223. Jesus Speaks to Highwaymen.
19th July 1945.
"I will speak in the place where we are going" says the Lord while the group goes more and more into valleys that assail the mountain with hard narrow stony roads, and go up and downhill, losing horizons and reconquering them. Finally, going down a very steep slope, where only the billy-goat is at ease, as Peter remarks, they reach a deep valley, where they can rest and take some food near a spring, which is very rich in water.
There are other people spread in the meadows and thickets having their meal, like Jesus and His apostles. It must be a well known resting place preferred by travellers, since it is sheltered from winds and there are soft meadows and plenty water. They are pilgrims who are going towards Jerusalem, travellers going perhaps to the Jordan, merchants of lambs destined to the Temple, shepherds with their flocks. Some are travelling on horseback, most of them on foot.
There is also a nuptial caravan in festive array, which has just arrived. Gold jewels shine through the veil covering the bride, a little older than a girl, in the company of two matron-like women sparkling with bracelets and necklaces, and of a man, perhaps the matchmaker, besides two servants. They arrived on donkeys adorned with ribbons and harness bells and they withdraw to eat ill a corner, as if afraid that the glances of the people present might violate the young bride. The matchmaker or relative, whatever he 'nay be, mounts guard in a threatening attitude while the women oat. The curiosity of the other people is greatly roused and in fact, with the excuse of asking for some salt, or a knife, or a drop of vinegar, there is always someone going here or there, to find out whether anyone knows who the bride is, where she is going, and many other nice things of the kind...
There is in fact one who knows where she comes from, where she is going and is more than happy to tell everything he knows, also because he is prompted by another man who makes him more talkative by pouring out some very good wine for him. In a few moments also the most secret details of two families are disclosed, with information on the trousseau, which the bride is taking in the cases which are there, and on the wealth that is awaiting her in her husband's house and so on. They thus learn that the bride is the daughter of a rich merchant in Joppa, and is getting married to the son of a rich merchant in Jerusalem, and that the bridegroom has preceded her to adorn the nuptial house for her impending arrival and that the man who is accompanying her is a friend of the groom and also the son of a merchant, of Abraham, who deals in diamonds and gems, whereas the bridegroom is a gold-beater, and the bride's father is a merchant dealing in woollen and cotton cloths, carpets, curtains... As the chatterbox is close to the apostolic group, Thomas hears him and asks: "Is the bridegroom perhaps Nathanael of Levi?"
"Yes, he is. Do you know him?"
"I know the father well, because I did business with him, I am a little less familiar with Nathanael. A wealthy marriage!"
"And a happy bride! She is covered with gold. Abraham, a relative of the bride's mother and father of the groom's friend, distinguished himself and so did the groom and his father. They say that the contents of those cases are worth many gold talents."
"Good Lord!" exclaims Peter and he whistles a tune. He then says: "I am going to have a close look to see whether the main goods correspond to the rest" and he stands up, together with Thomas, and they both go for a short walk round the nuptial group. They watch the three women carefully, three heaps of cloth and veils, from which jewelled hands and wrists emerge and through which they can see ears and necks sparkling with jewels. They also watch the boastful matchmaker, who swaggers so much, as if he had to repel corsairs attacking the little virgin. He looks daggers also at the two apostles. But Thomas begs him to greet Nathanael of Levi on behalf of Thomas, called Didymus. And thus peace is made, so much so that while he is speaking, the bride manages to be admired, as she gets up in such a way that her mantle and veil fall off and she appears in all the gracefulness of her body and clothes showing her wealth worthy of an idol.
She must be fifteen years old, at most, and her eyes are very alert! She moves about mincingly notwithstanding the two matrons' disapproval of her affected ways: she unpins her plaits and then fastens them again by means of precious hairpins: she tightens her belt which is studded with gems: she unlaces, takes off and puts on again her shoe-styled sandals, fastening them with gold buckles, and at the same time she displays her beautiful dark hair, her lovely hands and soft arms, a slender waist, well shaped breast and hips, her perfect feet and all her jewels which tinkle and glitter in the twilight or in the light of the flames of the first bonfires.
Peter and Thomas go back. Thomas says: "She is a beautiful girl."
"She is a perfect coquette. It may be... but your friend Nathanael will soon find out that there is someone who keeps his bed warm for him, while he warms gold to beat it. And his friend is a perfect fool. He puts his bride in the right hands!" concludes Peter sitting down near his companions.
"I did not like that man who was encouraging that other fool over there to speak. When he had heard all he wanted to know, he went away up the mountain... This is a bad spot. And the weather is just right for highwaymen. Moonlight nights. Exhausting heat. Trees all covered with leaves. H'm! I don't like this place" grumbles Bartholomew. "It would have been better to go on." "And that imbecile who mentioned all the riches! And that other one who plays the hero and the watchman of shadows and cannot see real bodies!... Well, I will keep watch near the fire. Who is coming with me?" asks Peter.
"I am, Simon" replies the Zealot. "I can go without sleeping."
Many of the people, particularly single travellers, have got up and gone away a few at a time. There are left the shepherds with their flocks, the nuptial group, the apostolic one and three lamb merchants, who are already sleeping. Also the bride is asleep with the matrons under a tent which the servants have put up. The apostles look for a place where to rest, while Jesus withdraws to bray. The shepherds light a bonfire in the centre of the clearing where are their flocks. Peter and Simon light another one near the path of the cliff where the man disappeared, the one who had roused Bartholomew's suspicion.
Time passes and those who are not snoring, are nodding. Jesus is praying. There is dead silence. Also the spring shining in the moonlight seems to be silent. The moon is now high in the sky and I he clearing is brightly lit up, whereas the edges are shadowed by thick foliage.
A big sheep dog snarls. A herdsman raises his head. The dog stands up raising the hair on its back and pointing in an alert position. It even trembles in its deep excitement while its hollow snarling becomes louder and louder. Also Simon raises his head and shakes Peter who is dozing. A slight rustle can be heard in the wood.
"Let us go to the Master. We will bring Him with us" say the two apostles. In the meantime the herdsman wakes up his companions. They are all listening noiselessly. Also Jesus has got up, before being called and is going towards the two apostles. They gather near their companions, that is, near the shepherds, whose dog is becoming more and more excited.
"Call those who are sleeping. Everybody. Tell them to come here, without making any noise, particularly the women and the servants with the coffers. Tell them that perhaps there are highwaymen about. But do not tell the women, only the men." The apostles spread out obeying the Master Who says to the shepherds: "Put a lot of wood on the fire so that it will give a good light." The shepherds obey, and as they look excited, Jesus says to them: "Do not be afraid. Not one flock of wool will be taken off you."
The merchants arrive and whisper: "Oh! Our profits!" and they add a string of abuse against the Roman and Jewish governors who do not clear the world of robbers.
"Do not be afraid. You will not lose one single little coin" says Jesus comforting them.
The weeping women arrive and they are frightened, because the brave matchmaker, trembling with fear, is terrorising them moaning: "It will be our death! The robbers will kill us!"
"Do not be afraid. No one will touch you. They will not even look at you" says Jesus to comfort them and He takes the women to the centre of the little group of men and frightened animals.
The donkeys are braying, the dog is barking, the sheep are bleating, the women are sobbing and the men are cursing or swooning more than the women, a real cacophony caused by fear.
Jesus is calm, as if nothing had happened. The rustling in the wood can no longer be heard because of the uproar. But the presence of approaching robbers in the wood is evidenced by the noise of breaking branches and rolling stones. "Silence!" orders Jesus. And He orders it in such a way that everything becomes quiet.
Jesus leaves His place and goes towards the wood, at the edge of the clearing. He turns His back to the wood and begins to speak.
"The wicked craving for gold drives men to base feelings. Man makes himself known because of his hunger for gold more than anything else. Consider how much evil is caused by this metal through its alluring but useless brightness. I think that the air in Hell is of the same hue, so hellish is its nature since man became a sinner. The Creator had left it in the bowels of that huge lapis-lazuli which is the earth, created by His will, that it might be useful to man with its salts and an ornament to temples. But Satan, kissing Eve's eyes, and biting man's ego, gave the savour of witchcraft to the innocent metal. And since then man kills and sins for the sake of gold. Woman for its sake becomes a coquette and inclined to carnal sin. Man for its sake becomes thief, usurper, homicide, harsh against his neighbour and his own soul, which he deprives of its true inheritance, to follow transient things, and he deprives it also of the eternal treasure for the sake of a few shining scales, which he will have to leave at his death.
You, who for the sake of gold, sin more or less lightly, or more or less gravely, and the more you sin, the more you laugh at what your mothers and teachers taught you, namely, that there is a reward or a punishment for actions done during life, will you not consider that because of that sin you will lose God's protection, eternal life and joy, and you will have in your hearts remorse and malediction, while fear will be your companion, fear of human punishment, which is nothing when compared to the fear, which you should have but you have not, of divine punishment? Will you not consider that you may have a dreadful end because of your misdeeds, if you have gone as far as being criminals; and an even more dreadful end, because it will be an everlasting one, if for the sake of gold, your misdeeds have not gone as far as shedding blood, but have despised the law of love and of respect for your neighbour, by denying assistance to those who are starving through your avarice, or stealing positions or money or defrauding by means of false weights, through your greed? No. You do not consider all that. You say: “It's all an idle story! And I have crushed such idle stories under the weight of my gold. And they no longer exist.”
It is not an idle story. It is the truth. Do not say: “Well, when I am dead, that is the end of everything.” No. That is the beginning. Next life is not an abyss without thought and without remembrance of the past you have lived or without longing for God, as you think the period of expectation of liberation by the Redeemer is. Next life is a happy expectation for the just, a patient expectation for the expiating, a dreadful expectation for the damned. For the first in Limbo, for the second in Purgatory, for the third in Hell. And while the expectation will end for the first when they enter Heaven after the Redeemer, it will be comforted for the second by a greater hope after that hour, whilst the dreadful certainty of eternal malediction will be confirmed for the third.
Think about it, you sinners. It is never too late to repent. Change the verdict which is being written in Heaven against you, by means of true repentance. Do not let Sheol be hell for you, but an expiating expectation, at least that, through your own will. Do not let it be darkness, but twilight, not torture, but nostalgia, not despair, but hope. Go. Do not endeavour to fight against God. He is the Strong and Good One. Do not insult the names of your relatives. Listen to the wail of that fountain, it is like the wail that breaks the hearts of your mothers knowing that you are murderers. Listen to the howling of the wind in that gorge. It seems to be threatening and cursing. As your fathers curse you for the life you lead. Listen to remorse crying in your hearts. Why do you want to suffer whilst you could be peacefully satisfied with little on the earth and everything in Heaven? Grant peace to your spirits! Give peace to men who are afraid, who must be afraid of you as if you were as many wild beasts! Grant peace to yourselves, poor wretches! Raise your eyes to Heaven, detach your mouths from the poisonous food, purify your hands dripping with the blood of your brothers, purify your hearts.
I have faith in you. That is why I am speaking to you. Because if the whole world hates and fears you, I do not hate you or fear you. But I stretch out My hand to say to you: “Rise. Come. Become meek amongst men, men amongst men.” I am so little afraid of you that now I say to everybody here: “Go back and rest. Bear your poor brothers no ill-will, but pray for them. I will remain here looking at them with loving eyes, and I swear that nothing will happen. Because love disarms the violent and satisfies the greedy. Blessed be Love, the true strength of the world, the unknown but powerful strength, the strength that is God.”"
And addressing everybody Jesus says: "You may go now. Be not afraid. There are no longer evil-doers over there, but only dismayed men who are weeping. He who weeps does no harm. I wish to God they remained as they are now. It would be their redemption."