22nd March 1947.
The beautiful hall – one of those used for banquets, with its white walls and ceiling, its heavy white curtains, the white tapestry covering seats and the sheets of mica or alabaster as window panes and skylights – is full of the chatter of the women. Some fifteen women talking to one another is no bagatelle. But as soon as Jesus appears at the door, moving the heavy curtain aside, there is dead silence while they all stand up and bow with the utmost respect.
« Peace to all of you » says Jesus with a kind smile... Of the storm of grief that has just subsided there is no trace on His face, which is clear, bright, peaceful, as if nothing grievous had happened or were about to happen with His full knowledge.
« Peace to You, Master. We have come. You sent word: “with as many women as there are with Johanna”, and I obeyed You. Eliza was staying with me. I have kept her with me these days. And also this woman, who says is Your follower, was with me. She had come looking for You, because it is well known that I am Your happy disciple. And Valeria also is with me in my house since I came to my mansion. With Valeria there was Plautina, who had come to visit her. And this woman was with them. Valeria will speak to You about her. Annaleah came later, when she heard of Your wish, with this young girl, who I think is a relative of hers. We arranged to come and we did not forget Nike. It is so beautiful to feel that we are all sisters in one faith only in You... And to hope that also those who are still only at a natural love for the Master may rise higher, as Valeria did » says Johanna looking stealthily at Plautina who... has remained at the natural love...
« Diamonds form slowly, Johanna. Ages of hidden fire are required... One must not be in a hurry, never... And one must never lose heart, Johanna... »
« And when a diamond becomes... ashes again? »
« It is an indication that it was not yet a perfect diamond. Patience and fire are still required. One has to start all over again, hoping in the Lord. What appears to be a failure the first time often becomes a triumph the second time. »
« Or the third or the fourth time, and even more. I was a failure many times, but at last You triumphed, Rabboni! » says Mary of Magdala in her harmonious voice from the end of the hall.
« Mary is happy every time she can humble herself by remembering her past... » says with a sigh Martha, who would like that remembrance cancelled in every heart.
« Truly, sister, it is so! I am happy remembering my past. But not to humble myself, as you say, but to rise higher, urged by the memory of the evil done and by gratitude to Him Who saved me. And also so that whoever hesitates for himself or for some person dear to him may pluck up courage and arrive at that faith that my Master says would be able to shift mountains. »
« And you have it! You blessed woman! You do not know what fear is... » says with a sigh Johanna who is so meek and timid, and she appears to be even more so if one compares her with the Magdalene.
« No, I do not know what fear is. It has never been in my human nature. Now that I belong to my Saviour, I am not even aware of it in my spiritual nature. Everything has served to increase my faith. Can one who was revived as I was and who saw one's brother rise from the dead, be in doubt about anything? Nothing will ever make me doubt again. »
« As long as God is with you, that is, the Rabbi is with you... But He says that He will soon leave us. What will our faith then be? That is, your faith, because I have not yet gone beyond human frontiers... » says Plautina.
« His material presence or absence will not impair my faith. I will not be afraid. I am not being proud. I know myself. If the threats of the Sanhedrin should come true... I will not be afraid... »
« You will not be afraid of what? That the Just One is just? I shall not be afraid of that either. We believe that of many wise people whose wisdom we enjoy, I should say that we nourish ourselves with the life of their thought, ages after their death. But if you... » says Plautina insistently.
« I will not even fear for His death. Life cannot die. Lazarus, who was a poor man, rose from the dead... »
« He did not rise by himself, but because the Master evoked his spirit from the beyond. A deed that only the Master can accomplish. But who will evoke the Master's spirit, if the Master is killed? »
« Who? He. That is, God. God made Himself by Himself, God can raise Himself by Himself. »
« God... yes... according to your faith God made Himself by Himself. It is already difficult for us to admit that, as we know that one god descends from another through divine love. »
« Through obscene unreal love affairs, you should say » says Mary of Magdala rashly, interrupting her.
« As you wish... » says Plautina in a conciliatory tone, and is about to end her sentence, but Mary of Magdala precedes her once again and says: « But the Man, you mean, cannot raise Himself by Himself. But as He made himself Man by Himself, because nothing is impossible to the Saint of Saints, so He will by Himself order Himself to rise from the dead. You cannot understand. You do not know the figures of our history of Israel. He and His wonders are in them. And everything will take place as it was stated.
I believe in advance, Lord. I believe everything. That You are the Son of God and the Son of the Virgin, that You are the Lamb of salvation, that You are the Most Holy Messiah, that You are the universal Redeemer and King, that Your Kingdom will have no end or boundary, and finally that death will not prevail over You, because life and death were created by God and are subject to Him like all other things. I believe. And if deep will be my sorrow at seeing You disregarded and despised, greater will be my faith in Your eternal Being. I believe. I believe in everything that has been said about You. I believe in everything You say. I believed also with regard to Lazarus, I was the only one who obeyed and believed, the only one who reacted against those men and those situations that wanted to persuade me not to believe. Only at the end, towards the end of the trial, I became confused... But the trial had lasted so long... and I thought that not even You, blessed Master, could approach the golal after so many days from his death... Now... I would not doubt any more even if, instead of days, a sepulchre were to be opened to give back its prey after it had been in its belly for months. Oh! my Lord! I know who You are! Filth has recognised the Star! » Mary has squatted at His feet, on the marble floor, no longer vehement, but meek, with an expression of adoration on her face raised towards Jesus.
« Who am I? »
« He Who is. That is what You are. The other part, the human person, is the garment, the necessary garment that has been put on Your brightness and Your holiness, so that it might come among us to save us. But You are God, my God. » And she throws herself on the floor kissing Jesus' feet, and she seems to be unable to remove her lips from the toes protruding from the long linen tunic. « Stand up, Mary. Always hold on fast to your faith. And raise it like a star in stormy hours so that hearts may stare at it and may hope, at least that... ».
He then turns round to all the women disciples and says:
« I sent for you because during the next days we shall not be able to be together very often and in peace. The world will be around us. And the secrets of hearts are more modest than the secrets of bodies. Today I am not the Master. I am the Friend. Not all of you have hopes or fears to tell Me. But you all liked to see Me once again in peace. And I sent for you, you cream of Israel and of the new Kingdom, and you, cream of the Gentiles, who are leaving the place of darkness to enter Life. Keep this in your hearts for the following days: that the honour given by you to the persecuted King of Israel, to the accused Innocent, to the Master Who is not listened to, mitigates My sorrow.
I ask you to be closely united, you of Israel, you who have come to Israel, you who are coming towards Israel. Assist one another. Let those whose spirits are stronger help the weaker ones. And let the wiser ones succour those who know little or nothing at all, and are only craving for fresh wisdom, so that their human desire may evolve into a supernatural desire of Truth, through the care of their more advanced sisters. Be merciful to one another. Let those, whom ages of divine law have formed in justice, be indulgent to those whom Gentilism has brought up... differently. Moral habits cannot be changed between today and tomorrow but in exceptional cases, when a divine power intervenes to work the change in order to favour a very good will. Do not be surprised if in the disciples coming from other religions you notice stoppages in progressing and returns to the old ways. Bear in mind Israel herself in her behaviour towards Me, and do not expect from the Gentile ladies the docility and virtue that Israel was not able to have and did not want to have towards the Master. Consider yourselves sisters, sisters that destiny has gathered round Me, in this last period of My mortal life... Do not weep! And it has gathered you taking you from different places, thus with different languages and habits, which make it rather difficult to understand one another from a human point of view. But, really, love has one language only, which is this: to do what the beloved one teaches and do it to give him honour and joy. Thus you can all understand one another and let those who understand more help the others to understand.
Then... in future, in a more or less remote future and under different circumstances, you will be separated again through the regions of the Earth, and some will go back to their native countries, and some will go into an exile that will not be hard to bear, because those who will undergo the trial will already have reached that perfection of truth, that will make them understand that the exile from the true Fatherland does not consist in being led here or there. Because Heaven is the true Fatherland. Because those who are in the truth are in God and have God within themselves. They are already in the Kingdom of God, and the Kingdom of God knows no frontiers and those who from Jerusalem are taken, for instance, to Iberia, or to Pannonia, or to Gaul, or to Illyria, do not leave that Kingdom. You will always be in the Kingdom if you always remain in Jesus, or if you come to Jesus. I have come to gather all the sheep. Those of the paternal flock, those belonging to other people, and also those without any shepherd, the wild ones, the ones that are more lost than wild, sunken into such obscure darkness as not to allow them to see not even a iota, not only of divine law but also of moral law. Unknown people who are expecting to become known in the hour destined by God for that, and who will then be part of the flock of Christ. When? Oh! years and ages are alike when compared with the Eternal!
But you will anticipate those who will go with future Sheperds to gather wild sheep and lambs in Christian love in order to lead them to divine pastures. And let these places be your first proving ground. The young swallow that raises its wings to fly does not throw itself into great adventures all at once. It tries to fly first from the eaves gutter to the vine shading the terrace. Then it goes back to its nest and it dashes once again to the terrace beyond its own, and goes back. And then again farther away... until it feels the nerves of its wings become strong and its bearings safe, then it plays with wind and space and it goes and comes twittering, chasing insects, skimming waters, rising towards the sun, until at the right time it safely opens its wings for the long flight towards warmer zones rich in new food. And although it is so small, it is not afraid to fly across seas, a spot of burnished steel lost between the two blue immensities of sea and sky, a spot moving on fearlessly, whereas previously it was afraid of the short flight from the eaves gutter to the leafy vine-shoot, a nervous perfect body that cleaves the air like an arrow and it is not known whether it is the air that lovingly carries this little king of the air, or it is the little king of the air that lovingly furrows its domains. Seeing its safe flying that exploits winds and atmospheric density to go faster, who would think of its first clumsy fluttering frightened flight? The same will become of you. Let it become so of you. Of you and of all the souls that will imitate you. One does not become skilful all of a sudden. One must not feel disheartened because of the first defeats, or proud because of the first victories. The first defeats serve to do better the next time. The first victories serve as spur to do even better in future and to convince one that God helps good wills.
Be always subject to the Shepherds with regard to what is obedience to their advice and orders. Be always like sisters to them with regard to what is help in their mission and support in their work. Tell also those who are not here today. Tell those who will come in future.
And now and always be like daughters to My Mother. She will guide you in everything. She can guide girls as well as widows, wives as well as mothers, as She has become aware of all the consequences of every condition through Her own experience as well as through supernatural wisdom. Love one another and love Me in Mary. You will never fail because She is the Tree of Life, the living Ark of God, the form of God in Whom Wisdom made Its Seat and Grace became Flesh.
And now that I have spoken to you in general, now that I have seen you all, I wish to listen to My women disciples and to those who are the hope of future women disciples. Go. I am staying here. Let those who wish to speak to Me come to Me. Because never again shall we have a moment of inner peace as the present one. »
The women consult with one another. Eliza goes out with Mary and Mary Clopas. Mary of Lazarus listens to Plautina who wishes to convince her of something, but Mary does not seem to agree, as she shakes her head resolutely in denial and then goes away leaving her interlocutress, and when passing by she takes her sister and Susanna with her saying: « We shall have time to speak to Him. Let us leave these disciples with Him, as they have to go away. »
« Come, Sarah. We shall come last » says Annaleah.
They all go out slowly with the exception of Mary Salome who remains undecided at the door.
« Come here, Mary. Close the door and come here. What are you afraid of? » Jesus says to her.
« The fact is... that I am always with You. Did You hear Mary of Lazarus? »
« I did. But come here. You are the mother of My first disciples. What do you want to tell Me? »
The woman approaches Him with the slowness of a person that has something great to ask and does not know whether he can do it.
Jesus encourages her with a smile and saying: « What? Are you going to ask Me for a third place for Zebedee? But he is wise. He certainly did not send you to tell me that! So speak up... »
« Ah! Lord! It is just of that place that I wanted to speak to You. You... speak in a way... As if You were about to leave us. And before doing that I would like You to tell me that You have really forgiven me. I have no peace thinking that I disgusted You. »
« Are you still thinking of that? Do you not think that I love you as much as before and more than before. »
« Oh! yes, Lord. But do tell me the word of forgiveness, that I may tell my husband how good You have been to me. »
« But there is no need for you, woman, to tell a fault that has been forgiven. »
« Of course I will tell him! Because, see? Zebedee, seeing how much You love his sons, may fall into the same sin as mine and... if You leave us, who would absolve him? I would like all of us to enter Your Kingdom. Also my man. And I do not think that I am being unjust by wishing this. I am a poor woman and I know nothing about books. But when Your Mother reads or tells us women passages of the Scriptures, She often speaks of the chosen women of Israel or of passages that refer to us. And in the Proverbs, that I like so much, it is stated that the heart of the husband has confidence in his strong wife. I think that it is right that a woman should give such confidence to her husband, also with regard to celestial matters. If I procure a safe place for him in Heaven, preventing him from sinning, I think I do a good thing. »
« Of course, Salome. You have really opened your mouth to words of wisdom and there is the law of goodness on your tongue. Go in peace. You have more than My forgiveness. Your sons, according to the book that you like so much, will proclaim you blessed, and your husband will sing your praises in the Fatherland of the just. Go tranquilly. Go in peace. Be happy. » He blesses and dismisses her.
Salome goes away joyfully.
Old Anne of the house near Merom goes in holding by the hands two little boys and with a shy pale little girl following her with lowered head, and already acting as a little mother guiding a little boy who can hardly walk.
« Oh! Anne! So you also wish to speak to Me? And your husband? »
« He is ill, Lord. Ill. Very ill. I am afraid I shall not see him alive again... » Tears stream down her senile wrinkled face.
« And you are here? »
« Yes, I am here. He said: “I cannot go. You may go for Passover and see our sons...” » Her weeping increases and prevents her from speaking.
« Why are you weeping thus, woman? Your husband was right in saying: “Ensure that our sons are not against the Christ for their eternal peace.” Judas is a just man. He worries more about the welfare of his sons than about his own life and the comfort it would receive from your care. In the hours preceding the death of the just, the veils are lifted and the eyes of the spirit see the Truth. But your sons do not listen to you, woman. And what can I do if they reject Me? »
« Do not hate them, Lord! »
« Why should I? I will pray for them. And I will impose My hands on these children, who are innocent, to keep away from them the hatred that kills. Come to Me. What is your name? »
« Judas, like my father's father » says the biggest boy, and the smallest one, who is held by the hand by his sister, hops and shouts: « I, I, Judas! »
« Yes, they have honoured their father when giving names to their children. But not in other matters... » says the old woman.
« His virtues will revive in these children. Little girl, come here as well. Be as good and wise as the woman who brought you here. »
« Oh! Mary is good. As I do not want to be alone, I will take her to Galilee with me. »
Jesus blesses the children resting His hand for some time on the head of the little girl who is good. He then asks: « Are you not asking anything for yourself, Anne? »
« That I may find my Judas alive and that I may have the strength to tell a lie saying that his sons... »
« No. Do not lie. Never. Not even to let a dying man die in peace. You will say to Judas: “The Master says that He blesses you and with you He blesses your blood.” Also these innocent children are his blood and I have blessed them. »
« But if he asks whether our sons... »
« You will say: “The Master has prayed for them.” Judas will rest in the certainty that My prayer is powerful, and the truth will be spoken without disheartening who is dying. Because I will pray also for your sons. You may go in peace, too, Anne. When are you leaving the town? »
« The day after the Sabbath, so as not to be stopped on the road because of the Sabbath. »
« All right. I am glad that you will be here after the Sabbath. Remain closely united to Eliza and Nike. Go. And be strong and faithful. »
The woman is almost at the door when Jesus calls her again saying: « Listen. Your little ones are with you for a long time, are they not? »
« They are always with me, while I am in town. »
« During these days... leave them at home, if you go out to follow Me. »
« Why, Lord? Are You afraid of a persecution? »
« Yes. And it is better if innocents do not hear and see... »
« But... what do You think will happen? »
« Go, Anne. Go. »
« Lord if... if they should do to You what is rumoured, my sons certainly... and then the house will be worse than the street... »
« Do not weep. God will provide. Peace be with you. »
The old woman goes away weeping.
For a short time no one goes in; then Johanna and Valeria go in together. They are panting. Johanna in particular. The other woman is pale and she sighs, but she is stronger.
« Master, Anne has frightened us. You told her... Oh! but it is not true! Chuza may be undecided, he may be... shrewd. But he is not a liar! He assured me that Herod has no intention of harming You... I do not know about Pontius... » and she looks at Valeria who is silent. She then resumes: « I was hoping to understand something from Plautina, but I did not understand much... »
« Nothing, you should say, except that she has not advanced by one step from the limit where she was. She did not speak to me either. But, if I am not wrong, the Roman indifference, which is always so strong when an event can have no repercussion on their Fatherland or on their egos, has badly benumbed those who once seemed so willing to rouse themselves. Their indifference, the indolence of their spirits, so... different by now from mine, separates us, as a cleft separates two clods previously united, more than the fact that I have approached the synagogue. They are happy. They are happy their way... And human happiness does not help to keep one's mind sharp. »
« And to awake the spirit, Valeria » says Jesus.
« It is so, Master. I... there is another matter... Did You see that woman who was with us? She belongs to my family. She is a widow and lonely, and she was sent by my relatives to convince me to go back to Italy. Oh! with many promises of future joys! They are joys that I no longer appreciate and thus they no longer seem to me to be such, and I despise them. I will not go to Italy. Here I have You, I have my little daughter whom You saved for me, and whom You taught me to love for her soul. I will not leave these places... Marcella... I brought her with me so that she would see You and understand that I am not staying here for a dishonourable love for a Hebrew – it is dishonourable for us – but because in You I found comfort in my grief of a repudiated wife. Marcella is not ill-natured. She has suffered and she understands. But she is still unable to understand my new religion. And she reproaches me a little, because she thinks that my religion is a chimera... It does not matter. If she wants, she will come where I already am. If not, I will stay here with Tusnilde. I am free. I am rich. I can do what I like. And not doing wrong, I will do what I want. »
« And when the Master will not be here? »
« His disciples will remain. Plautina, Lydia and even Claudia, who, after me, is the one who follows Your doctrine and honours You more, have not yet understood that I am no longer the woman that they knew and they still think they know. But I am sure that I know myself by now. So much so that I say that, if I lose much by losing the Master, I shall not lose everything, because faith will remain. And I shall remain where it was born. I do not want to take Fausta where nothing speaks of You. Here... Everything speaks of You, and You will certainly not leave us without a guide, as we have decided to follow You. Why should I, the Gentile, have such thoughts, while many of you, and you, too, look as if you were dismayed thinking of the day when the Master will not be among us? »
« Because, Valeria, they have become accustomed to ages of immobilism. They think that the Most High is there, in His House, above the invisible altar, that only the High Priest can see in solemn occasions. That has helped them to come to Me. They also could at last approach the Lord. But now they tremble at the thought of no longer having either the Most High in His glory, or the Word of the Father among them. It is necessary to be indulgent... And to raise one's spirit, Johanna. And I shall be in you. Remember that. I shall go away. But I will not leave you orphans. I will leave you a house of Mine: My Church. My word: the Gospel. My love will dwell in your hearts. And finally I will leave you a greater gift that will nourish you through Me and will make Me be among you and in you, not only spiritually. I will do that to give you comfort and strength. But now... Anne is very depressed because of the children... »
« She spoke to us about them distressingly... »
« Yes. I told her to keep them away from crowds. I say the same to you, Johanna, and to you, Valeria. »
« I will send Fausta with Tusnilde to Bether before the fixed time. They were to go after the Feast. »
« I will not part from the children. I will keep them at home. But I will tell Anne to let her children go there. That woman has wicked sons, but they will be honoured by my invitation and they will not contradict their mother. And I... »
« I would like... »
« What, Master? »
« I would like you to be much united these days. I will keep My Mother's sister with Me, Salome and Susanna and Lazarus' sisters. But I would like you to be united, much united. »
« But can we not come where You are? »
« During these days I shall be like lightning that flashes brightly and disappears. I will go up to the Temple in the morning and then I will go out of town. You could meet Me only every morning at the Temple. »
« Last year You stayed with me... »
« This year I will not stay in any house. I shall be like lightning that passes... »
« But Passover... »
« I wish to consume it with My apostles, Johanna. If your Master wants that, He certainly wants it for a just reason. »
« That is true... So I shall be alone... Because my brothers told me that they want to be free during these days, and Chuza... »
« Master, I am going away. It is pouring. I am going to the children as I hear them gathered under the porch » says Valeria and she prudently withdraws.
« There is a heavy rainfall also in your heart, Johanna. »
« That is true, Master. Chuza is so... strange. I no longer understand him. A continual contradiction. Perhaps he has friends who are influencing his mind... or he has been threatened... or he is afraid for his future. »
« He is not the only one. Nay, I can say that few, lonely and scattered here and there are those who, like Me, are not afraid for their future and they will be fewer and fewer. Be very kind and patient with him. He is only a man... »
« But he has received so much from God, from You, that he ought to... »
« He ought to! Yes. But who has not received from Me in Israel? I have helped friends and enemies, I have forgiven, cured, comforted, taught... You can see, and you will see more clearly how God only is immutable, how different are the reactions of men, and how often he who has received more is most willing to strike his benefactor. One will truly be able to say that he who shared My bread with Me raised his foot against Me. »
« I will not do that, Master. »
« You will not. But many will. »
« Is my husband perhaps one of them? If it were so, I would not go back to my house this evening. »
« No. He is not among them, this evening. But even if he were, your place is there. Because if he sins, you must not sin. If he wavers, you must support him. If he tramples on you, you must forgive him. »
« Oh! Trample on me, no! He loves me. But I would like him to be more resolute. He can influence Herod so much. I would like him to wring a promise from the Tetrarch in Your favour. As Claudia is trying to wring it from Pilate. But Chuza has only been able to bring me vague words of Herod... and to assure me that Herod only wishes to see You work some miracles and that he will not persecute You... He thus hopes to silence his remorse for John. Chuza says: “My king always says: `Even if Heaven ordered me, I would not lift my hand. I am too frightened'!” »
« He speaks the truth. He will not lift his hand against Me. Many in Israel will not do that, because many are afraid to condemn Me materially. But they will ask other people to do so. As if in the eyes of God there were a difference between him who strikes, urged by the will of the people, and him who makes one strike. »
« Oh! but the people love You! Great celebrations are being prepared for You. And Pilate does not want tumults. He has reinforced the troops these days. I hope so much that... I do not know what I hope, Lord. I hope and I despair. My thoughts are inconstant like the weather these days, with alternating sunshine and showers... »
« Pray, Johanna, and be at peace. Always bear in mind that you have never grieved your Master and that He remembers that. Go. »
Johanna, who has become pale and thin these last few days, goes out pensively.
And Annaleah's gentle face appears.
« Come in. Where is your companion? »
« In there, Lord. She wishes to go away, they are about to leave. Martha has understood my wish and she will keep me here until sunset tomorrow evening. Sarah is going home, to say that I am staying here. She would like Your blessing because... But I will tell You later. »
« Let her come. I will bless her. »
The young woman goes out and comes back with her companion, who prostrates herself before Jesus.
« Peace be with you and may the grace of the Lord lead you onto the road where He has led this girl who preceded you. Be affectionate to her mother and bless Heaven that spared you ties and sorrows in order to have you completely for Itself. One day, more than now, you will bless the Lord for being sterile through your own will. Go. »
The young woman goes away deeply moved.
« You have told her what she hoped to hear. Those words were her dream. Sarah always said: “I like your destiny, although it is so unknown in Israel. I want it, too. As I no longer have my father, and as my mother is as sweet as a dove, I am not afraid of not being able to follow it. But in order to be able to accomplish it and that it may be holy for me, as it is for you, I would like to hear it from His lips.” Now You have told her. And I have peace, too. Because at times I was afraid that I might have elated a heart... »
« Since when has she been with you? »
« Since... When the order of the Sanhedrin came I said to myself: “The Master's hour has come, and I must prepare myself to die.” Because I asked You, Lord... Today I am reminding You... If You are going to the Sacrifice, I, victim, with You. »
« Are you still firmly wanting the same thing? »
« Yes, Master. I could not live in a world where You were not... and I could not survive Your torture. I am so afraid for You! Many among us delude themselves... I don't! I feel that the hour has come. The hatred is too strong... And I hope that You will accept my offer. I have but my life to give You, because I am poor, as You know. My life and my purity. That is why I convinced my mother to send for her sister. That she may not remain alone... Sarah will be a daughter to her in my stead, and Sarah's mother will comfort her. Do not disappoint my heart, Lord! The world has no attraction for me. It is like a jail, in which many things disgust me terribly. It is perhaps because one who has been on the threshold of death has understood that what represents joy for many people is nothing but emptiness that does not satisfy. It is certain that I wish nothing but sacrifice... and to precede You... that I may not see the hatred of the world cast on my Lord like a weapon of torture, and to resemble You in sorrow... »
« Then we will lay the cut lily on the Altar where the Lamb is sacrificed. And it will become red with the Blood of redemption. And only the angels will be aware that Love was the sacrificer of a completely white ewe-lamb, and they will mark the name of the first victim of Love, of the first continuator of the Christ. »
« When, Lord? »
« Keep your lamp ready and put on your wedding dress. The Bridegroom is at the door. You will see His triumph, but not his death, but you will triumph with Him entering His Kingdom. »
« Ah! I am the happiest woman in Israel! I am a queen crowned with Your garland! May I, as such, ask a grace of You? »
« Which? »
« I loved a man, as You know. I no longer loved him as my spouse, because a greater love took possession of me, and he no longer loved me because... But I do not want to remember his past. I ask You to redeem that heart. May I? It is not a sin to remember, while I am on the threshold of Life, him whom I loved, to give him eternal Life, is it? »
« It is not a sin. It is to take love to the holy end of the sacrifice for the welfare of the beloved. »
« Bless me, then, Master. Absolve me of all my sins. Make me ready for the wedding and for Your coming. Because it is You Who is coming, my God, to take Your poor servant and make her Your bride. »
The girl, beaming with joy and health, stoops to kiss the Master's feet while He blesses her, praying over her. And the hall, as white as if it were all decorated with lilies, is really the worthy surroundings for this rite, and harmonises beautifully with its protagonists, who are young, lovely, clad in white, shining with angelical and divine love.
Jesus leaves the girl there, absorbed in her joy, and goes out quietly to go and bless the children, who with shouts of joy are rushing towards the wagon and they get into it happily, with the women who are going away. Eliza and Nike remain to take Annaleah back to town the following day. It has stopped raining and the sky, once the clouds are scattered, shows its clear blue, and the sunbeams descend to make the raindrops glitter. A splendid rainbow bends from Bethany over Jerusalem. The wagon goes away squeaking and goes out through the gate. It disappears.
Lazarus, who is near Jesus, at the end of the porch, asks: « Have the women disciples given You joy? » and he looks at the Master.
« No, Lazarus, they have not. All of them, with the exception of one, have given Me their sorrows and also some disappointments, if I could delude Myself. »
« The Roman ladies, You mean, have disappointed You? Have they spoken to You of Pilate? »
« No, they have not. »
« Then I must do so. I was hoping that they would speak to You about him. That is why I waited. Let us go into this solitary room. The women have gone with Martha to do their work. Mary, instead, is with Your Mother, in the other house. Your Mother has been so long with Judas, and now She has taken him with Her... Sit down, Master... I have been to see the Proconsul... I had promised and I did so. But Simon of Jonas would not be very satisfied with my mission!... Fortunately, Simon thinks no more about it. The Proconsul listened to me and he replied saying: “I? I should attend to Him? I have not even the most remote and slightest intention of doing that! I only say this: that not because of the Man – You, Master – but because of all the trouble that I get through Him, I have firmly decided not to have anything further to do with Him, for good or for evil. I wash my hands of it. I will reinforce the guard because I do not want disturbances. I will thus satisfy Caesar, my wife and myself. That is, the only ones of whom I take sacred care. And with regard to the rest I will not lift a finger. The quarrels of these people who are eternally dissatisfied. They create them, they enjoy them. With regard to the Man, I ignore Him as an evildoer, I ignore Him as a virtuous man, and I ignore Him as a wise man. And I want to ignore Him. And to continue to ignore Him. Unfortunately, although I want to ignore Him, I find it difficult to do so, because the leaders of Israel speak to Me about Him with their complaints, Claudia with her praises, the followers of the Galilean with their accusations against the Sanhedrin. If it were not for Claudia, I would have Him arrested and I would hand Him over to them so that they might settle the matter and we should not hear any more of it. The Man is the most peaceful subject in the whole Empire. But in spite of all that, He has given me so much trouble that I would like a solution...” With such humour, Master... »
« You mean that we cannot be safe. With men one is never safe... »
« But I am told that the Sanhedrin is calmer. They have not recalled the band, the disciples have not been annoyed. Those who went to town will soon be back and we shall hear... They will always contradict You. Will they take action?... The crowds love You too much to challenge them imprudently. »
« Shall we go along the road, towards those who are coming back? » suggests Jesus.
« Let us go. »
They go out into the garden and they are half way when Lazarus asks: « But when have You had something to eat? And where? »
« At the first hour. »
« But it is almost sunset. Let us go back. »
« No. I do not feel it is necessary. I prefer to go. I can see a poor child over there, clinging to the gate. Perhaps he is hungry. His clothes are worn-out and he is wan. I have been watching him for some time. He was already there when the wagon left, and he ran away not to be seen and probably driven away: Then he came back and has been looking insistently towards us and the house. »
« If he is hungry I had better go and get some food. Go on, Master. I will join You at once » and Lazarus runs back while Jesus quickens His pace towards the gate.
The boy, a sickly-looking irregular face, in which only the eyes shine beautiful and lively, looks at Him.
Jesus smiles at him and while opening the lock of the gate He says to him kindly: « Whom are you looking for, child? »
« Are You the Lord Jesus? »
« I am. »
« I am looking for You. »
« Who has sent you? »
« No one. But I want to speak to You. So many people come to speak to You. I have come, too. You satisfy so many people. Me, too. »
Jesus has lifted the latch and He asks the boy to remove his thin hands from the bars, so that He may open the gate. The boy steps aside and in doing so, as his discoloured garment moves on his distorted body, one can see that he is a poor rickety child, with his head sunken into his shoulders owing to the commencement of a hump, and his unsteady legs wide apart. A true little poor wretch. He is perhaps older than one might think considering his height, which is of a boy about six years old, whilst his face is already that of a man, somewhat flabby, with a protruding chin, almost the face of an old man.
Jesus bends to caress him and says: « So tell Me what you want. I am your friend. I am the friend of all children. » With how much loving kindness Jesus takes the emaciated face in His hands and kisses his forehead!
« I know. That is why I came. See how I am? I would like to die not to suffer any more. And not to belong any more to anybody... Since You cure so many people and raise the dead, let me die, as no one loves me and I shall never be able to work. »
« Have you no relatives? Are you an orphan? »
« I have a father. But he does not love me, because I am like this. He rejected my mother, he gave her the libel of divorce, and he drove me out with her, and my mother died. It was my fault, because I am so deformed. »
« But who are you living with? »
« When my mother died the servants took me back to my father. But he got married again and has lovely children, and he expelled me. He handed me over to some of his peasants. But they do what their master does, to find favour in his eyes... and they make me suffer. »
« Do they beat you? »
« No. But they take more care of animals than of me, and they sneer at me, and as I am often ill, they get bored with me. I am becoming more and more deformed, and their sons gibe at me and they make me fall. No one loves me. And last winter, when I had a bad cough and I needed medicines, my father would not spend any money and said that the only good thing I could do was to die. Since then I have been waiting for You to say to You: “Let me die”. »
Jesus takes him in His arms, turning a deaf ear to the words of the boy who says: « My feet are muddy and so is my tunic, because I sat on the road. I will dirty Your clothes. »
« Have you come from far? »
« From near the town, because the person who keeps me lives there. I saw Your apostles pass by. I know it was them, because the peasants said: “Here are the disciples of the Galilean Rabbi. But He is not with them.” And I came. »
« You are wet, My child. Poor boy! You will be taken ill again. »
« If You do not listen to me, I hope the disease at least will make me die! Where are You taking me? »
« Into the house. You cannot remain thus. »
Jesus goes back into the garden with the deformed boy in His arms and He shouts to Lazarus, who is coming: « Close the gate, please. I am carrying this little fellow, who is wet through, in My arms. »
« But who is he, Master? »
« I do not know. I do not even know his name. »
« Neither will I tell You. I don't want to be known. I want what I told You. My mother used to say to me: “Son, my poor son, I am dying, but I wish you died with me, because in the next world you would no longer be so deformed as to suffer in your bones and in your heart. Those who are born poor wretches have no sneering names there. Because God is good to innocent and unhappy people.” Will You send me to God? »
« The boy wants to die. It is a sad story... »
Lazarus, who is staring at the little boy, suddenly says: « But are you not the son of Nahum's son? Are you not the boy who always sits in the sun near the sycamore that is at the end of Nahum's olive-trees, and whom your father entrusted to his peasant Josiah? »
« Yes, I am. But why did you tell? »
« Poor boy! Not to scoff at you. Believe me, Master, the fate of a dog in Israel is not so sad as the fate of this boy. If he did not go back to the house from which he came, no one would look for him. The servants are like their masters. Heartless men. Joseph knows the story well. It caused a stir. But at the time I was so worried about Mary... But when the unhappy wife died and this boy came to Josiah's, I used to see him when I passed by... He was forsaken on the threshing-floor in the sun or the wind, because he began to walk very late... and always very little. I do not know how he was able to come so far today. I wonder how long he has been on the way! »
« Since Peter passed there. »
« And now? What shall we do? »
« I am not going back home. I want to die, to go away. Grace and mercy on me, Lord! »
They have gone into the house and Lazarus calls a servant and tells him to bring a blanket and to send Naomi to take care of the boy, who is blue with cold in his wet clothes.
« The son of one of Your fiercest enemies! One of the most wicked in Israel. How old are you, child? »
« Ten years. »
« Ten! Ten years of sorrow! »
« And they are enough! » says Jesus in a loud voice putting down the boy.
He is really misshapen! His right shoulder is higher than his left one, his chest protrudes excessively, his thin neck is sunken between his raised collar-bones, his bow-legs!...
Jesus looks at him pitifully while Naomi undresses him and dries him before enveloping him in a warm blanket. Lazarus also looks at him piteously.
« I will put him in my bed, Lord, after I have given him some warm milk » says Naomi.
« But are You not going to let me die? Have mercy on me! Why let me live to be like this and suffer so much? » and he concludes: « I was hoping in You, Lord. » There is reproach and disappointment in his voice.
« Be good. Be obedient, and Heaven will comfort you. » says Jesus and He bends to caress him once again, gently rubbing his poor deformed body with His hand.
« Take him to bed and watch over him. Then... we will see. » The boy is taken away while he weeps.
« And they are the ones who think they are holy! » exclaims Lazarus thinking of Nahum...
Peter is heard calling his Master...
« Oh! Master! Are You here? All is well. No trouble. Oh! on the contrary much calm. No one disturbed us at the Temple. John received good news. The disciples have been left in peace. People are waiting for You joyfully. I am glad. And what have You done, Master? »
They go away together speaking, while Lazarus goes where Maximinus calls him.