20th December 1946.
I am still in Lazarus' house and I see Martha and Mary go out into the garden in the company of a rather elderly man, who looks very dignified and I would say that he is not a Hebrew because his face is clean-shaven, as is customary with Romans. As soon as they are at a little distance from the house, Mary asks him: « Well, Nicomedes? What do you think of our brother? We see that he is seriously... ill... Tell us. »
The man opens his arms in a gesture of commiseration and acknowledgement of the ineluctable situation, and he stops and says: « He is very ill... I have never deceived you since I began to attend him. I have tried everything, as you know. But to no avail. I also... hoped, yes, I hoped that he might at least live reacting against the exhaustion of the disease with the good nourishment and the cordials I prepared for him. I tried also with poisons that preserve the blood from corruption and support one's strength, according to the old schools of the great masters in medicine. But the disease is stronger than the means we use to cure it. Such diseases are like corrosions, they destroy one. And when they appear exteriorly, the inside of the bones has already been affected, and like the lymph that in a tree ascends from the roots to its top, also in this case, the disease has spread from his feet to his whole body... »
« But only his legs are diseased... » says Martha plaintively.
« Yes, but a high temperature causes damage to parts of the body that instead you think are healthy. Look at this little branch that has fallen off that tree. It seems to be worm-eaten only here, where it is broken. But, look... (he crumbles it with his fingers). See? Under the bark, which is still smooth, it is rotten right to the top, where there still seems to be life, because there are still some little leaves. Lazarus is now... dying, poor sisters! The God of your fathers, and the gods and demigods of our medicine have not been able to do anything... or they did not want to do it. I am speaking of your God. Therefore... I do foresee that his death is close at hand, also because his temperature has risen, a symptom of the deterioration of his blood brought about by his disorderly heart-beats, and by the lack of stimuli and reactions in the invalid and in all his organs. As you can see, he gets no nourishment any more, he cannot hold the little food he takes and he does not assimilate the little he can hold. It's the end... And – believe a doctor who is grateful to you because he remembers Theophilus – the thing to be most desired now is death... Such diseases are dreadful. For thousands of years they have destroyed man and man cannot destroy them. Only the gods could if... » He stops, he looks at them rubbing his clean-shaven chin. He is pensive. He then says: « Why do you not call the Galilean? He is a friend of yours. He can cure him because He can do everything. I have examined people who were doomed and who have been cured. A strange power emanates from Him. It is a mysterious fluid that revives and gathers together the scattered reactions and makes them wish to recover... I don't know. I know that I have followed Him, being also mingled with the crowd, and I have seen wonderful things... Send for Him. I am a Gentile. But I pay homage to the mysterious Thaumaturge of your people. And I would be happy if He could do what I could not do. »
« He is God, Nicomedes. That is why He can. The power that you call fluid is His will of God » says Mary.
« I do not ridicule your faith. On the contrary I spur it to reach impossible limits. In any case... We read that at times the gods have descended upon the Earth. I... had never believed it... But, with the science and conscience of a man and a doctor, I must admit that it is so, because the Galilean works such cures that only a god can work. »
« Not a god, Nicomedes. The true God » insists Mary.
« All right. As you wish. And I will believe in Him and become one of His followers if I see Lazarus... rise from the dead. Because we must speak of resurrection now, rather than recovery. So send for Him urgently... because, if I have not become a fool, he will die within the next three days, at most. I said “at most”. But it could be sooner, now. »
« Oh! I wish we could! But we do not know where He is... » says Martha.
« I know where He is. I was told by one of His disciples who was going to meet Him taking some sick people, two of whom were my patients. He is beyond the Jordan, near the ford. So he said. Perhaps you know the place better than I do. »
« Ah! He is certainly in Solomon's house! » says Mary.
« Is it very far? »
« No, Nicomedes. »
« Then send a servant at once to tell Him to come. I will come back later and I will stay here to see His action on Lazarus. Hail, ladies. And... give courage to each other. » He bows to them and goes away towards the exit, where a servant is waiting for him to hold his horse and open the gate to him.
« What shall we do, Mary? » asks Martha after she sees the doctor depart.
« We will obey the Master. He told us to send for Him after Lazarus' death. And we will do that. »
« But when he is dead... what is the use of having the Master here? It will only help our hearts, I agree. But with regard to Lazarus!... I am going to send a servant to call Him. »
« No. You would destroy the miracle. He said that we must be able to hope and believe against every adverse reality. And if we do so, we shall have the miracle, I am sure of it. If we do not do so, God will leave us with the presumption that we can act better than He can, and He will grant us nothing. »
« But don't you see how much Lazarus is suffering? Have you not heard, when he recovers consciousness, how he longs to see the Master? You are hard-hearted if you want to deny our poor brother this last joy!... Our poor brother! We shall soon have no brother! No father, no mother, no brother! The family is destroyed, and we are all alone, like two palm-trees in a desert. » She is overwhelmed by grief and I would say that she falls into hysterics, in typically eastern style, and she tosses herself, striking her face and ruffling her hair.
Mary grasps her. She commands her to be silent saying: « Be quiet! Be quiet, I tell you! He may hear you. I love him more and better than you do, and I can control myself. You look like a sickly woman. Be silent, I tell you! It is not with such frenzies that one can change situations or move hearts. If you behave thus to move mine, you are making a mistake. Think about it. My heart breaks, but it obeys: it persists in obedience. »
Martha, overwhelmed by the strength of her sister and by her words, calms down a little but in her grief, which is more composed, she moans invoking her mother: « Mother! oh! mother, console me. I have had no peace since you died. If you were here, mother! If sorrows had not killed you! If you were here, you would guide us and we would obey you, for the welfare of us all... Oh! »
Mary changes colour and she weeps noiselessly, she looks dejected and wrings her hands without speaking.
Martha looks at her and says: « When our mother was about to die, she made me promise that I would look after Lazarus like a mother. If she were here... »
« She would obey the Master, because she was a just woman. You are trying to move me in vain. You can say to me that I murdered my mother through the pains I gave her. I will say to you. “You are right”. But if you want to make me say that you are right in wanting the Master, I say to you: “No”. And I will always say: “No”. And I am sure that from Abraham's bosom she approves of me and blesses me. Let us go into the house. »
« We have nothing left! Nothing left! »
« Everything! You must say everything! You do listen to the Master and you seem to pay attention while He speaks, but later you do not remember what He says. Has He not always said that to love and obey makes us the children of God and the heirs to His Kingdom? So how can you say that we will be left without anything, if we have God and we possess the Kingdom through our loyalty? Oh! it is true that one must be firmly determined in evil, as I was, in order to be, to know how to be, and to want to be firmly determined in good, in obedience, in hope, in faith, in love!... »
« You allow the Judaeans to laugh at and throw out innuendoes against the Master. You heard them the day before yesterday... »
« Are you still thinking of the chattering of those crows, of the cheeping of those vultures? Let them spit out what they have inside! What does the world matter to you? What is the world as compared with God? Look: it is less than this filthy bluebottle, which is benumbed or poisoned with the filth it has sucked and which I trample on thus » and with a vigorous blow of her heel she crushes a horse-fly that is creeping slowly on the gravel of the avenue. She then takes Martha by the arm saying: « Come into the house and... »
« At least let us inform the Master. Let us send someone to tell Him that Lazarus is dying, without saying anything else... »
« As if He needed to be told by us! No! It is useless. He said: “Let Me know when he is dead.” And that is what we will do. But not before his death. »
« No one takes pity on my grief! Least of all you... »
« Stop weeping like that. I cannot bear it... » In her own sorrow she bites her lip to encourage her sister and restrain her tears.
Marcella runs out of the house followed by Maximinus: « Martha! Mary! Quick! Lazarus is not well. He does not reply any more... »
The two sisters rush back into the house... and shortly afterwards one can hear Mary's loud voice giving orders for the circumstance, and see servants run with cordials and basins steaming with boiling water, whispering and making gestures of sorrow...
Calm slowly takes over after so much excitement. I see the servants talking to one another in low voices, less excitedly, but with gestures of deep depression to give emphasis to their words. Some shake their heads, some raise them looking at the sky and stretching out their arms as if to say: « It is so », some weep, and some still hope for a miracle.
Martha appears again. She is as white as death. She turns round to see whether she is being followed. She looks at the servants who press round her anxiously. She turns round again to see whether anyone has come out of the house to follow her. She then says to a servant: « Come with me. »
The servant leaves the group and follows her towards the jasmine pergola and goes into it. Martha speaks, still keeping an eye on the house, which can be seen through the thickly entangled branches, and she says: « Listen to me carefully. When all the servants have gone back into the house, and I have given them orders to keep them busy inside, you shall go to the stables, you shall take one of the fastest horses and saddle it... If anyone should by chance see you, say that you are going to call the doctor... You will not be telling a lie and I am not teaching you to lie, because I am really sending you to the blessed Doctor... Take some fodder for the horse and some food for yourself and this purse for what you may need. Go out through the small gate and through the ploughed fields, where the hoofs make no noise, when you go away from the house. Then take the Jericho road and gallop without ever stopping, not even at night. Have you understood? You must never stop. The new moon will illuminate the road for you if it gets dark while you are still galloping. Bear in mind that the life of your master is in your hands and depends on your speed. I rely on you. »
« Mistress, I will serve you as a faithful slave. »
« Go to the Bethabara ford. Cross the river and go to the village after Bethany beyond the Jordan. You know... where John used to baptise at the beginning. »
« I know. I went there as well to be purified. »
« The Master is in that village. Anybody will tell you the house where He is a guest. But it is better if you follow the banks of the river, instead of taking the main road. You will not be noticed so much and you will find the house by yourself. It is the first one on the only road of the village and it takes one from the country to the river. You cannot go wrong. It's a low house, with no terrace or upper room, with a kitchen garden, when coming from the river, before the house, and the kitchen garden is enclosed by a small wooden gate and a hawthorn hedge, I think, a hedge, in any case. Is that clear? Repeat those details. »
The servant repeats them patiently.
« All right. Ask to speak to Him, to Him alone, and tell Him that your mistresses have sent you to inform Him that Lazarus is very ill, that he is dying, that we cannot resist any longer, that Lazarus wants Him and ask Him to come at once, at once, for pity's sake. Have you understood? »
« Yes, I have, mistress. »
« Then come back here immediately, so that no one may notice your absence. Take a lamp with you, you will need it when it gets dark. Go, be quick, gallop, run the horse off its legs, but come back quickly with the Master's reply. »
« I will do so, mistress. »
« Go now! See? They have all gone back into the house. Go at once. No one will see you making preparations. I will bring you some food myself. Go! I will leave it on the threshold of the small gate. Go! And may God be with you. Go!... »
She pushes him anxiously and then she runs into the house cautiously, and shortly afterwards she steals out from a back door on the southern side of the house, with a little bag in her hands, she walks along a hedge as far as the first opening, she turns and disappears...