2nd November 1946.
Jesus comes out of Zacchaeus' house. It is late in the morning. He is with Zacchaeus, Peter and James of Alphaeus. The other apostles are perhaps already out in the country announcing that the Master is in town.
Behind the group of Jesus, Zacchaeus and the apostles, there is another one of people considerably... varying in features, age and garments. One can state without hesitation that the men in the group belong to different races, which are probably even opposed to one another. But the events of life have brought them to this Palestinian town and have gathered them so that from their depth they may rise towards light. They are mostly withered faces of people who have used and abused life in several ways, most of them with tired eyes; the eyes of others seem to have become greedy or hard owing to the long habit of attending to... fiscal robberies or to giving brutal orders, and now and again their old looks appear again under a humble pensive veil drawn by their new life. And that happens particularly when people from Jericho look at them scornfully or mumble insolent words to them. Their eyes later become tired, humble and they lower their heads disconsolately.
Jesus turns round twice to look at them and seeing them far behind, slackening their paces as they, come closer to the place selected for His speech, and already crowded with people, He slackens His pace as well, to wait for them and He then says to them: « Go on ahead of Me and be not afraid. You defied the world when you were doing evil; you must not be afraid of it now that you have divested yourselves of it. Use also now what you made use of to subdue it in the past: indifference towards the opinion of the world, the only weapon to make it tired of judging, and it will tire of having anything to do with you, and it will absorb you, although slowly, annihilating you in the great anonymous mass, that is, in this miserable world, to which, in actual fact, too much importance is attached. »
The men, fifteen in all, obey and move forward.
« Master, the sick people of the country are over there » says James of Zebedee going towards Jesus and pointing to a corner warmed by the sun.
« I am coming. Where are the others? »
« With the crowd. But they have already seen You and they are coming. Also Solomon, Joseph of Emmaus, John of Ephesus, Philip of Arbela are with them. They are going to the house of Philip and they have come from Joppa, Lydda and Modin. They brought with them men and women from the seaside. In actual fact they were looking for You because they are at a variance on judging a woman. But they will tell You... »
In fact Jesus is soon surrounded and greeted reverently by the other disciples. Behind them are those who have been recently attracted by Jesus' doctrine. But John of Ephesus is absent and Jesus asks why.
« He stopped with a woman and her relatives in a house far from the crowd. They do not know whether the woman is possessed or she is a prophetess. She says wonderful things, according to the people from her village. But some scribes have listened to her and they have judged her to be possessed. Her relatives have called exorcizers several times, but they have not been able to expel the demon that makes her speak and possesses her. But one of them said to the father of the woman (she is a virgin widow who remained in the family): “The Messiah Jesus is needed for your daughter. He will understand her words and will know where they come from. I tried to order the spirit, that speaks in her, to go away in the name of Jesus called the Christ. The spirits of darkness have always fled when I used that Name. But they didn't this time. From that I infer that: it is either Beelzebub himself who speaks and can resist also that Name mentioned by me, or it is the Spirit of God Himself, and consequently is not afraid being one with the Christ. I am more convinced of the latter case than of the former. But to be certain, only the Christ can judge. He will know the words and their origin.” He was maltreated by the scribes who were present and who said that he was possessed as well, like the woman and like You. Forgive us if we have to say this... And some scribes have never left us, and they guard the woman because they want to ascertain whether she may be informed of Your arrival. Because she says that she knows Your face and Your voice, and would be able to recognise You among thousands of people, whereas it is proved that she has never left her village, nay, she has never moved from her house since her bridegroom died fifteen years ago, on the eve of her wedding day; and it is also proved that You have never been to Bethlechi, which is her village. And the scribes are waiting for this last test to say that she is possessed. Will You see her at once? »
« No. I must speak to the people. And it would be too noisy to meet here, among the crowds. Go and tell John of Ephesus, the woman's relatives and also the scribes, that I will wait for them, when the sun begins to set, in the woods along the river, on the path to the ford. Go. »
After dismissing Solomon, who has spoken on behalf of everybody, Jesus goes towards the sick people imploring to be cured and He heals them. Among them there is an elderly woman ankylosed by arthritis, a paralytic, a dull-witted young man, a girl who I think was tubercular, and two people with sore eyes.
The crowds utter thrilling cries of joy.
But the series of sick people has not yet come to an end. A woman disfigured by grief comes forward, supported by two friends or relatives, and she kneels saying: « My son is dying. He cannot be brought here... Have mercy on me! »
« Can you believe without limits? »
« Everything, my Lord! »
« Then, go home. »
« Home?... Without You?... » The woman looks at Him for a moment, full of anxiety, then she understands. Her poor face brightens up. She shouts: « I am going, Lord. And blessed be You and the Most High Who sent You! » And she runs away faster than her companions...
Jesus asks a dignified citizen of Jericho: « Is that woman a Jewess? »
« No, she isn't. At least not by birth. She is from Miletus. But she married one of us and since then she believes in our faith. »
« She believed better than many Hebrews » remarks Jesus.
Then, climbing on the high step of a house, He makes the usual gesture of opening out His arms, before speaking, to impose silence. When silence is created, He gathers the folds of His mantle, opened on His chest by His gesture, and holds it with His left hand while He stretches out His right one in the attitude of one who takes an oath, saying:
« Listen, oh citizens of Jericho, to the parables of the Lord, and then meditate on them in your hearts, and draw the conclusions to nourish your spirits. You can do so, because it is not since yesterday, or last month, or last winter that you know the Word of God. Before I became the Master, John, My Precursor, had prepared you for My coming, and when I became the Master, My disciples ploughed this ground seven and seven times to sow the seed that I had given them. So you are able to understand the word and the parable.
With whom shall I compare those, who were converted after being sinners? I will compare them with sick people who have recovered. With whom shall I compare the others who have not sinned in public or those, who are rarer than black pearls, who not even secretly have committed grave sins? I will compare them with healthy people. The world is composed of those two categories, both in the spirit and in the flesh and blood. But if the comparisons are the same, the way the world treats sick people who have recovered from diseases of the body is different from the way it treats converted sinners, that is people whose spirits were diseased and who have become healthy.
We see that even when a leper, who is the most dangerous sick person and the most isolated because of the danger, receives the grace of recovery, he is admitted again into society, after he has been examined by a priest and purified, and the people of his town give him a hearty welcome because he is cured and has come back to life, to his family and his business. There is a big feast in the family and in the town when a leper receives that grace and becomes healthy! His relatives and fellow-citizens vie in taking various things to him, and if he is all alone, without home or furniture, they offer him bed and pieces of furniture, and they all say: “He is held dearest by God. His hand has cured him. Let us therefore honour him and we will thus honour Him Who created and re-created him.” It is right to do so. And when unfortunately a man shows the first signs of leprosy, with how much love full of anguish his relatives and friends overwhelm him with endearments, as long as it is possible to do so, as if they wished to give him, all at once, the treasure of love they would have given him in many years, that he may take it with him to the sepulchre of a living being.
But why do they not do so with the other sick people? A man begins to commit sins, his relatives and above all his fellowcitizens notice that. Why then do they not try to tear him away from sin with loving efforts? A mother, a father, a wife, a sister still do that, but brothers are unlikely to do so, never mind the children of the father's or mother's brother. And, finally, the fellow-citizens the more just ones, do nothing but criticise, scoff at, abuse, be scandalised, exaggerate the sins of the sinner, pointing him out, keeping him away as if he were a leper, whereas those who are not just become his accomplices, to enjoy themselves at his expense. But only very rarely there is a mouth, and above all a heart, that goes to the poor wretch with compassion and firmness, with patience and supernatural love, and anxiously strives to stop the descent into sin. What? Is the disease of the spirit not more serious, really grave and mortal? Does it not deprive one, and forever, of the Kingdom of God? Should the first form of love towards God and our neighbour, not be the anxiety to cure a sinner for the good of his soul and the glory of God?
And when a sinner is converted, why do people persist in judging him, and almost regret that he has come back to spiritual salvation? Is it because you realise that your prediction of the certain damnation of a fellow-citizen of yours is given the lie? But you ought to be happy, because He Who gives you the lie is merciful God, Who gives you a measure of His goodness to comfort you in your more or less grave sins. And why persist in considering soiled, despicable, worthy of remaining isolated, what God and the good will of a heart have made clean, admirable, worthy of the esteem, nay of the admiration of one's brothers? But you do rejoice if an ox of yours or a donkey or camel, or a sheep of your flock or your pet dove recovers from a disease! You do exult if a stranger, whom you can hardly remember by name having heard about him when he was isolated because he suffered from leprosy, is healed! Why then do you not exult at these spiritual recoveries, at these victories of God? Heaven rejoices when a sinner is converted. Heaven: God, the most pure angels, who do not know what it is to commit sin. And do you, you men, want to be more intolerant than God?
Be honest-hearted and recognise the presence of the Lord not only in the clouds of incense and in the songs of the Temple, in the place where only the holiness of the Lord, in the High Priest, must enter and ought to be as holy as indicated by its name, but also in the wonder of these spirits which have risen again, and of these reconsecrated altars on which the Love of God descends with its fire to consume the sacrifice. »
Jesus is interrupted by the mother seen previously, as with cries and blessings she wants to worship Him. Jesus listens to her, blesses her and sends her back home, resuming His interrupted speech.
« And if the behaviour of a sinner was once the cause of scandal to you, whereas now it is an edifying example, do not mock at it, but imitate it. Because no one is ever so perfect as to make it impossible for another person to edify him. And Good is always a lesson to be accepted, even if it is given by one who was once blameworthy. Imitate and help him, because by doing so you will glorify the Lord and prove that you have understood the Word. Do not be like those whom you criticise in the secret of your hearts because their actions do not correspond to their words. But let each good action of yours be the crowning-piece of each good word of yours. And then you will really be looked at and listened to benevolently by the Eternal Father.
Listen to this other parable to understand which things are of value in the eyes of God. It will teach you to rectify a bad thought often found in many hearts. Most men are their own judges, and considering that one man only in a thousand is humble, it so happens that each man considers himself the only perfect one, whereas he finds hundreds of faults in his neighbour.
One day two men, who had gone to Jerusalem on business, went up to the Temple, as becomes every good Israelite every time he sets foot in the Holy City. One was a Pharisee, the other a publican. The former had come to collect the rents of some shops and to make up accounts with his stewards who lived near the town. The latter had come to pay in the taxes he had collected and to invoke compassion for a widow who could not pay the taxation on a boat and nets, because the amount of fish caught by her oldest son was barely sufficient to feed her many children.
Before going up to the Temple, the Pharisee had called on the tenants of the shops, and after looking round in the shops and seeing that they were full of goods and buyers, he was pleased with himself and he then called the tenant and said to him. “I see that your business is thriving.”
“Yes, by the grace of God. I am pleased with my work. I have been able to increase the stock of goods and I hope to increase it further. I made improvements to the place and next year I shall have no expenses for benches and shelves and I will thus have more profit.”
“Well! Very well! I am glad! What is your rent for this place?”
“One hundred didrachmae a month. It is dear but the position is a good one...
“You are right. It is good. I therefore double the rent.”
“But, sir” exclaimed the shopkeeper. “If you do that, you leave me no profit!”
“What I said is right. Have I to make you rich with my property? Be quick. You either give me two thousand four hundred didrachmae at once, or I will expel you and keep the goods. The place belongs to me and I can do what I like with it.”
He did that with the first, the second and the third tenant, doubling the price to each of them, turning a deaf ear to their entreaties. And as the third tenant, who had a large family, wanted to offer resistance, he sent for the police and had the official seals of distraint affixed to the door, and the poor tenant driven out.
Then in his mansion, he examined the registers of his stewards, finding faults whereby he punished them as sluggards and sequestered the goods they had kept for themselves by full right. One of them had a dying son, and because of the heavy expenses he had sold part of his master's oil to buy medicines. So he had nothing to give the greedy master.
“Have mercy on me, sir. My poor son is on the point of death, and later on I will do extra work to pay you what you think is fair. But now, as you can understand, I am not in a position to do so.”
“Are you not? I will show you whether you can pay me or not.” And he went to the oil-mill with the poor steward and took away also the little oil the man had kept for his family and to feed the lamp that enabled him to watch at night at the bedside of his son.
The publican, instead, went to his superior who, on receiving the taxes he had collected said to him: “Three hundred and seventy ases are missing here. How come?”
“Well, I will explain it to you. In the village there is a widow with seven children. Only the oldest is fit to work. But he cannot go far from the shore in his boat, because his arms are too weak to handle the oars and the sail, and he cannot afford to engage an assistant. As he fishes near the shore he catches very little which is hardly sufficient to feed the eight poor wretches. I had not the heart to collect the tax.”
“I see. But the law is law. It would be dreadful if people knew that it is compassionate. Everybody would find some reason not to pay. Let the young man change trade and sell his boat if they cannot pay.”
“It is their daily bread, also for the future... and it is a souvenir of their father.”
“I understand. But it is not possible to compromise.”
“All right. But I cannot think of eight unfortunate people being deprived of their only resource. I will pay the three hundred and seventy ases.”
Then the two went up to the Temple and on passing near the treasury hall the Pharisee took a bulky purse from his bosom ostentatiously and emptied it to the last coin into the treasury. The purse contained the money taken from the shopkeepers and the proceeds of the steward's oil that the Pharisee had immediately sold to a merchant. The publican instead threw in a handful of small coins after taking from it what he needed to go back home. So they both gave what they had. Apparently the Pharisee was the more generous because he gave to the last coin he had. But one must also consider that he had more money in his mansion and he had credits with rich money-changers.
They then went before the Lord. The Pharisee at the very front, near the limit of the Court of the Hebrews, toward the Holy; the publican at the back, almost under the vault opening into the Women's Court, where he remained stooped, crushed by the thought of his misery as compared with divine Perfection. And they both prayed.
The Pharisee, standing up straight, almost insolent, as if he were the landlord of the place and he were the one who condescended to do homage to a visitor, said: “Here I am, I have come to venerate You in the House that is our glory. I have come, although I feel that You are in me, because I am a just man. I know how to behave to be so. However, although I am aware that it is only through my own merit that I am such, I thank You, as prescribed by the law, for what I am. I am not greedy, unjust, adulterous, or a sinner like that publican who threw a handful of small coins into the Treasury at the same time as I did. As for me, as You saw, I gave You all I had with me. That greedy fellow, instead, divided his money into two parts and gave You the smaller one. He will certainly keep the other part for revelries and women. But I am pure. I will not be polluted. I am pure and just, I fast twice a week, I pay the tithes of what I possess. Yes, I am pure, just and blessed, because I am holy. Bear that in mind, oh Lord.”
The publican, from his remote corner, without daring to raise his eyes towards the precious doors of the Temple, and striking his chest, prayed saying: “Lord, I am not worthy to be here. But You are just and holy, and You still allow me to stay here because You know that man is a sinner and if he does not come to You he becomes a demon. Oh! my Lord! I would like to honour You day and night, but for many hours I am the slave of my work. An unpleasant work that disheartens me because it is the cause of grief to the poorest of my neighbours. But I must obey my superiors, because it is my daily bread. Grant me, o my God, to be able to mitigate my duty towards my superiors with charity towards my poor brothers, so that I may not be condemned because of my work. Every work is holy if performed with charity. Let Your charity be always present to my heart so that I, miserable as I am, may bear with my subjects as You bear with me, a big sinner. I would have liked to honour You more, Lord. You know. But I thought that to take some of the money destined to the Temple was better than putting it in the Treasure and causing eight poor innocent people to weep desolately. But if I made a mistake, let me understand that, o Lord, and I will give You up to the last farthing and I will go back to my village on foot begging for a piece of bread. Let me understand Your justice. Have mercy on me, o Lord, because I am a big sinner.”
That is the parable. I solemnly tell you that while the Pharisee left the Temple with a fresh sin added to those he had committed before going up to the Moriah, the publican came away justified and the blessing of God followed him to his house and remained in it. Because he was humble and merciful and his actions were even holier than his words. The Pharisee, instead, was good only in words and exteriorly, whilst internally he was and acted as a demon because of the pride and hardness of his heart, and God therefore detested him.
He who exalts himself will, sooner or later, be humbled. If not in this, in future life. And he who humbles himself will be exalted, particularly in Heaven where the actions of men are seen in their true reality.
Come, Zacchaeus. Come, you who are with him and you, My apostles and disciples. I will go on speaking to you privately. »
And enveloping Himself in His mantle, He goes back to Zacchaeus' house.