19th March 1947.
« If you wish so, you may go, wherever you like. I am staying here today with Judas and James. The women disciples are to come » says Jesus to the apostles who are gathered around Him under the porch of the house. And He adds: « But make sure that you are all back here before sunset. And be prudent. Try to be unnoticed to avoid retaliations against you. »
« Oh! I am going to stay here. What have I to do in Jerusalem? » says Peter.
« Instead I will go. My father is certainly expecting me. He wants to offer the wine. An old promise, but always kept, because my father is an honest man. What a wonderful wine you will taste at the Passover banquet! My father's vineyards at Ramah! They are famous in the area » says Thomas.
« Also these wines of Lazarus are very good. I will never forget the banquet for the feast of the Dedication... » says Matthew, in an unintentional tone of gluttony.
« In that case your memory will be refreshed more than ever, because I think that Lazarus is giving a great banquet tomorrow. I have seen such preparations... » says James of Zebedee.
« Is that so? Are other people coming? » asks Andrew.
« No. I asked Maximinus. He said no. »
« Ah! Otherwise I would have put on the new tunic that my wife sent me » says Philip.
« That is what I am going to do. I wanted to put it on at Passover. But I will wear it tomorrow. We are going to have more peace here tomorrow, than in a few days' time... » says Bartholomew and he stops pensively.
« I am going to adorn myself with new clothes to go to town. And what about You, Master? » asks John.
« So am I. I will put on purple robes. »
« You will look like a king! » exclaims the favourite apostle full of admiration, as he already imagines Him in the splendid robes...
« But if I had not seen to it! I have had that purple for years... » says the Iscariot boastfully.
« Really? Oh! no one had thought about it... The Master is always so humble... »
« Too humble. The time has now come when He must be King. We have waited long enough! If He is not a king on a throne, at least, to safeguard His dignity, He must have clothes suiting His rank. I see to everything. »
« You are right, Judas. You are aware of the ways of the world. We... are poor fishermen... » say humbly the men who have come from the lake... And as it always happens in the light of the world - in the false twilight of the world – Judas' base metal alloy seems nobler than the unrefined, but pure, sincere, honest gold of the Galilean hearts...
Jesus, Who was speaking to the Zealot and to Alphaeus' sons, turns round and looks at the Iscariot and at those honest men, so humble and mortified at being so... deficient as compared with Judas... and He shakes His head without saying anything. But when He sees the Iscariot tie the laces of his sandals and sort his mantle as if he were on the point of setting off, He asks him: « Where are you going? »
« To town. »
« I told you that I am keeping you here with James... »
« Ah! I thought that You were referring to Your brother Judas... So... I... am like a prisoner... Ah! Ah! » He sneers.
« I don't think that Bethany has chains or bars. It has only the desire of your Master. And I would love to be the prisoner of it » remarks the Zealot.
« Oh! of course! I was joking... The fact is... I would like to have news of my mother. Pilgrims from Kerioth have certainly arrived in Jerusalem and... »
« No. In two days' time we shall all be in Jerusalem. You are staying here now » says Jesus authoritatively.
Judas does not insist. He takes off his mantle saying: « So? Who is going to town? We ought to know what the humours are... What the disciples are doing... I wanted to go to hear also from friends... I had promised Peter... »
« It does not matter. You are staying. Nothing of what you said is necessary. It is not strictly necessary... »
« But if Thomas is going… »
« Master, I should like to go as well. I also promised it. I have friends in Annas' house and... »
« And would you go there, son? And if they catch you? » asks Salome who has approached them.
« If they catch me? What wrong have I done? None. So I must not fear the Lord. And even if they catch me, I will not tremble. »
« Oh! the bold young lion! Will you not tremble? Are you not aware of how much they hate us? It's death, you know, if they catch us » says the Iscariot to frighten him.
« Then why do you want to go? Are you perhaps privileged with immunity? What have you done to be so? Tell me, and I will do it. »
Judas suddenly looks as if he were frightened and angry, but John's face is so clear that the traitor is reassured. He realises that there is no snare, no suspicion in those words, and he says: « I have not done anything. But I have some good friends near the Proconsul, so... »
« Well! Who wants to come, let him come, as it is not raining any longer. We are wasting time here and by midday it may rain again. Whoever wants to come should hurry up » says Thomas urging them.
« Shall I go, Master? » asks John.
« Yes, go. »
« There you are! It is always the same! He can, the others can. I cannot. It's always “no” for me! »
« I will try to find out about your mother » says John to calm him.
« And I will try as well. I am coming with you and Thomas » says the Zealot and he adds: « My old age will check the young ones, Master. And I know those of Kerioth very well. If I see any, I will approach them. I will bring you news of your mother, Judas. Be good! Be quiet! It is Passover, Judas. We all feel the peace of this festivity, the joy of this solemnity. Why do you alone want to be so upset, so sullen, so discontented, enjoying no peace? Passover is the passage of God... Passover, for us Hebrews, is the feast of our liberation from a hard yoke. The Most High God delivered us. Now, as the ancient event cannot be repeated, its symbol remains, individual... Passover: liberation of hearts, purification, baptism, if you wish, with the blood of the lamb, so that enemy powers may no longer injure those who are marked with it. It is so beautiful to begin the new year with this feast of purification, of liberation, of adoration of God our Saviour... Oh! excuse me, Master! I have spoken when I should have kept quiet, because You are here to correct our hearts... »
« Just what I was thinking, too, Simon. The very same thing: that I have two masters now instead of one, and they seemed too many » says the Iscariot angrily.
Peter... oh! Peter this time cannot control himself and he flies into a rage saying: « And if you don't stop this at once you will have a third one and that will be me. And I swear to you that my arguments will be more persuasive than words. »
« Would you beat a companion? After so many efforts to keep the old Galilean to the bottom, your true nature is surfacing again, is that so? »
« It is not surfacing. It has always been on the surface, and very clearly I use no duplicity. The trouble is that with wild jackasses such as you are, there is only one argument to break them in: a good flogging. You ought to be ashamed of trespassing on His kindness and our patience! Come, Simon! Come, John! Come, Thomas! Goodbye, Master. I am going away as well, because if I stay... no, thank God, I will no longer be able to check myself. » and Peter grasps his mantle, that was on a seat, and puts it on in a hurry, and he is so angry that he does not realise he has put it on upside-down, so that John has to tell him of his mistake and help him to put it on right. And he goes away headlong, stamping his feet on the ground, to discharge some of his wrath thus. He looks like a furious young bull.
The others... oh! the others are like open books in which one can read what is written. Bartholomew raises his thin face of an old man towards the sky still cloudy, and he seems to be studying the winds, in order not to have to study faces: Jesus' is in fact too sorrowful, the Iscariot's too perfidious. Matthew and Philip look at Thaddeus whose eyes, so similar to Jesus', are flashing with wrath, and both have the same thought: they take him between them and push him away, towards the inner lane leading to Simon's house, saying: « Your mother wanted us to do that job. You had better come, too, James of Zebedee » and they drag away also Salome's son. Andrew looks at James of Alphaeus and James looks at him: two faces reflecting the same contained sufferings, and as they do not know what to say, they take each other's hand like two boys and move away sadly. Salome is the only woman disciple there and she dare not move or speak, neither can she make up her mind to go away, as if she wished to check other words of the worthless apostle with her presence. Fortunately none of Lazarus' family are present. The Blessed Virgin is also absent.
Judas sees that he is alone with Jesus and Salome. As he does not want to be with them, he turns his back on them and goes away towards the jasmin bower.
Jesus looks at him go away. He watches him. He notices that, after pretending to sit down in the bower, Judas slips away on the quiet from the rear side and disappears among the hedges of roses, laurels and boxes, that separate the true garden from the beds of spices, where the beehives are. It is possible to go out there through one of the secondary gates open in the walls of the large garden, a real park, two sides of which border on very tall hedges, as wide as an avenue, with openings facing gates here and there to give access to the meadows, fields, orchards and olive-groves, as well as Simon's house, that link the garden to the farms, uniting and separating them at the same time, while on the other two sides there are powerful massive walls opening on to two roads, a secondary one and a main one, that form a crossroad and the former, cutting through Bethany, runs towards Bethlehem.
Jesus straightens Himself up as much as possible and changes position as much as is necessary, to see what the Iscariot is doing, and His eyes are blazing.
Mary Salome sees them and she understands, although she cannot see, not being very tall, she realises what is happening towards the end of the park and she whispers: « Lord, have mercy on us! » Jesus hears her whisper and He turns round for a moment to look at His good simple disciple. She may have had a thought of motherly pride when she asked for a place of honour for her sons, but at least she was in a position to do so as they are good apostles and she humbly accepted the reproof of the Master and she did not feel offended by it, neither did she go away from Him, on the contrary she became more humble and more obliging towards the Master, Whom she follows like His shadow, whenever she can, and Whose least expressions she studies in order to be able, whenever possible, to forestall His wishes and give Him joy. And even now the good and humble Salome tries to comfort the Master and to appease the suspicion that makes Him suffer, saying: « See? He is not going far. He left his mantle there and he has not picked it up. He may go for a walk in the meadows to give vent to his humour... Judas would never go to town unless he were properly dressed... »
« He would go there even if he were naked, if he wanted. In fact... Look! Come here! »
« Oh!! He is trying to open the gate! But it is locked! He is calling one of the servants of the beehives! »
Jesus shouts in a loud voice: « Judas! Wait for Me! I must speak to you » and He is about to set out.
« For pity's sake, Lord!! I am going to call Lazarus... Your Mother... Don't go by Yourself! »
Although Jesus is walking fast, He turns round a little and says: « I order you not to do so. On the contrary, be quiet. With everybody. If they ask you about Me: I have gone out with Judas for a short walk. If the women disciples come, let them wait. I shall soon be back. »
Salome does not react, neither does the Iscariot. The former near the house, the latter near the wall, they both remain where Jesus has stopped them and they look at Him: Salome sees Him move away, Judas sees Him come towards him.
« Open the door, Jonah. I am going out for a moment with My disciple. And if you are going to stay here, you need not close it behind us. I shall soon be back » He kindly says to the peasant servant who had remained dumbfounded with the big key in his hand.
The heavy iron door squeaks in being opened, as the key screeches in working the lock.
« A door that is seldom opened » says the servant smiling. « Eh! You have got rusty! When one is idle one gets spoiled... Rust, dust... urchins... The same happens to us... if we do not always work on our souls! »
« Well said, Jonah! Your thought is a wise one. Many rabbis would envy you it. »
« Oh! it's my bees that suggest them to me... and Your words. It is really Your words. Then the bees also make me understand them. Because everything has a voice, if one can understand it. And I say: if the bees obey the order of Him Who created them, and they are little insects which I do not know where they may have brains and hearts, and I, who have heart, brains and soul, and I hear the Master, shall I not be able to do what they do, working all the time to do what the Master says we must do, and thus make my soul beautiful and bright, without any rust, dust, mud and straw, and stones and other snares placed in the device by hellish enemies? »
« You are quite right. Imitate your bees, and your soul will become a rich beehive full of precious virtues, and God will come to enjoy it. Goodbye, Jonah. Peace be with you. »
He lays His hand on the grey-haired head of the servant, who has stooped in front of Him, and He goes out on the road towards meadows of red clover as beautiful as thick deep-red and crimson carpets. Bees are flying on them from flower to flower sparkling and humming.
When they are far enough from the wall so that no one in Lazarus' garden might hear them, Jesus says: « Did you hear that servant? He is a peasant. It is already a great thing if he can read a few words... And yet... His words could have been uttered by My lips and My speech would not have seemed to be foolish. He feels that one must watch to ensure that the enemies of the spirit do not spoil the spirit... I... am keeping you near Me because of such enemies, and that is why you hate Me! I want to defend you from yourself and from them, and you hate Me. I am handing you the means to save yourself, and you can still do it, and you hate Me. I will tell you once again: go away, Judas. Go far away. Do not go to Jerusalem. You are not well. It is not a lie to say that you are so ill that you cannot take part in the celebration of Passover. You will keep the supplementary one. The Law allows people to keep the supplementary Passover, when diseases or other grave reasons prevent them from keeping the solemn one. I will ask Lazarus – he is a prudent friend and will not ask any questions – to take you beyond the Jordan today. »
« No. I told You many times to reject me. You did not want to. Now I do not want it. »
« You do not want? You do not want to be saved? You take no pity on yourself? On your mother? »
« You should say to me: “Have you no mercy on Me?” You would be more sincere. »
« Judas, My unhappy friend, I am not begging you on My behalf. I am begging you for your own sake. Look! We are alone. You and I alone. You know who I am, I know who you are. It is the last moment of grace still granted to us to prevent your ruin... Oh! do not sneer so satanically, My friend. Do not laugh at Me as if I were mad because I say: “your ruin” and not Mine. Mine is not a ruin. Yours is... We are alone, you and I, and above us there is God... God Who does not hate you yet, God Who is witness to this supreme struggle between Good and Evil competing for your soul. Above us there is the Empyrean watching us. The Empyrean that will soon be filled with saints. They are already exulting, in their place of expectation, because they feel that joy is coming... Judas, your father is among them... »
« He was a sinner. He is not there. »
« He was a sinner, but not a damned soul. So joy is approaching him as well. Why do you want to grieve him in his joy? »
« He is past grief. He is dead. »
« No. He is not past the grief of seeing you guilty, you... oh! do not make Me say that word!... »
« Yes, say it! I have been saying it to myself for months! I am damned. I know. Nothing can be changed. »
« Everything! Judas, I am weeping. The last tears of the Man... do you want to have them shed?... Judas, I beg you. Consider, My friend: Heaven is assenting to My prayers, and you, and you... Will you let Me pray in vain? Consider who is praying in front of you: the Messiah of Israel, the Son of the Father... Judas, listen to Me... Stop, while you can!... »
« No! »
Jesus covers His face with His hands and drops to the ground at the border of the meadow. He weeps noiselessly, but bitterly. His shoulders are shaken by His deep sobbing...
Judas looks at Him, there, at his feet, heart-broken, weeping, and out of the desire to save him... and he is moved for a moment. Laying aside the hard tone of a real demon he had previously, he says: « I cannot go away... I have given my word... »
Jesus raises His distressed face and interrupts him saying: « To whom? To whom? To some poor men! And you are worried about them, about being considered dishonourable by them? And had you not given yourself to Me for three years? And you are concerned about the comments of a handful of evil-doers and not about God's judgement? Oh! But what must I do, Father, to revive in him the will not to sin? » And He lowers His head again, oppressed with sorrow, distressed... He already looks like the Jesus suffering in the agony of Gethsemane.
Judas feels sorry for Him and says: « I will stay. Do not suffer thus! I will stay... Help me to stay! Defend me! »
« Always! Always, if you only wish so. Come. There is no sin that I do not excuse and forgive. Say: “I want”. And I shall have redeemed you... » Jesus, standing up, has taken him in His arms. But if the tears of Jesus-God fall on Judas' head, Judas' lips remain closed. He does not say the requested word. He does not even say « forgive me » when Jesus whispers through his hair: « You can perceive whether I love you! I should have reproached you! I kiss you. I should be entitled to say to you: “Ask your God to forgive you” and I only ask you to have the will to be forgiven. You are so ill! You cannot ask much of a person who is very ill. Of all the sinners who came to Me I asked absolute repentance in order to be able to forgive them. I am asking you, My friend, only the will to repent and then... I will act. »
Judas is silent...
Jesus lets him go saying: « Stay here at least until the day after the Sabbath. »
« I will stay... Let us go back to the house. They will notice our absence. The women are perhaps waiting for You. They are better than I am and You must not neglect them because of me. »
Do you not remember the parable of the lost sheep? You are the lost sheep... They, the women disciples, are the good sheep closed in the fold. They are in no danger, even if I should have to search all day for your soul to take it back to the fold... »
« Of course! Of course! All right! I will go back to the fold! I will shut myself up in Lazarus library and read there. I don't want to be disturbed. I don't want to see anybody or hear anything. So... You will not suspect me all the time. And if the Sanhedrin is informed of anything that takes place, You will have to look for the snakes among Your favourite ones. Goodbye! I am going in through the main gate. Don't be afraid. I will not run away. You can come and check whenever You wish » and turning his back on Him he strides away.
Jesus, a tall white figure in His linen tunic at the edge of the green-red meadow, lifts up His arms towards the clear sky and raises His very sad face and soul to His Father moaning: « Oh! Father! Will You accuse Me of omitting anything that may save him? You know that I am struggling to prevent his crime for the sake of his soul, not for My life... Father! Oh! Father! I beg You! Hasten the hour of darkness, the hour of the Sacrifice, because it is too cruel for Me to live near the friend who does not want to be redeemed... The greatest grief! » and Jesus sits down on the thick, tall, beautiful clover. He bends His head on His raised knees clasped in His arms and He weeps... Oh! I cannot look at those tears! In distress, in solitude, in... the conviction that Heaven will do nothing to comfort Him, and that He must suffer that grief, they are already too similar to those of Gethsemane. And that grieves me too much...
Jesus weeps for a long time in the solitary silent place. Witnesses of His tears the golden-hued bees, the scented clover that waves slowly in a stormy wind, and the clouds that early in the morning were like a thin net in the blue sky and are now thick, dark, piled up threatening more rain.
Jesus stops weeping. He raises His head listening... The noise of wheels and harness-bells comes from the main road. Then the noise of the wheels stops, whilst that of the harness-bells continues. Jesus says: « Let us go! The women disciples... They are faithful... Father, let it be done as You wish! I offer You the sacrifice of this desire of Mine as Saviour and Friend. It is written! He wanted it. That is true. However, Father, let Me continue My work on his behalf until it is all over. And even from this moment I say to You: Father, when I pray for sinners, a victim having no power to take direct action, Father, take My sufferings and force Judas' soul with them. I am aware that I am asking what Justice cannot grant. But Mercy and Love have come from You, and You love what comes from You and is One Thing only with You, God One and Trine, Holy and Blessed. I will give Myself to My beloved ones as food and drink. So, Father, are My Blood and My Flesh to become condemnation for one of them? Father, help Me! A germ of repentance in that heart!...
Father, why are You going away? Are You already moving away from Your Word Who is praying? Father, the hour has come. I know. May Your blessed will be done! But leave Your Son, Your Christ, in Whom, by Your inscrutable decree the certain clairvoyance of the future is diminishing in this hour – and I do not say to You that this is cruelty, but it is Your compassion for Me – leave Me the hope that I may still save him. Oh! Father! I know. I have known since I am. I have known since, not only as Word, but as Man, I came here to the Earth. I have known since I met the man in the Temple... I have always been aware of it... But now... Oh! it seems to Me – through Your great pity, Most Holy Father! – it seems to Me but a dreadful dream, brought about by his behaviour, but not something ineluctable... and that I may still hope, always, because infinite is My suffering and infinite will be the Sacrifice, and may it be of some benefit also for him... Ah! I am raving! It is the Man Who wants to hope so! The God Who is in the Man, the God made Man cannot delude Himself! The mist that for a moment was concealing the abyss from Me is dissipating... the abyss already open to swallow the man who preferred Darkness to the Light... It was Your pity that concealed it! It is Your pity that shows Me it now that You have recomforted Me. Yes, Father, also that! Everything! And I will be Mercy until the end, because such is My Essence. »
He is still praying, silently, His arms stretched out crosswise, and His distressed face calms down more and more assuming the appearance of solemn peace. It becomes almost bright with the light of interior joy, although there is no smile on His closed lips. It is the joy of His spirit, in communion with His Father, a joy that leaks out from the veils of the flesh and cancels the marks that grief had impressed and painted on the Master's face, which had become the more emaciated and spiritualised, the more He advanced towards sorrow and sacrifice. In these last mortal days the face of Christ is no longer a face of the Earth, and no artist will ever be able to give us that face of Man God carved into supernatural beauty by perfect total love and sorrow, even if the Redeemer should show Himself to the artist.
Jesus is once again at the gate of the enclosure, He locks it and proceeds towards the house. The servant met previously sees Him and runs to take the big key that Jesus is holding in His hand. He goes on. He meets Lazarus who says: « Master, the women have come. I took them into the white hall because in the library there is Judas, who is reading and is not well. »
« I know. Thank you for the women. Are there many? »
« Johanna, Nike, Eliza and Valeria with Plautina and another friend or freedwoman, I do not know, whose name is Marcella, and an old woman who says she knows You: Anne of Meron, then Annaleah and there is another young girl with her, named Sarah. They are with the women disciples, Your Mother and my sisters. »
« And these voices of children? »
« Anne has brought her grandchildren, Johanna has her children and Valeria her daughter. I took them into the inner court-yard... »