456. At Gherghesa and Return to Capernaum.
16th July 1946.
They arrive on the shore of the lake, in the immediate neighbourhood of Gherghesa, when the red sunset is changing into a violet peaceful twilight. The shore is crowded with people preparing their boats for night fishing or bathing joyfully in the lake, lightly rippled by the wind blowing over it.
Jesus is seen and recognised at once, so that before He enters the town, the people know that He has come and crowds rush as usual to hear Him.
A man elbows his way through the crowd saying that some people had come in the morning from Capernaum looking for Him and that He was to go there as soon as possible.
"This very night. I am not stopping here, and as our boats are not here, I ask you to lend Me yours."
"As You wish, Lord. But will You speak to us before You depart?"
"Yes, I will, also to say goodbye to you. I will be leaving Galilee soon..."
A woman, who is weeping, calls Him from the middle of the crowd, begging the people to let her pass, so that she may go to the Master.
"It is Arria, the Gentile who has become a Jewess out of love. You have already cured her husband once. But..."
"I remember. Let her pass!"
The woman comes forward. She throws herself at Jesus' feet weeping.
"What is the matter with you, woman?"
"Rabbi! Rabbi! Have mercy on me. Simeon..."
A man from Gherghesa helps her to speak: "Master, he misuses the health You gave him. He has become hardhearted and greedy and does not even look like an Israelite any longer. The woman is really much better than he is, although she was born in a heathen country. And his hardness and greed cause brawls and draw hatred upon him. His head was seriously injured in a fight and the doctor says that he will almost certainly become blind."
"If that is the case, what can I do?"
"You... cure... She, as You can see, is in despair... She has many children, and they are still young. The blindness of her husband would mean poverty for the family... It is true that it is money earned through evil deeds... But his death would be a disaster because a husband is always a husband, and a father is always a father, even if in place of love and bread he gives infidelity and blows..."
"I cured him once and I said to him: “Sin no more”. He has sinned even more. Had he perhaps not promised that he would not sin any more? Had he not vowed that he would no longer be a usurer and thief, if I cured him, that where possible, he would give back what he had usurped, and where it was not possible he would use it for the poor?"
"Master, that is true. I was present. But... the man is not firm in his purposes."
"What you said is true. And Simeon is not the only one. As Solomon says, many have two weights and false scales, not only in a material sense, but also in the way they judge, act and behave towards God. And Solomon again says: “It is ruinous for man to devour saints; and to repent after making a vow”. But too many people do that... Woman, do not weep. Listen to Me and be just, because you have chosen the religion of Justice. If I proposed two alternatives to you, which one would you choose? Here they are: that I should cure your husband and let him live so that he may continue to mock God and pile up sins on his soul, or I should convert him, forgive him and then let him die? Make your choice. I will do whatever you decide."
The poor woman is in a dire struggle. Natural love, the necessity of a man who somehow or other earns a living for his children, would urge her to ask for "life". Her supernatural love for her husband incites her to ask for "forgiveness and death". The crowds are silent, attentive, moved, awaiting her decision.
At last the poor woman, throwing herself once again on the ground, grasping Jesus' tunic as if she wished to draw strength from it, moans: "Eternal Life... But help me, Lord..." and she collapses with her face on the ground as if she were about to die.
"You have chosen the better part. May you be blessed. Few people in Israel would equal you in fear of God and justice. Stand up. Let us go to your husband."
"But will You really make him die, Lord? And what shall I do?" The human creature rises once again from the fire of the spirit like the mythological phoenix; and she suffers and is dismayed humanly.
"Be not afraid, woman. You, I, we all entrust everything to the Father in Heaven and He will act with His love. Can you believe that?"
"Yes, my Lord..."
"Well, let us go, saying the prayer of all petitions and of all consolations."
And while walking, surrounded by the crowd and followed by a train of people, He says the Our Father slowly. The apostolic group joins in and the harmonious chorus raises the words of the prayer above the buzz of the people who, wishing to hear the Master pray, become silent little by little, so that the last petitions can be heard very clearly in the solemn silence.
"The Father will give you your daily bread. I can assure you in His Name" says Jesus to the woman and addressing not only her but all the people, He goes on to say: "And your sins will be forgiven, if you forgive this man who has offended and harmed you. He needs your forgiveness to be forgiven also by God. And everybody needs the protection of God in order not to fall into sin as Simeon did. Bear that in mind."
They have now arrived at the house which Jesus enters with the woman, Peter, Bartholomew and the Zealot.
The man, lying on a little bed, his face covered with bandages and wet pieces of cloth, is restless and delirious. But Jesus' voice, or His will, make him come round again and he shouts: "Forgive me! Forgive me! I will not fall into sin again. Forgive me as You did the last time! And cure me, as the last time! Arria! Arria! I swear it. I will be good. I will no longer make use of violence or fraud, I will not..." the man is willing to make all kinds of promises, afraid as he is of death...
"Why do you want all that?" asks Jesus. "To expiate or because you are afraid of God's judgement?"
"That, that! Not to die now! Hell!... I have stolen, I have stolen the money of poor people! I have lied. I hit my neighbour and I have made my relative suffer. Oh!..."
"Fear is not sufficient. Repentance is required. Sincere firm repentance."
"Death or blindness! Oh! what punishment! Not to be able to see any more! Darkness! Darkness! No!..."
"If blindness of the eyes is dreadful, is the blindness of the heart not more horrible? And are you not afraid of the eternal horrible darkness of Hell? Of the perpetual privation of God? Of continuous remorse? The grief of having killed yourself for ever, in your spirit? Do you not love this woman? Do you not love these children? And your father, mother, brothers, do you not love them? Well, do you not consider that you will not have them with you any longer if you are damned?"
"No! No! Forgive me! Forgive me! Expiation here, yes, here... Also blindness, Lord... But Hell no... Do not let God curse me! Lord! You expel demons and forgive sins. Do not raise Your hand to cure me, but to forgive me and free me from the demon possessing me... Lay Your hand on my heart, on my head... Free me, Lord..."
"I cannot work two miracles. Consider that. If I free you from the demon, I will leave you with your illness..."
"It does not matter! Be the Saviour."
"Let it be as you wish. Make sure that you avail yourself of My grace, which is the last I will grant you. Goodbye.*
"You have not touched me. Your hand! Your hand!"
Jesus pleases him by laying His hand on the head and chest of the man who, blinded by bandages and the wound, gropes convulsively for Jesus' hand, and having found it, weeps on it, reluctant to leave it, until he falls asleep like a tired child, still holding Jesus' hand pressed against his feverish cheek.
Jesus withdraws His hand cautiously and goes out of the room noiselessly, followed by the woman and the three apostles.
"May God reward You, Lord. Pray for Your servant."
"Continue to grow in justice, woman, and God will always be with you." He lifts His hand to bless the house and the woman and goes out into the street. The buzz of the crowd becomes louder when countless curious questions are asked. But Jesus beckons them to be quiet and to follow Him. He goes back to the main road. Night is falling slowly. Jesus gets into a boat which is bobbing up and down near the shore and He speaks from there.
"No. He is not dead and he has not been cured, according to the flesh. His spirit has meditated on his sins and has indicated the right direction to his thoughts, he has been forgiven because he asked to expiate in order to be forgiven. You, all of you, must support him in his journey towards God.
Consider that we are all responsible for the soul of our neighbour. Woe to those who scandalise! But woe betide also those who through their intolerant behaviour frighten a man just reborn to Good and with their intransigence drive him away from the path on which he has set out. Every man can somehow be a master and a kind master to his neighbour and all the more so when his neighbour is weak and unaware of the wisdom of Good.
I exhort you to be patient, docile and longanimous with Simeon. Do not show hatred, grudge, contempt, irony. Forget his past and do not remind him of it. A man who rises after being forgiven, after repenting, after sincere resolutions, is willing, but he is also burdened by the weight, by the heritage of passions and habits of his past life. It is necessary to help him to get rid of them. And very discreetly. Without making allusions to his past: they are imprudent both with regard to charity and to the human being. To remind a repentant culprit of his faults is to dishearten him. His awakened conscience is sufficient for that. To remind a man of his past, is to give rise to revivals of passions and, at times, to returns to passions already overcome, to fresh consent. In the best of cases it always implies leading into temptation.
Do not tempt your neighbour. Be prudent and charitable. If God has preserved you from certain sins, praise Him. But do not ostentate your justice in order to humiliate whoever has not been just. Learn to understand the imploring look of a repentant man who would like you to forget and who, in the event that he is aware that you have not forgotten, implores you at least not to mortify him by reminding him of his past. Do not say: “He was a leper in his soul” to justify the fact that you have forsaken him. A man affected with leprosy, after the purifications following his recovery, is readmitted among the people. Let the same apply to him who has been cured of sin. Do not be like those who consider themselves perfect, whilst they are not such because they lack charity towards their brothers. On the contrary, with your love you are to surround your brothers who have risen again to grace, so that good companionship may prevent fresh failures.
Do not wish to be more exacting than God, Who does not reject the sinner who repents, but forgives him and readmits him to His company. And even if that sinner caused you a damage which can no longer be mended, do not revenge yourselves now that he is not an overbearing fellow to be frightened of; but forgive him and take much pity on him because he lacked the treasure which every man can have, if he only wishes so: goodness. Love him because by grieving you he has given you the means to deserve a greater reward in Heaven. Join your means to his forgiveness, and your prize will grow even more in Heaven. And do not despise anybody, not even if they belong to another race. You can see that when God attracts a spirit, even the spirit of a heathen, He transforms it in such a way that it exceeds many of the chosen people in justice. I am going. Remember now and always these words and the others which I have spoken to you."
Peter, who was ready, pushes the boat away from the bank with the oar and starts on the voyage followed by the other two boats. The lake, which is not very calm, causes the boats to roll, but no one is frightened because the voyage is a short one. The red lamps are reflected like red rubies on the dark water or they tinge the white foam with a red hue.
"Master, will that man recover or not? I have not understood anything" asks Peter after a short time, without taking his hand off the rudder.
Jesus does not reply. Peter beckons to John who is sitting at the end of the boat at Jesus' feet, with his head reclined on Jesus' knees. And John repeats the question in a low voice.
"He will not recover."
"Why, Lord? According to what I heard, I thought that he would recover in order to expiate."
"No, John. He would sin again, because his spirit is weak."
John rests his head again on the Master's knees saying: "But You could have made him strong..." and it sounds like a kind reproach.
Jesus smiles running His fingers through John's hair and raising His voice so that everybody can hear Him, He gives the last lesson of the day: "I solemnly tell you that also when granting a grace, it is necessary to take into account its opportunity. Life is not always a gift, wealth is not always a gift, a son is not always a gift, yes, even an election is not always a gift. They become gifts and remain such when he who receives them uses them rightly and for supernatural aims of sanctification. But when good health, wealth, affections, mission are used to ruin one's spirit, it would be better not to have them. And at times God gives such a great gift that He could not grant a greater one, by not giving what men would like to have or would think it was right to have as being a good thing. The father of a family or a wise doctor knows which things are to be given to the children or to sick people in order not to make them more sick or not to let them be taken ill. Likewise God knows what is to be given for the well-being of a spirit."
"So that man will die? Unhappy household!"
"Would it be happier if a reprobate lived in it? And would he be happier if, while living, he should continue to sin? I solemnly tell you that death is a gift when it serves to prevent more sins and a man dies while he is reconciled with his Lord."
The keel rubs against the sandy bottom of the lake at Capernaum.
"Just in time. There will be a storm tonight. The lake is raging, the sky is starless, it is as black as pitch. Can you hear the roar behind the mountains? Can you see those lights? Thunder and lightning. There will be a downpour any moment now. Quick! Let us beach the boats which do not belong to us! Let the women and the boy go away before it starts raining. Hey, you! Give us a hand!" shouts Peter to other fishermen who are drawing nets and baskets.
With the strength of their arms they beach the boats as the first billows come to lash their half-naked bodies and the gravel on the shore. They then run home while the first large drops of rain raise the dust of the parched land giving off a strong smell, and it is flashing already above the lake and the basin formed by the hills around the lake are full of the roar of thunder.