447. Little Alphaeus of Meroba.
25th June 1946.
"Take provisions and clothes for several days. We are going to Hippo and then to Gamala and Aphek, we will then go down to Gherghesa and come back here before the Sabbath" orders Jesus, standing on the threshold of the house and caressing absentmindedly some children of Capernaum, who have come to greet their great Friend, as soon as the setting sun is no longer deadly scorching and allows people to leave their houses. And Jesus is one of the first to do so in the little town which revives after the suffocating torpor of the hot hours of the day.
The apostles do not appear to be very enthusiastic about the order they have received. They look at one another, they cast glances at the sun, which is so pitiless, they touch the walls of the house and feel that they are still hot, with their bare feet they touch the ground and say: "It is as hot as a brick near the fire..." implying by such pantomime that one must be mad to go about...
Jesus stands off the door-post against which He was leaning lightly and He says: "Anyone who does not feel like coming may remain here. I do not force anybody. But I do not want to leave this area without My word."
"Master._ don't say that! We are all coming... Only... we thought it was still early to go about..."
"Before the Feast of the Tabernacles I want to go towards the north, so much farther and where boats cannot go. Consequently we must do this area now, as travelling by lake we can save much of the road."
"You are right. I am going to prepare the boats..." and Simon of Jonah goes out with his brother and the two sons of Zebedee and some disciples, to prepare for departure.
Jesus is left with the Zealot, His cousins, Matthew, the Iscariot, Thomas and the inseparable Philip and Bartholomew, who are preparing their sacks and filling flasks, packing loaves of bread, fruit, everything that is needed.
A little child is whining leaning against Jesus' knees. "Why are you weeping, Alphaeus?" asks Jesus, bending to kiss him... No reply... He whimpers more loudly. "He has seen the fruit and wants it" says the bored Iscariot.
"Oh! poor little fellow! He is right! One must not let children see certain things, without giving them some. Take this, son. Don't cry!" says Mary of Alphaeus, picking a golden bunch of grapes from a vine branch, placed in a basket with all the leaves and bunches still attached to it.
"I don't want the grapes..." and he cries louder.
"He wants honeyed water, certainly" says Thomas and he offers his little flask saying: "Children like it and it is good for them. Also my little nephews..."
"I don't want your water..." and his crying increases in tone and intensity.
"What do you want then?" asks Judas of Alphaeus half serious and half annoyed.
"Two slaps, that's what he wants!" says the Iscariot.
"Why? poor boy!" asks Matthew.
"Because he is a bore."
"Oh! If we had to box all the boring persons' ears... we would have to spend our lives boxing our own" says Thomas very calmly.
"Perhaps he is not feeling well. Fruit and water, water and fruit... make tummies ache" states Mary Salome who is among the women disciples.
"If he gets bread, water and fruit, he is lucky... They are so poor!" says Matthew, who by his experience as tax collector is aware of all the financial situations in Capernaum.
"What is the matter with you, my little son? Is it sore here?... But you are not feverish..." says Mary of Clopas who is kneeling beside the little child.
"Oh! Mother! He is just being naughty!... Can't you see it? You would spoil everybody."
"I did not spoil you, my dear Judas. But I loved you. And you did not realise, son, that I loved you to the extent of protecting you against the rigours of Alphaeus..."
"That's true, Mother... I was wrong in reproaching you."
"No harm, son. But if you want to be an apostle, strive to have the heart of a mother for believers. They are like children, you know... and one must be patient and loving with them..."
"Well said, Mary!" says Jesus approvingly.
"We will end up by being taught by women" grumbles Judas Iscariot. "And perhaps even by pagan females..."
"Without any doubt. They will exceed you in many things, if you remain what you are, and you above all, Judas. You will certainly be surpassed by everybody, by little children, by beggars, by ignorant people, by women, by heathens..."
"You could say that I will be the abortion of the world and You would be quicker" replies Judas with a sneer.
"The others are coming back... and we had better leave, don't you think so?" says Bartholomew to put an end to the scene, which is grievous for many, although in different ways.
The crying of the little boy reaches its peak.
"Well, what is it that you want? What is the matter with you?" shouts the Iscariot shaking the boy rudely to take him away from Jesus' knees, to which the child is clinging, and above all to give vent to his anger on the innocent boy. "With You! With You!... Go away... and blows, blows..."
"Ah!... Oh! poor child! It is true! Since his mother got married again, the children of her first husband... are like beggars... as if they were not born of her... She sends them about like beggars and... oh! there is no bread for them..." says the wife of the landlord and she seems to be well informed of facts and their protagonists. And she concludes: "It would be a good thing if someone adopted the three forlorn sons..."
"Don't tell Simon of Jonah, woman. You would get his mother-in-law to have a mortal hatred of you; she is very angry at him and at all of us. Even this morning she insulted Simon, Marjiam and me, as I was with them..." says Matthew.
"I will not tell Simon... But that is the situation..."
"And would you not take them? You have no children..." says Jesus gazing at her...
"I... oh! I would like... But we are poor... and then... Thomas... He has nephews... and I also... and... and..."
"And above all you do not want to help your neighbour... Woman, yesterday you criticised the Pharisees of Capernaum as being hard-hearted, you criticised your fellow-citizens for turning a deaf ear to My words... But in what are you behaving differently, having known Me for over two years?..."
The woman lowers her head teasing her dress with her fingers... But she does not speak one word in favour of the little child who is still crying.
"We are ready, Master" shouts Peter who is arriving.
"Oh! to be poor!... And persecuted!..." says Jesus with a sigh, raising His arms and shaking them in a gesture of discouragement...
"Son!..." says Mary, Who has been silent so far, to comfort Him. And Her word is sufficient to console Him.
"Go ahead with the provisions. I am going with My Mother to the boy's house"
Jesus orders those who are arriving and those who are already with Him, and He sets out with His Mother, Who is carrying the child in Her arms...
They go towards the country.
"What will You tell her, Son?"
"Mother, what do You expect Me to tell a mother whose heart has no love even for the children who are the fruit of her womb?"
"You are right... So?"
"So... Let us pray, Mother."
They walk praying.
An old woman asks them: "Are You taking Alphaeus to Meroba? Tell her that it is time that she should take care of them. They can but become thieves... They are like locusts wherever they happen to go... I am indignant at her, not at those three poor wretches... Oh! How unfair death is! Could Jacob not have survived, and could she not have died? You should make her die, so..."
"Woman, old as you are, are you not yet wise? And you say such words, while you may die any moment? In actual fact, you are as unfair as Meroba. Repent and sin no more."
"Forgive me, Master... It's her guilty behaviour that makes me talk nonsense..."
"Yes, I forgive you. But never speak those words again, not even to yourself. You do not correct errors by cursing, but by loving. If Meroba died, would the fate of these children change? Perhaps the widower would get married again and he would have children of a third marriage and the boys would have a stepmother... Thus their destiny would be worse."
"That is true. I am old and foolish. Here is Meroba. She is cursing already... I leave You, Master. I do not want her to think that I have been talking to You about her. She is a viper..."
But her curiosity is stronger than her fear for the "viper", and the little old woman, even if she moves away from Jesus and Mary, does not go far, instead she bends to root out on the roadside some grass, which a nearby fountain has moistened, in order to listen without being noticed.
"You are here? What have you done? Go home! You are always wandering about like stray animals, like dogs with no master, like..."
"Like children with no mother. Woman, are you aware that it is an adverse testimony for a mother the fact that her little children are not always close to her skirt?"
"It's because they are bad..."
"No. I have been coming here these last thirty months. Previously, when Jacob was alive and during the first months of widowhood, it was not so. Then you got married again... and with the memory of your previous wedding, you lost also that of your children. But what is the difference between them and the one who is maturing in your womb? Did you not bear them as well? Did you not suckle them? Look at that dove over there... How tenderly it takes care of that little pigeon... And yet it is already sitting on other eggs... Look at that sheep. She no longer suckles the lamb of the previous litter because she is pregnant again. And yet see how she licks its little snout and she lets the lively little lamb bump against her side? Are you not replying to Me? Woman, do you pray the Lord?"
"Of course I do. I am not a heathen..."
"And how can you speak to the just Lord if you are unjust? And how can you go to the synagogue and listen to the rolls of parchment which speak of the love of God for His children, without feeling remorse in your heart? Why do you not speak, and your attitude is so arrogant?"
"Because I did not ask for Your words... and I do not know why You have come to annoy me... My condition deserves respect..."
"And does the condition of your soul not deserve any? Why do you not respect the rights of your soul? I know what you mean: that a fit of anger may risk the life of the unborn child... But do you not take care of the life of your soul? It is more valuable than the unborn child's... You know that... Death may be the end of your state. And do you want to face that hour with an upset, sick unjust soul?"
"My husband says that You are one to whom nobody should listen. I will not listen to You. Alphaeus, come..." and she is about to go away amidst the screams of the little boy who knows that he is going to get a thrashing and does not want to leave Mary's arms. And Mary sighing tries to persuade the woman and says to her: "I am a mother as well and I can understand so many things. And I am a woman... I can therefore pity women. You are going through a difficult period, are you not? You suffer but you are not good at suffering... you become embittered thus... Sister, listen. If I gave you little Alphaeus now, you would be unfair to him and to yourself. Leave him with me for a few days, oh! only a few days. You will see that when he is no longer with you, you will pine for him... because a son is such a dear thing, that when he is away from us, we feel poor, cold, with no light..."
"But take him! Take him! I wish You would take the other two as well! But I don't know where they are..."
"Yes, I will take him. Goodbye, woman. Come, Jesus." And Mary turns round quickly and goes away sobbing...
"Do not weep, Mother."
"Do not judge her, Son..."
The two sentences are uttered simultaneously and then, with one thought only, their lips speak the same words: "If they do not understand natural love, can they understand the love which is in the Gospel?" and Son and Mother look at each other, over the little head of the innocent child who now relaxes confidently and happily in Mary's arms...
"We will have one disciple more than we foresaw, Mother."
"And he will enjoy days of peace..."
"Have You seen, eh! She is as deaf as a door-post. I had warned You! And now? And later?"
"Now there is peace. Later God grant there may be a pitiful heart... Why not yours, woman? A glass of water given out of love is taken into account in Heaven. But for those who love an innocent child for My sake... oh! what beatitude for those who love the little ones and save them from evil!..."
The little old woman remains pensive... and Jesus takes a short cut to the lake. When He arrives there, He takes the little boy from Mary's arms to let Her get into the boat more easily, and He lifts the child up as far as He can, to show him and He smiles brightly saying to those who are already in the boats: "Look! This time our preaching will certainly be fruitful, because an innocent is with us" and He walks with steady steps on the board although it sways, He goes into the boat and sits beside His Mother, while the boat moves away from the shore, steering at once south-east, towards Hippo.