28th March 1947.
Supper has been prepared in the completely white hall where Jesus spoke to the women disciples. The whole white hall is bright and silvery with a nuance not so snow-white and cold, cast by bundles of branches of apple or pear-trees, or other fruit-trees, as white as snow, but with such a light shade of pink that makes one think of snow lightly touched by the kiss of a remote dawn. They protrude from pot-bellied vases or from slender silver amphorae, on the shelves, chests and dressers placed along the walls of the hall. The flowers shed the typical scent of blossoms of fruit-trees through the hall, the fresh bitterish scent of pure springtime...
Lazarus enters the hall walking beside Jesus. Behind them, in twos or larger groups, the apostles. Last are Lazarus' two sisters with Maximinus. I do not see the women disciples. Not even Mary. Perhaps they preferred to remain in Simon's house with the distressed Mother.
The day is turning to twilight. But the last sunbeams are still shining on the rustling leaves of some palm-trees in a group a few metres away from the hall, and on the top of a gigantic laurel on which sparrows are squabbling before going to rest. Beyond the palm-trees and the laurel, beyond the hedges of roses and jasmines and the beds of lilies of the valley, of other flowers and sweet-smelling plants, there is a white spot sprayed with the light green of the early leaves of a group of late pear or apple-trees in the orchard. It looks like a cloud entangled among the branches.
Jesus passing near an amphora full of branches remarks: « They already had the first little fruits. Look! On the tops there are blossoms, whereas farther down the blossoms have fallen off and the ovaries are swelling. »
« Mary wanted to pick them. She took bundles of them also to Your Mother. She got up at dawn, I think, lest another day of sunshine might spoil the delicate corollas. I heard of this destruction only a short while ago. But I was not so angry about it as the peasant servants. Nay, I thought that it was just to offer all the beauties of creation to You, the King of all things. »
Jesus sits down smiling in His place and looks at Mary, who with her sister is getting ready to serve as if she were a maid, bringing the cups of purification and the towels, then pouring wine into chalices and laying the trays of food on the table, as the servants bring them from the kitchen or hand them over after carving them on the sideboards.
Naturally, if the sisters serve all guests courteously, their attention is particularly directed to the two who are dearest to them: Jesus and Lazarus.
At a certain moment Peter, who is eating with relish, says: « Look! I am just noticing this! All the dishes are like the ones served in Galilee. I think... Of course! I seem to be at a wedding breakfast. But there is no shortage of wine here as there was at Cana. »
Mary smiles filling the apostle's chalice again with clear amber-coloured wine. But she does not speak.
And Lazarus explains: « And that is in fact what the sisters, and Mary in particular, wanted: to serve a supper that gave the Master the impression of being in His Galilee, a supper that, although imperfect, was to be better, much better than what is customary here... »
« But to make Him feel that, Mary should have been at this table. She was at Cana. The miracle took place through Her » remarks James of Alphaeus.
« That must have been a grand wine! »
« Wine is the symbol of mirth and ought to be the symbol also of fertility, as wine is the juice of the fertile vine. But I do not think that it fecundated very much. Susanna has no son » says the Iscariot.
« Oh! what a wine it was! It fecundated our spirits... » says John, somewhat dreamy, as he always is when he innerly contemplates the miracles worked by God. And he concludes: « It was worked on behalf of a virgin... and the influence of purity descended upon those who relished it. »
« But do you think that Susanna is a virgin? » asks the Iscariot laughing.
« I did not say that. Virgin is the Mother of the Lord. Virginity emanates from everything accomplished on Her behalf. I always consider how virginal everything is when performed for Mary... » and he dreams again smiling at I wonder which vision.
« Blessed boy! I think that he does not even remember the world anymore, now. Look at him » says Peter pointing at John who, lying on his little bed, and lost in thought, is toying with little bits of bread forgetting to eat.
Jesus also bends a little to look at John who is at one of the corners of the U-shaped table, thus a little behind the back of the Lord, Who is at the middle of the central side, with His cousin James on His left and Lazarus on His right; after Lazarus there is the Zealot and Maximinus, and after James there is the other James and then Peter. John, instead, is between Andrew and Bartholomew, then there is Thomas, with in front of him Judas, Philip, Matthew and Thaddeus, who is at the corner, at the beginning of the long central table.
Mary of Lazarus leaves the hall while Martha is putting on the table trays full of early green figs, green fennel stalks, fresh shelled almonds, strawberries or raspberries, I do not know, that look even redder among the pale emerald green of the fennels and of the figs and the white of the almonds, of the little melons or other fruit of the kind... I think they look like the green melons of southern Italy, and golden oranges.
« These fruits already? I have not seen any ripe ones anywheres says Peter opening his eyes wide and pointing at the strawberries and the melons.
« Some of them came from the shores beyond Gaza where I have a market garden of these products, and some from the sunny terraces on the house, the nursery for the more delicate plants that need to be protected from frost. A Roman friend taught me how to grow them... The only good thing he taught me... » Lazarus becomes gloomy. Martha sighs... But Lazarus becomes at once the perfect host who does not sadden his guests. « It is a wide spread custom in the villas at Baia and Syracuse and along the Sybaris gulf to cultivate such delights with that method to have them prematurely. Eat them: the last fruits are the oranges from Libya, the earliest the melons of Egypt grown in the solaria and these Latin fruits and the white almonds of our fatherland, the tender broad beans, the digestive stalks tasting of anise... Martha, have you seen to the boy? »
« Yes, I have seen to everybody. Mary was deeply moved remembering Egypt... »
« We had some plants in our poor kitchen garden. In dog days it was a great joy to dip the melons into the well of our neighbour, as it was deep and cool, and eat them in the evening... I remember...I had a little greedy goat and we had to watch her because she was fond of tender plants and fruits... » Jesus, Who was speaking with His head somewhat lowered, raises it and looks at the palm-trees rustling in the breeze of the evening that is falling and says: « When I see those palm-trees... Every time I see palm-trees I see Egypt again, its yellow sandy soil blown so easily by the wind, and far away the pyramids trembled in the rarefied air... and the tall trunks of the palm-trees... and the house where... But it is no use speaking of them. Each period has its anxiety... And its joy with its anxiety... Lazarus, would you give me some of those fruits? I should like to take them to Mary and Matthias. I do not think that Johanna has any. »
« She has not. She said so yesterday and she intends to plant some at Bether and have solaria built. But I shall not give them to You now. I picked as many as I had and for some days there will be no ripe ones. I will send them to You or send for them by Thursday. We will prepare a lovely basket of them for those children. Is that right, Martha? »
« Yes, brother. And we will add some little lilies of the valley that Johanna likes so much. »
Mary Magdalene comes back in. She is holding in her hands a thin-necked amphora, ending in a little bill, as pretty as the neck of a bird. The alabaster is of a precious rosy yellow hue, like the complexion of some blondes. The apostles look at her thinking, perhaps, that she is bringing some rare delicacy. But Mary does not go to the centre, inside the U of the table, where her sister is. She goes behind the seat-beds and stops between that of Jesus and Lazarus and that of the two Jameses.
She uncorks the alabaster vase and places her hand under the little bill to receive a few drops of a viscous liquid that flows slowly from the open amphora. A strong smell of tuberoses and other essences, a very intense pleasant scent spreads in the hall. But Mary is not satisfied with the little quantity of perfume that flows. She stoops and with a sharp blow she breaks the neck of the amphora against the corner of Jesus' little bed. The thin neck falls on the floor; shedding scented drops on the marble pavement. The amphora now has a wide aperture through which plenty unguent flows in thick gushes.
Mary places herself behind Jesus and spreads the thick oil on her Jesus' hair, she sprinkles all His locks with it, she stretches them and then puts them in order with the comb taken from her own hair, tidying them on the adored head. Jesus' fair-red hair shines now like dark gold and is very bright after the unction. The light of the chandelier, lit by the servants, is reflected on Jesus fair hair like a beautiful copper-coloured bronze helmet. The scent is exhilarating. Through the nostrils it rises to the head and, spread as it is without restraint, it is so intense that it is almost as exciting as sternutatory powder.
Lazarus, with his head turned round, smiles watching how carefully Mary anoints and arranges Jesus' locks so that His hair may look tidy after the scented massage, while she does not worry about her plaits, which, no longer supported by the wide comb that helps the hairpins to hold them in place, are falling lower and lower on her neck, and are about to loosen completely on her shoulders.
Martha also looks at her smiling. The others are talking to one another in low voices with different expressions on their faces. But Mary is not yet satisfied. There is still plenty ointment in the broken vase, and Jesus' hair, although thick, is already saturated with it. Mary then repeats the loving gesture of an evening of long-ago. She kneels down at the foot of the bed, she unties the buckles of Jesus' sandals and takes them off, and dipping the long fingers of her beautiful hand into the vase, she takes as much ointment as she can and spreads it on His bare feet, toe by toe, then on the soles and heels, then up, on the malleoli, which she uncovers by throwing back His linen tunic, and lastly on the insteps, she delays on the metatarsi, which will be pierced by the dreadful nails, she insists until she finds no more balm in the hollow vase. Then she shatters it on the floor and with her hands now free she removes her big hairpins, she quickly looses her heavy plaits and with that golden, bright, soft, flowing bundle of hair she removes the excess of ointment from Jesus' feet that are dripping balm.
Judas, who so far has been silent watching with lewd envious eyes the beautiful woman and the Master Whose head and feet she was anointing, raises his voice, the only voice of open reproach; some of the others, not all of them, had murmured something or had made gestures of surprised but also calm disapproval. But Judas, who has stood up to have a better view of the ointment spread on Jesus' feet, says with ill grace: « What a useless heathen waste! Why do that? And then we expect the Chiefs of the Sanhedrin not to speak of sin! Those are deeds of a lustful courtesan and they do not become the new life you are leading, woman. They are too strong a recollection of your past! »
The insult is such that everybody is dumbfounded. It is such that everybody stirs, some sit up on the beds, some jump to their feet, everyone looks at Judas, as if he had suddenly become insane. Martha flares up. Lazarus springs to his feet striking the table with his fist and says: « In my house... », then he looks at Jesus and controls himself.
« Yes. Are you all looking at me? You have all murmured in your hearts. But now that I echoed your words and I openly said what you thought, you are all ready to say that I am wrong. I will repeat what I said. I do not mean that Mary is the Master's lover. But I say that certain actions do not become Him or her. It is an imprudent action. And an unjust one. Yes. Why such waste? If she wanted to destroy the memories of her past, she could have given that vase and ointment to me. It was at least a pound of pure nard! And of high value. I could have sold it for at least three hundred denarii, as that is the price for nard of that quality. And I could have sold the vase, which was beautiful and precious. I would have given the money to the poor who crowd round us. We never have enough. And those asking for alms tomorrow in Jerusalem will be numberless. »
« That is true » say the others assenting. « You could have used a little for the Master and the rest... »
Mary of Magdala seems to be deaf. She continues wiping Jesus' feet with her loose hair that now, at its end, is also heavy with the ointment and darker than on the top of her head. Jesus' feet are smooth and soft in their shade of old ivory, as if they were covered with fresh skin. And Mary puts the sandals on the Christ's feet again, kissing each foot before and after putting the sandal on, deaf to everything that is not her love for Jesus.
Jesus defends her laying His hand on her head bent in the last kiss and saying: « Leave her alone. Why are you annoying and upsetting her? You do not realise what she has done. Mary has accomplished an action that is rightful and good with regard to Me. The poor will always be among you. I am about to go away. You will always have them, but you will soon not have Me any longer. You will always be able to give alms to the poor. Shortly to Me, to the Son of man among men, it will no longer be possible to give any honour, through the will of men, and because the hour has come.
Love is light to her. She feels that I am about to die and she wanted to anticipate the burial anointing for My body. I tell you solemnly that wherever the Good News is proclaimed, this prophetic action of love of hers will be remembered. All over the world. Throughout ages. I wish God would turn every human being into another Mary who does not value things, who entertains no attachment for anything, who does not cherish the least memory of the past, but destroys and treads on everything that is flesh and world, and breaks and spreads herself, as she did with the nard and the alabaster, on her Lord and out of love for Him. Do not weep, Mary.
In this hour I repeat to you the words I spoke to Simon the Pharisee and to your sister Martha: “You are forgiven everything, because you have loved completely.” You have chosen the better part. And it will not be taken away from you. Go in peace, My kind little sheep found again. Go in peace. The pastures of love shall be your food forever. Stand up. Kiss also My hands that have absolved and blessed you... How many people these hands of Mine have absolved, blessed, cured, assisted! And yet I tell you that the people whom I have assisted are preparing torture for these hands... »
There is deathlike silence in the air sultry with the intense scent.
Mary, her loose hair clothing her shoulders and veiling her face, kisses the right hand that Jesus offers her and cannot detach her lips from it...
Martha, deeply moved, approaches her and gathers her loose hair, which she braids caressing her, and then she wipes the tears on her cheeks endeavouring to dry them...
No one feels like eating any more... Christ's words make them pensive. Judas of Alphaeus is the first to get up. He asks leave to withdraw. His brother James imitates him and Andrew and John follow suit. The others remain, but they are already standing, intent on purifying their hands in silver basins handed to them by the servants. Mary and Martha do the same with the Master and Lazarus.
A servant comes in and he bends to speak to Maximinus, who, after listening to him, says: « Master, there are some people who would like to see You. They say that they come from afar. What shall we do? »
Jesus calls Philip, James of Zebedee and Thomas and says to them: « Go, evangelize, cure, act in My name. Tell them that I shall be going up to the Temple tomorrow. »
« Is it wise to tell them that, Lord? » asks Simon Zealot.
« There is no sense in being silent about it, because it is already mentioned in the Holy City, more by enemies than by friends. Go! »
« H'm! As long as friends know... we know. But they do not betray. I do not know how the others can be informed. »
« Among the many friends there are always some enemies, Simon of Jonas. Now the friends are... too many and they are accepted as such too easily. When I think how long I had to wait and pray!... But those were the early days and one was cautious. Then the triumphs dazzled us and we were no longer wary. And that was wrong. But it happens to all winners. Victories prevent one from seeing clearly and enfeeble one's prudence in acting. I am speaking of us disciples, of course, not of the Master. He is perfect. If we had remained only twelve, we should not have to tremble for fear of betrayals! » says Judas of Kerioth lying shamelessly.
It is impossible to describe the glance Christ casts at the perfidious apostle. A glance of warning and infinite sorrow. But Judas pays no attention to it. He passes by the table to go out... Jesus follows him with His eyes and when He sees him go out, He asks him: « Where are you going? »
« Out... » replies Judas evasively.
« Out of this room, or out of the house? »
« Out... So... For a little walk. »
« Do not go, Judas. Stay with Me, with us... »
« Your brothers have gone away with John and Andrew. Why must I not go? »
« You are not going to have a rest as they did... »
Judas does not reply, but he goes out obstinately. Not a word is uttered in the hall. Lazarus and his sisters and the four apostles who have stayed: Peter, Simon, Matthew and Bartholomew, look at one another.
Jesus looks outside. He has got up and has gone to a window to follow Judas' movements and when He sees him go out of the house wearing his mantle and set out towards the gate, which cannot be seen from here, He calls him in a loud voice: « Judas! Wait for Me. I have something to tell you » and He gently frees Himself from Lazarus who, realising that the Master was grieved, had passed his arm round His waist embracing Him, and He leaves the hall, joining Judas, who had continued walking although more slowly. He reaches him at about one third of the distance between the house and the garden wall, near a thicket of plants with thick leaves that look like green baked clay sprayed with clusters of little flowers, and each flower is a small cross with heavy petals as if they were made of light yellow wax, with a strong scent. I do not know their name. He draws him behind the thicket and holding his forearm tight with His hand, He asks him again: « Where are you going, Judas? Please, stay here! »
« Since you know everything, why do You ask me? What need is there for You to ask, since You can read the hearts of men? You know that I am going to my friends. You do not allow me to go there. They press me to go. I am going. »
« Your friends! You should say your ruin! That is where you are going. You are going to your true murderers. Don't go Judas! Don't go! You are going to commit a crime... You... »
« Ah! You are afraid?! Are You afraid at last?! You realise at last that you are a man! You are a man! Nothing more than a man! Because man only is afraid of death. God knows that He cannot die. If You felt that You were God, You would know that You could not die and You would not be afraid. Because now that You feel death close at hand, You are afraid like all men and You are trying with every possible means to avert it and You see danger everywhere and in everything. Where is Your lovely boldness? Where are Your confident protestations that You were happy and thirsting for accomplishing the Sacrifice? There is not even an echo of them left in Your heart! You thought that this hour would never come, so You feigned power, generosity and You spoke solemn sentences. Go away! You are as bad as those whom You reproach as being hypocrites! You have enticed us and betrayed us. And we had left everything for Your sake! And because of You we are hated! You have brought about our ruin... »
« That is enough. Go! Go away! Not many hours have gone by since you said to Me: “Help me to stay. Defend me!” I have done that. To what avail? Tell Me one thing more, and think about it before telling Me. Is this your sincere will? To go to your friends, to prefer them to Me? »
« Yes. It is. I do not have to think about it, because for a long time I have wanted nothing but that. »
« Then go. God does not do violence to man's will. » and Jesus turns His back on him and goes slowly back to the house.
When He is close to it He raises His head, attracted by the eyes of Lazarus, who standing where he was before, is looking fixedly at Him. It is a very pale face that endeavours to smile at the faithful friend.
He goes back into the hall where the four apostles are speaking to Maximinus, while Martha and Mary are directing the work of the servants, who are tidying up the hall removing the dishes and table-linen used at the banquet.
Lazarus has gone to the door and once again he has embraced Jesus' waist with his arm, and passing near a servant he says to him: « Bring me the roll that is on the table in my work-room. »
He takes Jesus to one of the wide seats placed in the cavities of the windows, so that He may sit down. But Jesus remains standing, striving to pay attention to what Lazarus is saying to Him... but it is evident that His mind is elsewhere and His heart is grieved, although when He realises that the apostles are watching Him, He smiles to dispel the suspicions of those who have approached Him surrounding Him and are whispering to one another, winking and pointing at the Master.
The servant comes back with the roll and Peter, seeing that the parchments contain things that are higher than what his head can understand, withdraws saying: « Fish do not bite certain baits. It is better to speak to Maximinus of plants and cultivations. »
Martha continues with her work. Maria, although silent, takes part in the conversation of Lazarus, who points out certain passages of the parchments to the Master, saying: « Has this heathen not got a rare foresight? More than many of us. Perhaps... if he had been here, while You are our Master, he would have been one of Your disciples, and one of the best. And he would have understood You as many of us have not been able to understand You. And what a poem would have been inspired to his genius by his admiration for You! Your words gathered and preserved by a spirit that is bright although it belongs to a heathen! Your life described by this open and limpid intellect! We no longer have writers and poets. You were born late. When the selfishness of life and religious-social corruption have extinguished poetry and genius among us. What our wise men and prophets have written about You, without knowing You, has not found an echo in the living voice of one of Your followers. Your favourites, Your faithful followers are mostly people without education. And the others... No. We no longer have any Qohelet to hand down to the crowds Your wisdom and Your figure. We no longer have them because the spirit and will are lacking more than the ability to do so. The humanly more chosen part of Israel is as deaf as a broken trumpet, and it can no longer sing the glories and wonders of God. My worry is that everything may be lost or adulterated, partly through inability, partly through ill-will... »
« That will not happen. When the Spirit of the Lord is settled in hearts, it will repeat My words and explain their meaning. It is the Spirit of God Who speaks through the lips of the Christ. Then... Then It will speak to the spirits directly and will recall My words. »
« Oh! I wish that would happen soon! Soon, because they listen so little to Your words and understand them even less. I think that the roaring of the Spirit of God will be as violent as blazing fire to engrave with violence in the minds of men what they would not accept because it was kind and mild. I think that the flaming Spirit will burn the tepid or torpid consciences with Its fire, writing Your words on them. The world will have to love You! It is the will of the Most High! But when will it happen? »
« When I shall be consumed in the Sacrifice of love. Then Love will come. It will be like the beautiful flame rising from the sacrificed Victim. And that flame will never go out, because the Sacrifice will never end. Once it is accomplished, it will last throughout the time of the Earth. »
« But then... You would really have to be sacrificed so that that may happen? »
« It is so. » Jesus makes His usual gesture of adherence to His own destiny. He stretches out His arms with His hands pointed outwards and lowers His head. He then raises it to smile at distressed Lazarus and says: « But the immaterial voice of the Spirit of love will not be so violent as a roar, but it will be as sweet as love, which is as mild as a Nisan breeze and yet is as strong as death. The ineffable ministry of Love! The complement, the completion of My ministry. The perfection of My ministry as Master... I am not afraid, as you are, that anything of what I have given may be lost. On the contrary, I solemnly tell you that beams of light will be cast on My words and you will see their spirit. I am going away serenely because I am entrusting My doctrine to the Holy Spirit and My spirit to My Father. »
He lowers His head pensively, then, after laying the roll, which gave rise to the conversation, on a kind of tall dresser or chest of ebony, or other dark wood, all inlaid with yellowish ivory, that has been brought by four servants from the next room, and in which Martha is arranging the more valuable tableware, He says: « Lazarus, come outside. I want to speak to you! »
« At once, Lord » and Lazarus gets up from the seat on which he was sitting and follows Jesus into the garden, where it is beginning to get dark, as the last daylight is fading away in the sky, and the early moonlight, which is just beginning to appear, is still too faint.
Jesus says: « You will put here the vision dated 2nd March 1945: “Farewell to Lazarus”, starting from the point: “Jesus walks turning His steps beyond the garden where is the sepulchre in which Lazarus was buried.” »