12th February 1947.
In Mary of Jacob's house they are already up although it is hardly daybreak. I would say that it must be a Sabbath, because I see that the apostles also are present, whereas they are usually away evangelizing. They are busy lighting fires and boiling water, and Mary is helped in sieving flour and kneading it to bake bread.
The old woman is very excited, as excited as a little girl, and while working actively she asks this one and that one: « Will it really be today? And are the other places ready? Are you sure that they are not more than seven? »
Peter, who is skinning a lamb preparing it to be cooked, replies on behalf of everybody: « They were to be here before the Sabbath, but the women were probably not yet ready and so they have delayed. But they will certainly come today. Ah! I am happy! Has the Master gone out? Perhaps He has gone to meet them... »
« Yes. He went out with John and Samuel towards the road to central Samaria » replies Bartholomew coming out with a pitcher of boiling water.
« Then we can be certain that they are arriving. He always knows everything » states Andrew.
« I would like to know why you are laughing like that. What is there to laugh at when my brother speaks? » asks Peter who has noticed the sly laugh of Judas, who is idle in a corner.
« I am not laughing because of your brother. You are all happy and I can be happy as well and laugh without any reason. » Peter looks at him meaningly, but he resumes his work.
« Here it is! I managed to find a flowery branch. It is not the branch of an almond-tree, as I wanted. But after the almond-tree has bloomed, She has other branches and She will be pleased with mine » says Thaddeus who comes in dripping dew, as if he had been walking in woods, and carrying a bunch of flowery branches. A miracle of dewy whiteness that seems to brighten and decorate the kitchen.
« Oh! How beautiful! Where did you find them? »
« At Naomi's. I knew that her orchard is late because of its northern position. And I went up there. »
« That's why you look like a forest tree yourself! The dew-drops shine in your hair and have wet your garment. »
« The path was as damp as if it had rained. It is already the plentiful dew of the most beautiful months. » Thaddeus goes away with his flowers, and shortly afterwards he calls his brother to help him arrange them.
« I will come. I am an expert. Woman, have you an amphora with a thin neck, if possible of red clay? » says Thomas.
« I have what you want and other vases as well... The ones I used on feast days... for the weddings of my sons or some other important occasion. If you wait for me to put these cakes in the oven, only a moment, I will come and open the chest where the beautiful things are kept... Ah! they are only few now, after so much misfortune! But I have kept some to... remember... and to suffer, because even if they are memories of happy days, they now make one shed tears because they remind one of what is finished. »
« In that case it would have been better if no one had asked them of you. I would not like what happened to us at Nob to occur again here. So many preparations for nothing... » says the Iscariot.
« I tell you that a group of disciples informed us! Do you think they had dreamt of it? They spoke to Lazarus. He sent them ahead on purpose. They came to tell us that His Mother would be here before the Sabbath in Lazarus' wagon, with Lazarus and the women disciples... »
« But they have not come... »
« Since you have seen that man, tell me: does he not give you a fright? » asks the old woman drying her hands in her apron after entrusting her cakes to James of Zebedee and Andrew who take them to the stone oven.
« A fright? Why? »
« H'm! a man who comes back from the dead! » She is utterly moved.
« Don't worry, mother. He is exactly like us » says James of Alphaeus comforting her.
« Rather than be afraid you had better make sure that you do not chatter with other women about it, otherwise we shall have the whole of Ephraim here bothering us » says the Iscariot peremptorily.
« I have never spoken imprudently since you came here, either with the people of the town or with pilgrims. I have preferred to be considered foolish rather than appear wise, in order not to disturb the Master and harm Him. And I will be quiet today as well. Come, Thomas... » and she goes out to show him her hidden treasures.
« The woman is frightened thinking that she will be seeing a man who has been raised from the dead » says the Iscariot laughing ironically.
« She is not the only one. The disciples told me that they were all excited at Nazareth and also at Cana and Tiberias. One that comes back from the dead after being four days in a sepulchre is not as easily found as daisies in springtime. We were also very pale when he came out of the sepulchre! But instead of standing there making idle comments, could you not do some work? Everybody is working and there is still so much to be done... Go to the market, since you can do that today, and buy what is needed. What we bought is no longer sufficient, now that they are coming, and we had no time to go back to town and do some shopping. We would have been held up, where we were, by sunset. »
Judas calls Matthew, who comes into the kitchen dressed up, and they go out together.
The Zealot also comes into the kitchen, he is well dressed as well, and he says: « Our Thomas! He is really an artist. With very little he has decorated the room as if it were for a wedding dinner. Go and see it. »
They all rush to see it, with the exception of Peter, who is finishing his work. Peter says: « I am dying to see them here. Perhaps Marjiam is with them. In a month's time it will be Passover. He must have already left Capernaum or Bethsaida. »
« I am happy, for the Master's sake, that Mary is coming. She will comfort Him more than anybody else. And He needs it » the Zealot replies to him.
« So much. And have you noticed how sad is John also? I have asked him. But in vain. In his kindness he is more firm than all of us, and if he does not want to speak, nothing can make him do so.
But I am sure that he is aware of something. And he seems to be the Master's shadow. He follows Him all the time. And he is always looking at Him. And when he knows that he is not being watched – because, if he knows, he looks at you with such a smile that would make even a tiger mild – when he knows that nobody is watching him, I say, his countenance is very sad. You should try and ask him. He is very fond of you. And he knows that you are more prudent than I am... »
« Oh! certainly not. You have become an example of prudence for all of us. No one would recognise the old Simon in you. You are really the stone that by its hard sound compactness supports us all. »
« Not at all! Don't say that! I am a poor man. Certainly... by staying with Him for so many years, one becomes a little like Him. A little... very little, but quite different from what one was previously. We have all... no, not all of us, unfortunately. Judas is always the same. Here as he was at the Clear Water... »
« And may God grant that he may always be the same! »
« What? What do you mean? »
« Nothing and everything, Simon of Jonah. If the Master heard me He would say: “Do not judge.” But I am not judging. I am afraid. I am afraid that Judas is worse than he was at the Clear Water. »
« He certainly is, even if he is as he was then. Because he should have changed very much, he should have grown in justice, instead he is always the same. So in his heart there is the sin of spiritual indolence, which was not there previously. Because at the beginning... yes, he was mad, but he was full of good will... Tell me, the fact that the Master has decided to send Samuel with us and to gather together all the disciples, all those that can be gathered at Jericho for the new moon of Nisan, what does it make you think? Previously He had said that the man was to stay here... and He had also forbidden us to say where He was. It makes me suspicious... »
« No. In my opinion the situation is clear and logical. By now, we do not know by whom and how the news has been spread that the Master is here and it is known all over Palestine. You know that pilgrims and disciples have come here from Kedesh to Engedi, from Joppa to Bozrah. So there is no sense in keeping it secret any longer. Further, Passover is approaching and the Master certainly wants to have His disciples with Him for His return to Jerusalem. You heard that the Sanhedrin says that He has been defeated and has lost all His disciples. And He will reply to it by entering the town at the head of them... »
« I am afraid, Simon. Very much afraid... You have heard that everybody, also the Herodians, have joined together against Him... »
« Yes! It's true. May God help us!... »
« And why is He sending Samuel with us? »
« Certainly to prepare him for his mission. I see no reason why we should worry... They are knocking! It's certainly the women disciples!... »
Peter throws away his bloodstained apron and runs following the Zealot, who has rushed to the door of the house. All the others who are in the house appear from the various doors and shout: « Here they are! Here they are! »
But when they open the door they are so obviously disappointed in seeing Eliza and Nike, that the two women disciples ask: « Is there anything wrong? »
« No! No! The fact is that... we thought it was the Mother and the women disciples from Galilee... » says Peter.
« Ah! you have taken it badly. But we are very happy to see you and to hear that Mary is about to arrive » says Eliza.
« No, we have not taken it badly... We are disappointed! But come! Come in! Peace be with our good sisters » says Thaddeus greeting them on behalf of everybody.
« And to you. Is the Master not in? »
« He has gone with John to meet Mary. We know that She is coming along the Shechem road in Lazarus' wagon » explains the Zealot.
They go into the house while Andrew takes care of Eliza's donkey. Nike has come on foot. They speak of what is happening in Jerusalem, they inquire after friends and disciples... after Annaleah, Mary and Martha, old John of Nob, Joseph, Nicodemus and many more. The absence of Judas Iscariot allows them to speak peacefully and openly.
Eliza, an elderly experienced woman, who at the time they were at Nob, has been in touch with the Iscariot and by now knows him very well and also « she only loves him out of love for God » as she says openly, asks whether he is in the house and does not want to join the others for some whim of his, and only after she learns that he is out, shopping, she speaks of what she knows: « that everything seems to have calmed down at Jerusalem, that not even the well known disciples are questioned any more, that it is rumoured that it happened because Pilate had spoken in a threatening voice to those of the Sanhedrin, reminding them that he is the only one who administers justice in Palestine and therefore they should put an end to their nonsense. »
« But they also say », remarks Nike « – and it is Manaen who says this and other men with him, nay other women, because Valeria is the other voice – that Pilate is really so tired of all the risings that continuously excite the country and that may cause him trouble, and that he is also so struck by the insistence of the Jews in insinuating that Jesus is aiming at proclaiming Himself king, that if he did not have the concordant favourable reports of the centurions and above all, if he were not pressed by his wife, he would end up by punishing the Christ, if only by banishing Him, in order not to be troubled any more. »
« That would be the last straw. And he is capable of doing it! Quite capable! It is the lightest Roman punishment, and the most used after scourging. But can you imagine that! Jesus all alone, goodness knows where, and we scattered here and there... » says the Zealot.
« Of course! Scattered! That's what you say. But they will not scatter me. I will follow Him... » says Peter.
« Oh! Simon! Can you flatter yourself that they would allow you to do that? They tie you up like a galley slave, and they take you wherever they want, even on a galley or to one of their prisons, and you would no longer be able to follow your Master » says Bartholomew. Peter ruffles his hair looking perplexed and downhearted.
« We shall tell Lazarus. Lazarus will go to Pilate frankly. Pilate will certainly see him with pleasure because the Gentiles love to see extraordinary beings... » says the Zealot.
« He has probably been there before he left, and Pilate may no longer be anxious to see him! » says Peter dejectedly.
« He will then go as Theophilus' son. Or he will take his sister Mary to visit the ladies of rank. They were friends when... well, when Mary was a sinner... »
« Do you know that Valeria, after her husband divorced her, has become a proselyte? She has been in earnest. She lives an honest life and is an example to many of us. She freed all her slaves and she instructs them in the true God. She had gone to live in Zion. But now that Claudia has come, she has gone back to her... »
« Then!... »
« No. She said to me: “As soon as Johanna comes I am going to stay with her. But now I want to convince Claudia.”.. Claudia does not seem to be able to get over the limit of her opinion on Christ. According to her He is a wise man. Nothing else... Nay before she came to town, she seems to have been somewhat upset by the rumours that were spread and to have said skeptically: “He is a man like our philosophers, and not of the best, because His word does not correspond to His life”, and she had some... in short she allowed herself certain things that she had previously given up » says Nike.
« That was to be expected. Heathen souls! H'm! There may be a good one... But the others!... Corrupt! Corrupt! » Bartholomew says sententiously.
« And what about Joseph? » asks Thaddeus.
« Who? The man from Sephoris? He is terrified! Your brother Joseph came. He came and left at once, but he passed by Bethany to tell the sisters that at all costs they should keep the Master from going to town and from remaining there. I was there and I heard him. Likewise I heard that Joseph of Sephoris had a lot of trouble and now he is much afraid. Your brother asked him to keep well informed of what is plotted in the Temple. The man from Sephoris can find out through that relative who is the husband either of the sister or of the daughter of his wife's sister, I do not know, and who is employed at the Temple » says Eliza.
« How much fear! Now, when we go to Jerusalem, I want to send my brother to Annas. I could go myself, because I also know the sly fox well. But John is more capable. And Annas was very fond of him when we listened to the words of the old fox believing that he was a lamb! I will send John. He will be able to put up even with abuse without reacting. I... if he said anathema of the Master to me, or even if he only said that I am anathema because I follow Him, I would jump to his neck, I would seize him and squeeze his old stout body as if it were a net out of which water is to be squeezed. I would make him give back the wicked soul he has! Even if all the soldiers and priests of the Temple were around him! »
« Oh! if the Master heard you speak thus! » exclaims Andrew, who is utterly scandalised.
« I am saying so exactly because He is not here! »
« You are right! You are not the only one to have certain wishes. I have them, too! » says Peter.
« And I, too, and not only with regard to Annas » says Thaddeus.
« Oh! in that case I... would serve several of them. I have a long list... Those three old crocks of Capernaum – I leave out Simon, the Pharisee, because he seems to be tolerably good – those two wolves of Esdraelon, and that old heap of bones of Hananiah, and then... a slaughter, a real slaughter, I tell you, at Jerusalem, with Helkai at the head of them all. I cannot bear those snakes lying in wait any longer! » Peter is furious.
Thaddeus, calm in speaking, but even more impressive in his glacial calm than if he were as furious as Peter, says: « And I would give you a hand. But... perhaps I would begin by removing the snakes close at hand. »
« Who? Samuel? »
« No. Not at all! Not only Samuel is close at hand. There are many who show a face but their souls are different from the face they show! I never lose sight of them. Never. I want to be sure before acting. But when I am sure! David's blood is hot, and hot is the blood of Galilee. They are both in me through my paternal and maternal lines. »
« Oh! In the event... tell me! I will help you... » says Peter.
« No. Blood revenge is the concern of relatives. It's for me to take it. »
« But, my dear children! Do not speak thus. That is not what the Master teaches! You look like little furious lions instead of being the lambs of the Lamb! Restrain so much spirit of revenge. The days of David went by long ago! The law of blood and retaliation has been cancelled by the Christ. He confirms the ten unchangeable commandments, but He cancels the other hard Mosaic laws. The commandments of Moses concerning pity, humanity and justice remain and are condensed and perfected in His greater commandment: “To love God with our whole selves, to love our neighbour as we love ourselves, to forgive those who offend us, to love those who hate us.” Oh! forgive me, if I, a woman, have dared to teach my brothers, who are greater than I am! But I am an old mother. And a mother can always speak. Believe me, my children! If you yourselves call Satan by hating enemies, by wishing for revenge, he will come into you and corrupt you. Satan is not strength. Believe me. God is strength. Satan is weakness, a burden, he is sluggishness. You would not be able to move a finger any more, not only against your enemies, but not even to caress our distressed Jesus, if hatred and revenge should enchain you. Cheer up, my dear children, all of you! Also those who are as old as I am, perhaps older. You are all sons for a woman who loves you, for a mother who has found once again the joy of being a mother by loving you as her children. Do not make me feel distressed once again, having lost my dear children again and for good; because if you die cherishing hatred or crime, you die forever, and we shall not longer be able to gather all together up there, in joy, around our common love: Jesus. Promise me here, at once, as I implore you, promise me, a poor woman, a poor mother, that you will never have such thoughts again. Oh! they even disfigure your faces. You seem strangers to me, you are different! How ugly hatred makes you! You were so meek! But what is happening? Listen to me! Mary would say the same words as mine to you, with greater power, because She is Mary; but it is better if She is not aware of all the grief... Oh! poor Mother! But what is happening? So have I to really believe that the hour of darkness has already come, the hour that will swallow everybody, the hour in which Satan will be king in everybody, with the exception of the Holy One, and he will lead astray also saints, you also, making you cowards, perjurers, as cruel as he is? Oh! so far I have always hoped! I have always said: “Men will not prevail against the Christ.” But now! But now I am afraid and I tremble for the first time! I see the great Darkness, whose name is Lucifer, stretch out and invade this serene sky of Adar and darken all of you, and pour poisons that make you sick. Oh! I am afraid! » Eliza, who for some time had been weeping silently, drops with her head on the table at which she was sitting and sobs sorrowfully.
The apostles look at one another. Then, although distressed, they begin to console her. But she does not want consolations and she says so: « One, only one is good for me: your promise. For your own good! So that Jesus may not have the greatest of His sorrows: to see you, His beloved disciples, damned. »
« Of course, Eliza. If that is what you want! Do not weep, woman! We promise you. Listen. We will not lift a finger against anybody. We shall not even look, so that we may not see. Don't weep! Don't weep! We will forgive those who offend us. We will love those who hate us! Don't weep. » Eliza raises her face shining with tears and says: « Remember. You have promised it! Repeat your promise! »
« We promise you it, woman. »
« How dear you are, my children! Now I do like you! I see that you are good again.
Now that my worry is appeased and that you are once again free from that bitter ferment, let us get ready to receive Mary. What is there to be done? » she asks and she finishes wiping her tears.
« Actually... we have prepared, as men can do. But Mary of Jacob helped us. She is a Samaritan, but she is very good. You will soon see her. She is out at the stone oven watching the bread. She is alone: her children are either dead or have forgotten her, her riches have vanished, and yet she bears no one ill-will... »
« Ah! see! Can you see that there is who knows how to forgive also among heathens and Samaritans? And it must be dreadful, you know, to have to forgive a son!... Better dead than a sinner! Ah! Are you sure that Judas is not here? »
« If he has not become a bird, he cannot be here, because the windows are open, but all the doors are closed, except this one. »
« Then... Mary of Simon has been to Jerusalem with her relative. She came to offer sacrifices at the Temple. Then she came to us. She seems a martyr. How depressed she is! She asked me and everybody whether we had any news of her son. Whether he was with the Master. Whether he had always been with Him. »
« What is the matter with that woman? » asks Andrew quite astonished.
« Her son. Do you not think that it is enough? » asks Thaddeus.
« I comforted her. She wanted to go back to the Temple with us. We all went there together to pray... Then she left, always with her worry. I said to her: “If you stay with us, we shall be going to the Master shortly. Your son is there.” She already knew that Jesus is here. It has been known as far as the borders of Palestine. But she said: “No, no! The Master told me not to be in Jerusalem in spring. I am obeying Him. But I wanted to go up to the Temple before He returned. I am in such need of God.” And she said a strange word... She said: “I am blameless. But I am so tortured that hell is in me and I am in it”... We repeatedly asked her why. But she would not say anything else, with regard to her torture or to the reasons for Jesus' prohibition. She asked us not to say anything to Jesus or to Judas. »
« Poor woman! So will she not be there at Passover? » asks Thomas.
« No, she will not. »
« Well! If Jesus told her that, He must have a reason... Did you hear what she said, eh? It is really known everywhere that Jesus is here! » says Peter.
« Yes. And some people said that those who were spreading the news were doing so to gather men in His name, to rise “against the tyrants”. Others said that He is here because He realises that He has been unmasked... »
« Always the same reasons! They must have spent all the gold of the Temple to send those... servants of theirs everywhere! » remarks Andrew.
There are some knocks at the door. « They are here! » they say and they rush to open.
It is instead Judas with his shopping. Matthew follows him. Judas sees Eliza and Nike and he greets them asking: « Are you alone? »
« All alone. Mary has not come yet. »
« Mary is not coming from the southern regions and thus she cannot be with you. I was asking whether Anastasica is here. »
« No. She remained at Bethzur. »
« Why? She is a disciple, too. Do you not know that from here we shall be going to Jerusalem for Passover? She should be here. If the women disciples and the believers are not perfect, who will be so? Who will form the train of the Master, to discredit the legend that everybody had abandoned Him? »
« Oh! with regard to that, it will not be a poor woman to fill the gaps! Roses are all right among thorns and in enclosed gardens. I act as her mother and I ordered that. »
« So will she not be there at Passover? »
« No, she will not. »
« And that makes two! » exclaims Peter.
« What are you saying? Which two? » asks Judas suspiciously.
« Nothing, nothing! A calculation of mine. Many things can be counted, can they not? Also... flies, for instance, that alight on my skinned lamb. »
Mary of Jacob comes in followed by Samuel and John who are carrying loaves just taken out of the oven. Eliza greets the woman, and so does Nike. And Eliza has a kind word to make her feel at ease: « You are among sisters, in sorrow, Mary. I am alone as I lost husband and children, and she is a widow. So we will love one another, because only who has wept can understand. »
In the meantime Peter says to John: « How come you are here? And the Master? »
« On the wagon. With His Mother. »
« And are you not saying anything? »
« You have not given me time. All the women are there. But you will see how worn out Mary of Nazareth is! She seems to have aged years and years. Lazarus says that She was very upset when he told Her that Jesus had taken shelter here. »
« Why did that fool tell Her? Before dying he was intelligent. Perhaps His brain became mushy in the sepulchre and it has never recovered. One does not lie dead with impunity!... » says Judas of Kerioth ironically and scornfully.
« Nothing of the kind. You had better wait and listen, before speaking. Lazarus of Bethany told Mary when they were already on the way, as She was surprised at the road that Lazarus was taking » says Samuel sternly.
« Yes. The first time he passed through Nazareth he only said: “I will take You to Your Son in a month's time.” He did not even say to Her: “We are going to Ephraim” when they were about to leave, but... » says John.
« Everybody knows that Jesus is here. Was She the only one who did not know? » asks always rudely Judas, interrupting his companion.
« Mary knew. She had heard it being said. But since a muddy stream of several lies flows through Palestine, She did not accept any news as true. She was wasting away with grief, in silence, praying. But once they were on the road, as Lazarus had taken the road along the river, in order to bewilder the Nazarenes, and all those at Cana, Sephoris, Bethlehem of Galilee... »
« Ah! Is Naomi also there with Myrtha and Aurea? » asks Thomas.
« No. They were ordered by Jesus not to come. When Isaac came back to Galilee he brought His order. »
« So... also these women will not be with us as last year. »
« No, they will not be with us. »
« And that's three! »
« Neither our wives and daughters. The Master told them before leaving Galilee. Nay, He repeated His order. Because my daughter Marian told me that Jesus had informed them since last Passover. »
« But... very well! Is at least Johanna there? Salome? Mary of Alphaeus? »
« Yes. And Susanna. »
« And Marjiam certainly... But what is that noise? »
« The wagons! The wagons! And all the Nazarenes who have not surrendered and have followed Lazarus... and those from Cana... » replies John running away with the others.
Once the door is opened, a tumultuous sight can be seen. Besides Mary sitting near Her Son and the women disciples, besides Lazarus, besides Johanna, in her wagon with Mary and Matthias, Esther and other maidservants and faithful Jonathan, there is a crowd of people: known faces and unknown ones. From Nazareth, Cana, Tiberias, Nain, Endor. And Samaritans from all the villages they passed through on their journey and from other nearby ones. And they rush to the front of the wagons, obstructing the passage to those who want to come out or go in.
« But what do these people want? Why have they come? How did they know? »
« Eh! those of Nazareth were on the look-out, and when Lazarus came in the evening to leave the following morning, during the night they ran to the nearby towns, and those from Cana did the same, because Lazarus had passed there to get Susanna and to meet Johanna. And they followed and preceded him, to see Jesus and to see Lazarus. And also those of Samaria heard about it and they joined the rest. And here they are, all of them!... » explains John.
« Listen! You who were afraid that the Master would have no train, do you think this one is sufficient? » Philip says to the Iscariot.
« They came for Lazarus... »
« Once they had seen him, they could have gone away. Instead they remained and have come here. Which means that there are also some who came for the Master. »
« Well. Let us have no idle talk. Instead let us make way to let them go in. Come on, boys! In order to get into practice again! We have not elbowed a way through the crowd for the Master for a long time! » and Peter is the first to begin to open a passage through the crowd that sings hosannas, is curious, devout, talkative according to the various moods. And when he succeeds with the help of other people and of many disciples who, spread out among the crowds, are trying to join the apostles, he keeps the space empty so that the women may take shelter in the house with Jesus and Lazarus. He then closes the door, being the last one to go in, and he bars it and bolts it and sends the others to close the door on the side of the kitchen garden.
« Oh! at long last! Peace be with You, blessed Mary! At last I see You! Now everything is beautiful because You are with us! » says Peter greeting Her and he stoops before Mary. A Mary with a sad pale tired face, it is already the face of Our Lady of Sorrows.
« Yes, everything is now less sorrowful because I am here near Him. »
« I had assured You that I was telling nothing but the truth! » says Lazarus.
« You are right... But the sun became obscured for Me and I had no peace when I heard that My Son was here... I understood... Oh! » More tears stream down Her wan cheeks.
« Do not weep, Mother! Do not weep! I was here among these good people, near another Mary who is a mother... » Jesus leads Her towards a room that opens onto the peaceful kitchen garden. They all follow Him.
Lazarus says apologising: « I had to tell Her, because She knew the road, and She could not understand why I was taking that one. She thought that He was with me at Bethany... And at Shechem also a man shouted: “We are going to Ephraim, too, to the Master.” It was impossible for me to find an excuse... I was also hoping to outdistance those people by setting off at night along strange routes. Nothing doing! They were on the alert everywhere, and while one group followed me, another went around spreading the news. »
Mary of Jacob brings some milk, butter and new bread and offers them to Mary first. She looks Lazarus up and down stealthily, half curious, half frightened, and her hand jerks when, offering Lazarus some milk, she touches his hand lightly and she cannot help exclaiming « oh! » when she sees Him eat his cake like everybody else.
Lazarus is the first to laugh and he says in an affable gentlemanly manner, with the confidence of all men of high birth: « Yes, woman. I eat just like you, and I like your bread and your milk. And I am sure I shall like your bed, because I feel tired exactly as I feel hungry. » He turns round saying:
« There are many who touch me with some excuse to feel whether I am flesh and bones, whether I am warm and I breathe. It is a bit of a nuisance. And when my mission is over, I will retire to Bethany. If I were near You, Master, I would stir up too many distractions. I have shone, I have borne witness to Your power as far as Syria. I shall now disappear. You alone must shine in the sky of miracles, in the sky of God and in the eyes of men. »
Mary in the meantime says to the old woman: « You have been good to My Son. He told Me how good you have been. Let Me kiss you to tell you how grateful I am to you. I have nothing to give you as a reward, except My love. I am poor, too... and I also can say that I no longer have a son, because He belongs to God and to His mission... And may it always be so, because holy and just is what God wants. »
Mary is kind, but she is already heart-broken... All the apostles look at Her compassionately to the extent of forgetting those who are rioting outside, and of inquiring after their far away relatives.
But Jesus says: « I will go up to the terrace to dismiss and bless the people » and Peter then rouses himself and asks: « But where is Marjiam? I have seen all the disciples but not him. »
« Marjiam is not here » replies Salome, the mother of James and John.
« Marjiam is not here? Why? Is he ill? »
« No. He is well. And your wife is well. But Marjiam is not here. Porphirea did not let him come. »
« Silly woman! In a month's time it will be Passover and he has to come for Passover! She could have let him come with you now and make the boy and me happy. But she is more backward than a sheep in understanding certain things... »
« John and Simon of Jonah, and you, Lazarus with Simon Zealot, come with Me. You, all of you, stay here where you are, until I dismiss the crowd, separating the disciples from it » orders Jesus, and He goes out with the four closing the door.
Through the corridor and the kitchen He goes out into the kitchen garden followed by Peter, who is grumbling, and by the others. But before setting foot on the terrace, He stops on the little staircase, He turns round laying a hand on the shoulder of Peter who raises his unhappy face. « Listen to Me carefully, Simon Peter, and stop accusing and reproaching Porphirea. She is innocent. She obeyed an order of Mine. Before the feast of the Tabernacles I ordered her not to let Marjiam come to Judaea... »
« But Passover, Lord! »
« I am the Lord. You say that. And as the Lord I can order anything, because every order of Mine is just. So do not be upset by scruples. Do you remember what is stated in Numbers? “If anyone of your country becomes unclean by touching a dead body or is on a journey abroad, such person shall keep Passover for the Lord on the fourteenth day of the second month, in the evening.” »
« But Marjiam is not unclean, I hope that Porphirea does not want to die just now, and he is not on a journey... » says Peter objecting.
« It does not matter. That is what I want. There are things that make one unclean more than a dead body. Marjiam... I do not want him to be contaminated. Let Me do as I wish, Peter. I know. Be obedient as your wife is and Marjiam, too. We shall keep the second Passover with him, on the fourteenth day of the second month. And we shall be so happy then. It's a promise. »
Peter makes a gesture as if to say: « Let us resign ourselves », but he makes no objection.
The Zealot remarks: « It is a lot if you do not continue your calculation of how many will not be in town at Passover! »
« I do not feel like counting any more. All this gives me a strange sensation... An icy feeling... Can the others be told? »
« No. I took you aside deliberately. »
« Then... I also have something to tell Lazarus in particular. »
« Tell me. If I can, I will reply to you » says Lazarus.
« Oh! even if you do not reply it does not matter. It is enough for me if you go to Pilate – the idea is of your friend Simon – and talking of various matters, you worm out of him what he is thinking of doing for Jesus, in good or in evil... You know... craftily... Because there are so many rumours!… »
« I will. As soon as I arrive in Jerusalem. I will go to Bethany via Bethel and Ramah instead of Jericho, and I will stop in my mansion in Zion, and I will go to Pilate. Don't worry, Peter, because I shall be skilful and sincere. »
« And you will waste your time for nothing, My dear friend. Because Pilate – you are aware of it as a man, I as God – is but a reed that bends to the side opposite the hurricane, endeavouring to avoid it. He is never insincere. Because he is always convinced that he wants to take action, and he does what he says in that moment. But a moment later, because of the howling of a storm from another direction, he forgets – oh! he does not break his promise or his will – he forgets, just that, what he wanted previously. He forgets because the cry of a will stronger than his makes him lose his memory, it blows away all the thoughts that another cry had placed in it, and replaces them with new ones. And then, above all the storms that with numberless voices, from that of his wife who threatens to separate if he does not do what she wants – and once he is separated from her, that is the end of all his strength, of his protection with “divine” Caesar, as they say, although they are convinced that this Caesar is more abject than they are... But they can see the Idea in the man, nay the Idea annihilates the man representing it, and one cannot say that the Idea is unclean: every citizen loves, and it is fair that he should love his Fatherland, and should want it to triumph...
Caesar is the Fatherland... so... also a miserable man is... great because of what he represents... But I did not want to speak of Caesar, but of Pilate! – So I was saying that above all the voices, from that of his wife to those of the crowds, there is the voice, oh! what a voice! of his ego. Of the small ego of the small man, of the greedy ego of the greedy man, of the proud ego of the proud man; that smallness, that greed, that pride want to reign to be great, they want to reign to have superabundance of money, they want to reign to be able to rule over a multitude of subjects stooping to pay homage to them. Hatred is smouldering underneath, but the little Caesar named Pilate, our little Caesar does not see it... He can only see the backs bent feigning homage and fear before him or really feeling both. And because of the stormy voice of his ego he is prepared to do anything. I say: anything. Provided he may continue to be Pontius Pilate, the Proconsul, the servant of Caesar, the Ruler of one of the many regions of the empire. And because of all that, even if now he is My defender, tomorrow he will be My judge, and inexorable. The thought of man is always uncertain. Most uncertain when that man's name is Pontius Pilate. But, Lazarus, you may satisfy Peter... If that is to console him... »
« Not to console me but... to calm me a little... »
« Then please our good Peter and go to Pilate. »
« I will go, Master. But You have described the Proconsul as no historian or philosopher could have done. A perfect portrait! »
« I could likewise depict every man in his real image: his character. But let us go to these people who are rioting. »
He climbs the last steps and shows Himself. He raises His arms and says in a loud voice: « Men of Galilee and of Samaria, disciples and followers. Your love, your wishes to honour Me and My Mother and My friend by escorting their wagon, tell Me what your thoughts are. I can but bless you for such thoughts. But go back to your homes, to your business, now. You from Galilee, go and tell those who remained there that Jesus of Nazareth blesses them. Men of Galilee, we shall meet again in Jerusalem at Passover, and I will enter the town the day after the Sabbath before Passover. Men of Samaria, you may go, too, and do not confine your love for Me to following and looking for Me on the routes of the Earth, but on those of the spirit. Go and may the Light shine in you. Disciples of the Master, part from the believers and remain in Ephraim to receive My instructions. Go. Be obedient. »
« He is right. We are disturbing Him. He wants to be with His Mother! » shout the disciples and the Nazarenes.
« We are going away. But we want His promise first: that He will come to Shechem before Passover. To Shechem! To Shechem! »
« I will come. Go. I will come before going to Jerusalem for Passover. »
« Don't go! Don't go! Stay with us! With us! We will defend You! We will make You King and Pontiff! They hate You! We love You! Down with the Jews! Long live Jesus! »
« Silence. Stop rioting! My Mother suffers because of this shouting that can harm Me more than a voice cursing Me. My hour has not yet come. Go. I will come to Shechem. But remove from your hearts the thought that I, for base human cowardice and a sacrilegious rebellion against the will of My Father, may not fulfill My duty as an Israelite, worshipping the true God in the only Temple in which He can be worshipped, and as Messiah, by being crowned anywhere but in Jerusalem, where I shall be anointed universal King according to the words and the truth foreseen by the great prophets. »
« Down! There is no other prophet but Moses! You are a daydreamer. »
« And you, too. Are you perhaps free? No, you are not. What is the name of Shechem? Its new name? And what happened to Shechem, happened also to many other towns in Samaria, Judaea and Galilee. Because the Roman mangonel has levelled us all alike. Is its name Shechem? No. Its name is Neapolis. As Beth-Shean is named Scythopolis, and many other towns that either by will of the Romans or by the will of adulating vassals have taken the names imposed by domination or by adulation. And you, as individuals, are you going to be worth more than a town, more than our rulers, more than God? No. Nothing can change what is destined for the salvation of everybody. I follow the straight road. Follow Me, if you want to enter the eternal Kingdom with Me. »
He is about to withdraw. But the Samaritan people are uproarious so much so that the Galileans react and those who were in the house rush out at the same time into the kitchen garden, and then up the staircase and on to the terrace. The sad pale distressed face of Mary is the first to appear behind Jesus' shoulders, and She embraces and clasps Him as if She wished to defend Him from the insults rising from below: « You have betrayed us! You took refuge among us making us believe that You loved us whereas now You despise us! And we shall be more despised through Your fault! » and so forth.
Jesus is approached also by the women disciples, by the apostles, and last by Mary of Jacob, who is frightened. The shouts from below explain the origin of the uproar, a remote but certain origin: « So why did You send Your disciples to us to tell us that You are persecuted? »
« I did not send anybody. Those from Shechem are over there. Let them come forward. What did I say to them one day on the mountain? »
« That is true. He said to us that He can only be a worshipper in the Temple, until the new time comes for everybody. Master, we are not to be blamed, believe us. But they have been deceived by false messengers of Yours. »
« I know. But go now. I will come to Shechem just the same. I am not afraid of anybody. But go now so that you may not harm yourselves and those of your blood. Can you see over there the cuirasses of the legionaries shine in the sun as they go down the road? They have certainly followed you at a distance, seeing such a procession and they have remained waiting in the wood. Your shouting is now attracting them here. Go, for your own sake. »
In fact, far away on the main road that can be seen rising towards the mountains, the one on which Jesus found the starving man, it is possible to see lights gleam and move forward. The people disperse slowly. Those from Ephraim, the Galileans and the disciples remain.
« You may go to your homes as well, you people from Ephraim. And you, too, Galileans, please go away. Obey Him Who loves you. »
They also go away. Only the disciples remain and Jesus orders the apostles to let them go into the house and the kitchen garden. Peter goes downstairs with the others to open.
Judas of Kerioth does not go down. He laughs! He laughs saying: « You will now see how “the good Samaritans” hate You! To build the Kingdom You are scattering the stones. And stones dispelled from a building become weapons to strike. You have despised them! And they will not forget. »
« Let them hate Me. I will not avoid doing My duty for fear of their hatred. Come, Mother. Let us go and tell the disciples what they are to do before I dismiss them » and between Mary and Lazarus He goes downstairs into the house where the disciples who gathered at Ephraim are crowded, and He orders them to spread everywhere informing all their companions to be at Jericho for the new moon of Nisan and wait for Him until He arrives, and to let the people of the villages through which they pass know that He will leave Ephraim and that they should look for Him in Jerusalem at Passover. He then divides them into three groups entrusting the new disciple Samuel to Isaac, Hermas and Stephen. Stephen greets Samuel saying: « The joy in seeing you relieves my pain to see that everything becomes an obstacle for the Master. » Hermas instead greets him thus: « You left a man for a God. And God is now really with you. » Isaac, humble and bashful, only says: « Peace be with you, brother. »
After handing out bread and milk that the people from Ephraim kindly think of offering, also the disciples depart and at last there is peace...
But while the lamb is being prepared, Jesus has still something to do. He approaches Lazarus and says to him: « Come with Me along the torrent. » Lazarus obeys promptly as usual.
They move away from the house about two hundred metres. Lazarus is silent waiting for Jesus to speak. And Jesus says: « I wanted to tell you this. My Mother is very depressed, as you can see. Send your sisters here. I will really go towards Shechem with all the apostles and women disciples. But then I will send them on, to Bethany, while I will stay for some time in Jericho. I can still dare to keep some women here in Samaria, but not anywhere else... »
« Master! You really fear... Oh! if so why did You raise me from the dead? »
« To have a friend. »
« Oh!!! If that is the case, well, here I am. All sorrows, if I can comfort You with my friendship, are nothing to me. »
« I know. That is why I use and will use you as the most perfect friend. »
« Must I really go to Pilate? »
« If you think so. But for Peter. Not for Me. »
« Master, I will let You know... When are You leaving this place? »
« In eight days' time. There is just enough time to go where I want and then be with you before Passover. I want to acquire new strength at Bethany, the oasis of peace, before plunging into the turmoil of Jerusalem. »
« Are You aware, Master, that the Sanhedrin is quite determined to create charges, since there are none, to compel You to flee for good? I learned that from John, the member of the Sanhedrin, when I met him by chance at Ptolemais, and he was very happy because of the son about to be born to him. He said to me: “I am sorry that the Sanhedrin is so determined. Because I would have liked the Master to be present at the circumcision of my child, as I hope it will be a boy. He is to be born early in the month of Tammuz. But will the Master still be among us by that time? And I would like... Because I would like little Immanuel, and that name will tell you what I think, to be blessed by Him at his first appearance in the world. Because my son, lucky fellow, will not have to struggle to believe, as we had to. He will be brought up in the Messianic times and it will be easy for him to accept the idea.” John has arrived at believing that You are the Promised One. »
« And that one out of many compensates Me for what the others do not do. Lazarus, let us say goodbye here, in peace. And thank you for everything, My dear friend. You are a true friend. With ten friends like you it would have been pleasant to live among so much hatred... »
« Now You have Your Mother, my Lord. She is worth ten... one hundred Lazarus. But remember that whatever You may need, if it is at all possible, I will get it for You. Give me Your orders, and I will be Your servant, in everything. I may not be wise or holy, like other people who love You, but if You exclude John, You will not be able to find another one more faithful than I am. I do not think that I am being proud saying this. And now that we have spoken of You, I will tell You about Syntyche. I saw her. She is as active and wise as only a Greek woman, who has been able to become Your follower, can be. She suffers to be so far away. But she says that she enjoys preparing Your way. She hopes to see You before she dies. »
« She will certainly see Me. I do not disappoint the hopes of the just. »
« She has a little school attended by many girls of all places. But in the evening she keeps some poor little girls of mixed race, and thus of no religion. And she instructs them in Your doctrine. I asked her: “Why do you not become a proselyte? It would be of great help to you.” She replied: “Because I do not want to devote myself to those of Israel, but to the empty altars awaiting a God. I prepare them to receive my Lord. Then, once His Kingdom is established, I will return to my Fatherland, and under the sky of Hellas I will spend my life preparing hearts for the masters. That is my dream. But if I should die before, of a disease or in a persecution, I shall go away equally happy, because it means that I have fulfilled my work and that He calls to Himself the servant who has loved Him since the first time she met Him.” »
« It is true. Syntyche has really loved Me since our first meeting. »
« I did not want to tell her how distressed You are. But Antioch resounds like a shell with all the voices of the vast Roman empire, and consequently also with what happens here. And Syntyche is aware of Your grief. And she suffers even more to be far away. She wanted to give me some money, which I refused, and I told her to use it for her girls. But I took a headgear woven by her with two types of byssus of different thickness. Your Mother has it. With the yarn Syntyche has described Your story, her own and that of John of Endor. And do You know how? By weaving a hem all around the square and representing on it a lamb that defends two doves from a pack of hyenas, one of the doves has both wings broken, and the other has a broken chain that held it fastened. And the story proceeds, alternately, to the flight towards the sky of the dove with the broken wings and the voluntary captivity of the other at the feet of the lamb. It looks like one of those stories that Greek sculptors carve on the marble festoons of temples and on the stelae of their dead relatives, or painters paint on vases. She wanted to send it to You by my servants. I brought it. »
« I shall wear it because it comes from a good disciple. Let us go towards the house. When are you thinking of leaving? »
« Tomorrow at dawn. To let the horses rest. Then I will not stop until I arrive in Jerusalem and I will go to Pilate. If I succeed in speaking to him, I will send You his replies by Mary. »
They go slowly back into the house, talking of minor topics.