24th December 1946.
It is getting dark in the little kitchen garden of Solomon's house, and the trees, the outlines of the houses beyond the road, and the very end of the road itself, where it disappears in the woodland near the river, are becoming more and more vague, blending into one only line of shadows, which are more or less clear, more or less dark, in the deepening twilight. Rather than shades, the things spread on the Earth are by now sounds. Voices of children from houses, calls of mothers, cries of men urging sheep or donkeys, the late squeaking of well-pulleys, the rustling noise of leaves in the evening breeze, sharp cracks as of clashing branches or sticks spread in the woodland. High above the first twinkling of stars, still feeble as there is still a reflection of daylight and because the early phosphorescent moonlight is beginning to spread in the sky.
« You will tell the rest tomorrow. That's enough now. It is getting dark. Let everybody go home. Peace to you. Peace to you. Yes... Of course... Tomorrow. Eh? What did you say? You have a scruple? Sleep on it till tomorrow and then, if you still have it, come back. That would be the last straw! Also scruples to make Him more weary! And men craving for wealth! And mothers-in-law who want young wives to recover their wits, and young wives who want their mothers-in-law to be less sharp, while both would deserve to have their tongues cut off. And what else is there? Ehi! you? What are you saying? Oh! this one, yes, poor little thing! John, take this little boy to the Master. His mother is ill and she has sent him to tell Jesus to pray for her. Poor child! He has been left at the rear because he is so small. And he comes from so far. How will he be able to go back home? Ehi! all you over there! Instead of standing there to enjoy His company, could you not put into practice what the Master told you: to help one another and that the stronger ones should help the weaker ones? Come on! Who is taking this boy home? God forbid it, he might find his mother dead... Let him at least see her... You have got some donkeys... It is night-time? And what is there more beautiful than night-time? I worked for years and years by starlight, and I am healthy and strong. Are you taking him home? May God bless you, Ruben. Here is the boy. Has the Master comforted you? He has? Go then, and be happy. But we must give him some food. Perhaps he has had none since this morning. »
« The Master has given him some warm milk and bread, and some fruit; he has them in his little tunic » says John.
« Then go with this man. He will take you home on his donkey. »
At last all the people have gone, and Peter can rest with James, Judas, the other James and Thomas, who have helped him to send the more obstinate ones home.
« Let us close the door, lest someone may change his mind and come back, like those two over there. Ugh! The day after the Sabbath is really toilsome! » says Peter going into the kitchen and closing the door. And he adds: « We shall be in peace now. »
He looks at Jesus Who is sitting near the table, engrossed in thought, with one elbow on the table and His head resting on His hand. Peter approaches Him and laying his hand on His shoulder he says: « You are tired, eh! So many people! They come from all parts of the country notwithstanding the season. »
« They seem to be afraid of losing us soon » remarks Andrew who is gutting some fish. Also the others are busy preparing the fire to roast them, or stirring some chicory in a boiling pot. Their shadows are projected on the dark walls, which are illuminated more by the fire than by the lamp.
Peter looks for a cup to give some milk to Jesus Who looks very tired. But he does not find the milk and he asks the others about it.
« The boy drank the last drop of milk we had. The rest was given to the old beggar and to the woman whose husband was ill » explains Bartholomew.
« And the Master has been left without! You should not have given it all away. »
« He wanted that... »
« Oh! He would always like that. But we must not let Him do so. He gives away His garments, He gives away His milk, He gives Himself away and He wastes away... » Peter is dissatisfied.
« Be good, Peter! It is better to give than to receive » says Jesus quietly, coming out of His engrossment.
« Of course! And You give and keep giving and You are worn out. And the more You show people that You are willing to be generous, the more men take advantage of You. » And in the meantime he rubs the table with some coarse leaves exhaling a scent that is a mixture of bitter almond and chrysanthemum, he cleans it thoroughly to lay bread and water on it, and he puts a cup in front of Jesus.
Jesus pours Himself some water as if He were very thirsty. Peter puts another cup on the opposite side of the table near a plate containing some olives and stalks of wild fennel. He adds the tray of chicory already dressed by Philip, and together with his companions he draws some very rustic stools near the table adding them to the four chairs available in the kitchen, but quite insufficient for thirteen people. Andrew, who has been grilling the fish, puts it on another plate and with more bread he goes towards the table. John takes the oil-lamp and puts it in the middle of the table.
Jesus stands up while they all approach the table for supper and He prays in a loud voice, offering the bread and blessing the table. He sits down imitated by the others and He hands out the bread and the fish, that is, He lays the fish on the thick large slices of bread, part new part stale, that each apostle has placed in front of himself. They then help themselves to the chicory using the large wooden fork served with the chicory. Also for the vegetables the slice of bread serves as plate. Jesus alone has in front of Himself a large metal plate, which is rather in bad condition, and He makes use of it to divide the fish giving a dainty now to this one now to that one. He looks like a father among his children, even if Nathanael, Simon Zealot and Philip are old enough to be His fathers, and Matthew and Peter look like His older brothers.
They eat and speak of the events of the day and John laughs heartily at Peter's disdain of the shepherd of the Gilead mountains, who expected Jesus to go up there, where his herd was, to bless it and thus make him earn much money for his daughter's dowry.
« There is nothing to laugh at. While he said: “My sheep are suffering from a disease and if they die I am ruined” I felt pity for him. We fishermen would feel the same if our boat became worm-eaten. One would no longer be able to work and earn one's daily bread. And we are all entitled to live. But when he said: “And I want my sheep to be healthy because I want to become rich and dumbfound the village on account of the dowry I will give Esther and of the house I will build for myself”, then I got angry. I said to him: “And you have come from so far just for that? Have you nothing at heart but the dowry and your wealth and sheep? Have you no soul?” He replied to me: “There is time for that. My sheep and the marriage interest me more at present because it is a good match and Esther is becoming old.” Then, if I had not remembered that Jesus says that we must be merciful towards everybody, he would have been for it! I really almost lost my temper when speaking to him... »
« And we thought that you were never going to stop. You never took breath. The veins in your neck were bulging and protruding like sticks » says James of Zebedee.
« The shepherd had already gone for some time and you were continuing to preach. It's a good job that you say that you are not able to speak to people! » adds Thomas. And he embraces him saying: « Poor Simon! He was beside himself with fury! »
« But was I not right? What is the Master? The fortune maker of all the fools in Israel? The procurer of other people's weddings? »
« Don't get angry, Simon. The fish will give you indigestion if you eat it with so much poison » says good-natured Matthew teasingly.
« You are right. I taste all the flavour of the banquets in the houses of Pharisees, when I eat bread with fear and meat with anger. »
They all laugh. Jesus smiles and is silent.
They are at the end of the meal. They remain round the table, somewhat lazily satisfied with food and heat. They are not so talkative and some are dozing. Thomas enjoys himself drawing with a knife a little branch with flowers on the wood of the table.
They are roused by the voice of Jesus Who, opening His arms, which were folded, leaning on the edge of the table, and stretching out His hands as the priest does when he says: “The Lord be with you”, says: « And yet we must go! »
« Where, Master? To the shepherd? » asks Peter.
« No, Simon. To Lazarus. We are going back to Judaea. »
« Master, remember that the Judaeans hate You! » exclaims Peter.
« They wanted to stone You not long ago » says James of Alphaeus.
« No, Master, it is not prudent! » exclaims Matthew.
« Do You not care for us? » asks the Iscariot.
« Oh! My Master and brother, I beseech You in the name of Your Mother, and also in the name of the Divinity that is in You: do not allow satans to lay their hands on Your person, to stifle Your word. You are alone, all alone against the world that hates You and is powerful on the Earth » says Thaddeus.
« Master, protect Your life! What would happen to me, to all of us, if we no longer had You? » says John who is upset and looks at Him with the wide open eyes of a frightened grieved child.
After his first exclamation, Peter has turned round to speak excitedly the older apostles and to Thomas and James of Zebedee. They are all of the opinion that Jesus must not go near Jerusalem, at least until Passover time may make His stay there safer because, they say, the presence of a very large number of followers of the Master, who come from everywhere in Palestine for the Passover festival, will defend the Master. None of those who hate Him will dare touch Him when all the people crowd round Him with love... And they tell Him anxiously, almost overbearingly... Love makes them speak.
« Peace! Peace! Are there not twelve hours in the day? A man who walks in the daytime does not stumble because he has the light of this world to see by, but if he walks at night he stumbles because he cannot see. I know what I am doing because the Light is in Me. Allow yourselves to be guided by Him Who can see. And bear in mind that until the hour of darkness comes, nothing sinister will take place. But when that hour comes, no distance or power, not even Caesar's armies, will be able to save Me from the Judaeans. Because what is written must take place and the powers of evil are already working secretly to accomplish their deed. Do let Me do as I wish and do good while I am free to do so. The hour will come when I shall no longer be able to move a finger or utter one word to work the miracle. The world will be devoid of all My power. A dreadful hour of punishment for man. Not for Me. For man who will have refused to love Me. An hour that will repeat itself, through the will of man who will have rejected Divinity to the extent of making himself godless, a follower of Satan and of his cursed son. An hour that will take place when the end of this world is close at hand. The prevailing lack of faith will make My power of miracle of no use, not because I can lose it, but because no miracle can be granted where there is no faith and no will to have it, where a miracle would be made a butt of and an instrument of evil, by using the good received to turn it into greater evil. Now I can still work miracles, and work them to give glory to God. So let us go to our friend Lazarus who is sleeping. Let us go and wake him from his sleep, that he may be fresh and ready to serve his Master. »
« But if he is sleeping, it is a good thing. He is sure to get better. Sleep itself is a cure. Why wake him? » they point out to Him.
« Lazarus is dead. I waited until he died, before going there, not for his sisters and for him. But for you. That you may believe. That you may grow in faith. Let us go to Lazarus. »
« All right! Let us go! We shall all die as he died and You want to die » says Thomas, a resigned fatalist.
« Thomas, Thomas, and you all who are criticising and grumbling in your hearts, you ought to know that he who wants to follow Me must have for his life the same care that a bird has for a passing cloud. That is, to let it pass and go wherever the wind blows it. The wind is the will of God Who can give you life or take it away as He wishes, neither you must regret it, as the bird does not regret the passing cloud, but it sings just the same as it is sure that the sky will clear up again. Because the cloud is the incident, the sky is reality. The sky is always blue even if clouds seem to make it grey. It is and remains blue above the clouds. The same applies to true Life. It is and remains, even if human life ends. He who wants to follow Me must not be anxious about his life or afraid for it. I will show you how one conquers Heaven. But how can you imitate Me if you are afraid to come to Judaea, whereas no harm will be done to you now? Are you hesitating about showing yourselves with Me? You are free to leave Me. But if you want to stay you must learn to defy the world, with its criticism, its snares, its mockery, its torments, in order to conquer My Kingdom. So let us go and bring back from the dead Lazarus, who has been sleeping in his sepulchre for two days, as he died on the evening that his servant came here from Bethany. Tomorrow at the sixth hour, after dismissing those who have been waiting for the morrow to be comforted by Me and receive the reward for their faith, we shall depart from here and cross the river, stopping for the night in Nike's house. Then at dawn we shall set out towards Bethany, via En-shemesh. We shall be in Bethany before the sixth hour. And there will be many people and their hearts will be roused. I promised it and I will keep My promise... »
« To whom did You promise it, Lord? » asks James of Alphaeus almost fearfully.
« To those who hate Me and those who love Me, to both in the most clear manner. Do you not remember the dispute with the scribes at Kedesh? It was still possible for them to say that I was mendacious, as I had raised from the dead a girl who had just died and a man who had been dead for one day. They said: “You have not yet recomposed a decomposed body.” In fact God only can make a man from dust and remake a healthy living body from rot. Well, I will do that. At the moon of Chislev, on the banks of the Jordan, I Myself reminded the scribes of this challenge and I said: “At the new moon it shall be accomplished.” That with regard to those who hate Me. I promised the sisters, who love Me in a perfect manner, to reward their faith if they continued to hope against credibility. I have tried them severely and grieved them deeply and I alone am aware of how much their hearts suffered in the past days and I only know how perfect is their love. I solemnly tell you that they deserve a great reward because they grieve more at the possibility that I may be derided than over the fact that they cannot see their brother raised from the dead. I looked absorbed, tired and sad. I was close to them with My spirit and I could hear their wailing and I counted their tears. Poor sisters! I am now eager to bring a just man back to the Earth, a brother to the embrace of his sisters, a disciple back to My disciples. Are you weeping, Simon? Yes, you and I are Lazarus' greatest friends, and in your tears there is your sorrow for Martha's and Mary's grief and there is also the agony of a friend, but there is also the joy of knowing that he will soon be brought back to our love. Let us move and prepare our bags and go to rest in order to get up at dawn and tidy up here where... our return is not certain. We shall have to hand out to the poor everything we have and tell the most active ones to keep pilgrims from looking for Me until I am in a safe place. We shall also have to tell them to warn the disciples to look for Me at Lazarus' house. There are so many things to be done. They shall be done before the pilgrims arrive... Let us go. Put the fire out and light the lamps and let everyone do what is to be done and go to rest. Peace to you all. » He stands up, blesses them and withdraws to His little room...
« He has been dead for some days! » says the Zealot.
« That is a miracle! » exclaims Thomas.
« I want to see what excuse they will find then to be in doubt! » says Andrew.
« But when did the servant come? » asks Judas Iscariot.
« The evening before Friday » replies Peter.
« Did he? Why did you not tell us? » asks the Iscariot again.
« Because the Master told me not to mention it » replies Peter.
« So... when we arrive there... he will have been in the sepulchre four days? »
« Certainly! Friday evening one day, the Sabbath evening two days, this evening three days, tomorrow four... So four days and a half... Eternal power! But he will be decomposing! » says Matthew.
« He will be decomposing... I want to see also that and then... »
« What, Simon Peter? » asks James of Alphaeus.
« Then if Israel does not become converted, not even Jahweh among lightning will be able to convert her. »
And they go away speaking thus.