22nd December 1946.
It is already nightfall when the servant, who is proceeding through the brushwood near the river, spurs his horse, steaming with perspiration, to overcome the difference in level between the river and the road leading to the village. The poor animal's sides are heaving because of the long fast run. Its dark coat is all veined with perspiration and its breast is spread with the white foam of the bit. It puffs arching its neck and shaking its head.
They are now on the narrow road and they soon reach the house. The servant jumps to the ground, ties the horse to a hedge and gives a shout.
From the rear of the house the head of Peter appears and in his harsh voice he asks: « Who is calling? The Master is tired. He has not had any peace for many hours. It is almost dark. Come back tomorrow. »
« I do not want anything of the Master. I am healthy and I have only to speak a few words to Him. »
Peter comes forward saying: « From whom, if you do not mind me asking you? I will not let anybody pass without safe identification, particularly those who stink of Jerusalem, as you do. » He has come slowly forward as his suspicion has been aroused more by the beauty of the richly harnessed dark horse than by the man. But when he is in front of him, he is amazed: « You? Are you not one of Lazarus' servant? »
The servant does not know what to say. His mistress told him to speak only to Jesus. But the apostle seems to be quite determined not to let him pass. As he knows that Lazarus' name has great influence over the apostles, he makes up his mind and says: « Yes, I am Jonah, Lazarus' servant. I must speak to the Master. »
« Is Lazarus not well? Has he sent you? »
« No, he is not well. But don't make me waste time. I must go back as soon as possible. » And to convince Peter he says: « The members of the Sanhedrin came to Bethany... »
« The members of the Sanhedrin!!! Come in! Come in! » and he opens the gate saying: « Bring the horse in. We will water it and give it some grass, if you wish so. »
« I have some fodder, but some grass will not do it any harm. We will give it some water later, it may be harmful now. »
They go into the large room where the beds are and they tie the horse in a corner to protect it from draughts; the servant covers it with a blanket that was tied to the saddle, he gives it some fodder and the grass that Peter has brought from I do not know where. They go out again and Peter takes the servant into the kitchen and gives him a cup of warm milk that he takes from a pot near the fire, instead of the water that the servant had asked for. While the servant drinks it and warms himself near the fire, Peter, who is heroic in not asking curious questions, says: « Milk is better than the water you wanted. And since we have it! Did you come all the way without a stop? »
« Without a stop. And I'll do the same going back. »
« You must be tired. And can the horse stand it? »
« I hope so. In any case, on my way back, I shall not gallop as I did coming. »
« It will soon be dark. The moon is already rising... How will you manage at the river? »
« I hope to arrive there before the moon sets. Otherwise I shall stop in the wood until dawn. But I shall get there before. »
« And then? It's a long way from the river to Bethany. And the moon sets early. She is in her first days. »
« I have a good lamp. I will light it and go slow. No matter how slow I may go, I shall be approaching home. »
« Would you like some bread and cheese? We have some. We have also some fish, I caught it. Because I remained here with Thomas. But Thomas has now gone to get some bread from a woman who helps us. »
« No, don't deprive yourself of anything. I had some food on the way, but I was thirsty and I needed something warm. I am all right now. But will you go to the Master? Is He in? »
« Yes, He is. If He had not been here, I would have told you at once. He is in that room, resting. Because so many people come here... I am even afraid that the news may spread and that the Pharisees may come and disturb. Take some more milk. You have to let the horse eat... and rest. Its sides were beating like a badly secured sail... »
« No, you need the milk. You are so many. »
« Yes. But with the exception of the Master, Who speaks so much that His chest aches, and of the older ones, we, who are sturdy, prefer food that keeps our teeth busy. Take some. It's the milk of the sheep left by the old man. When we are here, the woman brings it to us. But, if we want more, everybody is willing to give it to us. They like us, here, and they help us. And... tell me: were there many members of the Sanhedrin? »
« Oh! they were almost all there and other people with them: Sadducees, scribes, Pharisees, wealthy Judaeans, some Herodians.... »
« And why did all those people come to Bethany? Was Joseph with them? And Nicodemus? »
« No. They had come previously, Manaen also had come. The others were not friends of the Lord. »
« Eh! I believe that! They are so few the members of the Sanhedrin who love Him! But what did they want exactly? »
« To greet Lazarus, so they said coming in... »
« H'm! How strange their love is! They have always shunned Him for so many reasons!... Well!... Let us believe it... Did they stay long? »
« Quite a long time. And they were upset when they left. I do not work in the house, so I was not serving at the tables. But the other servants who were serving in the house say that they spoke with the mistresses and they wanted to see Lazarus. Helkai went into Lazarus' room and... »
« A fine crook!... » whispers Peter between his teeth.
« What did you say? »
« Oh! nothing! Go on. And did he speak to Lazarus? »
« I think so. He went with Mary. But later, I do not know why... Mary became irritated and the servants, who rushed there from the nearby rooms, say that she turned them out ruthlessly... »
« Well done! Just what is needed! And have they sent you to tell us? »
« Don't make me waste more time, Simon of Jonah. »
« You are right. Come. »
He takes him towards a door and knocks saying: « Master, there is one of Lazarus' servants who wants to speak to You. »
« Let him come in » says Jesus.
Peter opens the door, lets the servant enter, closes the door and withdraws, meritoriously, to the fireplace, to mortify his curiosity.
Jesus, sitting on the edge of His little bed in the small room where there is hardly space for the bed and the person who lives in it, and which previously was certainly a store-room as there are still hooks on the walls and shelves, looks smiling at the servant who has knelt down and He greets him: « Peace be with you. » And He then adds: « What news do you bring Me? Stand up and speak. »
« My mistresses have sent me to tell You to go to them at once, because Lazarus is very ill and the doctor says that he will die. Martha and Mary implore You and they have sent me to say to You: “Come, because You alone can cure him”. »
« Tell them not to worry. This is not a disease that will cause his death, but it is for the glory of God, that His power may be glorified in His Son. »
« But his condition is very serious, Master! His body is affected with gangrene and he no longer takes any food. I have worn out my horse to arrive here in the shortest possible time... »
« It does not matter. It is as I say. »
« But will You come? »
« I will come. Tell them that I will come and to have faith. Tell them to have faith. Absolute faith. Have you understood? Go. Peace to you and to those who sent you. I tell you once again: “They must have faith. Absolute faith”. Go. »
The servant greets Him and withdraws.
Peter rushes towards him saying: « You were quick in telling Him. I thought that it was a long speech... » He looks at him intently... His face is shot through with the anxiety to be informed. But he checks himself...
« I am going. Will you give me some water for the horse? Then I will leave. »
« Come. Some water!... We have a whole river to give you some, in addition to our well » and Peter, holding a lamp, walks before him and gives him the water he asked for.
They water the horse. The servant removes the blanket, he checks its shoes, the belly-band, the reins, the stirrups. He explains: « It has run so much and so fast! But everything is in order. Goodbye, Simon Peter, and pray for us. »
He leads the horse out. Holding it by the bridle he goes out on to the road, puts one foot in the stirrup and is about to mount.
Peter holds him back putting one hand on his arms saying: « There is only one thing I wish to know: is there any danger for Him to stay here? Have they made threats? Did they want to learn from the sisters where we were? Tell me, in the name of God! »
« No, Simon. No. They never said that. They came for Lazarus... We suspect that they came to see whether the Master was there and whether Lazarus was leprous, because Martha was shouting out loud that he is not leprous and she was weeping... Goodbye, Simon. Peace be with you. »
« And with you and your mistresses. May God accompany you back home... » He watches him depart... and soon disappear at the end of the street, because the servant prefers to take the main road, clear in the moonlight, rather than the dark path in the wood along the river. He remains thoughtful. Then he closes the gate and goes back into the house.
He goes to Jesus, Who is still sitting on the little bed, leaning His hands on its edge, engrossed in thought. But He rouses Himself when He hears Peter come close to Him and look at Him inquisitively. He smiles at the apostle.
« Are You smiling, Master? »
« I am smiling at you, Simon of Jonah. Sit down here, near Me. Have the others come back? »
« No, Master. Not even Thomas. He must have found someone to speak to. »
« That is all right. »
« All right that he should speak? All right that the others should be late? He speaks even too much. He is always cheerful! And the others? I am always worried until they come back. I am always afraid. »
« Of what, My dear Simon? No harm will befall us for the time being, believe Me. Set your mind at rest and imitate Thomas who is always cheerful. You, on the contrary, have been very sad for some time. »
« I defy anyone who loves You not to be so! I am old now and I ponder more than the younger ones. Because they also love you, but they are young and less thoughtful... But if You like me more when I am happy, I will be so, I will strive to be so. But in order to be able to be so, give me a reason for it. Tell me the truth, my Lord. I am asking You on my knees (he in fact kneels down). What did Lazarus' servant tell You? That they are looking for You? That they want to harm You? That... »
Jesus lays His hand on Peter's head saying: « No, Simon! Nothing of the kind. He came to tell Me that Lazarus has got worse, and we spoke only of Lazarus. »
« Really? »
« Really, Simon. And I told them to have faith. »
« But do You know that those of the Sanhedrin have been to Bethany? »
« Which is natural! Lazarus' household is a great one. And according to our custom such honours are to be given to a powerful man who is dying. Do not distress yourself, Simon. »
« But do You really think that they did not use that as an excuse to... »
« To see whether I was there. Well, they did not find Me. Cheer up, do not be so frightened as if they had already captured Me. Come here, beside Me, poor Simon, who on no account will be convinced that no harm can befall Me until the moment decreed by God, and that then... nothing will be able to defend Me from Evil... »
Peter throws his arms round Jesus' neck and keeps Him quiet by kissing His lips and saying: « Be quiet! Be quiet! Don't tell me such things! I don't want to hear them! »
Jesus succeeds in releasing Himself so that He can speak and He whispers: « You do not want to hear them! That is the error! But I pity you... Listen, Simon. Since you were the only one to be here, only you and I are to know what happened. Do you understand Me? »
« Yes, Master. I will not mention it to any of my companions. »
« How many sacrifices, is that right, Simon? »
« Sacrifices? Which? It is pleasant to be here. We have what is necessary. »
« The sacrifice of not asking questions, of not speaking, of putting up with Judas... of being away from your lake... But God will reward you for everything. »
« Oh! if that is what You mean!... In place of the lake I have the river and... I make it suffice. With regard to Judas... I have You Who make up for him fully... And with regard to the other things!... Trifles! And they help me to become less coarse and more like You. How happy I am to be here with You! In Your arms! Caesar's palace would not seem more beautiful than this house, if I could always be in it thus, in Your arms. »
« What do you know of Caesar's palace? Have you seen it? »
« No, and I shall never see it. And I do not care. But I imagine it large, beautiful, full of lovely things... and of filth. Like the whole of Rome, I suppose. I would not stay there even if they covered me with gold! »
« Where? In Caesar's palace or in Rome? »
« In neither. Anathema! »
« But because they are like that, they are to be evangelized. »
« And what do You expect to do in Rome?! It is a brothel! There is nothing to be done there, unless You come. Then!... »
« I will come. Rome is the capital of the world. Once Rome is conquered, the world is conquered. »
« Are we going to Rome? You are proclaiming Yourself king, there! Mercy and power of God! That is a miracle! »
Peter has stood up and with raised arms he is standing before Jesus Who smiles and replies to him: « I will go there in My apostles. You will conquer it for Me. And I shall be with you. But there is someone out there. Let us go, Peter. »