481. The Ten Lepers near Ephraim.
29th August 1946.
They are still in the rugged mountains, on paths where no cart can pass but only wayfarers or people riding strong mountain donkeys, which are taller and stronger than the usual little donkeys one finds in more level areas. Many people may consider this remark rather trite, but I am making it just the same.
In Samaria there are customs which differ from those of other places, both with regard to garments and many other things. And one is the large number of dogs, unlike other places, and it surprises me as I was surprised at the presence of pigs in the Decapolis. Perhaps there are many dogs because there are many shepherds in Samaria and there are probably many wolves in the mountains which are so wild. There are many dogs also because I see that in Samaria the shepherds are generally alone, at most with a boy, each one pastures his own flock, whereas elsewhere there are mostly many looking after large herds of rich people. It is a fact that here each shepherd has his dog or more dogs according to the number of sheep of his flock.
Another characteristic are the donkeys, almost as tall as horses, they are robust, fit to climb these mountains with a heavy load on the pack-saddle, also big logs, for I see them coming down from these wonderful mountains covered with age old woods.
Another distinctive feature: the ease of manner of the inhabitants, who without being sinners as the Judaeans and Galileans considered them, are open and frank, without bigotry and without the silly complications of other people. And they are hospitable. This remark makes me think that in the parable of the good Samaritan there is not only the intention of pointing out that there is good and evil everywhere and among all races, and that also among heretics there may be righteous people, but there is also a real description of Samaritan behaviour towards those who are in need. They may have stopped at the Pentateuch, I hear them speak of it and of nothing else, but they practise it, at least towards their neighbours, with more rectitude than the others, with their six hundred and thirteen precepts etc.
The apostles are speaking to the Master, and although they are convinced Israelites, they are compelled to acknowledge and praise the attitude of the people of Shechem, who invited Jesus to stay with them, as I understand from the conversation I hear.
"You have heard them, haven't you?" says Peter "how they said very clearly that they are aware of the hatred of Judaeans? They said: “They hate You more than they hate us Samaritans, as many as we are and have ever been. There is no limit to their hatred for You”."
"And that old man? How rightly he said: “After all it is only fair that it should be so, because You are not a man, You are the Christ, the Saviour of the world and thus You are the Son of God, because only God can save the corrupt world. Therefore as You have no limits as God, no limits in Your power, in Your holiness and in Your love, as Your victory over Evil will have no limit, so it is natural that Evil and Hatred, all one thing with Evil, have no limit against You”.
He really spoke the truth! And that reason explains many things!" says the Zealot.
"What does it explain according to you? I… I say that it explains only that they are fools" says Thomas straightforwardly.
"No. Foolishness would be a justification. But they are not fools."
"Intoxicated then, intoxicated with hatred" replies Thomas.
"Not even that. Intoxication yields after bursting forth. Their hatred does not yield."
"It cannot be more unrestrained than it is! And it has been so for such a long time… that it should have subsided by now."
"My friends, it has not reached its goal yet" says Jesus calmly, as if the goal of that hatred were not His death.
"No?! And yet they never leave us in peace?!"
"Master, they cannot bring themselves to believe that I have spoken the truth. But I did. Oh! I did indeed! And I say also that if it had depended on you, you would have all fallen into the trap, like the Baptist. But they will not succeed because I am on the watch…" says the Iscariot.
And Jesus looks at him. And I look at him as well wondering, and I have been wondering for some days, whether the behaviour of the Iscariot has been brought about by a good real return to the path of virtue and love for the Master, a release from the human and extra-human powers which held him back, or it is more refined work preparatory to the final blow, a greater enslavement to the enemies of Christ and to Satan. But Judas is such a special being that he is not decipherable. God only can understand him. And God, Jesus, draws a veil of mercy and prudence over all the actions and the personality of His apostle… a veil which will be torn, throwing full light on so many questions at present mysterious, only when the books of Heaven are opened.
The idea that the hatred of enemies has not yet reached its goal has worried the apostles so much that they have stopped speaking for some time. Then Thomas addresses the Zealot saying: "Well then, if they are neither intoxicated nor foolish, if their hatred explains many things but not this one, what does it explain? What are they? You have not told us…"
"What are they? They are possessed. They are what they say He is. That explains their fury which knows no bounds, on the contrary the more His power is revealed, the more it increases. The Samaritan spoke the truth. In Him, Son of the Father and of Mary, Man and God, there is the Infinity of God, and the Hatred which opposes that perfect Infinity is infinite, even if in its limitless being, Hatred is not perfect, because God only is perfect in His actions. But if Hatred could touch the abyss of perfection it would descend to touch it, nay it would hurl itself down to touch it, to bounce back up again, through the very vehemence of its fall into the abyss of hell, against the Christ, in order to wound Him with the weapons snatched from the infernal Abyss. The firmament regulated by God, has one sun only. It rises, it shines and sets leaving the place to the smaller sun which is the moon and the latter, after shining in her turn, sets to give the place to the sun. Stars teach men many things because they are submitted to the will of the Creator. Men are not. The opposition to the Master is an instance of that. What would happen if the moon should say: “I am not going to disappear and I will come back along the route I went”.? She would certainly clash against the sun horrifying and damaging the whole of Creation. That is what they want to do, as they think they can shatter the Sun…"
"It is the struggle of Darkness against the Light. We see it every day at dawn and in the evening. The two forces oppose each other dominating the Earth alternately. But darkness is always defeated because it is never absolute. A little light is always shed, even in the most starless night. The very air seems to create it in the infinite spaces of the vault of heaven shedding it, even if it is very scanty, to persuade men that the stars are not extinguished. And I say that likewise in this particular darkness of Evil against the Light which is Jesus, the Light will be there to comfort those who believe in It, despite all the efforts of Darkness" says John smiling at his own thought, in which he is engrossed as if he were talking to himself.
His thought is pursued by James of Alphaeus. "In the Books the Christ is called “Morning Star”. So He, too, will know a night, and - it terrifies me! - we also shall be aware of it, of a period of time when the Light will not seem strong, whereas Darkness will appear to be winning. But since He is called the Morning Star in a way that excludes limitation of time, I say that after the momentary night He will be the pure, fresh, virginal morning Light, renovating the world, like the light which followed Chaos on the first day. Oh! yes. The world will be re-created in His Light."
"And accursed will be the reprobates who will have raised their hands to strike the Light, repeating the errors already made by Lucifer down to the desecrators of the holy people. Jehovah leaves man free in his actions. But for the sake of man He will not allow Hell to prevail."
"Oh! it's a good thing that after so much drowsiness of our spirits, whereby we all seemed to be dull and sluggish due to premature old age, wisdom flourishes again on our lips! We no longer seemed ourselves! Now I find the Zealot again, and John, and the two brothers of the good old days!" says the Iscariot congratulating them.
"I do not think we had changed so much as to no longer seem to be ourselves" says Peter.
"We had indeed! All of us. And you were the first. And then Simon and the others, including myself. If there was one who was more or less the same as before, it was John."
"H'm! I don't really know in what…"
"In what? Uncommunicative, as if we were tired, indifferent, worried… We no longer heard conversations like those of the good old days, like the present one, so useful…"
"For disputes" says Thaddeus remembering how they often turned into squabbles.
"No, for our formation. Because we are not all like Nathanael, or Simon, or like you, the sons of Alphaeus, with regard to birth and wisdom. And those who are less so, learn from those who are more like that" replies the Iscariot.
"Actually… I would say that what is most necessary is to grow in justice. And Simon has given us a wonderful lesson on that" says Thomas.
"Me? You are seeing things the wrong way. I am the most stupid of the lot" says Peter.
"No. You are the one who has changed most. In that respect Judas of Kerioth is right. There is very little left in you of the Simon I met when I came and joined you and who, forgive me, remained as he was for a long time. Since I joined you again, after parting for the Feast of the Dedication, you have done nothing but improve yourself. You are now… yes, I will tell you: you are more fatherly and at the same time more austere. You bear more with your poor brothers than you did previously… And one can see, at least I see it, what it costs you. But you control yourself. And you never commanded so much respect as you do now that you do not speak and do not reproach so much…"
"Well, my dear friend! It is very kind of you to judge me so… I have not changed at all, except for the love for the Master, which grows in me more and more."
"No. Thomas is right. You have changed very much" many of them confirm.
"Who knows! You say so…" says Peter shrugging his shoulders. And he adds: "Only the Master could give a definite opinion. But I will take good care not to ask Him. He is aware of my weakness and He knows that an undeserved praise might harm my spirit. So He would not praise me, and He would be doing the right thing. I have become more and more acquainted with His heart and His method and I see how just they are."
"Because you have an upright mind and you love more and more. It is your love for the Master that makes you see and understand. Your Master, the true and greatest Master who makes you understand your Master, is Love" says Jesus Who so far has been listening and has been silent.
"I think… it is also the grief that is within me…"
"Grief? Why?" some of them ask.
"Hey! because of many things, which after all, are one thing only: what the Master suffers… and the thought of what He will suffer. It is not possible for us to be as absent-minded as we were in the early days, like children who do not know, now that we know what men are capable of doing and how one must suffer to save them. Oh! we thought everything was easy in the early days! We thought all we had to do to make the others side with us was to present ourselves! We thought that to conquer Israel and the world was like… casting a net in waters abounding in fish. Dear me! I think that if He does not succeed in having a good haul, we will have none at all. But that is nothing! I think they are wicked and they make Him suffer. And I think that is the reason for our change in general…"
"That is true. As far as I am concerned it is true" confirms the Zealot.
"Also with regard to me. Also with regard to me" say the others.
"I have been worried about that for a long time and I tried to have… some good assistance. But they betrayed me… and you did not understand me… And I did not understand you. I thought you were like that through spiritual tiredness, lack of confidence, disappointment…"
"I never hoped for human joys, so I was not disappointed" says the Zealot.
"My brother and I would like Him to be victorious, but for His own joy. We followed Him out of love as His relatives, rather than as disciples. We have always followed Him since our childhood. He is younger than we are, but always so much greater than we are…" says James with his boundless admiration for his Jesus.
"If there is one thing we must regret, it is that not all His relatives love Him in spirit and only with the spirit. But we are not the only ones in Israel who love Him in a wrong way" says Thaddeus.
Judas Iscariot looks at him and would probably say something, but his attention is distracted by a cry coming from a hillock dominating the little village, around which they are walking, looking for the road to enter it.
"Jesus! Rabbi Jesus! Son of David and our Lord, have mercy on us."
"They are lepers! Let us go, Master, otherwise the whole village will rush here and will detain us in their houses" say the apostles.
But the lepers have the advantage of being ahead of them, high up on the road, at least five hundred metres from the village, and they come down limping and rush towards Jesus repeating their cries.
"Let us go into the village, Master. They cannot go in" say some of the apostles, but others remark: "Some women have already come out and are looking. If we go in, we will avoid the lepers, but we will not avoid being recognised and retained."
And while they are uncertain as to what they should do, the lepers come closer to Jesus, Who heedless of His disciples' ifs and buts, has gone on His way. And the apostles resign themselves to following Him while women with children hanging on to their skirts and a few old men left in the village come to see, remaining at a prudent distance from the lepers who, however, stop at a few metres from Jesus and implore once again: "Jesus, have mercy on us!"
Jesus looks at them for a moment; then, without approaching the sorrowful group, He asks: "Are you from this village?"
"No, Master. We come from different places. But the other side of the mountain where we stay, faces the road to Jericho and it is a good spot for us…"
"Go then to the village which is nearest to your mountain and show yourselves to the priests."
And Jesus resumes walking, moving to the roadside, so that He may not touch the lepers, who look at Him, while He draws closer, with their poor diseased eyes expressing nothing but hope. And when Jesus reaches them, He raises His hand to bless them.
The people of the village are disappointed and go back to their houses… The lepers clamber up the mountain again going to their grottoes or towards the Jericho road.
"You did the right thing in not curing them. The people in the village would not have let us go away…"
"Yes, and we ought to arrive at Ephraim before night."
Jesus continues to walk and is silent. The village is now hidden by the bends of the winding road which follows the irregular contour of the mountain at the foot of which it is dug.
But a voice reaches them: "Praise to the Most High God and to His true Messiah. All power, wisdom and mercy is in Him! Praise to the Most High God Who has granted us peace through Him. Praise Him, o men of the towns in Judaea, Samaria, Galilee and beyond the Jordan. Let the praise to the Most High and to His Christ resound as far as the snow on the very high Hermon, as far as the parched stones in Idumea, as far as the beaches lapped by the waves of the Great Sea. The prophecy of Balaam has been fulfilled. The Star of Jacob is shining in the restored sky of the fatherland reunited by the true Shepherd. And the promises made to the patriarchs are also fulfilled! Here, here is the word of Elijah, who loved us. Listen to it, peoples of Palestine and understand it. One must no longer limp on two sides but one must choose by the light of the spirit, and if the spirit is righteous one will choose correctly. This is the Lord, follow Him! Ah! so far we have been punished because we did not strive to understand! The man of God cursed the false altar prophesying: “A son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name, who shall immolate on the altar and burn the bones of Adam. And the altar will burst apart as far as the bowels of the Earth and the ashes of the immolation will be scattered to the north, to the south, to the east and where the sun sets”. Do not behave like foolish Ahaziah who sent messengers to consult the god of Ekron when the Most High was in Israel. Do not be inferior to Balaam's donkey which for its respect for the spirit of light would have deserved to live, whereas the prophet who did not see would have been struck down. Here is the Light passing among us. Open your eyes, men whose souls are blind, and see" and one of the lepers follows them drawing closer and closer, also on the main road, where he points Jesus out to pilgrims.
The apostles, annoyed, turn round two or three times ordering the leper, by now completely cured, to be silent. And the last time they almost threaten him. And he stops shouting for a moment, in order to speak to everybody, and replies: "And do you expect me not to glorify the great things which God has done to me? Do you want me not to bless Him?"
"Bless Him in your heart and be quiet" they reply angrily.
"No, I cannot be quiet. God puts the words on my lips", and he resumes in a louder voice: "People of the two border towns, and you who happen to pass here, stop and worship Him Who will reign in the name of the Lord. I used to laugh at so many words. But now I repeat them because I see that they have been fulfilled. All the peoples are moving and are coming towards the Lord, rejoicing, across the sea and deserts, over mountains and hills. And we also, the people who have been walking in darkness, will go to the great Light which has risen, towards Life, leaving the region of death. We who were like wolves, leopards and lions, we will be born to a new life in the Spirit of the Lord and will love one another in Him, in the shade of the Shoot of Jesse, which has grown into a cedar, under which will camp the nations gathered by Him at the four cardinal points of the Earth. Here comes the day when the jealousy of Ephraim will end, because there is no longer Israel and Judah, but one Kingdom only: the Kingdom of the Christ of the Lord. Well, I sing the praises of the Lord Who saved me and consoled me. Now, I say: praise Him and come to drink salvation at the fountain of the Saviour. Hosanna! Hosanna to the great things He works! Hosanna to the Most High Who put His Spirit among men and clothed Him with flesh, that He might become the Redeemer!"
He is inexhaustible. The crowds increase in number, they throng and obstruct the road. Those who were behind rush forward, those who were ahead come back. The people of a little village, which is now close at hand, join the passersby.
"Please make him keep quiet, Lord. He is a Samaritan. That is what the people say. Since You do not allow even us to go ahead of You preaching You, he must not speak of You!" say the angry apostles.
"My dear friends, I will repeat to you the words which Moses spoke to Joshua the son of Nun when he complained because Eldad and Medad were prophesying in the camp: “Are you jealous on my account? Oh! if only the whole people of Yahweh were prophets, and Yahweh gave His Spirit to them all!” However, I will stop and dismiss him to make you happy."
And He stops turning round and calling the cured leper, who runs towards Him and prostrates himself before Jesus kissing the ground.
"Stand up. And where are the others? Were you not ten in all? The other nine did not feel it was necessary to thank the Lord. What? Out of ten lepers, among whom one only was a Samaritan, not one, except this foreigner, felt it was his duty to come back and give glory to God, before going back to life and to his family? And they say that he is a “Samaritan”. So the Samaritans are no longer intoxicated, as they do not see double and they come to the way of Salvation without staggering? Does the Word speak a foreign language if foreigners understand Him and His countrymen do not?"
He turns His wonderful eyes on the crowds from every place in Palestine present there. And those flashing eyes are unsustainable… Many lower their heads and spur their mounts or walk away…
Jesus lowers His eyes on the Samaritan kneeling at His feet and looks at him most kindly. He raises His hand, which was hanging loosely along His side, to bless him and says: "Stand up and go away. Your faith has saved in you something which is more than your flesh. Proceed in the Light of God. Go."
The man kisses the ground again and before standing up he asks: "Give me a name, Lord. A new name because everything is new in me and for ever."
"In which part of the country are we now?"
"And Ephrem is from now onwards your name, because Life has given you life twice (1). Go."
And the man stands up and goes away.
The local people and some pilgrims would like to hold Jesus back. But He subdues them with a glance, which is not severe, on the contrary it is very gentle, but it must express such a power that no one attempts to detain Him. And Jesus leaves the road without going into the little village, He walks through a field, He then crosses a little stream and a path and climbs the eastern hillock, all covered with woods, which He enters with His disciples saying: "We will follow the road walking in the wood, so that we shall not get lost. After that bend the road runs along this mountain. We will find a grotto in which we can sleep and at dawn we shall be beyond Ephraim…"
(1) The meaning of "Ephrem" is, in fact: double fruit.