118: Jesus at the "Clear Water": Preliminaries for Life in Common with the Disciples.
26th February 1945.
If this little low rustic house is compared to the Bethany house, it is certainly a sheepfold, as Lazarus says. But if it is compared to the houses of Doras' peasants, it is quite a good dwelling.
It is very low and very wide, of solid structure, it has a kitchen, that is, a huge fireplace in a room completely blackened with smoke, in which there is a table, some chairs, amphoras and a rustic rack with plates and cups. A large coarse wooden door gives light to it as well as access. On the same wall as this door, there are three more doors, giving access to three long narrow rooms, with whitewashed walls and a beaten earthen floor, as in the kitchen. In two of the rooms there are some light beds. The rooms look like little dormitories. The large number of hooks fixed in the walls testify that tools and probably agricultural products were hung there. They now serve as clothes-hooks for mantles and haversacks. The third large room (it is a corridor, rather than a room, because its length is out of proportion to its width) is empty. It must have been used also to shelter animals because there is a manger and rings on the wall, and on the floor are the typical holes dug by shod hooves. There is nothing in it at present.
Outside, close to this last room, there is a large rustic porch, consisting of a roof supported by coarse barked tree trunks covered with brushwood and slates. It is not really a porch, but a shed, because it is open on three sides: two are at least ten yards long, the third side, the narrow one, is about five yards long, not more. In summer a vine stretches its branches from one trunk to another on the southern side. The vine is now bare and shows its skeleton branches; also a huge fig-tree is now bare, but in summer it must shade the large basin in the centre of the threshing floor, which was certainly used to water animals. Beside it there is a rough well, that is, a hole on ground level; it is encompassed by only one row of flat, white stones.
That is the house where Jesus will stay with His disciples in the place called "Clear Water". It is surrounded by fields, or rather by meadows and vineyards, and about three hundred yards away (please do not take as articles of faith the measurements I give) I can see another house in the middle of fields. It looks nicer because there is a terraced roof, which this house has not got. Olive groves and woods beyond the other house prevent one from seeing any farther.
Peter, his brother and John are working eagerly, sweeping the threshing floor and the rooms, sorting the beds and drawing water. Peter is bustling around the well to sort and reinforce the ropes and make it more practical and easy to draw water. Jesus' cousins instead are working with hammer and files at the locks and shutters, and James of Zebedee helps them sawing and using a hatchet like a shipyard worker.
Thomas is busying himself in the kitchen and seems an experienced cook by the way he controls fire and flames and because of his skill in cleaning the vegetables which handsome Judas condescended to bring from the nearby village. I understand that there is a village, a large or small one, because Judas says that they bake bread twice weekly and consequently there was no bread on that day. Peter hears him and says: "We will make some cakes. There is flour over there. Quick, take your tunic off and knead it, and then I will cook them. I know how to do it." I cannot help laughing when I see that the Iscariot stoops to mixing the flour, in his under-tunic, getting thoroughly covered with it. Jesus is not present. Also Simon, Bartholomew, Matthew and Philip are absent.
"Today is the worse day" replies Peter to the mumbling of Judas of Kerioth. "It will be easier tomorrow. And in spring everything will be just right…"
"In spring? Are we staying here forever?" asks Judas frightened.
"Why? Is this not a house? It does not rain in it. There is drinking water. And a fireplace. What else do you want? It suits me very well. Also because I do not smell the stench of Pharisees and company…"
"Peter, let us go and haul in the nets" says Andrew and drags his brother away before he and the Iscariot start quarrelling.
"That man does not like me" exclaims Judas.
"No, you can't say that. He is so frank with everybody. But he is good. It's you that is always discontented" replies Thomas, who, on the contrary, is always in high spirits.
"The reason is that I thought it was something different…"
"My Cousin does not prevent you from going to different things" says James of Alphaeus calmly. "I think that we all believed that it was a different thing to follow Him, because we were stupid. It is because we are stubborn and very proud. He never concealed the danger and fatigue in following Him."
Judas grumbles between his teeth. The other Judas, Thaddeus, who is working at a kitchen shelf, which he wants to convert into a cupboard, replies to him: "You are wrong. Also according to our habit, you are wrong. Every Israelite must work. And we are working. Is work such a burden to you? I don't feel it, because since I have been with Him, all work is light."
"I do not regret anything either. And I am happy to be just at home now" says James of Zebedee.
"We will do a lot, here!…" remarks Judas of Kerioth ironically.
"In short, what do you want? What do you expect? A satrap's court? I cannot bear you to criticise what my Cousin does. Is that clear?" bursts out Thaddeus.
"Be quiet, brother. Jesus does not approve of these disputes. Let us speak as little as possible and do as much as possible. It will be better for all concerned. On the other hand… if He is not successful in changing our hearts… can you possibly hope to do it by your words?" says James of Alphaeus.
"The heart that does not change is mine, isn't it?" asserts the Iscariot aggressively.
But James does not reply to him. He holds a nail between his lips and at the same time he nails some boards vigorously, making such a loud noise, that Judas' grumbling cannot be heard.
Some time goes by, then Isaac and Andrew come in together, the former carrying eggs and a basket of fresh sweet-smelling loaves, the latter with some fish in a fishing basket.
"Here" says Isaac. "The steward sends these and he wants to know if there is anything we need. That is the instruction that he got."
"Do you see that we are not starving to death?" says Thomas to the Iscariot. He then says: "Andrew, give me the fish. How lovely it is! But how do you cook it?… I don't know how to do it."
"I'll see to that" says Andrew. "I'm a fisherman" and in a comer he starts gutting his fish, still alive.
"The Master is coming. He has made a tour of the village and of the country. You will see that people will be coming soon. He already cured a man whose eyes were diseased. I had already been all over the country and they were informed…"
"Of course! I… I! The shepherds do everything… We have given up a safe quiet life, at least I have, and we have done many things, but apparently we have done nothing…"
Isaac, astonished, looks at the Iscariot but… very wisely does not reply. The others do likewise… but they are boiling with rage.
"Peace to you all." Jesus is at the entrance, smiling lovingly. The sunshine seems to increase in brightness at His arrival. "How clever of you! You are all at work! Can I help you, cousin?"
"No, have a rest. I have finished."
"We are laden with foodstuffs. Everybody wanted to give us something. If all men had the kind hearts of the humble people!" says Jesus somewhat sad. "Oh! My Master. May God bless You!" It is Peter who is coming in carrying a bundle of sticks on his shoulders and who from under his load thus greets Jesus. "And may the Lord bless you too, Peter. You have been working hard!"
"And we will work even harder in our free time. We have a villa in the country! And we will make an Eden of it. In the meantime I have sorted the well, so that by night we can see where it is, and make sure that we don't lose our pitchers when drawing water. Then… see how clever Your cousins are? They have prepared all the things which are necessary for those who have to live in a place for a long time, and about which I, a fisherman, would not have known anything at all. Really clever. Also Thomas. He could work in Herod's kitchen. Also Judas is clever. He made lovely cakes…"
"But quite useless. There is bread now" replies Judas in a bad temper.
Peter looks at him and I am expecting a sharp reply, but Peter shakes his head, sorts the ashes and lays his cakes on them.
"Everything will soon be ready" says Thomas. And he laughs.
"Are You speaking today?" asks James of Zebedee.
"Yes, between the sixth and the ninth hour. Your companions said so. So let us eat at once."
After some time John puts the bread on the table, arranges the seats, lays the cups and amphoras, while Thomas brings the boiled vegetables and the roasted fish.
Jesus is in the centre, He offers and blesses, hands the food out and they all eat with relish. They are still eating when some people appear on the threshing floor. Peter gets up and goes to the door: "What do you want?"
"The Rabbi. He is not speaking here?"
"Yes, He is. But He is eating now because He is a man, too. Sit over there and wait." The little group go under the rustic shed.
"But it is getting cold and it will often rain. I think we ought to use that empty stable. I cleaned it thoroughly. The manger will be His seat…"
"Don't talk nonsense! The Rabbi is a rabbi" says Judas.
"What nonsense! If He was born in a stable, He can speak from a manger!"
"Peter is right. But, please, be friendly to one another" Jesus seems tired of repeating these words.
They finish eating and Jesus goes out at once to meet the little crowd.
"Wait, Master" Peter shouts after Him. "Your cousin has made a seat for You because the soil is damp under there."
"It is not necessary. You know that I speak standing up. The people want to see Me and I want to see them. You should rather make some seats and light beds. Some sick people may come… and they will be needed."
"You are always thinking of other people, my good Master!" says John, kissing His hand. Jesus goes towards the little crowd smiling somewhat sadly. All the disciples go with Him.
Peter, who is beside Jesus, makes Him bend down and whispers to Him: "The veiled woman is behind the wall. I have seen her. She has been there since this morning. She has followed us from Bethany. Shall I send her away or leave her?"
"Leave her. I said so."
"But, if she is a spy, as the Iscariot says?"
"She is not. Rely on what I tell you. Leave her alone and say nothing to the others. And respect her secret."
"I did not say anything, because I thought it was better…"
"Peace to you, who are looking for the Word" begins Jesus. And He goes to the end of the shed with His back to the house. He speaks slowly to about twenty people sitting on the ground or leaning against the trunks, in the warmth of a faint November sunshine.
"Man falls into error when considering life and death and applying these two nouns. He calls “life” the period of time in which, born of his mother, he begins to breathe, to nourish himself, to move, to think, to act; and he calls “death” the moment when he ceases breathing, eating, moving, thinking, acting and he becomes cold insensitive remains, ready to go back into a bosom: a sepulcher. But it is not so. I want to make you understand “life”, and point out to you the actions suitable to life.
Life is not existence. Existence is not life. Also this vine which is interwined around these columns, exists. But it does not possess the life of which I am speaking. Also that bleating sheep, tied to that far off tree, exists. But it does not have the life of which I am speaking. The life of which I am speaking does not begin with the existence of the body and does not cease with the ending of the flesh. The life to which I refer does not start in a mother's womb. It begins when a soul is created by the Thought of God to dwell in a body, it ends when sin kills it.
Man, at first, is but a seed that grows, a seed of flesh, instead of gluten or of marrow, like the seeds of cereals and of fruit. At first he is but an animal taking shape, the embryo of an animal like the one now swelling in the womb of that sheep. But the moment that this incorporeal part, which is also the most powerful in its subliming incorporeity, is infused into the human conception, then the animal embryo does not only exist as a beating heart, but it lives according to the Creating Thought, and becomes man, created in the image and likeness of God, the son of God, the future citizen of Heaven.
But that happens if life lasts. Man can exist having only the image of man, but no longer being man. That is, he is a sepulcher in which life putrifies. That is why I say: “Life does not begin with existence and does not cease with the ending of the flesh.” Life begins before birth. Life, then, never ends, because the soul does not die, that is, it does not fall into nothingness. It dies to its destiny, which is the celestial destiny, but it survives its punishment. It dies to that blissful destiny, by dying to Grace. This life, hit by a canker which is the death of its destiny, lasts throughout centuries in damnation and torture. This life, if preserved as such, reaches the perfection of living, by becoming eternal, perfect, blissful like its Creator.
Have we any obligations to life? Yes, we have. It is a gift of God. Every gift of God is to be used and preserved carefully, because it is as holy as the Donor. Would you ill-use the gift of a king? No. It is handed down to the heirs, and to the heirs of the heirs, as a glory to the family. Why then ill-treat a gift of God? How is this divine gift to be used and preserved? How is this heavenly flower of the soul to be kept alive to preserve it for Heaven? How can you achieve “to live” above and beyond existence? Israel has clear laws on the matter and has only to comply with them. Israel has prophets and just people who set examples and explain how to observe the laws. Israel has now also its saints. Israel cannot, should not err. I see stained hearts and dead souls swarming everywhere. So, I say to you: do penance; open your souls to the Word; practise the immutable Law; give fresh blood to the worn out “life” which is languishing within you; if it is already dead, come to the true Life: to God. Bewail your sins. Shout: “Mercy!” But rise from the dead. Do not be dead people alive, so that in future you may not suffer eternally. I will speak to you only of the way to reach and preserve life. Another man said to you: “Do penance. Cleanse yourselves of the impure fire of lust, of the mud of sin.” I say to you: My poor friends, let us study the Law together. Let us hear in it, once again, the fatherly voice of the true God. And then let us pray together the Eternal Father saying: “May Your mercy descend into our hearts.”
It is now gloomy winter. But spring will come before long. A dead soul is more sad than a forest made bare by frost. But if humility, good will, penance and faith penetrate you, life will come back to you, like a forest in spring, and you will blossom to God, to bear the everlasting fruits of true life in future, in the future of centuries without end.
Come to Life! Cease existing only and begin “to live”. Death, then, will not be the “end”, but the beginning. The beginning of a never ending day, of a peaceful immeasurable joy. Death will be the triumph of what lived before the flesh, and the triumph of the flesh called to eternal resurrection, to take part in this Life that, in the name of the true God, I promise to all those who “want” that “life” for their souls, crushing under their feet sensuality and passions, to enjoy the freedom of the children of God.
Go. Every day, at this time, I will speak to you of the eternal truth. The Lord be with you."
The crowd disperse slowly making comments. Jesus goes to the solitary house and it all ends