265. John the Baptist Sends His Disciples to Ask Jesus whether He Is the Messiah.
29th August 1945.
Jesus is alone with Matthew, who, having hurt his foot, has not been able to go and preach with the others. Invalids and people anxious to hear the doctrine of the Gospel have crowded the terrace and the free area of the kitchen garden, to hear Jesus and receive assistance.
Jesus ends speaking saying: "We have meditated together on Solomon's great sentence: “The greatest strength lies in the abundance of justice” and I now exhort you to have such abundance, because it is money to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Be with My peace and may God be with you." He then turns to the poor and the sick – in many cases the same person is both – and He kindly listens to what they tell Him, He assists with money, advises with words, cures them by imposing His hands and by His words. Matthew, who is beside Him, sees to the alms in money.
Jesus is attentively listening to a poor widow who weeping informs Him of the sudden death of her husband, a carpenter, at his work bench, only a few days previously: "I ran here looking for You, and all the relatives of my dead husband accused me of being unbecoming and hard-hearted and they now curse me. But I came because I know that You can raise people from death and I also know that if I had found You, my husband would have risen again. But You were not here... He has now been buried two weeks... and I am here with five children... Our relatives hate me and do not help me. I have some olive-tree and vines. They are only a few, but they would give me bread for the winter months, if I could only keep them until harvest time. But I have no money, because my husband was ill for some time and worked very little and he ate and drank even too much to support himself. He used to say that wine did him good... but it brought about double trouble as it killed him and used up all our savings, which were already scanty because of his work. He was just finishing a cart and a chest and he had orders for two beds, some tables and shelves. But now... They are not finished and my boy is not yet eight years old. I shall lose the money... I shall have to sell the tools and the wood. I cannot sell the cart and the chest as such, although they are almost finished, and I shall have to give them as firewood. And the money will not be enough, because I, my old mother, who is also ill, and five children are seven all together... I will sell the vineyard and the olive-trees... But You know what the world is like... They fleece you when they know that you are in need. Tell me, what shall I do? I wanted to keep the bench and tools for my son, who is already capable of doing some work with wood... and I wanted to keep the land to live on and as a dowry for my daughters..." Jesus is listening to all that when the confusion of the crowd warns Him that something is happening. He turns round and sees three men who are elbowing their way through the crowd. He turns round to the widow again to ask her: "Where do you live?"
"At Korazim, near the road to the Warm fountain. A low house between two fig trees."
"Very well. I will come and finish the cart and the chest and you will sell them to those who ordered them. Wait for Me tomorrow at dawn."
"What? You are going to work for me!" the woman is choking with amazement.
"I will resume My work and bring you peace. And in the meantime I will give a lesson on charity to the heartless people of Korazim."
"Yes! They have no hearts! If only old Isaac were there! He would not have let me die of starvation. But he has gone back to Abraham..."
"Do not weep. Do not worry. Here is what you need for today, I will come tomorrow. Go in peace."
The woman stoops to kiss His tunic and she is somewhat relieved when she goes away.
"Three times holy Master, may I greet You?" asks one of the three men who have just arrived and have stopped respectfully behind Jesus, waiting for Him to dismiss the woman, and have thus heard Jesus' promise. The man who has greeted Jesus is Manaen.
Jesus turns around and smiling says: "Peace to you, Manaen! So you have remembered Me?"
"Always, Master. And I had planned to come to see You in Lazarus' house or at the Garden of Gethsemane and stay with You. But the Baptist was captured before Passover. He was recaptured by treachery and I was afraid that Herodias might order the holy man to be killed during the absence of Herod, who had come to Jerusalem for Passover. She refused to go to Zion for the Festivity saying that she was not well. It is true, she was ill... of hatred and lust... I was at Machaerus to control the situation and check the wicked woman who is capable of killing with her own hand... And she does not do so because she is afraid of losing Herod's favour who... either because he is afraid or he is convinced, defends John, confining his action to keeping him in prison. Herodias has now escaped from the oppressing heat at Machaerus and she has gone to a castle of her own property. So I came with these friends of mine and disciples of John. He sent them that they may ask You some questions. And I joined them." When the crowd hear the man speak of Herod and they understand who is speaking, they press curiously round the little group of Jesus and the three men. "What did you want to ask Me?" asks Jesus after exchanging greetings with the two austere personages.
"You had better speak, Manaen, since you know everything and you are more friendly" says one of the two.
"Well, Master. You must be indulgent if out of excess of love these disciples look suspiciously at Him Whom they believe to be the antagonist or the supplanter of their master. Your disciples do so as well as John's. It is an understandable jealousy that proves all the love of the disciples for their masters... I am... impartial, and these who are with me can confirm it, because I know You and John and I love you both with justice, so much so that, although I love You for what You are, I preferred to sacrifice myself and stay with John, because I respect him as well for what he is, and at the present moment, because he is in greater danger than You are. Now, because of their love, which the Pharisees are instigating with their hatred, they have come to doubt that You are the Messiah. And they told John thinking that they would fill him with joy by saying: “As far as we are concerned you are the Messiah. There cannot be anyone holier than you are.” But John reproached them calling them first of all blasphemers, and then, after rebuking them, he more kindly explained the various facts that prove that You are the true Messiah. Finally, when he realised that they were still not convinced, he took two of them, these ones here, and said: “Go to Him and say to Him in my name: 'Are You the One Who is to come, or shall we wait for another one? '” He did not send the shepherd disciples, because they believe and it would have been of no avail to send them. But he chose amongst those who are doubtful to let them approach You, so that their word may dispel the doubts of their companions. I brought them here so that I could see You as well. That is all. I beg You to dispel their doubt."
"But do not think that we are hostile to You, Master! Manaen's words might make You think so. We... We have known the Baptist for years and we have always seen him to be holy, penitent, inspired. You... we know You only through the words of other people. And You know what the words of man are worth... They build up and destroy fame and praises in the contrast between those who exalt and those who demolish, as a cloud is formed and dissolved by contrasting winds."
"I know. I read in your souls and your eyes can read the truth in what surrounds you, just as your ears heard My conversation with the widow. That should be enough to convince you. But I say to you: look at those who are around Me. There are no rich, or jolly or scandalous people here; but only poor, sick, honest Israelites who are anxious to know the Word of God. Nothing else. This man, that one, this woman, and that little girl, that old man, were ill when they came here, and now they are sound and healthy. Ask them and they will tell you what was wrong with them, how I cured them and how they are feeling now. Do so. And in the meantime I will speak to Manaen" and Jesus is about to withdraw.
"No, Master. We do not doubt Your words. Just give us a reply to take back to John, that he may know that we came here, and on the strength of it he may convince our companions."
"Go and report this to John: “The deaf hear; this girl was deaf and dumb. The dumb speak; and that man was dumb since his birth. The blind see.” Man, come here. Tell these men what was wrong with you" says Jesus taking a miraculously cured man by the arm.
The man says: "I am a mason and a pail full of quicklime fell on my face. It burnt my eyes. I was four years in the dark. The Messiah wetted my dry eyes with His saliva and they have become fresher than when I was twenty years old. May He be blessed for it."
Jesus resumes: "And with the blind, the deaf, the dumb who have been cured, the lame walk straight, the cripple run. Over there is that old man, a short while ago he was contracted, now he is as straight as a palm tree in the desert, and as agile as a gazelle. The most serious diseases are cured. Woman, what was the matter with you?"
"I had trouble with my breast for giving too much milk to voracious mouths. And my illness ate not only into my breast but also into my life. Look now" and opening her dress she shows her wholesome breasts and adds: "They were one big sore, as you can see from my tunic which is still soaked with pus. I am now going home to put on a clean dress and I feel strong and am happy. Whilst only yesterday I was dying and I was brought here by compassionate friends, and I was so unhappy... because of my children who were about to be left motherless. Eternal praise to the Saviour!"
"Do you hear? And you can ask the head of the synagogue of this town with regard to the resurrection of his daughter, and on your way back to Jericho, go to Nain, and ask for the young man who rose again in the presence of the whole town when they were going to put him into his grave. You will thus be able to report that dead people rise again from the dead. You will be able to find out in many places in Israel that a large number of lepers have been cured, but if you wish to go to Sicaminon you will find many among the disciples, if you look for them. Tell John, therefore, that lepers are cleansed. And tell him, as you can see, that the Gospel is announced to the poor. And blessed are those who will not be scandalised in Me. Tell John that. And tell him that I bless him with all My love."
"Thank You, Master. Bless us as well, before our departure."
"You cannot leave in this warm hour. Stay here, therefore, as My guests, until evening. You will live for one day the life of this Master Who is not John, but loves John because He knows who he is. Come into the house. It is cool and it will restore you. Goodbye, My listeners. Peace be with you" and after dismissing the crowd He enters the house with the three guests...
... What they have said to one another during those sweltering hours I do not know. What I now see is the preparation for the departure to Jericho of the two disciples. Manaen is apparently staying, because they have not brought his horse with the two strong donkeys to the opening in the wall of the yard. The two messengers of John, after bowing several times to the Master and Manaen, mount their donkeys and look back saluting until they disappear round a comer. Many people of Capernaum have gathered together to see the departure because the news of the visit of John's disciples and of Jesus' reply to them had spread through the village and I think it reached nearby towns as well. I see people from Bethsaida and Korazim, who introduced themselves to John's messengers, asking after him and to be remembered to him – they are perhaps ex-disciples of the Baptist – who are now chatting together with the people of Capernaum, making their comments. Jesus is about to enter the house while speaking to Manaen who is beside Him. But people press round Him, anxious to see Herod's foster-brother and his respectful manners to Jesus, and to speak to Jesus at the same time.
There is also Jairus, the head of the synagogue. But, thanks be to God, there are no Pharisees. And it is Jairus who remarks: "John will be glad! You have sent him not only an exhaustive answer, but, by keeping them here, You have also been able to teach them and show them a miracle."
"And it was not a little one, either!" exclaims a man.
"I deliberately brought my little daughter here today, that they might see her. She has never been so well and it is a great joy for her to come to the Master. And did you hear her reply? “I do not remember what death is. But I remember that an angel called me and he took me through a brighter and brighter light at the end of which there was Jesus. And I do not see him now as I saw Him then with my soul that was coming back to me. You and I now see the Man. But my soul saw the God Who is closed in the Man.” And how good she has become since then! She was good. But now she is a real angel. Ah! they can say what they like, but as far as I am concerned, no one is holy but You!"
"But John is holy, too" says a man of Bethsaida.
"Yes. But he is too severe."
"Not more with others than he is with himself."
"But he does not work miracles and they say that he fasts to be like a magician."
"And yet he is a saint" and the petty quarrel spreads among the crowd. Jesus raises His hand stretching it out in His usual gesture asking for silence and attention when He wants to speak. The crowd become silent at once.
Jesus says: "John is holy and great. Do not consider his way of behaving or the lack of miracles. I solemnly tell you: “He is a great one in the Kingdom of God.” He will appear there in all his grandeur.
Many complain that he was and still is so severe as to appear rude. I tell you solemnly that he has worked like a giant to prepare the ways of the Lord. And he who works like that has no time for softness. Did he not repeat, when he was along the Jordan, the words of Isaiah, by which he and the Messiah are prophesied: “Let every valley be filled in, every mountain and hill be laid low, let every cliff become a plain, and the ridges a valley” in order to prepare the ways to the Lord and King? He really did more than the whole of Israel to prepare My way! And he who has to lay mountains low and fill in valleys and straighten roads and make ridges become plains can but work rudely, because he was the Precursor and he preceded Me by only a few months and everything was to be done before the Sun was high on the day of Redemption. And this is the time, the Sun is rising to shine on Zion and thence on the whole world. John has prepared the way as he had to do.
What did you go to see in the wilderness? A reed swaying in every direction in the breeze? But what did go to see? A man clad in fine soft clothes? But those live in the palaces of kings, wearing fine clothes and respected by many servants and courtiers, and they are courtiers themselves of a poor man. There is one here. Ask him whether he is not disgusted with the life at Court and whether he admires the solitary rugged rock that is struck in vain by thunderbolts and scourged by hailstones, and against which silly winds struggle endeavouring to demolish it, while it stands firm, thrusting its whole being towards the sky, with its top proclaiming the joy of altitude, straight as it is and sharp like a rising flame. That is John. That is how Manaen sees him, because he has understood the truth of life and death and he can see grandeur where it really is, even if it be hidden under a wild appearance.
And what did you see in John when you went to see him? A prophet? A saint? I will tell you: He is more than a prophet. He is more than many saints, because he is the one of whom it is written: “Look, I am going to send my angel to prepare Your way before You.” Angel. Consider this. You know that the angels are pure spirits created by God to His spiritual likeness and placed as a link between man, the perfection of the visible and material creation, and God, the Perfection of Heaven and Earth, Creator of the spiritual Kingdom and of the animal kingdom. Even in the holiest man there is always flesh and blood forming an abyss between him and God. And the abyss subsides under the weight of sin that weighs down also what is spiritual in man. So God created the angels, creatures reaching the summit of the creation scale, just as minerals lie at its base, minerals being the dust forming the earth and inorganic materials in general. They are clear mirrors of the Thought of God, willing flames operating out of love, ready to understand, quick in acting, free in willing as we are, but their entirely holy will ignores the rebellion and incentive of sin. That is what the angels adoring God are, His messengers to men, our protectors, who grant us the Light that shines on them and the Fire that they gather worshipping.
John is called “angel” by the prophetic word. And I say to you: “Of all the children born of women, a greater one than John the Baptist has never been seen.” Yet the least in the Kingdom of Heaven will be greater than John-man. Because one of the Kingdom of Heaven is a son of God and not of woman. Endeavour therefore to become citizens of the Kingdom.
What are you asking one another?"
"We were saying: “But will John be in the Kingdom? And how will he be there?”"
"He is already in the Kingdom in his spirit and he will be there after his death as one of the most splendid suns of the eternal Jerusalem. And that because of the Grace that is in him without any flaw and through his own will. Because he was and is violent also against himself for a holy purpose. From the Baptist onwards the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are capable of conquering it through strength opposed to Evil, and the violent will conquer it. Because now it is known what is to be done and everything has been given for such conquest. It is no longer the time when the Law and the Prophets only spoke. They spoke down to the time of John. Now the Word of God speaks and He does not hide an iota of what is to be known for this conquest. Thus, if you believe in Me you must see him as the Elijah who is to come. If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen. What description can I find for this generation? It is like children shouting to their companions as they sit in the market place: “We have played the pipes for you and you would not dance, we sang dirges and you would not weep.” For John came and he neither ate nor drank and this generation says: “He can do that because the demon assists him.” The Son of man came, eating and drinking and they say: “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of publicans and sinners.” Thus her children do justice to Wisdom! I tell you solemnly that only children are capable of discerning the truth, because there is no malice in them."
"You are right, Master" says the head of the synagogue. "That is why my daughter, who is still without malice, can see You as we are not able to see You. And yet this town and the neighbouring ones are overflowing with Your power, wisdom and kindness, and, I must admit it, they are making progress only in wickedness towards You. They will not mend their ways. And the good You do them ferments into hatred against You."
"What are you saying, Jairus? You are calumniating us. We are here because we are faithful to the Christ" says one from Bethsaida.
"Yes. We are. But how many are we? Less than one hundred out of three towns that ought to be at Jesus' feet. Of those who are absent, I am talking of the men, half are hostile, a quarter are indifferent, I will grant that the rest cannot come. Is that not a sin in the eyes of God? And will such hatred and obstinacy in evil not be punished? Speak, Master, because You know, and if You are silent it is out of kindness, not because You do not know. You are patient, and that is mistaken for ignorance and weakness. Speak, therefore and may Your words stir at least those who are indifferent, as the wicked will not repent, but they become more and more wicked."
"Yes, it is a sin. And it will be punished. Because the gift of God must never be despised or used to do wrong. Woe betide you, Korazim, woe betide you, Bethsaida, who misuse the gifts of God. If the miracles worked in you had taken place in Tyre and Sidon, their inhabitants would have done penance and come to Me a long time ago wearing sackcloths and sprinkled with ashes. I therefore say that Tyre and Sidon will be dealt with more mercifully than you will on Doomsday. And you, Capernaum, do you think that You will be exalted to Heaven only because you gave Me hospitality? You will descend to hell. Because if the miracles I gave you had been worked in Sodom, it would still be flourishing, as it would have believed in Me and turned. Therefore greater mercifulness will be shown to Sodom on the Day of Judgement, because they did not know the Saviour and His word, and thus their sin is not so grave, than will be shown to you as you knew the Messiah and heard His word but you did not mend your ways. But, since God is just, those of Capernaum, Bethsaida and Korazim who believed and are becoming holy obeying My word, will be treated with great mercifulness. Because it is not fair for the just to be involved in the ruin of sinners. With regard to your daughter, Jairus, and yours, Simon, and your boy Zacharias, and your grandchildren, Benjamin, I tell you that they already see God, because they are without malice. And you can see how their faith is pure and active, joined to celestial wisdom and charitable yearning, which adults do not possess."
And Jesus, looking at the sky, which is becoming dark at dusk, exclaims: "I thank You, Father of Heaven and Earth, because You have concealed these things from wise and learned people and You have disclosed them to the humble. Because that is what pleases You. Everything has been trusted to Me by My Father, and nobody knows Him but the Son and those to whom the Son has revealed it. And I have revealed it to the little ones, to the humble, the pure, because God gives Himself to them, and the truth descends like seed on free soil and the Father pours His light on it that it may take root and grow. Truly, the Father prepares these souls of children by age or children by will, that they may know the truth and I may rejoice in their faith."