19th December 1946.
Martha, although broken-hearted and exhausted, is always a lady who knows how to welcome guests, honouring them with the perfect urbanity of a true-born lady. Thus, after leading the group into one of the halls, she gives instructions to bring the refreshments that are customary, so that the guests may have what can restore them.
The servants move around pouring hot drinks or vintage wines and offering beautiful fruit, dates as fair as topazes, raisins, something like our sweet grapes, in bunches fantastically perfect, liquid honey, all served from precious amphorae, cups, plates and trays. And Martha watches carefully that no one is neglected, nay, she instructs her domestics to serve the guests according to their ages and to each individual, whose tempers are well known to her. She stops a servant, who is going towards Helkai with an amphora full of wine and a chalice and she says to him: « Tobias, don't offer him wine, but honied water and the juice of dates. » And she says to another one: « I am sure John will prefer wine. Offer him some of our white raisin wine. » And she personally offers old Hananiah, the scribe, warm milk, which she sweetens with plenty golden honey, saying: « It will do your cough good. You sacrificed yourself by coming here, particularly as you are poorly, and it is a cold day. It affects me to see you all so thoughtful. »
« It is our duty, Martha. Eucheria belonged to our race. A true Jewess who honoured us all. »
« The homage paid to the venerated memory of my mother touches my heart. I will repeat your words to Lazarus. »
« But we want to greet him. He is such a good friend! » says Helkai with his habitual falseness, approaching her.
« Greet him? It is not possible. He is too exhausted. »
« Oh! We shall not disturb him. Shall we, my friends? It is enough for us to say goodbye to him, from the threshold of his room » says Felix.
« I cannot, I really cannot. Nicomedes has forbidden fatigue and emotions. »
« A glance at our dying friend will not kill him, Martha » says Callascebona. « It would grieve us too much not having greeted him! »
Martha is upset and hesitant. She looks towards the door, perhaps to see whether Mary is coming to help her. But Mary is absent.
The Judaeans notice her excitement, and Sadoc, the scribe, points it out to Martha: « It looks as if our visit is upsetting you, woman. »
« No. Not at all. Have sympathy for my grief. I have been living for months near my dying brother and... I am no longer able... and I no longer know how to behave at parties, as I did in the past... »
« Oh! it is not a party! We did not even expect you to honour us thus! Perhaps... Perhaps you want to hide something from us and that is why you are not letting us see Lazarus and you forbid us to go to his room. Eh! It is obvious! But be not afraid! The room of a sick person is a sanctuary for everybody, believe me... » says Helkai.
« There is nothing to be concealed in our brother's room. There is nothing hidden in it. There is only a dying man, who for pity's sake ought to be spared all painful memories. And you, Helkai, and you all, are painful memories for Lazarus » says Mary in her beautiful harmonious voice, appearing at the door and holding the curtain to one side with her hand.
« Mary! » says Martha moaning imploringly, to check her.
« Nothing, sister. Let me speak... » She then addresses the others: « And to remove every possible doubt of yours, one of you – it will thus be only one memory of the past renewing grief – may come with me, if the sight of a dying man does not disgust him and the stench of a dying body does not make him sick. »
« And are you not a grieving memory? » asks ironically the Herodian, whom I have already seen, but I do not remember where, coming away from his corner and standing in front of Mary.
Martha utters a groan, Mary looks like an angry eagle. Her eyes are flashing. She draws herself up proudly, forgetting the fatigue and grief that bent her body, and with the countenance of an offended queen she says: « Yes. I am a memory as well. But not of sorrow, as you say. I am the memory of God's Mercy. And Lazarus is dying in peace seeing me, because he knows that he is giving up his spirit into the hands of Infinite Mercy. »
« Ha! Ha! Those are not the words of days gone by! Your virtue! You may display it to those who do not know you... »
« But not to you, is that right? But I am going to place it right under your eyes, to tell you that birds of a feather, flock together. In those days, unfortunately, I was near you, and I was like you. Now I am near the Holy One, and I am becoming honest. »
« What has been destroyed cannot be rebuilt, Mary. »
« In fact, you, all of you, can no longer rebuild your past. You cannot rebuild what you have destroyed. You cannot, personally, as you horrify me. And none of the rest can, who offended my brother, when he was grieved, and now you pretend to be his friends, for a wicked purpose. »
« Oh! You are bold, woman. The Rabbi may have driven many demons out of you, but He did not make you become mild! » says one who is about forty years old.
« No, Jonathan ben Annas. He did not make me weak. He made me stronger with the boldness of one who is honest, of one who wants to become honest once again and has broken all ties with the past to start a new life. Come on! Who is coming to see Lazarus? » She is as authoritative as a queen. She dominates them all with her frankness, with no mercy even towards herself. Martha, instead, is dejected, with tears in her eyes looking imploringly at Mary that she may keep quiet.
« I will come! » says Helkai, sighing like a victim, and he is as false as a serpent. They go out together.
The others address Martha: « Your sister!... Still the same character. But she should not behave like that. She has so much to be forgiven for » says Uriel, the rabbi seen at Giscala, the one who struck Jesus with stones.
Under the lash of such words, Martha recovers her strength and she says: « God has forgiven her. No other forgiveness is thus required. And her present life is an example for the world. » But her daring soon abates and turns into tears. She moans weeping: « You are cruel! Towards her... and towards me... You have no pity for our past or our present sorrow. Why did you come? To offend and grieve us? »
« No, woman. No. Only to greet the great Judaean who is dying. For no other reason! You must not take our good intentions amiss. We heard from Joseph and Nicodemus that he was growing worse, and we came... as they did, the two great friends of the Rabbi and of Lazarus. Why do you want to treat us differently, since we love the Rabbi and Lazarus, as they do? You are not fair. Can you deny that they have come with John, Eleazar, Philip, Joshua and Joachim, to hear how Lazarus was, and that also Manaen has come?... »
« I am not denying anything. But I am surprised that you are so well informed. I did not think that also the interior of houses is pried into by you. I did not know that there is a new precept in addition to the six hundred and thirteen: that is, to inquire into and spy upon the intimate affairs of families... Oh! Excuse me! I am offending you! Sorrow is depriving me of my senses and you are aggravating it. »
« Oh! we understand you, woman! And because we thought you would be both deprived of your senses, we have come to give you some good advice. Send for the Master. Also yesterday seven lepers have come to praise the Lord because the Rabbi had cured them. Send for Him also on behalf of Lazarus. »
« My brother is not a leper » shouts Martha convulsively. « Is that why you wanted to see him? Is that why you have come? No, he is not a leper! Look at my hands. I have cured him for years and there is no leprosy on me. My hands are reddened by spices, but I am not a leper. I have no... »
« Peace! Peace, woman. And who said that Lazarus is a leper? And who suspects such a dreadful sin in you, as that of hiding a leper? And do you think that, for all your power, we would not have struck you, if you had sinned? In order to have the precepts obeyed we are quite prepared to pass over our fathers and mothers, our wives and children. I, Jonathan of Uziel, am telling you. »
« Certainly! That's right! And now we tell you, out of the love we have for you and we had for your mother and for Lazarus' sake, send for the Master. Are you shaking your head? Do you mean that it is too late by now? What? You, Martha, the faithful disciple, have no faith in Him? That's bad! Are you beginning to doubt as well? » says Archelaus.
« You are blaspheming, scribe. I believe in the Master as I believe in the true God. »
« Why do you not want to try, then? He has raised the dead... At least so they say... Perhaps you do not know where He is? If you wish, we will look for Him, we will help you » says Felix in an insinuating way.
« No! In Lazarus' house they certainly know where the Rabbi is. Tell us frankly, woman, and we will depart and look for Him and we will bring Him to you, and we shall be present at the miracle to rejoice with you, with all of you » says Sadoc tempting her.
Martha is hesitant, she is almost tempted to yield. The others insist while she says: « I do not know where He is... I really do not know... He went away some days ago and He said goodbye to us like one who goes away for a long time... I would be relieved if I knew where He is... If at least I knew... But I do not know, that is the truth... »
« Poor woman! But we will help you... We will bring Him to you » says Cornelius.
« No! It is not necessary. The Master... You are speaking of Him, are you not? The Master said that we must hope beyond hope, and in God only. And we will do that » says Mary in a thundering voice, as she comes back with Helkai, who departs from her at once and goes towards three Pharisees bending down to speak to them.
« But he is dying, according to what I hear! » says Doras, who is one of the three.
« So what? Let him die! I will not obstruct God's decree and I will not disobey the Rabbi. »
« And what do you expect after his death, foolish woman? » says the Herodian mockingly.
« What? Life! » Her voice is a cry of absolute faith.
« Life? Ha! Ha! Be sincere. You know that He has no power against real death, and in your foolish love for Him you do not want that to become known. »
« Go out, all of you! It would be for Martha to tell you. But she is afraid of you. I am only afraid of offending God, Who has forgiven me. And I am telling you in Martha's stead. Go out, all of you. There is no room in this house for those who hate Jesus Christ. Out! Go to your gloomy dens! All out! Or I will get the servants to drive you out like a herd of unclean beggars. »
She is imposing in her wrath. The Judaeans slink away in the most cowardly way, in front of the woman. It is true that that woman looks like an enraged archangel...
As they leave the hall and cross the threshold passing in front of Mary, she glares at them, creating for each an immaterial Caudine Fork under which the pride of the defeated Judaeans is compelled to stoop. The hall is at last cleared out.
Martha collapses on the carpet bursting into tears.
« Why are you weeping, sister? I do not see why you should... »
« Oh! you offended them... and they offended you, they offended us... and now they will avenge themselves... and... »
« Be silent, silly woman! On whom do you expect them to avenge themselves? On Lazarus? They must decide first, and before they do that... No one revenges oneself on a man who is done for! On us? Are we in need of their bread to live? They will not touch our property. The shadow of Rome is cast over it. On what then? And even if they were able to do that, are we not both young and strong? Shall we not be able to work? Is Jesus not poor? Was our Jesus not a workman? Shall we not be more like Him, if we are poor and workers? You ought to be proud in becoming so! Hope for it! Ask God to grant it! »
« But what they said to you... »
« Ah! What they said to me! It's the truth. And I repeat it to myself. I was unclean. I am now the ewe-lamb of the Shepherd! And the past is dead. Come on, come to see Lazarus. »