14th November 1946.
All Nob is asleep. It is daybreak. Dawn, in the smooth winter light is delicately coloured with unreal hues. It is not the silvery green light of summer dawns, the light which appears so rapidly and changes into pale gold and into pink that becomes brighter and brighter. But a jade green dissolving into a very faint grey-blue, shows it in the east in a small low semicircle above the horizon: a spot of a veiled almost tired brightness like a pale flame of sulphur burning behind a screen of whitish smoke. And it stretches with difficulty along the still grey sky, although it is clear with its stars still ogling at the world. It has difficulty in driving back the greyness to make room for its precious shade of pale jade and for the pure cobalt-blue of the Palestinian sky. It seems to be halting shyly, as if it were suffering from the cold, at the eastern border. And it delays there further, with its semicircle of sulphur brightness slightly expanded and just fading from pale green to white, veiled with a touch of yellow, when it is outshone by a sudden pink hue that frees the sky from the last night veil and makes it as clear and precious as a canopy of sapphire-coloured satin and a fire is lit in the remote horizon, as if a wall had collapsed and a blazing furnace were revealed. But is it fire or a ruby lit up by a hidden fire? No. It is the rising sun. There it is. As soon as it rises from behind the curves of the horizon, it is ready to tinge a white woolly cloud with coral pink, and to change the dewdrops on the tops of perennials into diamonds. A tall oak, at the end of the village, has a veil of diamonds on its bronze leaves facing east. They look like stars glittering among the branches of the giant tree, whose top rises towards the blue sky.
Perhaps during the night, some stars have come too low over the village to whisper celestial secrets to the citizens of Nob, or perhaps to comfort with their pure light the sleepless Man Who is walking silently up there, on John's terrace. Because Jesus only, in the whole town of Nob asleep, is awake and is walking slowly up and down the terrace of the little house, with folded arms, tightly enveloped in His large mantle that covers also His head like a hood, to protect Himself from the cold. Every time He arrives at the end of the terrace, He leans out to look at the street that runs through the centre of the town. A street that is still semi-dark, empty and silent. He then resumes going up and down, slowly, silently, most of the time with His head lowered, pensive, sometimes looking at the sky that with the vague hues of dawn is beginning to grow clear. Or with His eyes He follows the whirring flight of the earliest sparrow, roused by daylight, as it leaves the hospitable tile of a nearby roof, descending to peck at the foot of John's old apple-tree, then it flies away again, seeing Jesus, chirping with fear and thus awaking other little birds in their nests here and there.
The bleating of a sheep is heard from a fold and it fades away trembling in the air. And the hurried shuffling of feet is heard coming from the street. Jesus leans out to look. He then runs down the staircase, He enters the dark kitchen closing the door.
The steps are approaching, they can be heard on the strip of the kitchen garden near the house, their noise stops before the kitchen door; a hand gropes for the lock, it feels that there is no key, it lifts the latch that can be moved both from outside and inside, and at the same time a voice says: « Is there someone up already? » A hand opens the door cautiously without letting it squeak. The head of Judas of Kerioth appears through the aperture... He looks... Pitch dark. Cold. Silence.
« They forgot to close the door... And yet... I thought it was closed... In any case, it does not matter! ... Thieves do not rob poor people. And there is nobody poorer than we are... Eh!... But let us hope that... it will not be always like this. Where is that cursed tinder-box?... I cannot find it... If I manage to light the fire... because I am late, yes, too late... But where will it be? Too many people use it. On the mantelshelf? No... On the table? No... On the benches? No. On the shelf? No... That worm-eaten door-squeaks when you open it... Worm-eaten wood... rusty hinges... Everything is old, mouldy, horrible here. Ah! poor Judas! And it isn't here... I shall have to go into the old man's room... »
While speaking, he has been groping all the time in the invisible darkness, as cautious as a thief or a night bird in avoiding obstacles which might make noise... He knocks against a body and utters a faint cry of fear.
« Be not afraid. It is I. And the tinder-box is in My hand. Here it is. Light it » says Jesus calmly.
« You, Master? What were You doing here, all alone, in the dark, in this cold... There will certainly be many sick people today, after a Sabbath and two wet days, but they will not be here so early. They will be hardly moving from the nearby villages now, because only now they can see that it will not rain today. The wind has already dried the roads during the night. »
« I know. But light a lamp. It is not for honest people to speak in darkness, but it is typical of thieves, liars, lewd people and killers. Parties to evil deeds love darkness. I am no party to anybody. »
« Neither am I, Master. I wanted to light a good fire. So I was the first to get up... What did You say, Master? You mumbled between Your lips and I did not understand. »
« So light it. »
« Ah!... I saw that it's a clear day. But it's cold. They will all be pleased to find a good fire... Did You get up because You heard me bustle about or because of the old man who... Is he still in pain?... Here it is! At long last! The tinder and steel seemed to be damp, and they would not give a spark... They have got soaked... »
A little flame rises from the wick of a lamp. One only small trembling little flame... but sufficient to see the two faces: the pale face of Jesus, the swarthy fearless face of Judas.
« I will now light the fire... You are as white as death. You have had no sleep! And because of that old man! You are too good. »
« That is true. I am too good. To everybody. Also to those who do not deserve it. But the old man deserves it. He is an honest man, with a loyal heart. However, I did not keep watch for him, but for somebody else. It is true that the steel and tinder box were damp, but not because of a cup overturned, or of other liquid spread by accident, but because My tears dripped on them. It is true. It is a clear day but it is cold and the wind has dried the roads and at dawn dew fell. Feel My mantle. It is wet with it... Then dawn came to show the clear sky, light came to show an empty place, the sun rose to make dewdrops shine on leaves and tears on eyelashes. It is true. There will be many sick people today, but I was not waiting for them. I was waiting for you. I was awake all night for you. And as I could not stay in here waiting for you, I went up to the terrace, shouting My call to the wind, showing My grief to the stars, My tears to dawn. Not the old sick man, but the dissolute young one, the disciple who shuns the Master, the apostle of God who prefers a cloaca to Heaven and falsehood to the Truth, made Me stay up all night waiting for you. And when I heard your steps I came down here... waiting for you again. Not for your person, which was now close to Me wandering like a thief around the dark kitchen, but for your feelings... I was expecting a word... And you did not speak it when you felt that I was standing in front of you. Did he, to whom you are selling your spirit, not inform you that I was aware? Of course not! He could not warn you or suggest to you the only word that you could, that you should have said, if you were a just man. But he suggested the lies not requested, the useless lies, that are even more offensive than your night escapade. He suggested them grinning, rejoicing that he had made you descend a further step and that he had caused Me another sorrow. It is true. Many sick people will come. But the one who is most seriously ill will not come to his Doctor. And the Doctor Himself is sick with grief because of that patient who does not want to recover. It is true. Everything is true. Also that I whispered a word that you did not understand. After what I have told you, can you guess it? »
Jesus has spoken in a low voice, but so sharp and sorrowful and at the same time so severe, that Judas, who at the first words was smiling, standing straight, impudently, very close to Jesus, has slowly withdrawn and shrunk into himself, as if each word were a blow, whereas Jesus has stood more and more upright, truly a Judge and truly tragical in His sorrowful image.
Judas, by now confined between a kneading trough and a corner, whispers: « Well... I would not know... »
« No? Well, I will tell you because I am not afraid to say what is true. Liar! That is what I said. And if we can put up with an untruthful child because he does not yet know the import of a lie and we teach him not to tell any more, we cannot bear that in a man; in an apostle, because in a disciple of the very Truth it is disgusting. Absolutely disgusting. That is why I waited for you all night and I wept and My tears damped the table where the tinder box was, and then I wept while keeping watch and calling you with all My soul in the starlight night, that is why I am covered with dew like the bridegroom of the Song of Songs. But My head is covered in vain with dew and My locks with the drops of night, in vain I knock at the door of your soul saying: “Open the door to me for I love you although you are not spotless.” Nay, it is just because it is stained that I want to go in and clean it. It is because it is ill that I want to go in and cure it. Be careful, Judas! Watch that the Bridegroom does not go away, and forever, and that you may not be able to find Him any more... Judas, are you not speaking?... »
« It's late by now to speak! You have said it: I disgust You. Send me away... »
« No. Lepers also disgust Me. But I feel sorry for them. And if they call Me, I make haste to go to them and cleanse them. Do you not want to be cleansed? »
« It is late... and of no avail. I am not able to be holy. I tell You: send me away. »
« I am not one of your Pharisaic friends who state that numberless things are unclean and they shun them or drive them away harshly, whereas they could cleanse them with charity. I am the Saviour and I do not drive anybody away... »
A long silence. Judas is in his corner, Jesus is leaning with His back against the table and seems to be resting on it, so tired and suffering as He looks... Judas raises his head. He looks at Him hesitantly and whispers: « And if I left You, what would You do? »
« Nothing. I would respect your will. Praying for you. But in my turn I say to you that even if you leave Me, it is by now too late. »
« For what, Master? »
« For what? You know as well as I do... Light the fire, now. I can hear footsteps upstairs. Let us stifle the scandal here, between us. With regard to the others we have not slept long... and the wish for warmth brought us together here... Father of Mine!... »
And while Judas sets the flame near the faggots already placed in the fireplace and he blows so that some light shavings may catch fire, Jesus lifts His hands above His head and then presses them against His eyes.