7th August 1944.
The hall of the Sanhedrin, identical, both with regard to disposition and to people, to what it was in the night between Thursday and Friday, during Jesus' trial. The High Priest and the others are sitting on their seats. In the middle, in front of the High Priest, in the empty space where, during the trial Jesus was, there is now Stephen.
He must have already spoken professing his faith and bearing witness to the true Nature of the Christ and to His Church, because the tumult is at its climax and in its violence it is similar to the one that raged against the Christ in the fatal night of the betrayal and deicide. Blows, curses, horrible oaths are hurled against the deacon Stephen who, under the brutal blows, staggers and totters while they savagely tug him here and there.
But he keeps his calm and dignity, and even more. He is not only calm and dignified, but he is even blissful and almost ecstatic. Disregarding the spittles streaming down his face and the blood running from his nose, that has been violently struck, at a certain moment he raises his inspired face and his bright smiling eyes to stare at a vision known to him alone. He stretches his arms out crosswise, he raises them up as if he wished to embrace what he sees, then he falls on his knees exclaiming: « Here, I can see the Heavens thrown open, and the Son of Man, Jesus, the Christ of God, Whom you have killed, standing at the right hand of God. »
Then the tumult loses even that least part that it still retained of humanity and legality and, with the fury of a pack of wolves, of jackals, of rabid wild beasts, they all hurl themselves on the deacon, they bite him, they trample on him, they grasp him, they raise him lifting him by his hair, they drag him, letting him drop again, while fury opposes fury, because in the rush those who try to drag the martyr outside are hindered by those who pull him in another direction to strike him and tread on him again.
Among the most furious ones there is a young short ugly looking man, named Saul. The fierceness of his face is indescribable.
In a corner of the hall there is Gamaliel. He has never taken part in the brawl, neither has he ever addressed Stephen or any mighty person. His disgust for the unfair wild scene is manifest. In another corner there is Nicodemus, who is also disgusted and does not take part in the trial or in the brawl, and is looking at Gamaliel, whose countenance is clearer than any word. But suddenly, and precisely when he sees Stephen being lifted by his hair for the third time, Gamaliel envelops himself in his very wide mantle and he goes towards an exit in the opposite direction to that towards which the deacon is being dragged.
His action does not pass unnoticed to Saul who shouts: « Rabbi, are you going away? » Gamaliel does not reply.
Saul, fearing that Gamaliel has not understood that the question was made to him, repeats and specifies it: « Rabbi Gamaliel, are you evading this judgment? »
Gamaliel turns round all of one piece and, looking furious, disgusted as he is, dignified and frigid, he replies only: « Yes. » But his « yes » is worth more than a long speech.
Saul understands everything that that « yes » implies, and leaving the wild pack, he rushes towards Gamaliel. He reaches him, stops him, says to him: « You are not going to tell me, o rabbi, that you disapprove of our condemnation. »
Gamaliel does not look at him, neither does he reply to him.
Saul insists: « That man is doubly guilty, as he denied the Law, following a Samaritan possessed by Beelzebub, and for doing so after being your disciple. »
Gamaliel continues to look away from him and to be silent.
Saul then asks him: « But are you perhaps, you as well, a follower of that criminal named Jesus? »
Gamaliel now speaks and says: « I am not yet. But if He was what He said, and truly many things prove that He was, I pray God that I may become one. » Horrible shouts Saul.
« There is nothing horrible. Every man has an intelligence to make use of it, and a freedom to apply it. So let everybody make use of it according to that freedom that God has given to every man and to that light that He has put in everybody's heart. The just, sooner or later, will use these two gifts of God, for Good purposes, and the wicked, for Evil purposes. » And he goes away, directing his steps towards the court where the Treasury is, and he goes and leans against the same column against which Jesus spoke of the poor widow who gave the Treasury of the Temple everything she had: two farthings.
He has not been there long when Saul joins him again and places himself in front of him. The contrast between the two is very strong.
Gamaliel is tall, of a noble bearing, handsome in his strong Semitic features, with a high forehead, with eyes which are very dark, intelligent, piercing, long and deeply sunken under his thick straight eyebrows, on the sides of his nose which is also straight, long and thin, and reminds one a little of Jesus' nose. Also his complexion, his thin-lipped mouth remind one of Jesus'. But Gamaliel's beard and mustache, once very dark, are now grizzled and longer.
Saul instead is short, thickset, almost rickety, his legs are short and thick, a little apart at the knees, which are clearly visible because he has taken his mantle off and he has on only a short grayish tunic. His arms are short and brawny like his legs, his neck is short and thickset, supporting a big brown head with short rough hair, with rather protruding ears, snub nose, thick lips, with high big cheek-bones, bulging forehead, dark rather bulging eyes, neither mild nor kind, but very intelligent under his very arched, thick, ruffled eyelashes. His cheeks are covered with a very thick beard, as bristly as his hair, but cut short. Perhaps because of his very short neck he seems to be slightly hunchbacked or to have very round shoulders.
He is silent for a moment, staring at Gamaliel. Then he says something to him in a low voice.
Gamaliel replies to him in a clear loud voice: « I do not approve of violence, for any reason whatsoever. You will never obtain my approval for any violent plan. I have told also all the Sanhedrin, in public, when Peter and the other apostles were arrested for the second time and brought before the Sanhedrin to be judged. And I repeat the same things: “If it is the plan and work of men, it will perish by itself; if it comes from God, it cannot be destroyed by men, on the contrary they may be struck by God.” Bear that in mind. »
« Are you the protector of these blasphemous followers of the Nazarene, you, the greatest rabbi in Israel? »
« I am the protector of justice. And justice teaches us to be prudent and just in judging. I repeat it to you. If the thing comes from God, it will last, if not, it will fall by itself. But I do not want to stain my hands with blood that I do not know whether it deserves death. »
« Is that how you, a Pharisee and doctor, speak? Are you not afraid of the Most High? »
« More than you are. But I ponder. And I remember… You were only a little child, not yet a son of the Law, and I was already teaching in this Temple with the wisest rabbi of our days… and with others, wise, but not just. Within these walls our wisdom received a lesson that made us ponder for the rest of our lives. The eyes of the most wise and just man of our times closed on the recollection of that hour, and his mind on the study of those truths, heard from the lips of a child, who was revealing himself to men, particularly if just. My eyes have continued to watch and my mind to think, coordinating events and things… I have had the privilege of hearing the Most High speak through the mouth of a child, who later was a man just, wise, mighty, holy, and who was put to death, just because of these qualities of his. His words of that time have afterwards been confirmed by events that happened many years later, at the time mentioned by Daniel… Poor me, as I did not understand sooner! As I awaited the last terrible sign to believe, to understand! Poor people of Israel, who did not understand then and does not understand even now! The prophecy of Daniel and those of other prophets and of the Word of God continue, and will be fulfilled for Israel stubborn, blind, deaf, unjust, as it continues to persecute the Messiah in His servants! »
« Damn! You are blaspheming! There will really be no salvation for the people of God, if the rabbis of Israel blaspheme and deny Jehovah, the true God, to exalt and believe in a false Messiah! »
« I am not blaspheming, but all those are, who insulted the Nazarene and continue to despise Him, by scorning His followers. You, yes, you are blaspheming, because you hate Him, in Himself, and in His followers. But you were right when you said that there is no more salvation for Israel. Not because there are Israelites who have passed into His flock, but because Israel has struck Him to death. »
« You fill me with horror! You are betraying the Law, the Temple! »
« Denounce me, then, to the Sanhedrin, that I may share the lot of him who is about to be stoned. It will be the beginning and the happy conclusion of your mission. And I shall be forgiven, through this sacrifice of mine, for not having recognised and understood the God Who was passing, as Saviour and Master, among us, His children and His people. »
Saul, with an angry gesture, goes away, rudely, to the court facing the hall of the Sanhedrin, the court in which the crowd is still shouting in exasperation against Stephen. In this court Saul joins the torturers who were waiting for him, and with the others he comes out of the Temple and then out of the town walls. Abuse, jeers continue to be shouted at, and blows to be dealt to the deacon, who already tired out and wounded, proceeds staggering towards the place of the execution.
Outside the walls there is a stretch of waste land covered with stones, completely desert. When the executioners arrive there, they spread out forming a circle, leaving the condemned man all alone in the centre with his torn garments and his body bleeding in many parts as a result of the wounds already inflicted on it. They tear his garments off him before moving away from him. Stephen is left with a very short tunic. They all take their long garments off and remain with their tunics only, as short as the one worn by Saul, to whom they entrust their garments, as he does not take part in the lapidation, either because he has been upset by Gamaliel's words, or because he knows that he is not good at hitting the mark.
The executioners pick up some large pebbles and some sharp stones, in which the place abounds, and they begin the lapidation.
Stephen receives the first blows standing, and with a smile of forgiveness on his wounded lips which, a moment before the beginning of the lapidation, have shouted to Saul, intent on gathering the clothes of the lapidators: « My friend, I will wait for you on the way of the Christ. »
To which Saul replied: « Pig! Possessed! » adding to the insults a mighty kick on the shin-bone of the deacon, who almost falls because of the blow and of the pain.
After some blows with stones, that strike him from all directions, Stephen falls on his knees, supporting himself with his wounded hands, and certainly recollecting a remote episode, he whispers, touching his temple and his wounded forehead: « As He foretold me! The crown… The rubies… O my Lord, Master, Jesus, receive my spirit »
Another hail of blows on his already wounded head makes him collapse on the ground that becomes impregnated with his blood. While he lies on the stones, always under hails of more of them, on the point of breathing his last, he whispers: « Lord… Father… forgive them… bear them no grudge for this sin of theirs… They do not know what… » Death breaks the sentence on his lips, a last start makes him curl himself up, and he remains so. Dead.
The executioners approach him, they throw another volley of stones on him, and almost bury him under them. They then put their clothes on, and they go away back to the Temple, intoxicated with satanic zeal, to report what they have done.
While they are speaking to the High Priest and other mighty people, Saul goes in search of Gamaliel. He does not find him at once. Inflamed with hatred against the Christians, he goes back to the Priests, he speaks to them, he convinces them to give him a parchment with the seal of the Temple, authorising him to persecute the Christians. The blood of Stephen must have made him as furious as a bull that sees red, or a generous wine given to an alcoholic.
He is about to come out of the Temple when he sees Gamaliel under the Porch of the Gentiles. He goes to him. Perhaps he wants to begin a dispute or a justification. But Gamaliel goes across the court, he enters a hall and closes the door in the face of Saul, who, offended and furious, runs out of the Temple to persecute the Christians.
« I have shown Myself many times and to many people, also in extraordinary manifestations. But My manifestation did not produce the same effect in everybody. We can see how to each manifestation of Mine corresponds a sanctification of those who possessed the good will required of men to have Peace, Life, Justice.
So, Grace worked in the shepherds for the thirty years of My concealed life, then it flowered yielding a holy ear of corn when it was the time in which the good parted from the wicked to follow the Son of God, Who was passing along the ways of the world, uttering His cry of love to assemble the sheep of the eternal Flock, scattered and dispersed by Satan. Present among the crowds that followed Me, they were My messengers, because with their simple and convincing reports, they proclaimed the Christ saying: “It is He. We recognise Him. The lullabies of the angels descended upon His first wailing. And we were told by the angels that men of goodwill will have peace. Goodwill is the desire of Good and Truth. Let us follow Him! Follow Him! We shall all have the Peace promised by the Lord.”
Humble, ignorant, poor, My first messengers among men, rushed like sentries along the road of the King of Israel, of the King of the world. Faithful eyes, honest mouths, loving hearts, thuribles exhaling the perfume of their virtues to make less corrupt the air of the Earth around My Divine Person, that had become incarnate for them and for all men, and I found them even at the foot of the Cross, after blessing them with My eyes along the sanguinary road of Golgotha, the only ones, with very few more, who did not curse Me among the unrestrained crowd, but who loved, believed, still hoped, and looked at Me with compassionate eyes, thinking of the remote night of My Birth and weeping on the Innocent, Who slept His first sleep on an uncomfortable piece of wood, and His last one on an even more painful one. That because My manifestation to them, who were righteous souls, had sanctified them.
And the same happened to the three Wise Men from the East, to Simeon and Anne in the Temple, to Andrew and John at the Jordan, and to Peter, James and John at Tabor, to Mary of Magdala at dawn on Easter Sunday, to the eleven when on the Mount of Olives, and even before that, at Bethany, they were forgiven their bewilderment… No, John, the pure apostle, did not need to be forgiven. He was the faithful ever loving hero. His most pure love, his purity of mind, of heart, of body, preserved him from all weakness.
Gamaliel, and with him Hillel, were not as simple as the shepherds, as holy as Simeon, as wise as the three Wise men. In him, and in his master and relative, there was the tangle of Pharisaic lianas to suffocate the light and the free expansion of the tree of faith. But in their being Pharisaic there was purity of intentions. They thought they were in the right and they wished to be so. They wished it by instinct, because they were just, and by intellect, because their spirits shouted out of discontent: “There are too many ashes mixed with this bread. Give us the bread of the real Truth.” Gamaliel, however, was not so strong as to have the courage to break these Pharisaic lianas. His humanity enslaved him still too much, and with it, the considerations of human esteem, of personal danger, of family welfare. Because of all these things Gamaliel had not been able to understand “the God that was passing among His people”, or to use “that intelligence and that freedom” that God has given every man so that he may use them for his own good. Only the sign awaited for so many years, the sign that had demolished and tortured him with never ending remorse, would provoke in him the recognition of the Christ and the change of his ancient thought, whereby, from the rabbi of error – as the scribes, Pharisees and the doctors had corrupted the essence and the spirit of the Law, suffocating the simple bright truth that had come from God under a large quantity of human precepts, which were often wrong, but always to their advantage – he would become a disciple of the divine Truth, after a long struggle between his ancient ego and his present ego.
In any case he had not been the only one to be uncertain in deciding and strong in acting. Also Joseph of Arimathea, and even more Nicodemus, did not trample on the Judaic customs and lianas at once and embrace the new Doctrine openly, so much so that they used to come to the Christ “secretly”, out of fear of the Judaeans, or they used to meet with him by chance, and mainly in their country houses, or in Lazarus' house at Bethany, as they knew that it was safer and more feared by Christ's enemies, who were well aware of the protection of Rome for Theophilus' son. However, they were certainly always much more advanced in Good and braver, when compared to Gamaliel, to the extent that they dared to take the compassionate action on Good Friday.
Rabbi Gamaliel was less advanced. But you, who are reading, pay attention to the power of his upright intention. Through it, his very human justice, becomes tinged with a superhuman hue. Saul's instead, gets soiled with something demoniac, when the unchecked fury of evil compels him and his master Gamaliel to face the alternative choice between Good and Evil, justice and injustice.
The tree of Good and Evil stands straight in front of every man to present its fruits of Evil to him, in the most alluring and attractive appearance, while among the foliage in a deceitful voice of a nightingale, the tempting Serpent hisses. It is up to man, a creature gifted with reason and with a soul given to him by God, to be able to distinguish and want the good fruit among the many, which are not good and cause damage and death to the spirit; and to pick that one, even if it is prickly and difficult to pick, bitter to taste and miserable looking. Its metamorphosis, by which it becomes so much smoother and softer to the touch, sweeter to the taste, more beautiful to the sight, takes place only when, through justice of spirit and reason, one chooses the good fruit and feeds on its juice, which is bitter but holy.
Saul stretches out his greedy hands to the fruit of Evil, of hatred, of injustice, of crime, and he will stretch them out until he is struck with lightning, crushed, deprived of human sight, so that he may achieve the superhuman sight and may become not only just, but an apostle and confessor of Him, Whom he previously hated and persecuted in His servants.
Gamaliel breaking the persistent lianas of his humanity and of Hebraism, to let spring up and bloom the remote seed of light and justice, not only human but also superhuman, that My fourth epiphany, or manifestation, which is perhaps a word clearer and more comprehensible to you, had put in his heart, in his heart with upright intentions, the seed that he had preserved and defended with honest fondness and noble eagerness to see it spring up and bloom, stretches out his hands to the fruit of Good. His will and My Blood broke the hard husk of that remote seed, that he had preserved in his heart for dozens of years, in that heart of rock that split with the veil of the Temple and the earth of Jerusalem, and shouted its supreme desire to Me, Who could no longer hear him with human hearing, but I could hear him well with My divine spirit, when he was there, prostrated on the ground, at the foot of the cross. And under the sunny fire of the apostolic words and of the best disciples, and the shower of the blood of Stephen, the first martyr, that seed takes root, becomes a tree, blossoms and yields fruit. The new tree of his Christian Faith, which had come up where the tragedy of Good Friday had overthrown, uprooted and destroyed all the ancient trees and herbs.
The plant of his new Christian faith and of his new holiness has come up and grown before My eyes. Forgiven by Me, although guilty of not understanding Me previously, because of his justice that refused to take part in My condemnation or in Stephen's, his desire to become My follower, the son of the Truth, of the Light, is blessed also by the Father and by the Sanctifying Spirit, and from desire it becomes reality, without the need of powerful violent lightning, as was necessary for Saul on the Damascus road, for the arrogant man, who with no other means could have been subdued and led to Justice, to Charity, to Light, to Truth, and to the eternal glorious Life in Heaven. »