459. At Johanna of Chuza's. Letters from Antioch.
23rd July 1946.
All the inhabitants of Tiberias have rushed on to the lake shores or to the lake itself to find relief in the breeze blowing over the water and stirring the foliage of trees in the gardens along the shore. The rich people of this town, where many races have gathered and mingled for many reasons, are finding comfort in comfortable sport boats, or from the shade of their green gardens they are watching the movements of boats on the turquoise waters, which have already been cleared of the yellowish hue ensuing from the downpour of the previous evening. The poor people, and children in particular, are romping on the shore, where the wavelets come to die, and their shrill screams, when the cold water wets them higher up than they would wish, sound like the screeching of swallows.
The boats of Peter and James come close to the shore and steer towards the little pier.
"No. To Johanna's garden" orders Jesus.
Peter obeys without speaking and the boat, followed by her twin sister, veers round perfectly leaving a foamy wake, shaped like a question mark, and steers towards the landing place at Chuza's garden, which it approaches and stops. Jesus is the first to land and gives a hand to the two Maries helping them to disembark on the pier.
"You will now go to the main mole and preach the Lord there. You will see a man, who will approach you, asking where I am. He is the man from Antioch. Bring him to Me after you have dismissed the crowds."
"Yes... but... What are we to tell the people? Are we to tell them that You have come, or preach Your doctrine?"
"That I have come. Tell them that at dawn I will speak at Tarichea and I will cure the sick people. One of you should look after the boats, or get one of the disciples to do that, so that they may be ready to depart. Go, and peace be with you." And He sets out towards the gate which closes on the landing-stage. The two Maries follow Him in silence.
There is no one to be seen in the large garden, in which some tenacious roses are still blooming, although very sparsely. But one can hear the happy cries of the two little ones who are playing.
Inserting His hand through the arabesques of the gate, Jesus tries to make the bolt slide without success. He looks for something with which to make a noise and attract attention, but does not find anything. Then, hearing the voices of the two children closer, He calls in a loud voice: "Mary!". The two voices become silent all of a sudden... Jesus repeats: "Mary!"...
Then in the middle of the lawn, which is as smooth as a carpet with the well kept rose-bushes rising from it, a little girl appears, walking with short wary steps, a little finger pressed on her lips, her searching eyes scanning in all directions, then a few steps behind her there is Matthias, followed by a little lamb as white as foam.
"Mary! Matthias!" shouts Jesus.
His voice guides the innocent eyes. The two children look towards the gate and they see Jesus, His face against the bars, smiling at them.
"The Lord! Run, Matthias, call mother... Tell Elias or Micah to come and open..."
"You can go. I am going to the Lord..." and they both start running with their arms stretched out, like two butterflies, one white, the other rosy with a little dark head.
But, fortunately, while running they call the servants, who rush out still holding watering-cans and rakes, so that at last the gate is opened and the children take shelter in the arms of Jesus, Who kisses them and crosses the threshold holding them by the hands.
"Mummy is in the house with her friends. They always send us away, because they do not want us" says Matthias promptly.
"Don't speak so harshly. Mummy sends us away because those ladies are Romans and they still speak of their gods and we, who have been saved by Jesus, must know Him only. That is why, Lord. Matthias is still too young and he does not understand" she says gracefully with the wisdom of a creature who has suffered and is thus more mature and more adult than her age would suggest. "Father also sends us away when those of the Court come. And I would like to stay because almost every one is a soldier... a warrior... War! War is beautiful! It makes one win! It sends the Romans away. Down with Rome! Hurrah for the Kingdom of Israel" shouts the boy proudly.
"War is not beautiful, Matthias, and very often one does not win the war and then one from subject becomes a slave."
"But Your Kingdom must come. And to make it come a war will be waged. And everybody will be sent away, also Herod, and You will be king."
"Be silent, silly boy. You know that you are not to repeat what you hear. They are right in sending you away. Don't you know that you can harm father, mother and also Jesus by saying that?" says Mary. And then she explains: "One day, that man who is like a prince and is a relative of Herod and is also Your disciple came to speak to father. And they shouted so much, they were not alone, but with many more people..."
"They were all handsome, with lovely swords and they spoke of war..." interrupts Matthias.
"Be quiet, now! They shouted so much that we could hear them, and since then this fool does nothing but speak of it. Tell him that he must not... Mummy told him and father has threatened to take him to the top of the Great Hermon, and leave him in a grotto with a deaf and dumb slave, until he learns to be silent. And he would have to be silent there, because if he speaks to the slave, the latter will not hear him and will not reply to him, and if he shouts, eagles and wolves will come to eat him..."
"A really terrible punishment" says Jesus smiling and caressing the child who has lost his boldness and presses against Jesus as if he already saw eagles and wolves ready to devour him completely, including his little imprudent tongue. "A really dreadful punishment!" He repeats.
"Yes, and I am afraid that that is what is going to happen to him and that I will be left without Matthias, and I cry... But he feels no pity for me or for mummy and will make us die broken-hearted..."
"I don't do it deliberately... I say... what I hear... It is so nice... to think that the Roman, are defeated, that Herod and Philip are expelled and that Jesus is the King of Israel" he concludes in a whisper concealing his face against Jesus' tunic to deaden even more the sound of his voice.
"Matthias will never say these things again. He will promise Me and will keep his promise. Is that right? So he will not be devoured and Johanna and Mary will not die broken-hearted. Chuza will not be upset and I will not be hated. Because, see, Matthias? You have Me hated, by saying such things. Are you glad if Jesus is persecuted? Just imagine how remorseful it would be if one day you had to say to yourself: “I made people persecute Jesus Who saved me, because I repeated what I heard people say by chance”. They were men. And men often lose sight of God because they are sinners. As they do not see God, they do not see Wisdom and they make well-intentioned mistakes, or what they think such. But children are good. Their spirits see God and God rests in their hearts. Thus they must understand things in a wise manner and say that My Kingdom will not be established through violence on the Earth, but with love, in the hearts of men. And they must pray so that men may understand this Kingdom of Mine as children understand it. The prayers of children are taken to Heaven by their angels and the Most High converts them into graces. And Jesus needs such graces to change men, who think of war and of a temporal kingdom, into apostles who understand that Jesus is peace and that His Kingdom is spiritual and heavenly. See this little lamb? Could it tear anything to pieces?"
"Eh! no! If it could do that, father would not have given it to us not to have us torn to pieces."
"Exactly, you are right. Also the Father Who is in Heaven would never have sent Me if I had had the power and will to tear to pieces. I am Lamb and Shepherd. And I am as meek and docile as a lamb and I am He Who gathers with love, with the crook of a good Shepherd and not with the lance and sword of a warrior. Have you understood? And will you promise Me, just Me, that you will never speak of these things again?"
"Yes, Jesus. But... help me... because by myself..."
"I will help you. Look, I will caress your lips and thus they will be able to remain closed."
"My Master. This is a holy evening, as it allows me to see You!" says Jonathan coming from the house and prostrating himself at Jesus' feet.
"Peace to you, Jonathan. Can I see Johanna?"
"She is coming. She has dismissed the Roman ladies to come to You."
Jesus looks at him inquisitively but does not ask anything. He walks towards the house listening to Jonathan who is speaking of Chuza "much disgusted with Herod" and who says: "For my mistress' sake I beg You to stop him, because he wants to do things which... would not do any good to You or to him, above all to You."
Johanna hastens towards the Lord and heedless of her beautiful dress she prostrates herself in the dust of the path and kisses Jesus' feet. She is wearing a splendid white dress, over which from her head hangs a veil that looks like silver filigree so closely is it embroidered with silver threads — and I do not know how such light cloth can support that silver brocade embroidery — and on her head a thin diadem point-shaped in front, like a mitre studded with pearls, heavy pearl earrings, a pearl necklace and pearl bracelets and rings: an appearance of beauty, purity and grace.
"Peace to you, Johanna."
"When You are with me there is always peace in me and in my house... Mother!..." and she wants to kiss the feet of Mary, Who, instead, receives her in Her arms kissing her. A kiss is exchanged with Mary of Alphaeus as well. After the greetings, Jesus says: "Johanna, I must speak to you."
"Here I am, Master. Mary, my house is Yours. Order what You need. I am going with the Master..."
Jesus has already gone onto the lawn, where He can be seen by everybody, but is so isolated that no one can hear Him. Johanna joins Him.
"Johanna, I have to receive a messenger from Antioch, who is certainly coming from Syntyche. I was thinking of doing so in your house. Here, in your garden..."
"You are the master of everything that belongs to Johanna."
"Also of your heart?" Jesus stares at her.
"You know already, Master! I was almost certain. Now I am completely sure. Chuza... The incoherency of men is really great! Their attachment to interests is very strong! And their pity for their wives is really so faint! We are... Even we, the wives of the best husbands, what are we? A jewel which is displayed or concealed according to its usefulness... A mime who must laugh or weep, attract or reject, speak or be silent, show or hide herself in compliance with her man's wishes... always in his interest... Our destiny is a sad one, Lord! And degrading as well!"
"As compensation your spirits are enabled to climb higher."
"That is true. Did You find out by Yourself or did they speak to You about it? Have You seen Manaen? He was looking for You..."
"No. I have not seen anybody. Is he here?"
"Yes, we are all here... I mean: all the courtiers of Herod... and many to hate him. Among them there is also Chuza since Herod, by Herodiad's will, delighted in mortifying his superintendent... Lord, do You remember that at Bether I told You that he wanted to separate me from You because he was afraid of falling into Herod's disfavour? Only a few months have gone by... And he now wants me to... Yes, Lord. He would like me to persuade You to accept his help to become king in place of the Tetrarch... I must tell You because I am a woman, thus subject to man, and a Jewish woman over and above, thus subject to the will of her husband more than ever. And I am telling You... And I do not advise You... because I hope that I am already aware that You... oh! You will not make Yourself king with the help of hired lancers. Oh!... what have I said! I should not have spoken thus... I should have let You listen to Chuza, Manaen and others first... And if I had kept silent, would I not have done the wrong thing?... Lord, help me to see what is just..."
"What is just is in your heart, Johanna. Neither with Roman cohorts, nor with Israelite lancers will I make Myself king, even if Rome and Israel decided to pacify this region through Me. I have already understood enough to reconstruct facts. Matthias has spoken imprudent words. Jonathan has mentioned people being disgusted. You are telling the rest. I will complete the picture thus: a foolish idea of My kingdom is inducing good people, who are not yet just, like Manaen, to create risings capable of establishing the kingdom of Israel according to the fixed idea of the majority of people. A sharp passionate need to revenge themselves of an affront is urging others, among whom your husband, to do the same thing. The shrewdness of Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes and also of Herod plays on those two motives to succeed in getting rid of Me, by making Me appear in the eyes of our rulers what I am not. You have dismissed the Roman ladies to tell Me this, in order not to betray Chuza, Manaen or the others. But I tell you that in actual fact the Gentiles have understood Me more than anybody else. They call Me a philosopher, perhaps they consider Me a dreamer, an unrealist, an unhappy man, according to their mentality which bases everything on violence. But they have understood, at least they have understood this: that I do not belong to the Earth, that My Kingdom does not belong to the Earth. They are not afraid of Me, but of My followers. They are right. My followers, some out of love, some out of pride, would be quite capable of doing anything to realise their idea: to make of Me, Who am the King of kings, the universal King, the poor king of a small nation... I really must watch this snare very carefully, as it works in the shade, instigated by My true enemies, who are not in the proconsular building at Caesarea, or in that of the Governor in Antioch, or in the Antonia. They are under the tephilim, the fringes and zizith of Jewish garments and particularly under the wide tephilim and the fluffy zizith attached to the large garments of Pharisees and scribes to prove their even greater compliance with the Law. But the Law is in hearts, not on garments... If it were in their hearts, those who hate one another, but who are now united forgetting their hatred in order to do harm — the hatred which digs deep ravines between one cast of Israel and another and which now is no longer separated but has been levelled because the ravines have been filled with hatred for Me — if the Law were in their hearts, and not hanging or attached to their garments, foreheads, hands, just as a savage wears amulets, shells, bones, beaks of vultures out of superstition or as ornaments, if this Law were in their hearts, if Wisdom were not written in the tephilim but on the fibres of their hearts, they would understand who I am and that they cannot go against Me to destroy Me as Word and as Man. I must therefore defend Myself from friends and from enemies, unfair equally in their hatred and in their love. I must try to guide their love and appease their hatred. I do so, to do My duty. And I will do so until I build My Kingdom, wetting the stones with My Blood to cement them. When I have sprinkled you with My Blood, Your hearts will no longer vacillate. I am speaking of hearts faithful to Me. Of yours, Johanna, who are struggling between two forces and two loves which are on you and in you: Chuza-I."
"But You will win, Lord."
"Yes, I will win."
"But try to save Chuza as well... Love whom I love."
"I love him who loves you."
"Love Chuza who loves You..."
"Falsehood does not befit that forehead which is as pure as the pearls adorning it and is now blushing in the effort of wishing to persuade itself and Me of Chuza's love for Me."
"And yet he loves You."
"Yes. For his own interest. As for his interest he did not love Me at Zio and Siram... But here is Simon of Jonah with the stranger. Let us go and meet them..."
They go as far as the large vestibule at the rear of the house, rather a semicircular porch than a vestibule, open on the park, which extends as far as the house. The semicircular vestibule, open on the garden, is adorned with columns with branches of rosebushes at present without flowers and delicate branches of jasmines full of flowers, and with other purple creepers, the names of which I do not know.
"Peace be with you, foreigner. Did you want Me?"
"Health and glory, Lord. I wanted You. I have a letter for You. A Greek woman gave it to me at Antioch. I am... No, I am no longer Greek, because I became a Roman citizen to continue my contract work. I am purveyor to the Roman troops. I hate them. But it is profitable to supply them with provisions. For what they have done to us, I should mix hemlock with their flour. But they should all be poisoned. A few is of no avail. It would be worse... They think that they are allowed to do anything because they are strong. They are barbarians, as compared with the Greeks. They have robbed us of everything to adorn themselves with our art and appear civilised. But if you scratch the crust which is coloured with the hue of our civilization, you will always find an Amulius, a Romulus, a Tarquinius... You always find a Brutus, the murderer of his benefactor. At present they have Tiberius! Still not enough for them! They have Seianus. They have what they deserve. Swords, chains, crimes committed by them are turning against them and biting the flesh of the Roman brutes. Still too little. But the law will not fail. When the monster becomes huge, it will collapse because of its own weight and will rot. And the vanquished will laugh at the enormous corpse and will become once again the winners. Let it be so. May the feet of all the conquerors crush her who crushed everything in her brutal expansion... But forgive me, Lord. I have been carried away once again by my perpetual grief...
I was saying that a Greek woman gave me a letter for You and she told me that You are the perfect Virtuous Man. Virtuous... You are young to be so... The great spirits of Hellas spent all their lives to become a little virtuous... And yet the woman informed me of Your Idea. If You really believe in what You teach, You are great... Is it true that You live to prepare Yourself to die in order to give the world the wisdom of living as gods and not as brutes, as men do at present? Is it true that You maintain that there is only one wealth worth achieving: that of virtues? Is it true that You have come to redeem but that redemption begins in ourselves, following Your teaching? Is it true that we have a soul and that we must take care of it, as it is a divine thing, everlasting, incorruptible by its nature, but that we, by living as brutes, can deprive it of its divine character, although we cannot destroy it? Answer, o Great One!"
"It is true. It is all very true."
"By Jove! Also our Greatest One said so. But it sounded like music lacking a note, like a lyre lacking a chord. Now and again one perceived an empty space, which the philosopher never crossed. You have filled it up, if You have really come not only to teach but also to die, not compelled by anybody, but through Your own will to obey God, which changes Your death from suicide to sacrifice... By divine Pallas! None of our gods ever did that. I infer, therefore, that You are above them. The Greek woman says that they do not exist, and that You only are... So am I speaking to a God? And can a God listen thus to a purveyor, to a miserable thief who hates his enemies? Why do You listen to me?"
"Because I see your soul."
"You see it?!!! What is it like?"
"Twisted, dirty, snake-haired, bitter, ignorant, although your intellect is quite different from that of a barbarian. But within your ugly temple you have an altar which is waiting, like the one in the Aeropagus, and it is waiting for the same thing: the true God."
"For You, then, because the Greek woman says that You are the true God. But, by Jove, what You say of my soul is true. You are more explicit and certain than the Delphic oracle. But You preach peace, love and forgiveness. Difficult virtues. And You preach continence and all kinds of honesty... To be all that is to be gods greater than the gods, because they... oh! they are not pacific, honest, generous!... They are the perfection of the wicked passions of men, with the exception of Minerva who is at least wise... Even Dianal... Pure but cruel... Yes, to be what You preach is to be greater than the gods. If I became so... by the most beautiful Ganymede! He: he was abducted by the Olympic eagle and became a divine cup-bearer. But Zeno from supplier of fodder to barbarian rulers will become god...
But let me dwell on this thought, and in the meantime You can read the letter of the woman..." and the man begins to walk up and down like a peripatetic.
Peter, being tired and seeing that the conversation was a long one, has sat down comfortably on a seat in the hall, and has begun to doze peacefully in the cool place, on the soft cushions lying on the seat... But he must have been sleeping with one eye open, because he is roused by the noise of the seal being broken and of the unrolling parchment, and he rises to his feet, rubbing his sleepy eyes. He approaches the Master, Who is reading standing under a chandelier made of mica plates of a delicate violet hue. As the light is faint, suitable to light up the place without depriving it of the charm of moonlight in clear nights, Jesus is holding the parchment high up in order to see the words, and Peter, who is much smaller than the Master, standing beside Him, tries to stretch his neck, standing on the tips of his toes, in order to see, but without success.
"It's Syntyche, eh? What does she say?" he asks twice and he begs: "Read in a loud voice, Master!"
And Jesus replies: "Yes, it is she... Later..." and He goes on reading, and when He finishes the first sheet, He rolls it up, He puts it in the folds of His belt and begins to read the second sheet.
"What a long letter she has written, eh? How is John? And who is that man?" Peter is as insistent as a boy.
Jesus is so engrossed that He no longer listens to him. Also the second sheet is finished and is put away as the first one.
"They will get spoilt there. Give them to me. I will keep them..." and he certainly thinks: "and I will have a look at them." But when he raises his eyes to look at Jesus' hand unrolling the third and last sheet, he sees a tear shine on Jesus' fair eyelashes. "Master?! Are You weeping?! Why, Master?" he says, and he presses against Him embracing Him with his short muscular arm.
"John is dead..."
"Oh! poor man! When did he die?"
"At the beginning of summer... wishing so much to see us..."
"Oh! poor John... Of course... he was already at his end!... And his grief in parting... All because of some snakes! I wish I knew their names!... Read aloud, Lord. I was fond of John!"
"Later. I will read it to you later. Be quiet now."
Jesus reads attentively... Peter stretches himself even more to see... The reading is over. Jesus rolls the sheet and says: "Call My Mother."
"Are You not going to read?"
"I am waiting for the others... In the meantime I will dismiss that man."
And while Peter goes into the house where the women disciples are with Johanna, Jesus approaches the Greek: "When are you leaving?"
"Oh! I have to go to the Proconsul at Caesarea and then to Joppa after I purchase some goods. I will be leaving in a month's time, in time to avoid the November storms. I am going by sea. Do You need me?"
"Yes, to send a reply. The Greek woman says that I can trust you."
"They say that we are false. But we are also able not to be so. You can trust me. You can prepare Your letter and look for me at the Tabernacles at Cleanthes' house; he supplies me with the cheese of Judaea for the tables of the Romans. It is the third house after the fountain in the village of Bethphage. You cannot go wrong."
"You cannot go wrong either if you proceed along the path on which you have set foot. Goodbye, man. Greek civilization leads you to the Christian one."
"Are You not reproaching me for hating?"
"Do you feel that I should?"
"Yes, because You disapprove of hatred as being a contemptible passion and You abhor vengeance."
"And what is your opinion on the matter?"
"I think that he who does not hate and forgives is greater than Jupiter."
"Achieve, then, that greatness... Goodbye, man. May your family love Syntyche, and in the exile in which you are at present take the paths that lead to the eternal Fatherland: Heaven. Those who believe in Me and practise My words will have that Fatherland. May Light enlighten you. Go in peace."
The man says goodbye and goes away. He then stops, comes back and asks: "Will I not hear You speak?"
"I will speak at dawn, at Tarichea. Then I will be going towards Syro-Phoenicia and later, I do not know by which road, to Jerusalem."
"I will look for You. And I will be at Tarichea tomorrow to see whether You are as eloquent as wise."
He goes away finally.
The women are in the hall and with Peter they are commenting on John's death. Also the other apostles have come, the ones who had been left in town to inform the people that the Rabbi would be at Tarichea the following morning. They all speak of poor John of Endor and are anxious to know.
"He died, Son!"
"Yes. He is in peace."
"He has really finished suffering."
"He has been freed from prison definitely."
"He should not have suffered the last affliction of exile."
"An additional purification."
"Oh! I would not like that kind of purification for myself. Any other... but not to die far from the Master!"
"And yet... we shall all die thus... Master... take us away with You!" says Andrew after the others have spoken.
"You do not know what you are asking, Andrew. This is your place until I call you. But listen to what Syntyche writes. “Syntyche of Christ greets Christ Jesus. The man who will bring You these sheets is a compatriot of mine. He has promised to look for You until he finds You, using as last resort Bethany, where he will leave the letter with Lazarus, in the event he should not succeed in finding You anywhere. He is one who is making up, as best he can, for all the wrong he and his ancestors have received from Rome. Rome has struck them three times, in many ways and with her usual methods. He says, with Greek humour, that he is now milking the cows of the Tiber to make them spit out the Greek goats. He is purveyor to the Governor and to many Roman families of this little Rome and great town queen of the East. Further, after the delicatessen for rich people, with his astute manners of servile flattery concealing his incurable hatred, he has been successful in securing the contract for supplying the Eastern cohorts. I do not approve of his methods. But everybody has his own ways. I would have preferred the bread begged in the street to the gold coffers given to him by the oppressor. And I would have always behaved thus, if I were not urged by another reason, which brings no profit to me, to imitate the Greek for my own purpose.
After all, he is a good man and his wife is good as well as his three daughters and his son. I met them at the little school at Antigonea and with the balm I cured the mother who had been taken ill at the beginning of spring and so I began to go to their house. Many families would have welcomed me with pleasure as a teacher and embroiderers: noble families and business people, but I preferred this one for a reason which has nothing to do with their being Greeks. I will explain the situation to You.
I beg You to bear with Zeno, even if You cannot approve of his mentality. He is like certain arid grounds, which are quartziferous on the surface, but very good under the hard crust. I hope to succeed in removing this hard crust brought about by so much grief and thus lay bare the good soil. It would be of great assistance to Your Church, as Zeno is well known and in touch with many people in Asia Minor and Greece, in addition to Cyprus and Malta and even in Iberia, where he has relatives and friends everywhere, Greeks persecuted like himself, as well as Roman soldiers and magistrates, who could be very useful to Your cause one day.
Lord, while writing, from the terrace of the house I can see Antioch with her wharves on the river, the Governor's building in the island, her regal streets and walls with hundreds of powerful towers, and if I turn round I can see the top of Sulpius dominating me with its barracks, and the other building of the Governor. I am thus between the two displays of Roman power, I, a poor woman, all alone. But they do not frighten me. On the contrary I think that what the fury of the elements and the strength of a rebelling nation cannot do, will be done by the weakness which does not outshine anybody, by an apparent weakness despised by the mighty ones, the weakness of Him Who is true strength because He possesses God: You.
I think, and I tell You, that this Roman strength will be Christian strength when it becomes acquainted with You and that our work should begin from the citadels of heathen Roman spirit, because they will always be the masters of the world and a Christian Roman spirit will mean universal Christendom. When? I do not know. But I feel that it will happen. So I look at these witnesses of Roman power smiling, thinking of the day when they will place their insignia and their power at the service of the King of kings. I look at them as one looks at helpful friends who are not yet aware of their usefulness, and who will cause sufferings before they are conquered, but once they have been conquered, they will take You and the knowledge of You as far as the end of the world. I, a poor woman, dare say to my older brothers in You, that when the time comes, the conquest of the world to Your Kingdom will have to begin not from Israel, too closed in its Mosaic rigorism exacerbated by the Pharisaic one and by the other castes to be conquered, but from here, from the Roman world and from its ramifications. The conquest of souls to the Truth must begin from the tentacles by which Rome strangles every faith, every love, every freedom which is not as she wants and is not useful to her.
You know that, Lord. But I am speaking for my brothers who cannot believe that we also, the Gentiles, yearn after Good. I say to my brothers that under the heathen cuirass there are hearts disappointed of heathen emptiness, sick of the life they lead simply because such is the custom, tired of hatred, of vice, of harshness. There are honest spirits who do not know on what to rely to find satisfaction to their yearning for Good. Give them a faith which may satisfy them. They will die for its sake, carrying it further and further ahead, like a torch in darkness, as the athletes of the Hellenic games do”."
Jesus rolls up the first sheet and while the listeners comment on the style, strength and ideas of Syntyche, and they wonder why she is no longer at Antigonea, Jesus unrolls the second sheet.
Peter, who has remained seated so far, comes closer once again as if he wanted to hear better and he begins to stand on the tips of his toes to see, pressing against Jesus.
"Simon, it is so warm, and you are oppressing Me" says Jesus smiling. "Go back to your place. Have you not heard so far?"
"Heard? Yes, I have. But I have not seen. And now I want to see because it was at this sheet that Your countenance changed and You wept... And not only because of John... We knew that he was about to die..."
Jesus smiles, but to prevent Peter from casting side glances at the sheet from behind His back, He leans against the nearest column, ignoring that He is moving away from the light of the chandelier which, as compensation, illuminates Jesus' face brightly, if it no longer lights up the sheet. Peter, who is thoroughly determined to to see and understand, drags a stool in front of Jesus and sits down staring at the Master's face.
"“I am so convinced of this that when I remained alone, I left Antigonea for Antioch, as I was sure that I could work more in this area, where, as in Rome, all races blend and mingle, than where Israel rules... I, a woman, cannot set out to conquer Rome. But if Rome is out of my reach, I will scatter the seed from the most beautiful daughter of Rome, the city most like her mother in the whole World... On how many hearts will it fall? In how many will it germinate? In how many will it be carried elsewhere awaiting the apostles to germinate? I do not know. I do not ask to be told. I will work and I offer my work to the God, Whom I have known and Who gratifies my spirit and my intellect. I believe in this God as the only almighty God. I know that He does not disappoint those who are full of good will. That suffices for me and supports me in my work.
Master: John died on the sixth day before the nones of June according to the Romans, almost at the new moon of Tammuz according to the Jews. Lord... Why tell You what You know? I am saying so for my brothers. John died as a just man, and considering what he really suffered, I should say as a martyr. I assisted him with all the pity which a woman can have, with all the respect which one has for a hero, with all the love which one has for a brother. But that did not prevent me from suffering so much, that I, not out of disgust or tiredness, but out of pity, I prayed the Eternal Father to call him to peace. He used to say: `To freedom'.
What words he spoke! Can a man, who had fallen so low in the underworld, as he used to say, rise to so much light of Wisdom? Oh! death is really the mystery which reveals our origin, and life is the scenery which conceals the mystery. A scenery which is given to us without any drawing and on which we can work whatever we wish. He had written many things on it, but they were not all beautiful. The last ones, however, were sublime. From the dull sky of the underworld, on which were drawings of human sorrow and human violence, he passed, like a wise craftsman, to more and more luminous signs, adorning with virtue the end of his Christian life and attaining the refulgent brilliancy of a soul lost in God. I tell You: he did not speak, but he sang his last poem. He did not die: he rose. And I was not able to tell exactly when it was the man who spoke or when it was already the spirit son of God speaking.
Lord, You know that I have read all the works of philosophers searching for a pasture for my soul tied with the double chain of slavery and heathenism. But they were the works of men. Here it was not the voice of man: they were the words of a super-man, of a royal spirit, even more: of a semi-divine spirit. I watched over the mystery, which on the other hand, would not have been understood by those who gave us hospitality: they were kind to the man but they were Israelites in the most wide and complete sense of the word... And when in the last touches of love John was nothing but an expression of love, I sent everybody away and I alone received what You certainly know... Lord... that man is dead, and `having come out at last from prison, has entered freedom' as he used to say beneath his breath in his last days, and with his eyes enraptured, pressing my hand and revealing Paradise to me with his words. That man died teaching me how to live, to forgive, to believe, to love. He died preparing me for the last period of Your life. Lord, I know everything. In the winter evenings he instructed me in the prophets. I know the Book like a true Israelite. But I know also what is not specified in the Book... My Master and my Lord... I will imitate him! And I would like to have the same favour, but I think that it is more heroic not to ask it, and to do Your will...”"
Jesus rolls up the sheet and is about to take the third one.
"No, Master! It cannot be... There is something else. It is not possible that the sheet finished so soon!" exclaims Peter. You are not reading everything! Why, Lord? You, all of you! Protest. Syntyche has written more for us than for Him and He is not reading the letter to us."
"Do not insist, Peter!"
"I do insist! Of course I do! I noticed, You know, that Your eyes went to the bottom of the sheet all of a sudden; the sheet is transparent and You have not read the last lines. I will not be quiet until You read again the end part of that sheet. Before... You were weeping!... What? Is there any reason for weeping in what You have read? Of course we are sorry to hear that he is dead... but such a death does not make people weep! I thought that he had died an evil death, losing his spirit... Instead... Come on, read it! Mother! John! You who obtain everything..."
"Hear him, Son, and if it is something sorrowful to learn, we will all drink the chalice..."
"Let it be as you wish...
“I know the Book like a true Israelite. But I know also what is not specified in the Book, that is, that Your Passion will not be delayed, because John is dead, and You promised him a short expectation in Limbo. He told me. He told me that You had promised to take him before he knew how far the hatred of Israel against You could go and thus prevent him from hating Your torturers out of love for You. He is now dead... and You are therefore about to die... No. To live. To really live through Your Doctrine, with Yourself in us, with Your Divinity in us after Your Sacrifice has given us the life of our souls, Grace, union with the Father, with the Son, with the Holy Spirit.
Master, my Saviour, my King, my God... I am strongly tempted, nay I have been strongly tempted to join You now that John is sleeping with his body in the tomb and is resting with his soul in expectation. I would like to come to You to be with the other women near Your altar. But altars are to be adorned not only with the victim, but also with garlands in honour of the God in Whose honour the sacrifice is celebrated. I lay my violet garland of a remote disciple at the foot of Your altar. I lay there the obedience, the work, the sacrifice of not seeing and hearing You... Ah! It will really be hard! It is really hard now that Your supernatural conversations with John are over and I no longer enjoy them!... Lord, raise Your hand on Your servant that she may be able to do only Your Will and she may know how to serve You”."
Jesus rolls up the sheet and looks at the faces of the listeners. They are pale. But Peter whispers: "I do not understand why You were weeping... I thought that there was something else..."
"I was weeping because I was comparing the uxoricide, the galley slave of the past and the heathen slave woman with too many people in Israel."
"I see! It grieves You that Hebrews are inferior to Gentiles, and priests and princes to galley slaves. You are right. It was foolish of me! What a woman she is! It's a pity that she had to go away..."
Jesus unrolls the third sheet.
"“And that she may imitate in everything the disciple and brother who is already in peace, and is resting there after accomplishing every purification... in Your honour and to alleviate Your sufferings.”"
"Ah! certainly not!" Peter has jumped with agility on to the seat before Jesus can move aside, and sees that it is not possible to be already where Jesus is looking. It is to be borne in mind that the parchment rolls up as its upper part is released and thus many lines are hidden at the top of the sheet.
Jesus raises His head, and with a more melancholy than sad countenance, He gently but firmly repels His apostle and says: "Peter, your Master knows what is good for you! Let Me give you what will do you good..."
Peter is moved by those words and even more by the way Jesus looks at him, so imploringly, His eyes shining with tears about to stream down His face. He descends from the stool saying: "I obey... But what can ever be there?!"
Jesus resumes reading:
"“And now that I have written about other people I will write about myself. I left Antigonea after John's burial. Not because I was ill-treated. But because I felt that it was not my place. Why did I feel that? I do not know. I felt it. As I told You, I had become acquainted with many families, because many people had come to us. I preferred to settle down with Zeno's family, because it is in the environment in which I intend to work.
A Roman woman wanted me in her magnificent house near Herod's Colonnades. A very rich Syrian woman invited me as teacher to the textile factory which her husband, a man from Tyre, has set up in Seleucia. A widow proselyte, the mother of seven daughters, living near the Seleucus bridge, wanted me out of respect for John, the teacher of her sons. A Greek-Assyrian family with stores in a street near the Circus asked me to stay with them because I could have been useful when games are on. Finally a Roman, a centurion I think, certainly a soldier, who has remained here with I do not know exactly what task and who was also cured with the balm, insisted on having me. No. I did not want rich people or merchants. I wanted souls, Greek and Roman souls, because I feel that the spreading of Your Doctrine in the world must begin with them.
And here I am in Zeno's house, on the slopes of mount Sulpius, near the barracks. The citadel impends threatingly from its top. And yet, coarse as it is, it is better than the rich buildings of the Onpholus and Nympheus and I have friends there. A soldier, whose name is Alexander, knows You. The simple heart of a child enclosed in the huge body of a soldier. And the very tribune, who came here recently from Caesarea, has a righteous heart under his chlamys. Alexander is closer to the Truth in his coarse simplicity. But also the tribune, who admires You as a perfect rhetor, as a `divine' philosopher, as he says, is not hostile to Wisdom, even if he cannot as yet accept the Truth. But to conquer these men and their families through the least knowledge of You means to scatter the seed of such knowledge north, south, east and west, because soldiers are like grains stirred by the winnowing-fan, or rather, like chaff which the whirlwind, in our case the will of the Caesars and the demands of dominion, scatter everywhere.
When one day Your apostles, like birds set free to fly, will spread throughout the world, it will be of great help to them to find in the places of their apostolate one, one only, even only one person who knows that You existed. For this idea I treat also the aching limbs of old gladiators and the wounds of young ones. That is why I no longer shun Roman women and I put up with people who grieved me... Everything. For You. If I am wrong, advise me with Your wisdom. I only ask You to consider — and You know — that my mistakes are caused by incapacity and not by wickedness.
Lord, Your servant has told You so much... a mere nothing of what I have in my heart. But You see my spirit. Lord... When shall I see Your face? When shall I see Your Mother? My brothers?... Life is a passing dream. Our separation will pass. I will be in You, and with them, and it will be joy and freedom for me, also for me, as for John.
I prostrate myself at Your feet, my Saviour. Bless me with Your peace. To Mary of Nazareth, to the women disciples, peace and blessings. To the apostles and disciples, peace and blessings. To You, Lord, glory and love”.
I have finished reading. Mother, come with Me. You can wait for Me, or rest. I am not coming back in. I am staying with My Mother to pray. Johanna, should anybody look for Me, I am in the bower near the lake."
Peter has taken Mary aside and speaks to Her excitedly, but in a low voice. Mary smiles at him and whispers something. She then joins Her Son Who is going along the path hardly visible in the night.
"What did Simon of Jonah want?"
"He wanted to know, Son. He is like a boy... a big boy... But he is so good."
"Yes, very good. And he begged You, Who are very good, to know... He has found out the weak points: You and John. I know. I pretend I do not know, but I know. But I cannot always give in, to please him... It was not necessary, Jonathan. We could have stayed also in the dark" Jesus says seeing Jonathan hurrying towards Him with a silver lamp and some cushions which he lays on the table and the seats in the bower.
"Johanna told me to bring them. Peace to You, Master."
"And to you."
They remain alone.
"I was saying that I cannot always please him. This evening it was impossible. You are the only one who can be informed of what I omitted. That is why I wanted You with Me, also to be with You, Mother... To be with You in the last hours before parting is to gather so much gentle strength as to have enough for many hours of solitude in the world which does not understand Me or misunderstands Me. And to be with You in the first hours when I come back is to acquire new strength at once through Your kindness, after all the chalices I have to drink in the world... and which are so bitter and disgusting."
Mary caresses Him without speaking. Standing beside Him, while He is seated, She is the Mother Who comforts Her Son. But He makes Her sit down and says: "Listen..." and then Mary, in attentive attitude, sitting in front of Him, becomes the disciple hanging on the lips of Jesus Master.
"Speaking of Antioch Syntyche writes: “I am not wise and so I cannot tell where the will of men ends and the will of God begins, but a will, stronger than my desire, has brought me here and I wonder whether it was the will of God. One thing is certain — and I am almost sure it is by the grace of Heaven — I love this town now, as with the summits of Casius and Amanus watching over it on two sides and the green crests of the black Mountains farther away, it reminds me of my lost Fatherland. And this seems to me the first step back to my land, not the tired step of a weary pilgrim returning to die, but of a messenger of life coming to give life to her who was her mother. It seems to me that from here, well rested like a swallow before resuming its flight and nourished with Wisdom, I am about to fly back to the town where I was born and from which I want, I would like to rise towards the Light after giving that Light which was given to me.
I am aware that my brothers in You would not approve of this idea. They want Your Wisdom exclusively for themselves. But they are wrong. One day they will understand that the world is waiting and that the world which is now despised is the better one. I am preparing the way from them. Not only here, but with all those who come here and then depart for other countries and it makes no difference to me whether they are Gentiles or proselytes, Greeks or Romans, or whether they belong to other colonies of the empire or of the Diaspora. I speak to them, I excite in them the desire to know You... The sea is not made by one cloud pouring its water into it. It is made by clouds and clouds and clouds which pour their waters onto the Earth and flow into the sea. I will be a cloud. The sea will be Christendom. I want to spread the knowledge of You to contribute to form the sea of Christendom. I, a Greek woman, know how to speak to Greeks, not so much through their language as by understanding them... I, previously the slave of Romans, know how to deal with Romans, of whose sensitive points I am aware. And since I lived among the Hebrews I know also how to deal with them, particularly here where there are many proselytes. John died for Your glory. I will live for Your glory. Bless our spirits”.
And farther down, where she speaks of John's death, where I did not let Simon read, she writes: “John died after accomplishing every purification, also the last one, by forgiving those who killed him through their behaviour and compelled You to send him away. I know their names, at least the name of the main one. John revealed it to me saying: `Never trust him. He is a traitor. He betrayed me, he will betray Him and his companions. But I forgive the Iscariot as Jesus will forgive him. The abyss in which he lies is already so deep that I do not want to make it any deeper by not forgiving him for killing me by separating me from Jesus. My forgiveness will not save him. Nothing will save him, because he is a demon. I should not say that, as I was an assassin, but in my case an offence had driven me mad. He inveighs against those who have done him no harm and he will end up by betraying his Saviour. But I forgive him because God's kindness has turned his hatred against me into good for me. See? I have expiated everything. He, the Master, told me yesterday evening. I have expiated everything. I am now going out of prison. I am now really entering freedom, free even of the weight of the remembrance of Judas of Kerioth's sin towards a poor wretch, who had found peace near his Lord'.
I also, following John's example, forgive him for tearing me away from You, from Your blessed Mother, from my sister disciples, from listening and following You until death, to be present at Your triumph of Redeemer. And I do so for Your sake, in Your honour and to alleviate Your sufferings. Be in peace, my Lord. The name of the disgraceful man among Your followers will never pass my lips, neither will anything pass of what I heard from John when his ego spoke with Your invisible gladdening Presence. I was in doubt whether I should come to see You before settling in my new residence. But I felt that I would betray myself with my horror for the Iscariot and that I might damage You with Your enemies. So I made a sacrifice also of that consolation... feeling certain that the sacrifice would not be without fruit and without reward”.
There You are, Mother. Could I have read that to Simon?"
"No. Neither to him nor to the others. In My grief I am happy for John's holy death... Son, let us pray that he may feel our love and... and that Judas may not be the shame... Oh! it is dreadful!... And yet... we will forgive..."
"Let us pray..." They stand up and pray in the flickering light of the lamp in the middle of screens of hanging branches, while the surf breaks rhythmically on the shore...