8th March 1947.
Day is hardly breaking at dawn and it is still difficult to travel when Jesus departs from Doco, still asleep. The shuffling of feet is certainly not heard by anybody because they walk cautiously and because people are still sleeping in their houses. No one speaks until they are out of town, in the country that is awaking slowly in the dim light and is pleasantly fresh after the dew.
The Iscariot then says: « A useless journey with no rest. It was better not to have come so far. »
« The few people we met did not use us badly! They lost their night's sleep to listen to us and to bring us their sick people from the country. On the contrary, it has really been a good thing that we came here. Because those who, either through illness or for some other reason, could not hope to see the Lord in Jerusalem, have seen Him here and have been comforted recovering their health or with other graces. We know that the rest have already gone to Jerusalem… When possible, it is our custom to go there a few days before the festivity » says James of Alphaeus kindly, because he is always gentle, the very opposite of Judas of Kerioth who, even in his good moments, is always violent and overbearing.
« Just because we are going to Jerusalem as well, it was useless to come here. They would have heard and seen us there… »
« But not the women and the sick people » replies Bartholomew supporting James of Alphaeus.
Judas pretends he does not hear them and resuming the thread of his discourse he says: « At least I think that we are going to Jerusalem, although I am no longer certain after the conversation with that shepherd… »
« And where do you expect us to go if we do not go there? » asks Peter.
« Who knows! I don't. Everything we have been doing these last months is so unreal, so unforeseeable, so contrary to common sense and also to justice, that… »
« Hey! I saw you drink milk at Doco, and yet you are speaking like a drunken man! Where do you see things contrary to justice? » asks James of Zebedee with eyes promising trouble. And to make himself clearly understood he adds: « Enough of reproaches to the Just One! Have you understood that that is enough? You are not entitled to reproach Him. No one is entitled to do so, because He is perfect, and we… None of us are entitled, and you are less entitled than anybody. »
« Yes! If you are not well, take care of yourself, but do not annoy us with your complaints. If you are moody, the Master is over there. Ask Him to cure you and stop it! » says Thomas who has lost his patience.
Jesus is in fact behind, with Judas of Alphaeus and John, and they are helping the women, who not being accustomed to walking in half-light, are proceeding with difficulty along a rough path, which is even darker than the fields, as it runs through a thick olivegrove. And Jesus is speaking animatedly to the women, estranged from what is happening ahead of Him and can also be heard by those who are with Him, because if the words arrive confusedly, their tone gives to understand that they are not kind ones, but they sound rather quarrelsome.
The two apostles, Thaddeus and John, look at each other… but they do not say anything. They look at Jesus and Mary. But Mary is so enveloped in Her mantle that Her face can hardly be seen, and Jesus does not appear to have heard. But when He finishes talking – they were speaking of Benjamin and his future, and they are speaking of Sarah, the widow of Aphek, who has settled at Capernaum and is a loving mother not only to the child of Giscala but also to the children of the woman from Capernaum who, after she married for the second time, no longer loved the children of her first marriage, and then she came to « such a bad end that people considered her death a divine punishment » says Salome – Jesus goes ahead with Judas Thaddeus to join the apostles and when leaving the group He says: « You may stay, John, if you wish so. I am going to reply to the restless one and bring about peace. »
But John, after walking a few steps with the women, seeing that the path is now wider and clearer, runs and joins Jesus Who is saying: « So, be reassured, Judas. We will do nothing, as we have done nothing, unreal. Even now we are not doing anything unforeseeable. This is the time when it is foreseeable that every true Israelite, who is not prevented by diseases or very grave reasons, will go up to the Temple. And we are going up to the Temple. »
« But not all of us. I heard that Marjiam will not be there. Is he perhaps ill? Why is he not coming? Do You think You can replace him with the Samaritan? » Judas' tone is unbearable…
Peter whispers: « O Prudence, hold my tongue fast, for I am a man! » and he presses his lips together firmly in order not to say anything else. His eyes, which are rather deep set, are deeply touching, so clear is the effort of the man to repress his indignation and distress hearing Judas speak thus.
Jesus' presence holds all tongues. He is the only one who speaks and with a really divine calm He says: « Come ahead a little, so that the women may not hear us. For a few days I have had something to tell you. Something I promised you in the country of Tirzah. But I wanted all of you to be present to hear Me. But not the women. Let us leave them in their humble peace… What I am going to tell you will explain why Marjiam will not be with us, and the same applies to your mother, Judas of Kerioth, and to your daughters, Philip, and to the women disciples of Bethlehem in Galilee with the girl. It is not for everybody to bear certain things. I, the Master, know what is good for My disciples and what they can or cannot stand. Not even you are strong enough to endure the trial. And it would be a grace for you to be excluded. But you will have to continue Me, and you must be aware of how weak you are, so that in future you may be merciful towards the weak. So you cannot be excluded from this dreadful test that will give you the measure of what you are, of what you have remained after being with Me for three years, and of what you have become after the three years you have been with Me. You are twelve. You have all come to Me almost at the same time. It is not the few days between My meeting with James, John and Andrew and the day on which you were received among us, Judas of Kerioth, or the day on which you, My brother James and you, Matthew, came to Me, that can justify so much difference in your perfecting. You were, all of you, even you, My learned Bartholomew, and you, My brothers, very imperfect, absolutely imperfect with regard to what is perfection in My doctrine. Nay, your education, better than that of others among you in the doctrine of old Israel, was an obstacle to your perfecting in Me. And yet none of you have made so much progress as would have been sufficient to bring you all to the same point. One has reached it, others are close to it, others are farther away, others much farther behind, others… yes, I must say also this, instead of coming forwards, have gone backwards. Do not look at one another! Do not try to find out which of you is the first and which the last. He who, perhaps, thinks he is the first and is considered to be the first, has still to undergo probation. He who thinks he is the last, is about to shine in his perfection like a star in the sky. So, once again I say to you: do not judge. Facts will judge with their evidence. For the time being you cannot understand. But soon, very soon, you will remember these words of Mine and you will understand them. »
« When? You have promised to tell us, to explain to us why the Passover purification will be different this year, but You never do tell us » says Andrew complaining.
« It is just about that that I wanted to speak to you. Because both those words and these are the same, as they are rooted in one only principle. We are now going up to Jerusalem for Passover. And all the things foretold by the prophets concerning the Son of man will be fulfilled there. Truly, as the prophets foresaw, as it was already stated in the order given to the Hebrews in Egypt, as Moses was ordered in the desert, the Lamb of God is about to be sacrificed and His Blood is about to mark the doorposts of hearts, and the angel of the Lord will pass without striking those who have upon themselves, and with love, the Blood of the sacrificed Lamb, that is about to be raised on the cross bar, like the precious metal snake, to be the sign for those wounded by the infernal snake, to be salvation for those who look at it with love. The Son of man, your Master Jesus, is about to be handed over to the chief priests, to the scribes and the elders, who will sentence Him to death and will deliver Him to the Gentiles to be sneered at. And He will be smacked, beaten, spat at, dragged along the streets like a dirty rag, and then the Gentiles, after scourging Him and crowning Him with thorns, will condemn Him to die on the cross reserved for criminals, as the Jewish people, gathered in Jerusalem wanted His death in place of that of a robber, and He will be put to death thus. But, as it is mentioned in the signs of the prophecies, after three days He will rise again. That is the trial awaiting you. The one that will show you your spiritual advancement. I solemnly tell you, who think that you are so perfect as to despise those who do not belong to Israel, and to despise even many of our own people, I tell you solemnly that you, the chosen part of My flock, once the Shepherd has been captured, will be seized with fright and you will disperse fleeing as if the wolves, which will fang Me all over, were set on you. But, I tell you, be not afraid. You will not be hurt in the least. I shall suffice to glut the wild wolves… »
The apostles, while Jesus is speaking, look like people under a shower of stones. They even bend more and more as Jesus goes on speaking. And when He ends saying: « And what I am telling you is impending. It is not like the other times, when there was time before the hour. The hour has now come. I am going, to be handed over to My enemies and sacrificed for the salvation of everybody. And the bud of this flower will have not yet lost its petals, after flowering, when I shall be already dead », some hide their faces in their hands and some moan as if they had been wounded. The Iscariot is livid, absolutely livid…
The first to collect himself is Thomas who proclaims: « That will not happen to You because we will defend you or we will die with You, and we will thus show that we had reached You in Your perfection and that we were perfect in loving You. »
Jesus looks at him without speaking.
Bartholomew after a long pensive silence says: « You said that You will be handed over… But who can hand You over to Your enemies? That is not mentioned in the prophecies. No, it is not mentioned. It would be too dreadful if one of Your friends, one of Your disciples, one of Your followers, even the last one, should hand You over to those who hate You. No! No one who has heard You with love, even if only once, can commit that crime. They are men, not wild beasts, not demons… No, my Lord. And not even those who hate You will be able… They are afraid of the people, and all the people will be around You! »
Jesus looks also at Nathanael but does not say anything.
Peter and the Zealot are talking animatedly to each other. James of Zebedee reproaches his brother because he sees that he is not upset and John replies: « It's because I have known all that these last three months » and two tears stream down his face. The sons of Alphaeus speak to Matthew who shakes his head downheartedly.
Andrew says to the Iscariot: “Since you have so many friends in the Temple…”
« John knows Annas himself » replies Judas and he concludes: « What can we do? What can the word of a man do if that is destined? »
« Do you really think so? » ask Thomas and Andrew together.
« No. I don't think anything. They are useless apprehensions. Bartholomew is right. All the people will be around Jesus. You can already see that by the behaviour of those we meet. And it will be a triumph. You will see that that is what will happen » says Judas of Kerioth.
« In that case why does He… » says Andrew pointing at Jesus Who has stopped waiting for the women.
« Why does He say that? Because He is impressed… and because He wants to test us. But nothing will happen. In any case I will go… »
« Oh! yes. Go and find out! » says Andrew imploring.
They become silent because Jesus is following them once again, walking between His Mother and Mary of Alphaeus.
Mary smiles lightly because Her sister-in-law shows Her some seeds, got I do not know where, and says to Her that she wants to sow them at Nazareth, after Passover, just at the little grotto so dear to Mary: « When You were a little girl, I always remember You with these flowers in Your little hands. You called them the flowers of Your coming. In fact when You were born Your garden was full of them, and that evening when the whole of Nazareth came to see Joachim's daughter, the clusters of these little stars looked like diamonds because of the water from the sky and of the last ray of the sun that lit them up while setting, and since Your name was “Star”, everybody said looking at those tiny shining stars: “The flowers have adorned themselves to give a hearty welcome to Joachim's flower, and the stars have left the sky to come to the Star”, and they all smiled, happy with the omen and with Your father's joy. And Joseph, my husband's brother, said: “Stars and drops. She is really Mary!” Who could have told him then that You were to become his star?
When he came back from Jerusalem, after being chosen as Your spouse? The whole of Nazareth wanted to celebrate the event with him, because great was the honour that had come to him from Heaven and because of his nuptials with You, the daughter of Joachim and Anne, and everybody wanted to feast with him. He kindly but firmly refused all celebrations, amazing everybody. Because which man, destined to such an honourable wedding and by such a decree of the Most High, would not celebrate the happiness of his soul, flesh and blood? But he used to say: “A severe preparation is required for a great appointment.” And with sparing use of words and food, because he had always practised all other continence, he spent that time working and praying, because I believe that every hammer-stroke, every chisel-mark became a prayer, if it is possible to pray working. His face was enraptured. I used to go to tidy up the house, to bleach sheets and all other things left by Your mother and which had yellowed with age, and I used to watch him working in the kitchen garden and in the house, making them as beautiful as if they had never been neglected, and I used to speak to him, too… but he was engrossed in thought. He used to smile. Not at me or at anybody else, but at a thought of his, that was not the thought of every man about to get married. That is a smile of mischievous sensual pleasure… He… seemed to smile at the invisible angels of God, and to speak to them and to consult with them… Oh! I am sure they told him how to treat You! Because later – and this amazed everybody in Nazareth and almost irritated my Alphaeus – he put off the wedding as long as possible, and we never understood why he suddenly made up his mind before the fixed time. And also when we heard You were a mother, how surprised was Nazareth at his contained joy!… Also my James is somewhat like that. And he is becoming so more and more. Now that I watch him carefully – I don't know why, but since we came from Ephraim he seems to have changed completely – I see him thus… just like Joseph.
Look at him even now, Mary, now that he turns round again to look at us. Does he not have the pensive attitude so habitual to Your spouse Joseph? He smiles, but I do not know whether his smile is a sad or vague one. He looks, but he seems to be looking far away, beyond us, as Joseph did so often. Do You remember how Alphaeus used to tease him? He used to say: “Brother, are you still looking at the pyramids?” He would shake his head without speaking, patient and engrossed in thought. He was never talkative. But when You came back from Hebron! He did not even come to the fountain by himself any longer, as he used to do and as everybody does. He was either with You or at his work. And with the exception of the Sabbaths, when he went to the synagogue, or when he went somewhere on business, no one can say that they saw Joseph loitering about during those months. Then you went away… How distressing it was to have no news of you after the slaughter! Alphaeus went as far as Bethlehem… “They went away” they said. But how could we believe them, if they had a mortal hatred of you in town, where the innocent blood was still red and the ruins were still smoking and they blamed you for the blood that had been shed? He went to Hebron and then to the Temple, because it was Zacharias' turn. Elizabeth gave him nothing but her tears, Zacharias only words of comfort. They were both worried about John and fearing fresh cruelties, they had hidden him and trembled for him. They had no news of you and Zacharias said to Alphaeus: “If they are dead, their blood is on me, because I convinced them to remain in Bethlehem.” My Mary! My Jesus so beautiful at the Passover after His birth! And to have no news of You for such a long time! But why never any news?… »
« Because it was better to be silent. Where we were, there were many Maries and Josephs, and it was wise to be considered as a normal married couple » Mary replies quietly, then with a sigh She says: « And even in their sadness they were happy days. Evil was still so far away! If as human beings we lacked so many things, our spirits were sated with the joy of having You, My Son! »
« You have Your Son even now, Mary. Joseph is no longer with You, that is true! But Jesus is here and with His full love of an adult » remarks Mary of Alphaeus.
Mary raises Her head to look at Jesus. Although Her lips smile faintly, Her eyes reveal Her torture. But She does not utter another word.
The apostles have stopped waiting for them and they all gather together, including James and John who were behind with their mother. And while they rest after their long walk and some eat a little bread, the mother of James and John approaches Jesus Who has not sat down, anxious as He is to set out again, and she prostrates herself before Him.
As her desire to ask for something is obvious, Jesus asks her: « What do you want, woman? Tell Me. »
« Grant me a grace before You go away, as You say. »
« Which? »
« Arrange for these two sons of mine, who have left everything for Your sake, to sit one at Your right hand and the other at Your left, when You will be sitting in Your glory, in Your Kingdom. »
Jesus looks at the woman and then at the two apostles and He says: « You have suggested this request to your mother, misinterpreting the promises I made yesterday. You will not receive in a kingdom on the Earth the one hundredfold of what you have left. So are you becoming greedy and foolish, too? But it is not your fault. The mephitic twilight of darkness is already advancing and the polluted air of Jerusalem is approaching and is corrupting and blinding you… I tell you that you do not know what you are asking! Can you drink of the cup that I am going to drink? »
« We can, Lord. »
« How can you say so if you have not understood the bitterness of My cup? It will not be only the bitterness that I described to you yesterday, the bitterness of the Man of all sorrows. There will be tortures that you would not be in a position to understand even if I should describe them to you… And yet, yes, although you are still like two boys who do not know the value of what they ask, as you are two just spirits who love Me, you will certainly drink of My cup. But it is not for Me to grant you to sit at My right or at My left. It is granted to those for whom it was prepared by My Father. »
The other apostles, while Jesus is still speaking, are very sharp in criticising the request of the sons of Zebedee and of their mother.
Peter says to John: « How could you?! I no longer recognise you for what you were! »
And the Iscariot with his demoniac smile says: « Truly the first are the last! Surprises and discoveries nowadays… » and he laughs on the wrong side of his mouth.
« Have we perhaps followed our Master to be honoured? » asks Philip reproachingly.
Instead of replying to the two apostles, Thomas addresses Salome saying: « Why did you have your sons mortified? You should have pondered on the matter and prevented all that, if they did not. »
« That is true. Our mother would not have done that » says Thaddeus.
Bartholomew does not speak, but his countenance evidences his disapproval.
In order to calm everybody's indignation, Simon Zealot says: « We can all make mistakes… »
Matthew, Andrew and James of Alphaeus do not say anything, but they are clearly suffering because of the incident that injures John's beautiful perfection.
Jesus makes a gesture to impose silence and says: « What? Is one error going to bring about many? You, who are reproaching with indignation, do you not realise that you are committing a sin as well? Leave these brothers of yours alone. My rebuke is sufficient. Their humiliation is evident, and their repentance is humble and sincere. You must love one another, supporting one another. Because none of you are yet perfect. You must not imitate the world and the men of the world. In the world, as you are aware, princes lord over their nations and their great men exert their power in the names of the princes. But that must not happen among you. You must not be eager to lord over men and your companions. On the contrary, anyone who wants to be great among you, must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you, must be everybody's servant. Exactly as your Master did. Did I come to lord over People and oppress them? Or to be served? Certainly not. I came to serve. Thus, as the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many, you must do likewise, if you want to be as I am and where I am. Go now. And be at peace with one another as I am at peace with you. »
Jesus says to me:
« Make the following sentence very clear: “… you will certainly drink of My chalice”. In translations you read: “My chalice.” I said: “of My chalice”, not “My chalice.” No man could have drunk My chalice. I alone, the Redeemer, had to drink all My chalice. My disciples, My imitators and lovers, are certainly allowed to drink of that chalice from which I drank, with regard to that drop, sip or sips, that God's predilection grants them to drink. But no one will ever drink all the chalice as I did. So it is right to say 'of My chalice' and not 'My chalice'. »