255. Jesus Speaks of Hope.
18th August 1945.
Some vine-dressers, who are passing through the orchard, laden with baskets of golden grapes, which seem to be made of amber, see the apostles and ask them: "Are you pilgrims or strangers?"
"We are Galilean pilgrims going towards Mount Carmel" replies on behalf of everybody James of Zebedee, who with his fishermen companions is stretching his legs to overcome a residual somnolence. The Iscariot and Matthew are just waking up on the grass on which they had lain down, while the elder ones, being very tired, are still sleeping. Jesus is speaking to John of Endor and Ermasteus, while the Blessed Virgin and Mary Clopas are nearby, but they do not speak. The vine-dressers ask: "Have you come from afar?"
"Caesarea was our last stop. Before that we were at Sicaminon and farther away. We come from Capernaum."
"Oh! It's a long way in this season! But why did you not come to our house? It's over there, see? We could have given you cool water to refreshen yourselves, and some food, rustic food, but good. Come now."
"We are about to depart. May God reward you just the same."
"Mount Carmel will not flee on a chariot of fire as its prophet did" says a peasant half-seriously. "No more chariots come from Heaven to take prophets away. There are no more prophets in Israel, They say that John is already dead" says another peasant.
"Dead? Since when?"
"That's what we were told by some people who came from beyond the Jordan. Did you venerate him?"
"We were his disciples."
"Why did you leave him?"
"To follow the Lamb of God, the Messiah Whom he announced. Men, He is still in Israel. And much more than a chariot of fire would be required to transfer Him worthily to Heaven. Do you not believe in the Messiah?"
"Of course we do! We decided to go and look for Him when the harvest is over. They say that He is very zealous in obeying the Law and that He goes to the Temple on prescribed festivities. We shall soon be going for the Tabernacles and will stay in the Temple every day to see Him. And if we do not find Him, we will go looking for Him until we find Him. Since you know Him, tell us: is it true that He is at Capernaum almost all the time? Is it true that He is tall, young, pale, fair-haired and that His voice is different from every other man's, as it touches the hearts of men and even animals and trees listen to it?"
"It touches every heart, except the hearts of Pharisees, Gamala. They have become harsher."
"They are not even animals. They are demons, including the one whose name I bear. But tell us: is it true that He is so kind as to speak to everybody, to comfort everybody, to cure diseases and convert sinners?"
"Do you believe that?"
"Yes, we do. But we would like to be told by you who follow Him. Oh! I wish you would take us to Him!"
"But you have your vineyards to look after."
"But we have also a soul to take care of, and it is worth more than our vineyards. Is He at Capernaum? By forced marches we could go and come back in ten days..."
"The One you are looking for is over there. He has rested in your orchard and is now speaking to that old man and the young one, and His Mother and the sister of His Mother are beside Him."
"That One... Oh!... What shall we do?"
They become stiff with amazement. They are all eyes looking at Him. All their vitality is concentrated in their eyes.
"Well? You were so anxious to see Him, and now you are not moving? Have you become of salt?" says Peter prodding them.
"No... it's... But is the Messiah so simple?"
"What did you expect Him to be? Sitting on a flashing throne wearing a royal mantle? Did you think that He was a new Ahasuerus?"
"No. But... so simple, and He is so holy!"
"Man, He is simple just because He is holy. Well, let us do this... Master! Be patient, come here and work a miracle. There are some men here who are looking for You, but they have become petrified seeing You. Come and give them back motion and speech."
Jesus, Who turned round when He was called, gets up smiling and comes towards the vine-dressers, whose countenance is so stupefied that they seem to be frightened.
"Peace be with you. Did you want Me? Here I am" and He makes the usual gesture with His arms, which He stretches out as if He offered Himself. The vine-dressers fall on their knees and remain silent.
"Be not afraid. Tell Me what you want."
They offer their baskets full of grapes, without speaking.
Jesus admires the beautiful grapes, and saying: "Thanks" He stretches a hand and takes a bunch and begins to eat them.
"O Most High God! He eats like us!" says with a sigh the one whose name is Gamala.
It is not possible not to laugh at such a remark. Jesus also smiles more noticeably and almost to excuse Himself, He says: "I am the Son of man!"
His gesture has overcome their ecstatic torpor, and Gamala says: "Would You not enter our house, at least until vesper? We are many, because we are seven brothers with wives and children, and then there are the old ones who are waiting for death in peace."
"Let us go. Call your companions and join us. Mother, come with Mary." And Jesus sets out behind the peasants who have got up and are walking a little sideways in order to see Him walk. The path is a narrow one and runs between trees tied to one another by vines.
They soon reach the house, or rather the houses, because there are several houses forming a square with a large common yard in the centre, where there is a well. The entrance is through a long corridor, which serves as a lobby and is closed at night with a heavy door.
"Peace to this house and to those who live in it" says Jesus entering and raising His hand to bless, and then lowers it to caress a little half-naked baby, who looks at Him ecstatically: he is lovely in his little sleeveless shirt, which has fallen off his plump shoulder; he is bare-footed, with one finger in his mouth and a crust of bread, dressed with oil, in the other hand.
"That's David, the son of my youngest brother" explains Gamala, while one of the other vine-dressers enters the house next door to inform the people in it, he then comes out and enters another one and so on, so that faces of every age look out and withdraw, and finally come out after a short toilet.
There is an old man sitting in the shade of a shed, shielded by a huge fig-tree, and he is holding a stick in his hands. He does not even raise his head, as if nothing were of interest to him.
"He is our father" explains Gamala. "He is one of the old people of the household, because Jacob's wife also brought her father here, when he was left all alone, then there is the old mother of Leah, who is the youngest wife. Our father is blind. His eyes are covered by a veil. So much sunshine in the fields! So much heat from the soil! Poor father! He is very sad. But he is very good. He is now waiting for his grandchildren, who are his only joy."
Jesus goes towards the old man. "May God bless you, father."
"May God give Your blessing back to You, whoever You are" replies the old man raising his head towards the voice.
"Your fate is unpleasant, is it not?" asks Jesus kindly, beckoning to the others not to say who is speaking.
"It comes from God, after so much good He has given me during my long life. As I accepted good from God I must accept also the misfortune of my sight. After all, it is not eternal. It will end on the bosom of Abraham."
"You are right. It would be worse if your soul were blind."
"I have always endeavoured to keep its sight perfect."
"How did you do that?"
"You who are speaking, are young, Your voice tells me. Are You perhaps like the present-day young people who are all blind, because they are without religion, eh? Be careful, it is a great misfortune not to believe and not to do what God, told us. An old man tells You, my boy. If You abandon the Law, You will be blind both on the earth and in next life. You will never see God. Because the day will come when the Redemptor Messiah will open the gates of God for us. I am too old to see that day here on the earth. But I will see it from the bosom of Abraham. That is why I do not complain of anything. Because I hope that through my darkness I will expiate anything I may have done disagreeable to God, and that I may deserve Him in eternal life. But You are young. Be faithful, son, so that You may see the Messiah. Because the time is near. The Baptist said so. You will see Him. But if Your soul is blind You will be one of those of whom Isaiah speaks. You will have eyes, but You will not see."
"Would you like to see Him, father?" asks Jesus laying one hand on his white head.
"I would like to see Him. Of course. But I prefer to go without seeing Him, rather than I should see Him and my sons should not recognise Him. I still have the ancient faith and it is enough for me. They... Oh! the world nowadays..."
"Father, see therefore the Messiah, and may the evening of your life be crowned with delight" and Jesus' hand slides from the white head down across his forehead as far as the bearded chin of the old man, as if He were caressing him, and in the meantime He bends to be at the height of his senile face.
"Oh! Most High Lord! But I can see! I see... Who are You, with this unknown face, which, however, is familiar to me, as if I had already seen You?... But... Oh! How foolish I am! You Who have given me back my eyesight are the blessed Messiah! Oh!" The old man weeps over Jesus' hands, which he has grasped, covering them with tears and kisses.
All the relatives are in a turmoil.
Jesus frees His hand and He caresses the old man again saying: "Yes, it is I. Come, so that you may become acquainted with My words as well as with My face." And He goes towards a little staircase, which leads up to a shady terrace entirely shielded by a thick pergola. Everybody follows Him.
"I had promised My disciples to speak to them about hope and I was going to tell them a parable to explain it. This is the parable: this old Israelite. The Father of Heaven gives Me the subject to teach you all the great virtue that supports Faith and Charity, like the arms of a yoke.
A sweet yoke. The scaffold of mankind like the arm of the cross, the throne of salvation like the support of the wholesome snake raised in the desert. Scaffold of mankind. Bridge of the soul to fly up to the Light. And it is placed in the middle, between essential Faith and most perfect Charity, because without Hope there can be no Faith and without Hope, Charity dies. Faith presupposes unfailing hope. How can one believe that one will reach God if one does not hope in His Bounty? What can support you during your lifetime if you do not hope in eternal life? How can we persist in justice if we do not entertain the hope that every good deed of ours is seen by God Who will reward us for it? Likewise how can Charity be alive in us if we have no hope? Hope precedes Charity and prepares it. Because a man needs to hope in order to love. Those who have lost all hope, cannot love. This is the staircase, made of steps and banisters: Faith the steps, Hope the banisters; at the top there is Charity to which one climbs by means of the other two. Man hopes in order to believe, and believes in order to love.
This man knew how to hope. He was born. A baby of Israel like everybody else. He grew up with the same teaching as everybody else. He became a son of the Law like all the others. He became a man, a husband, a father, old, always hoping in the promises made to the patriarchs and repeated by the prophets. In his old age shadows came over his eyes, but not over his heart. Hope has always been lit in it. Hope to see God. To see God in next life. And, in the hope of that eternal vision, there was a more intimate and dearer hope: “to see the Messiah.” And he said to Me, not knowing who was the young man speaking to him: “If you abandon the Law you will be blind both on the earth and in Heaven. You will not see God and you will not know the Messiah.” He spoke as a wise man. There are too many people in Israel now who are blind. They have no hope because it was killed by their rebellion to the Law, which is always a rebellion, even when veiled by sacred vestments, if it is not complete acceptance of the word of God, I say of God, not of the superstructures put there by man, which being too many and completely human, are neglected by the very ones who put them there, and are fulfilled mechanically, compulsorily, wearily, unfruitfully by others. They have no more hope. But they deride the eternal truth. Therefore they no longer have Faith or Charity. The divine yoke given by God to man that he might make it his obedience and merit, the heavenly cross that God gave to man to conjure the serpents of Evil, that he might make it his health, has lost its cross arm, the one supporting the white flame and the red one: Faith and Charity, and darkness descended into the hearts of men.
The old man said to Me: “It is a great misfortune not to believe and not to do what God told us.” It is true. I confirm it. It is worse than bodily blindness, which can be cured to give a just man the joy to see again the sun, meadows, the fruit of the earth, the faces of his sons and grandchildren, and above all, what was the hope of his hope: “To see the Messiah of the Lord.” I wish such virtue were alive in the soul of every man in Israel and above all in the souls of those who are more learned in the law. It is not sufficient to have been to the Temple or to be of the Temple, it is not sufficient to know the words of the Book by heart. It is necessary to make them the life of our lives by means of the three divine virtues. You have an example: everything is easy to deal with where they are alive, even misfortune. Because the yoke of God is always a light one, which weighs only on the body but does not deject the spirit.
Go in peace, you who live in this house of good Israelites. Go in peace, old father. You have the certainty that God loves you. End your just day by laying your wisdom in the hearts of the children of your own blood. I cannot stay, but My blessing remains here, among these walls rich in grace like the grapes of this vineyard."
And Jesus would like to go away. But He has to stay at least long enough to meet this tribe of all ages, and receive what they wish to give Him, until their travelling sacks are like bulging goat-skins... He can then take to the road again, along a short cut through the vineyard, shown to Him by the vine-dressers, who leave Him only when they reach the main road, in sight of a little village where Jesus and His friends can stay for the night.