forgot the enticing handsomeness of man on contemplating those monsters, my ears expiated the past enjoyment of manly voices on hearing those harsh ones, no longer sounding like human voices, my body shuddered, my smell revolted... and all remainders of the cult of myself died, because I saw what we shall be after death... But I brought back with me this certitude: that Lazarus is not a leper. His voice is not injured, his hair and the hairy parts of his body are intact, and his sores are different. No, he is not a leper! And Martha distresses me because she will not believe, because she does not comfort Lazarus by dissuading him from believing that he is unclean. See? He does not want to see You, now that he knows that You are here, lest he should infect You. The foolish fears of my sister are depriving him also of Your comfort!... »
Her passionate nature makes her angry. But when she sees that her sister bursts into tears weeping desolately, her impetuosity abates at once and she embraces and kisses Martha, saying: « Oh! Martha! Forgive me! Grief is making me unfair! It's my love for you and Lazarus that wants to convince you! My poor sister! What poor women we are! »
« Now, now, do not weep so! You are in need of peace and reciprocal compassion, for your own sake and for his. Lazarus, in any case, is not leprous, I tell you. »
« Oh! come to him, Lord. Who can judge better than You whether he is leprous? » says Martha imploringly.
« Have I not already told you that he is not? »
« Yes. But how can You say so if You do not see him? »
« Oh! Martha! Martha! God forgives you because you are in pain and you are like one whose mind is raving! I feel sorry for you and I will go to Lazarus and uncover his sores and... »
« and You will cure them!!! » shouts Martha standing up.
« I have already told that I cannot do it... But I will put your minds at rest, as you will know that you have not infringed the law concerning lepers. Let us go... » And He is the first to set out towards the house beckoning to His apostles not to follow Him.
Mary runs ahead, she opens a door, runs along a corridor, opens another door which leads into a small internal yard, and after a few steps she enters a semidark room encumbered with basins, small vases, amphorae, bandages... A mixed odour of spices and putrefaction is perceived. There is a door opposite the first one and Mary opens it shouting in a voice that endeavours to be bright and joyful:
« Here is the Master. He has come to tell you that I am right, my dear brother. Cheer up and smile because our love and peace is coming in! » and she bends over her brother, lifts him on the pillows, kisses him, heedless of the smell that in spite of palliatives exhales from the ulcerated body, and she is still bent tidying him, when Jesus' kind greeting resounds in the room, which, enveloped in a faint light, seems to brighten up because of the divine presence.
« Master, You are not afraid... I am... »
« You are ill! Nothing else. Lazarus, the rules have been laid down, so comprehensive and severe, out of an understandable sense of prudence. It is better to be exceedingly prudent than imprudent in certain cases, such as catching diseases. But you are not infectious, My poor dear friend, you are not unclean. And in fact I do not think that I lack prudence towards My brothers if I embrace you and kiss you thus » and He kisses him taking his emaciated body in His arms.
« You really are Peace! But You have not yet seen me. Mary will now uncover the horror. I am already a dead body, Lord. I do not know how my sisters can stand... »
I would not know either, so frightening and disgusting are the sores near the varicose veins of his legs. Mary's beautiful hands massage them lightly while in her wonderful voice she replies: « Your ills are roses for your sisters. Only because you suffer they are thorny roses. Here it is, Master. See? Leprosy is not like that! »
« No, it is not. It is a bad disease and it consumes you, but it is not dangerous. Believe your Master! You may cover him, Mary. I have seen. »
« Are You really not going to touch him? » asks Martha with a sigh, persevering in hope.
« It is not necessary. Not because of disgust, but to avoid irritating the sores. »
Martha, without insisting any more, bends over a basin containing spicy wine or vinegar and dips some linens into it and then hands them to her sister. Silent tears drop into the reddish liquid... Mary bandages the poor legs and lays the blankets once again on Lazarus' feet, which are as motionless and yellowish as those of a dead man.
« Are You alone? »
« No. They are all with Me, except Judas of Kerioth who stayed in Jerusalem, and will come... Nay, if I have already left, send him to Bethabara. I shall be there. And tell him to wait for Me there. »
« You are going away soon... »
« And I shall be back soon. It will soon be the Feast of the Dedication. I shall be with you those days. »
« I shall not be able to honour You at the Feast of the Lights... »
« I shall be in Bethlehem on that day. I must see My cradle once again... »
« You are sad... I know... Oh! and I can do nothing! »
« I am not sad. I am the Redeemer... But you are tired. Do not strive to keep awake, My dear friend. »
« It was to honour You... »
« Sleep. We shall meet later... » and Jesus withdraws noiselessly.
« Have You seen, Master? » asks Martha, outside, in the yard.
« Yes, I have. My poor disciples... I weep with you... But I truly confide to you that My heart is much more ulcerated than your brother. Grief gnaws at My heart... » and He looks at them with such deep sadness that they forget their sorrow because of His, and as their being women prevents them from embracing Him, they confine themselves to kissing His hands and tunic and to serving Him as loving sisters. And they serve Him in a little room, and overwhelm Him with their love.
The loud voices of the apostles can be heard from beyond the yard... All of them, except the voice of the bad disciple. And Jesus listens and sighs... He sighs awaiting the fugitive patiently.