371. Preparation Day. The Morning.
30th January 1946.
Men are lying asleep everywhere in Lazarus' palace, which has been changed into a dormitory for one night. I do not see any women. They have perhaps been taken to the rooms upstairs. The clear daybreak whitens the city slowly, it invades the courtyards of the palace, rousing the first timid chirping of birds in the branches of the shady trees, and the early cooing of doves resting in the cavity of the cornice. But the men do not wake up. Tired and full of food and excitement as they are, they are sleeping and dreaming.
Jesus goes into the hall and then into the main courtyard. He washes Himself at a fountain of clear water gurgling in its centre, in a square of myrtle, at the foot of which there are little lilies, similar to the so called French lilies of the valley. He tidies Himself and without making any noise He goes to the staircase leading to the rooms upstairs and to the roof terrace. He goes up there to pray and meditate...
He walks slowly to and fro and the doves are the only ones to see Him: stretching their necks and cooing, they seem to be asking one another: "Who is that?" He then leans against the little wall and remains still, engrossed in thought. Finally He raises His eyes, probably because His attention is drawn by the sudden appearance of the sun, rising behind the hills concealing Bethany and the Jordan valley, and He contemplates the view before Him.
Lazarus' palace is on one of the many ground elevations that make the streets in Jerusalem, particularly the less beautiful ones, so undulated. It is in the centre of the city, slightly south-west. It is situated in a beautiful street leading to the Sixtus, forming a T with it, and it overlooks the lower part of the town and faces towards Bezetha, Moriah and Ophel and the Mount of Olives, which is behind them; behind it there is Mount Sion, the area to which it belongs, while on both sides one's eyes rove over the southern hills, whereas Bezetha to the north hides most of the view. But beyond the Gihon valley, Golgotha comes into view looking yellowish in the pink light of dawn: it seems dismal even in that joyful light.
Jesus is looking at it... His look, although more manly and pensive, reminds me of that of the remote vision of Jesus disputing with the doctors, when He was twelve years old. But it is not a terrified look as it was not then. It is the dignified look of a hero contemplating the field of his last battle.
He then turns round to look at the hills to the south of the town and He says: "Caiaphas' house!" and His eyes follow the itinerary from that spot to Gethsemane, then to the Temple, He then looks beyond the town walls, towards Calvary...
The sun has now risen and the town is full of light...
Someone knocks loudly and uninterruptedly at the main door of the palace. Jesus leans out to see who is knocking, but the projecting cornice and the fact that the door is in the inner side of the thick walls, prevent Him from seeing anyone. But He hears the noise of the voices of the men who are beginning to wake up, while the door, which was opened by Levi, is closed with a bang. And He then hears many voices of men and women calling His Name... He hastens downstairs saying:
"Here I am. What do you want?"
As soon as those who were calling Him, hear Him, they rush upstairs shouting. They are the oldest apostles and disciples, and amongst them there is Jonah, the caretaker of Gethsemane. They are all speaking at the same time and it is thus impossible to understand what they say.
Jesus has to order them sternly to stop where they are and to be silent, in order to calm them. He then approaches them asking: "What is the matter?"
There is great confusion once again, caused by their shouting, which cannot be understood. Behind those who are shouting there are women and disciples who look sad or astonished.
"Let one speak at a time. You, Peter, first."
"Jonah came... He said that there were many of them and that they looked for You everywhere. He was upset all night and when the gates were opened, he went to Johanna's and was told that You were here. What shall we do? We have to keep Passover after all!"
Jonah of Gethsemane confirms the information saying: "Yes, they even ill treated me. I told them that I did not know where You were and that perhaps You were not coming back. But they saw all your clothes and they understood that you were coming back to Gethsemane. Don't cause me any harm, Master! I have always given You hospitality with all my heart, and last night I suffered because of You. But ..."
"Be not afraid! From now on I will not expose you to any danger. I will no longer stay in your house. I will come there when I happen to be passing through, at night time, to pray... You cannot forbid Me..." Jesus is most kind to frightened Jonah of Gethsemane.
But the golden voice of Mary of Magdala bursts out vehemently: "Since when, man, are you forgetting that you are a servant and that our compliance makes you behave as if you were the master? To whom does the house and the olive grove belong? We are the only ones who can say to the Rabbi: “Do not go and cause harm to our property.” But we will not say that. Because it would still be the greatest of blessings, if the enemies of the Christ should destroy trees walls and even make the hill slide down, because everything would be destroyed for giving hospitality to Love, and Love would repay us, His faithful friends, with love. Let them come and destroy everything. What does it matter, if He loves us and is unhurt?!"
Jonah is seized with the fear of his enemies and of his earnest mistress, and he whispers: "What about if they injure my son?...."
Jesus comforts him saying: "I am telling you not to be afraid. I will not stop there any more. You can tell those who ask you, that the Master no longer lives at Gethsemane... No, Mary! It is better to do so. Leave it to Me! I thank you for your generosity... But it is not My hour, it is not yet My hour! I suppose they were Pharisees..."
"And members of the Sanhedrin, and Herodians, and Sadducees... and Herod's soldiers... and... everybody... I am still trembling with fear... But You can see, Lord! I ran to warn You... at Johanna's... then here..." The man is anxious to point out that he has done his duty on behalf of the Master, at the risk of his own peace.
Jesus smiles kindly and sympathetically and says: "Yes, I see. May God reward you for it. Go home in peace now. I will let you know where you should send our bags or I will send somebody to collect them Myself."
The man goes away and everybody, with the exception of Jesus and Our Blessed Lady, blames or mocks him. Peter's remarks are biting, the Iscariot's caustic and Bartholomew's ironic. Judas Thaddeus does not say anything, but looks at him in such a way! The whispering and the reproachful glances continue also among the women, ending in the final blow of Mary of Magdala, who replies to the bow of the servant-peasant: "I will tell Lazarus to come and get poultry crammed at Gethsemane for the banquet of the feast."
"I have no hen-house, madame."
"You, Mark and Mary: three wonderful capons!"
Everybody laughs at the angry and... meaningful witty remark of Mary of Lazarus, who is furious at the fear of her subjects and at the discomfort of the Master, Who is deprived of the quiet resting place at Gethsemane.
"Do not be upset, Mary! Peace! Not everybody has a heart like yours!"
"Oh! Unfortunately not! If everybody had a heart like mine, Rabboni! Not even spears and arrows shot at me, would separate me from You!"
The men whisper... Mary hears them and replies at once: "Of course! We shall see! And I hope soon, whether this will help you to pluck up courage. Nothing will frighten me, if I can serve my Rabbi! Yes, serve Him! And, my brothers, one helps when there is danger! When there is no danger, one does not serve, one enjoys oneself!... And the Messiah is not to be followed by us, just for the sake of enjoying ourselves!"
The men lower their heads, stung by the truth.
Mary squeezes through the crowd and comes before Jesus. "What have You decided, Master? It is Preparation Day. Where will You celebrate Your Passover? Give Your orders... and if I have found grace with You, grant me to offer You my supper-room and to see to everything..."
"You have found grace with the Father of Heaven, and thus you have found it with the Son of the Father. Every movement of the Father is sacred to the Son. But if I accept the supper-room, let Me go to the Temple, to sacrifice the lamb, as a good Israelite..."
"And if they catch You?" many exclaim.
"They will not catch Me. They may dare to do so at night, in the dark, as rascals are wont to do. But not in the middle of crowds who worship Me. Do not become cowardly!..."
"Oh! In any case there is Claudia now!" shouts Judas. "The King and Kingdom are no longer in danger!..."
"Judas, please! Do not let them collapse within you! Do not lay snares for them within yourself. My Kingdom is not of this world. I am not a king like those sitting on thrones. Mine is the Kingdom of the spirit. If you lower it to the meanness of a human kingdom, you are laying snares for it and causing it to collapse within you."
"But Claudia is a heathen. She cannot, therefore, appreciate the value of the spirit. It is a lot if she understands and supports Him, Who, according to her, is a Wise Man... Many people in Israel do not even consider Me wise!... But you are not a heathen, My dear friend! Do not allow your providential meeting with Claudia to become detrimental to you, and likewise do not allow the gift, granted by God to strengthen your faith and your will to serve the Lord, to become a spiritual disaster for you."
"How could it, my Lord?"
"Easily. And not in you only. If a gift given to assist the weakness of man, instead of fortifying him and making him desirous of supernatural good or even simply of moral good, should instead weigh him down with human desires and divert him from the right way to vicious ways, then the gift would become a damage. Pride is sufficient to turn a gift into a damage. The disorientation caused by something that elates man is sufficient, whereby one loses sight of the supreme good Purpose, and the gift becomes harmful. Are you convinced? Claudia's coming should give you only the support of one consideration. This one: if a heathen has perceived the greatness of My doctrine and the necessity that it should triumph, you, and all the disciples with you, should feel that more intensely and, consequently, devote yourselves entirely to that. But always in a spiritual way. Always... And now let us decide. Where do you think we ought to celebrate this Passover? I want you to be in the peace of spirit for this ritual Supper, in order to feel God, Who is not perceived in a state of agitation. We are many. But I would love to be all together so that you may be able to say: “We celebrated one Passover with Him.” Choose therefore a place where, being divided according to the rite, we can form groups, each group being sufficient to consume its own lamb, and we may be able to say: “We were all united, and one could hear the voice of his brother.”"
Some mention this place, some that one. But Lazarus' sisters are the winners. "Oh! Lord! Here! We shall send for our brother. We have many halls and rooms here. We will be all together and according to the rite. Accept our offer, Lord! The palace has rooms suitable for at least two hundred people divided into groups of twenty people each. But we are not so many. Make us happy, Lord! Do it for our Lazarus who is so sad... and so ill" and the two sisters conclude weeping: "...we do not think that he will live to eat another Passover..."
"What do you all think? Do you think we should agree with the good sisters?" says Jesus, putting the question to everybody.
"I would say yes" says Peter.
"And I, too" says the Iscariot and many more with him.
Those who do not speak, nod assent.
"Do the necessary, then. And we will go to the Temple to prove that he who is sure that he is obeying the Most High, is not afraid and is not a coward. Let us go. My peace to those who are remaining."
And Jesus goes down the rest of the staircase, He crosses the hall and goes out with the disciples into the street crowded with people.