26th March 1947.
The weather has cleared up after the past wet days and a bright sun is shining in a very clear sky. The earth, cleaned by the rains, is as clear as the atmosphere. It is so fresh and clean that it seems to have been created only a few hours ago. Everything is bright and everything sings in the clear morning.
Jesus is walking slowly along the farthest paths in the garden. Only an odd gardener watches the solitary walk in the early morning hours. But no one disturbs the Master. On the contrary they withdraw silently to leave Him alone. Moreover it is the Sabbath, the day of rest, and the gardeners are not at work. But through a habit as long as their lives, they are out watching plants, beehives, flowers, for which there is no Sabbath, and which smell, rustle and buzz in the sunshine and in the April breeze.
Then the garden slowly becomes busy. The first to appear are the servants employed in the house, then the maidservants, then the apostles and the women disciples, and Lazarus is the last one. Jesus joins them greeting them with His usual salutation.
« How long have You been here, Master? » asks Lazarus, shaking some dew-drops off Jesus' hair.
« Since dawn. Your birds called Me to praise God. And I came out here. To contemplate God in the beauty of Creation is to honour Him and to pray with a moved spirit. And the Earth is beautiful. And in these early hours of the day, on a day like this one, it appears to us as fresh as it was in the first days of its existence. »
« Real Passover weather. And it has improved. It will last because it cleared up during the first phase of the moon with a favourable wind » states Peter.
« I am glad to hear that. Passover with rain is sad. »
« Even worse, it is detrimental to crops. The corn needs sunshine, now that harvest time is approaching » says Bartholomew.
« I am happy to be here at peace. This is the Sabbath and nobody will come. There will be no strangers among us » says Andrew.
« You are wrong. There is a guest, a young guest. He is still sleeping, Master. A soft bed and a full stomach are letting him have a long sleep. I went in to see him. Naomi is watching over him » says Lazarus.
« But who is he? When did he come? Who brought him? Because you are speaking as if it were a boy » ask both men and women.
« It is a boy. A poor boy. His grief brought him here. He was over there, clinging to the bars of the gate and looking at the house. And the Master brought him in. »
« We knew nothing about it... Why? »
« Because the child was in need of peace » replies Jesus, and His countenance is absorbed in deep thought as He concludes: « And in Lazarus' house they know how to be silent. »
A servant comes to tell Martha something and then withdraws, but comes back soon with other servants carrying trays with jugs of milk, cups, and bread with butter and honey. They all help themselves sitting on the seats scattered here and there.
Then they wish to gather once again round the Master and they ask Him to tell them a parable, « a beautiful parable » they say « as serene as this day of Nisan. »
« I will not tell you one, but two. Listen.
A man one day decided to light two lamps to honour the Lord on a feast day. So he took two vases of the same size, he put in each the same quantity and quality of oil, identical wicks, and he lit them at the same hour, so that they might pray while he worked, as he was allowed. After some time he went back and he saw that one lamp was burning brightly, whereas the other had only a very tiny flame, that hardly gave any light in the corner where the two lamps were burning. The man thought that the wick was perhaps faulty. He examined it. No, it was all right. But it would not burn so merrily as the other lamp, the flame of which fluttered like a tongue and seemed to whisper words, so merry it was, and it blazed so excitedly that it even had a light murmur. “This lamp is really singing the praises of the Most High Lord!” he said to himself. “Whereas this one! Look at it, soul of mine! It seems to find it burdensome to have to honour the Lord, as it does it with so little zeal!” and he went back to his work.
He went back again after some time. One flame had grown even taller, and the other had become even smaller and was burning the more quietly and still, the more the other vibrated shining. He went back a second time. The same situation. A third time, the same thing. But when he came the fourth time, he saw the room full of black evil-smelling smoke, and only one little flame shining through the veils of thick smoke. He went to the shelf where the lamps were, and he noticed that the one that was blazing so brightly previously was completely burnt out and black, and it had also soiled the white wall with its flame. The other one, instead, continued to honour the Lord with its constant light. He was about to remedy the defect when a voice sounded close to him: “Leave things as they are. But meditate on them, for they are a symbol. I am the Lord.” The man prostrated himself on the floor adoring and with great fear he dared to say: “I am foolish. Explain to me, o Wisdom, the symbol of the lamps, of which the one that seemed more active in honouring You has caused damage, whilst the other is persevering in giving light.”
“Yes, I will. The hearts of men are like those two lamps. There are those who at the beginning blaze, are bright and are admired by men, because their flames seem so perfect and constant. And there are those whose light is mild, does not attract anybody's attention and they seem to be tepid in honouring the Lord. But after the first or the second blaze, or the third one, between the third and the fourth one they cause damage and then they go out, still with injury, because their light was not reliable. They wanted to shine more for the sake of men than for the Lord's, and their pride consumed them in a very short time, amid a dark thick smoke that obscured also the air. The others had only one constant will: to honour God only; and without minding whether men praised them, they consumed themselves through a long clear flame, devoid of smoke and stench. Do imitate the constant light, for it is the only one pleasing to the Lord.”
The man raised his head... The air had been purified of the smoke and the star of the faithful lamp was now shining all alone, pure, steady, to honour God, making the metal of the lamp gleam as if it were pure gold. And he watched it shine, always unvaryingly, for hours and hours, until gently, without smoke or stench, without soiling itself, the flame went out in a flash and it seemed to ascend towards the sky to settle among the stars, having worthily honoured the Lord to the very last moment of its life.
I solemnly tell you that many are those who blaze at the beginning and attract the admiration of the world that can only see the surface of human actions, and then they perish being carbonised and staining with their pungent smoke. And I solemnly tell you that their blazing is not watched by God, because He sees it burn proudly for human purposes. Blessed are those who know how to imitate the second lamp and not to get carbonised, but to ascend to Heaven with the last throb of their constant love. »
« What a strange parable! But true! Lovely! I like it! I should like to know whether we are the lamps that rise to Heaven. » The apostles exchange their feelings.
Judas finds the opportunity to bite. And his biting words are addressed to Mary of Magdala and John of Zebedee: « Be careful, Mary, and you, John. You are the blazing lamps among us... Let no evil befall you! »
Mary of Magdala is about to reply to him but she bites her lips not to utter the words that had come up from her heart. She looks at Judas. She only looks at him. But her glare is such that Judas stops laughing and staring at her.
John, whose heart is meek but burning with love, kindly replies: « And that might happen, considering how incapable I am. But I confide in the help of the Lord, and I hope I shall be able to burn till the last drop and till the last moment to honour the Lord our God. »
« And the other parable? You promised two » says James of Alphaeus.
« Here is My second parable. It is about to come... » and He points at the door of the house, where the curtain covering it is swaying slowly in the breeze, and then is drawn by the hand of a servant to let old Naomi enter. She rushes to Jesus' feet saying: « But the boy is cured! He is no longer deformed! You cured him during the night. He had waked up and I was preparing the bath to wash him before putting on him the tunic and the garment I had sewn during the night using a tunic cast off by Lazarus. But when I said to him: “Come, child” and I removed the blankets, I saw that his little body, so misshapen yesterday, was no longer so. And I shouted. Sarah and Marcella rushed in, but they did not even know that the boy was sleeping in my bed and I left them there, and I ran here to tell You... »
Everybody's curiosity is roused. Questions, anxiety to see. Jesus calms the whispering with a gesture. He says to Naomi: « Go back to the boy. Wash him, dress him and bring him here to Me. » He then addresses His disciples:
« Here is the second parable, and it could be entitled: “True justice takes no vengeance and makes no distinction”. A man, nay, the Man, the Son of man, has friends and enemies. Few friends, many enemies. And He is aware of the hatred of His enemies, and knows their thoughts and wills, that will not hesitate in front of any action, no matter how horrible it may be. And in that respect they are stronger than His friends, in whom dismay or disappointment, or excess of confidence, act as battering-rams that shatter their fortress to pieces. This Son of man with many enemies and Who is reproached for many things that are not true, yesterday met a poor boy, the most desolate of all children, the son of one of His enemies. And the boy was deformed and crippled and asked for a strange grace: to die. Everybody asks honours and joy, health and life, of the Son of man. This poor boy asked to die in order not to suffer any longer. He has already experienced all the sorrows of the flesh and of the heart, because the man who procreated him, and who hates Me without any reason, also hates the unhappy innocent wretch whom he generated. And I cured him so that he may no longer suffer, and in addition to physical health he may achieve spiritual salvation. Also his young soul is diseased. The hatred of his father and the mockery of men have injured it and deprived it of love. He is left with faith only in Heaven and in the Son of man and he asks them to let him die. Here he is. Now you will hear him speak. »
The boy, tidy and clean in the new white woollen tunic that Naomi made for him quickly during the night, comes forward held by the hand by the old nurse. He is small, although, not being any longer bent and lame, he looks taller than he did yesterday. His face is irregular and somewhat flabby, typical of a child whom sorrow has made prematurely adult. But he is no longer deformed. His bare feet walk steadily on the floor with a step that no longer has the halting of lame people, and his shoulders, although very thin, are straight. His slender neck overhangs them and looks long as compared with yesterday, when it was sunken between his asymmetric clavicles.
« But... but this is the son of Annas of Nahum! What a wasted miracle! Do You think that by doing so You will make friends with his father and Nahum? You will make them more resentful! Because they were only looking forward to the death of this boy, the offspring of an unfortunate marriage » exclaims Judas of Kerioth.
« I do not work miracles to make friends, but out of pity for people and to honour My Father. I never make differences or calculations when I bend pitifully over human miseries. I do not revenge Myself on those who persecute Me... »
« Nahum will consider Your action a revenge. »
« I knew nothing about this boy. I do not even know his name. »
« They call him Mathusala or Mathusalem out of contempt. »
« My mother called me Shalem. She loved me. She was not bad like you and like those who hate me » says the boy, his eyes shining with the light of impotent wrath that men and animals have when they have been tormented too long.
« Come here, Shalem. Here with Me. Are you happy that you are cured? »
« Yes... but I preferred to die. I shall not be loved just the same. It would have been beautiful if my mother still lived. But thus!:.. I shall always be unhappy. »
« He is right. We met this boy yesterday. He asked us whether You were at Bethany, at Lazarus'. We wanted to give him some alms, because we thought that he was a beggar. But he did not want any. He was at the edge of a field... » says the Zealot.
« Did you not know him either? That is strange » says Judas of Kerioth.
« It is even more strange that you know such things so well. Are you forgetting that I was among persecuted people and then among lepers, until I came with the Master? »
« And are you forgetting that I am a friend of Nahum's, who is Annas's trustee? I never hid that from you. »
« Well! Well! That does not matter. What matters is to know what we are now going to do with this child. His father does not love him, that is true. But he always has rights over him. We cannot take his son away from him, thus, without telling him. We must be careful and not upset them, since they seem to be more favourably disposed towards us » says Nathanael.
Judas breaks into a sarcastic laugh, but gives no explanation of his laughing.
Jesus, Who has taken the boy between His knees, says slowly: « I will face Nahum... I shall not be hated more because of this. His hatred cannot increase. It is not possible. It is already complete. »
Annaleah, who has never spoken, all engrossed in thoughts that make her happy, says: « If I had stayed here, I would have liked to have him with me. I am young, but I have the heart of a mother... »
« Are you going away? When? » ask the women.
« Soon. »
« For good? And where are you going? Out of Judaea? »
« Yes. Far. Very far. For good. And I am so happy. »
« Other women will be able to do what You cannot do, if his father hands him over to us. »
« I will tell Nahum, if you wish so. He is the one who matters. More than the boy's father. I will, tell him tomorrow » promises Judas of Kerioth.
« If it were not the Sabbath... I would have gone to that Josiah to whom the boy was entrusted » says Andrew.
« To see whether they are distressed having lost him? » asks Matthew.
« I think they would be more upset if one of their bees got lost... » mumbles between his teeth Maximinus, who has approached them for some time.
The boy does not speak. He clings to Jesus, studying the faces around him with the sharp eyes often noticeable in sickly people and in those who have lived a miserable life. He seems to be scanning souls rather than faces, and when Peter asks him: « What do you think of us? » the boy replies by putting his hand into Peter's saying: « You are good », he then rectifies: « You are all good. But... I wish I had not been recognised. I am afraid... » and he looks at Judas of Kerioth.
« You are afraid of me, are you not? That I may speak to your father? I will certainly have to do so, if I have to ask him to leave you with us. But he will not take you away! »
« I know. But it is a different matter... I would like to be far, very far, where that woman is going... In my mother's country. There is a blue sea surrounded by completely green mountains. One can see it down at the bottom, with so many white sails flying on it and beautiful towns around it. And in the mountains there are so many grottoes where wild bees make very sweet honey. I have not had any honey since my mother died and I was entrusted to Josiah. Philip, Joseph, Eliza and the other children did get it. But I did not. If they had kept the vase of honey within reach I would have stolen it, as I was dying for some. But they kept it on the upper shelves, and I could not climb on the tables, as Philip did. I am longing so much for some honey! »
« Oh! poor child! I will go and bring you as much as you want! » says Martha, deeply moved, and she runs away.
« But where did his mother come from? » asks Peter.
« She had houses and land near Saphet. The only daughter, orphan and heiress, already old, ugly and somewhat lame. But very rich. Through the assistance of old Sadoc, who acted as go-between, the son of beloved Annas obtained her in marriage... A contract that was a truly base bargain, all calculation, no love. After selling the property of his wife, saying that it was too far from here, with the exception of a little house that previously belonged to the bailiff, who had received it as a gift from the old owner for himself and his heirs down to the fourth generation, he squandered all the money in unlucky speculations. But... I do not believe that. Because I know that he owns beautiful lands near the shore... and previously he did not have them... Then, after some years of married life, when the woman was already on the threshold of her decline, this son was born... and it was the pretence to expel the woman and take another one from the plain of Sharon, young, beautiful and rich... The divorced woman took refuge at the old bailiff's house and died there. I do not know why they did not keep this child. His father reckoned that he was dead » explains the Iscariot.
« Because John and Mary were dead, and their children went to work elsewhere as servants. And who was to keep me, if I was not their son and I was not fit to work? But Michael and Isaac were good, and also Esther and Judith were good. And they are good. When they come for feasts, they bring me gifts, but Josiah takes them off me to give them to his sons. »
« But they do not want you » replies Judas.
« Now that I am straight and strong they will want me. They are servants! As I said, they could not say to their master: “Take on this diseased cripple”. But now they can. »
« But if you have run away from Josiah, how can they find you? » says Bartholomew to make him ponder.
The boy is struck by the just remark and becomes pensive, because his illness has made his mind prematurely thoughtful, just as his face is precociously adult, and he says downheartedly: « That is true! I had not thought of that. »
« Go back there. They will be coming during the next days... »
« There? No. I am not going back there. I don't want to go back there. I would rather kill myself! » He is shaken by a wild fury, then he throws himself on Jesus' knees weeping and says: « Why did You not let me die? »
Martha, who is just coming back with a vase of honey, is surprised at so much desolation, and Bartholomew is distressed at having brought it about and he apologises: « I thought I was giving a good piece of advice. Good for everybody. For the boy, for You, Master, for Lazarus... None of you, and none of us, are in need of fresh hatred... »
« That is true! A real problem! » exclaims Peter, and meditating on the case, he draws his personal conclusions, ending them with his characteristic soft whistling, which expresses his frame of mind in face of difficult grave problems to be solved.
Some make this, some that proposal. To go to Nahum. To go to Josiah and tell him to send Michael and Isaac to Lazarus, or elsewhere, wherever the boy will be, because it is wise not to have Lazarus hated, more than he already is hated because of his friendship with Jesus. Not to mention anything to anybody and make the boy disappear by entrusting him to some reliable disciple.
Judas of Kerioth does not speak. Nay, he does not seem to be interested in the discussion. He toys with the tassels of his tunic, combing and ruffling them with his fingers.
Jesus does not speak either. He calms and caresses the boy and He raises his head putting the vase of honey in his hands.
Shalem is a boy, a poor ten-year old boy who has always suffered, but he is always a boy, even if sorrow has matured him, and upon seeing such a treasure of honey, his last tears change into ecstatic astonishment. Raising his eyes, his only beauty, so brown, large and intelligent as they are, and looking alternately at Jesus and Martha, he asks: « How much may I take? One of these spoons or two? » and he points at the round silver spoon that he slowly dips into the blond honey.
« As much as you want, my boy. As much as you like. You will take the rest later, tomorrow. It's all yours! » says Martha caressing him.
« All mine!!! Oh! I have never had so much honey! All mine! Oh! » And he gratefully presses the vase to his chest, as if it were a treasure.
But he then realises that rather than the vase, it is the love with which it is offered that is precious, and he lays the little vase on Jesus' knees and he lifts his arms as he wants to embrace the neck of Martha, who is bent over him, and kiss her. It is all that his gratitude, all that he can give, a helpless wretch, who has nothing to give.
The others stop making plans to watch the scene. And Peter says: « This child is even more unhappy than Marjiam, who at least had the love of his grandfather and of the other peasants! It is true that there are always sorrows greater than the ones we have considered very great! »
« Yes. The abyss of human sorrow has not yet been fathomed. I wonder how many secrets it still conceals... And how many will it still conceal in future ages? » says Bartholomew pensively.
« Then you have no faith in the Gospel! Do you not think that it will change the world? It is stated by the prophets. And the Master repeats it. You are skeptical, Bartholomew » says the Iscariot with a slight touch of irony.
The Zealot replies to him: « I do not see in what Bartholomew's incredulity consists. The Master's doctrine will give solace to all misfortunes, it will even modify the cruelty of customs and habits, but it will not eliminate sorrow. It will make it bearable through the divine promises of future joys. In order to abolish sorrow, or at least great part of sorrow, because diseases, deaths and natural cataclysms would still remain, it would be necessary for all men to have the heart that the Christ has, but... »
The Iscariot interrupts him saying: « That in fact must happen. Otherwise to what avail would the Messiah have come to the Earth? »
« Let us say that that should happen. But, tell me, Judas, has that happened among us? We are twelve, and for three years we have lived with Him, we have taken in His doctrine like the air we breathe. So? Are we twelve all saints? What do we do that is different from what Lazarus does, from what Stephen, Nicolaus, Isaac, Manaen, Joseph and Nicodemus, the women and children do? I am speaking of the just people of our Fatherland. All of them, whether they are wise and rich, or poor and ignorant, do what we do: a little good, a little bad, but without renewing themselves completely. Nay, I tell you that many surpass us. Yes. Many followers surpass us, the apostles... And would you expect the whole world to assume hearts like the Christ's, if we, His apostles, have not done so? We have more or less improved ourselves... at least let us hope so, because it is only with difficulty that man knows himself or the brother who lives beside him. The veil of the flesh is too opaque and thick, and the thought of man too carefully avoids being penetrated, for man to understand man. Whether we examine ourselves or other people, we always remain at the surface, both when we examine ourselves, because we do not want to hurt our pride or suffer feeling that we must change, and when we examine other people, because our pride of examiners makes us unjust judges and the pride of the person we scrutinise closes him, as an oyster closes its valves, with regard to what is inside him » says the Zealot.
« You are quite right! Simon, you have really spoken words of wisdom! » says Judas Thaddeus approving. And the others in chorus agree.
« Then why did He come, if nothing is to be changed? » replies the Iscariot.
Jesus begins to speak: « Much will be changed. Not everything. Because also in future there will be against My doctrine what is already active: the hatred of those who do not love the Light. Because against the strength of My followers there will be the power of Satan's followers. How many! In how many appearances! How many new heretical doctrines will always be opposed to My doctrine, which is immutable, because it is perfect! How much sorrow will germinate from them! You do not know the future. You consider great the sorrow now existing in the world... But He Who knows, sees horrors that would not be understood even if I explained them to you... What a tragedy if I had not come! If I had not come to give future generations a code that checks instincts in the better people and contains a promise of future peace! How dreadful it would be if man did not have, through My coming, spiritual elements capable of keeping him “alive” in the life of the spirit and assuring him of a reward!... If I had not come, in the long run, the Earth would have become a huge earthly hell, and the human race would have torn itself to pieces and would have perished cursing the Creator... »
« The Most High has promised never to send universal punishments again, like the Deluge. A promise of God never fails » says Judas.
« Yes, Judas of Simon. That is true. And never again will the Most High send universal calamities like the Deluge. But men themselves will create scourges that will be more and more dreadful, in comparison with which the deluge and the rain of fire that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah are still merciful punishments. Oh!... »
Jesus stands up with a gesture full of anguish and pity for future peoples.
« All right! You know... But in the meantime what are we going to do for him? » asks the Iscariot pointing at the boy who is enjoying his honey in small quantities and is happy.
« Each day has enough trouble of its own. Tomorrow will tell. It is vain to worry about tomorrow, if we do not even know who will be alive tomorrow. »
« I am not of Your opinion. And I say that we ought to know where we shall go to stay, where we shall consume the Supper. So many things. If we go on waiting, the town will be full up. And where shall we go? Not to Gethsemane. Not to Joseph of Sephoris. Not to Johanna's. Not to Nike's. Not to Lazarus'. Where then? »
« Where the Father will prepare a shelter for His Word. »
« Do You think that I want to know in order to report it? »
« You say so. I have not said anything. Come, Shalem. My Mother knows about you, but She has not yet seen you. Come, and I will take you to Her. »
« But is Your Mother not well? » asks Thomas.
« No. She is praying. She is in great need of prayer. »
« Yes. She is suffering bitterly. She weeps very much. And Mary has nothing but prayer to console Her. I have always seen Her pray very much. In the moments of deepest grief She lives on prayer, I could say... » explains Mary of Alphaeus, while Jesus goes away holding the boy by the hand and having on the other side Annaleah, whom He has invited to go with Him to Mary.