642. Deposition of Stephen's Body.

8th August 1951. prev home next

It is the dead of night, and a very dark night, because the moon has already set, when Mary comes out of the little house at Gethsemane with Peter, James of Alphaeus, John, Nicodemus and the Zealot.

Because of the dark night, Lazarus, who is waiting for them in front of the house, at the beginning of the path that leads to the lower gate, lights an oil lamp, which he has fitted with a protection of thin sheets of alabaster or other transparent material. The light is faint, but when the lamp is held low towards the ground, as it is now, it always helps to see stones and obstacles that may be found on the way. Lazarus goes beside Mary, so that She, above all, may see clearly. John is on the other side and supports the Mother by the arm. The others are behind them, in a group.

They go as far as the Kidron and proceed along it, so that they are half-hidden by the wild bushes that grow near its banks. Also the murmur of the water serves to conceal and confuse the noise of the sandals of the wayfarers.

Going along the outer side of the walls all the time as far as the Gate closest to the Temple, and then proceeding into the barren desert area, they arrive at the place where Stephen was stoned. They direct their steps towards the pile of stones under which he is half buried, and they remove the stones until his poor body appears. It is by now deathly pale, both because of death and because of the blows it received during the lapidation, it is hard, stiff, all curled up as it was when he breathed his last.

Mary, Who has been mercifully kept away a few steps by John, frees Herself and runs towards that poor body, which is lacerated and covered with blood. Without worrying about the stains that the clotted blood leaves on Her dress, Mary, helped by James of Alphaeus and John, lays the body on a cloth stretched on the ground, in a spot devoid of stones, and with a linen cloth, that She dips in a small amphora handed to Her by the Zealot, She cleans, as best She can, the face of Stephen, She tidies his hair, trying to bring it round to his temples and wounded cheeks, in order to cover the horrible marks left by the stones. She cleans also the other parts of the body and She would also like to arrange them in a less tragical posture. But the chill of death, which had taken place many hours previously, allows that only partially. Also the men try, stronger as they are both physically and morally than Mary, Who looks once again like the Sorrowful Mother of Golgotha and of the Sepulchre. But they also have to resign themselves to leave him in the position they have succeeded in placing him after so many efforts. They dress him again with a clean long tunic, because his has been lost or stolen, in contempt, by the lapidators, and the short tunic they have left on him is all torn and stained with blood.

Having done that, always in the faint light of the lamp that Lazarus holds very close to the poor body, they lift him and lay him on another clean cloth. Nicodemus picks up the first cloth, wet with the water used to wash the martyr and with the clotted blood, and places it under his mantle. John and James at the head, Peter and the Zealot at the feet, lift the cloth containing the body, and they set out on the way back, preceded by Lazarus and Mary. But they do not go back along the same way they came, on the contrary, going into the country and going round at the foot of the Mount of Olives, they reach the road that goes to Jericho and Bethany.

They stop there to rest and to speak. And Nicodemus, who having been present at Stephen's condemnation, although in a passive manner, and being one of the elders of the Judaeans, was more acquainted than the others with the decisions of the Sanhedrin, warns those present that the persecution against the Christians has been ordered and has broken-out, and that Stephen is only the first of a long list of names indicated as followers of the Christ.

The first cry of all the apostles is: « Let them do what they like! We will not change, either because of threats or out of prudence! »

But the more judicious ones among the people present, that is Lazarus and Nicodemus, point out to Peter and to James of Alphaeus that the Church has only few priests of the Christ, and that if the more important ones of them were killed, that is Peter the Pontiff and James the Bishop of Jerusalem, the Church would survive with difficulty. They remind also Peter that their Founder and Master had left Judaea for Samaria, in order not to be killed before He had formed them properly, and how He had advised His servants to follow His example until the shepherds are so many that one will not have to fear the dispersion of the believers because of the death of the shepherds. And they conclude saying: « You ought to scatter as well through Judaea and Samaria. Get proselytes there, many more shepherds, and from there scatter through the Earth, so that, as He ordered you to do, all the peoples may become acquainted with the Gospel. »

The apostles are perplexed. They look at Mary, as if they wanted to know Her opinion on the matter.

And Mary, Who understands their looks, says: « It is a good piece of advice. Take it. It is not cowardice, but prudence. He taught you: “Be as simple as doves and as prudent as snakes. I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Beware of men...” »

James interrupts Her: « Yes, Mother. But He also said: “But when they hand you over and you will be dragged before governors, do not worry about what you have to answer. It is not you who will be speaking, but the Spirit of the Father will be speaking for you and in you.” And I am staying here. A disciple is to be like his Master. He died to give life to the Church. Every death of ours will be a stone added to the great new Temple, an increase in life for the great immortal body of the universal Church. Let them kill me, if they wish so. Living in Heaven I shall be happier, because I shall be beside my Brother, and even more powerful. I am not afraid of death. But of sin. By abandoning my place I seem to be imitating the gesture of Judas, the perfect betrayer. James of Alphaeus will never commit that sin. If I have to fall, I will fall like a hero, at my place of action, where He wanted me to be. »

Mary replies to him: « I will not pierce into your secrets with the Man-God. If that is what He inspires you with, do so. He alone, Who is God, is entitled to give orders. We are all only entitled to obey Him always, in everything, to do His Will. »

Peter, less heroic, is chatting with the Zealot to hear his opinion on the matter.

Lazarus, who is close to the two and hears them, suggests: « Come to Bethany. It is close to Jerusalem and to the road to Samaria. The Christ left from there many a time to avoid His enemies... »

Nicodemus in turn suggests: « Come to my country house. It is safe and close both to Bethany and to Jerusalem, and it is on the road that takes one to Ephraim, via Jericho. »

« No, mine is better, as it is protected by Rome » insists Lazarus.

« You are already hated too much, since Jesus raised you from the dead, asserting so, powerfully, His divine Nature. Consider that His destiny was decided just because of that. Watch that you do not decide yours » Nicodemus replies to him.

« And what about my house? It is really Lazarus'. But they still call it mine » says Simon Zealot.

Mary intervenes saying: « Let Me ponder, think, decide which is the best thing to do. God will not leave Me without His light. When I know, I will tell you. For the time being, come to Gethsemane with Me. »

« Seat of all Wisdom, Mother of the Word and of the Light, You are always the Star that guides us safely. We obey You » they all say together, as if the Holy Spirit had really spoken in their hearts and on their lips.

They stand up from the grass on which they had sat at the edge of the road, and while Peter, James, Simon and John go with Mary towards Gethsemane, Lazarus and Nicodemus lift the cloth in which the body of Stephen is enveloped, and at the first light of dawn, they set out towards the Bethany and Jericho road.

Where are they taking the martyr? A mystery.

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