507. The Old Priest Matan (or Natan).
8th October 1946.
When Peter enters the house, he has the same depressed gesture as he had at the Jordan after wading at Bethabara: as if he were exhausted he throws himself onto the first seat he finds, and holds his head in his hands. The others are not so dejected, but they are all more or less upset, pale looking, I would say bewildered. The sons of Alphaeus, James of Zebedee and Andrew hardly reply to the greetings of Joseph of Sephoris and of his wife, who arrives with an old maidservant and some new bread still warm and various foodstuffs. There are traces of tears on Marjiam's cheeks. Isaac rushes towards Jesus, takes His hand and caressing it he whispers: "It is always like the night of the slaughter... And You are safe once again. Oh! my Lord, for how long? For how long will You be able to save Yourself?" His words make the others talkative and they all begin to speak, although confusedly, telling of the ill-treatments, threats and fear they suffered...
There is another knock at the door. "Alas, have they followed us?! I said that it was wise to come few at a time!..." says the Iscariot. "Yes, it would have been better. They are shadowing us all the time. But now..." says Bartholomew. Joseph himself, although somewhat reluctantly, goes to look at the peep-hole, while his wife says: "From the terrace you can descend to the stables and thence into the rear kitchen garden. I will show you..." But while she sets out, her husband exclaims: "Joseph the Elder! What an honour!" and he opens the door letting in Joseph of Arimathea.
"Peace to You, Master. I was there and I saw... Manaen met me while I was coming out of the Temple disgusted to death, as I was not able to intervene, to do anything, in order to be more useful to You, and... Oh! you are here as well, Judas of Kerioth? You could do it, since you are the friend of so many! Do you not feel it is your duty, as you are His apostle?"
"You are a disciple..."
"No. If I were, I would follow Him like many others. I am a friend of His."
"It's the same thing."
"No. Lazarus also is His friend, but you are not going to tell me that he is a disciple..."
"He is, in his soul."
"All those who are not demons are disciples of His word, because they realise that it is the word of Wisdom."
The petty quarrel between Joseph and Judas of Kerioth comes to an end as Joseph of Sephoris, who only now realises that something unpleasant has taken place, questions this one and that one with interest and some sorrow. "Joseph of Alphaeus must be told! He must be told. And I will entrust... What do you want of me, Joseph?" he asks addressing the Elder who has touched his shoulder as if he wanted to ask him something.
"Nothing. I only wanted to congratulate you on your healthy look. This is a good Israelite: faithful and just in everything. Eh! I know. We can say of him that God has tested and known him..."
Another knock at the door. The two Josephs go together towards the door to open it and I see Joseph of Arimathea bend to say something in the ear of the other one, who reacts with great surprise and turns round for a moment to look at the apostles. He then opens the door.
Nicodemus and Manaen come in followed by all the shepherd disciples present in Jerusalem, that is, Jonathan and the exdisciples of the Baptist. Then, with them, there is John, the priest, with another very old man and Nicolaus. And, in the rear, Nike with the young girl entrusted to her by Jesus, and Annaleah with her mother. They remove the veils covering their faces, which look upset.
"Master! What is happening? I heard... From people first and then from Manaen... The town is full of this rumour, like a buzzing beehive and those who love You are rushing about looking for You wherever they think You may be. They have certainly come to your house as well, Joseph... I was going to Lazarus' house, too... It's too much! How did You manage to get out of trouble?"
"Providence watched over Me. The women disciples should not weep but they ought to bless the Eternal Father and fortify their hearts. And thanks and blessings to all of you. Love and justice are not completely dead in Israel. And that consoles Me."
"Yes, Master, but do not go to the Temple any more. Stay away for a long time, and don't go there!" They all agree in repeating the words and the anxious " don't go" re-echoes among the robust walls of the old house in voices of imploring warning.
Little Martial, hidden goodness knows where, hears the noise and rushes towards the room out of curiosity, and peeps through the aperture of the curtains. He sees Mary and goes towards her taking shelter in her arms for fear of being reproached by Joseph of Sephoris. But Joseph is too excited and busy listening to this one and that one, giving advice and approving, and so forth, to pay attention to him, and he notices him only when the boy, to whom old Mary has said something, goes to Jesus and kisses Him throwing his arms round His neck. Jesus embraces him with one arm, drawing him towards Himself, while He replies to the many people who are telling Him what they think is best to do. "No. I am not moving from here. You may go to Lazarus, who was waiting for Me, and tell him that I cannot go. I, a Galilean and a friend of the family for years, am staying here until tomorrow evening. Then I will decide where to go..."
"You always say so, then You go back there, but we will not let You go back again. At least I will not. I really thought You were doomed..." says Peter while two tears well in his bulging eyes.
"I have never seen the like. And it's enough. I have made up my mind. If You do not reject me... I am too old for the altar, by now, but I am still strong enough to die for You. And I will die, if necessary, between the sanctuary and the altar, like wise Zechariah, or Onias the defensor of the Temple and of the Treasury, I will die outside the sacred enclosure to which I have devoted all my life. But You will open a holier place to me! Oh! I can no longer bear the abomination! Why did my eyes have to see so much? The abomination seen by the Prophet is already within the walls and it is rising and rising like the impetuous water of a flood on the point of submerging a town! It is rising and rising, invading courts and porches, overflowing steps, advancing further and further! It is rising and is already about to strike against the Holy of Holies! The muddy water is already lapping on the stones paving the holy place! Their precious hues are darkened! The feet of the Priest are soiled with it! His tunic is soaked with it! And the Ephod is made dirty! The stones of the Rational are dimmed by it and its words can no longer be read! Oh! The waves of the abomination are rising to the face of the High Priest and soiling it, and the Holiness of the Lord is under a crust of mud and his tiara is like a piece of cloth which has fallen into a muddy pond. Mud! Mud! But is it rising from outside, or from the top of Moria is it flowing over the town and all over Israel? Father Abraham! Father Abraham! Did you not want to light the fire of the sacrifice there, so that the holocaust of your faithful heart might shine brightly? Slush now gurgles where the fire was to be! Isaac is among us, and the people are immolating him. But if the Victim is pure... if the Victim is pure... the sacrificers are filthy. Anathema on us! On the mountain the Lord will see the abomination of His people!... Ah!" and the old man who is with John, the priest, drops on the ground covering his face and weeping desolately.
"I brought him to You... He has been wishing for that for such a long time... But today, after what he saw, no one could hold him any longer... Old Matan (or Natan) is often inspired with prophetic spirit, and if his eyesight is becoming dimmer and dimmer, his spiritual vision is becoming brighter and brighter. Accept my friend, Lord" says John, the priest.
"I do not reject anybody. Stand up, priest, and raise your spirit. High above there is no mud, and he who knows how to stay high above is not touched by mud."
The old man before getting up, full of veneration, takes the lowest hem of Jesus' tunic and kisses it.
The women, and Annaleah in particular, are weeping under their veils, still deeply moved and the words of the old man increase their weeping. Jesus calls them, and with lowered heads they come near Him from the corner where they were staying. If Nike and Annaleah's mother are successful in controlling their tears, concealing them almost completely, the young woman disciple is sobbing loudly, heedless of those who are watching her with different feelings. "Forgive her, Master. She owes her life to You and she loves You. It is impossible for her to believe that they can harm You. And then she has been left so... lonely and so... sad after..." says her mother.
"Oh! it is not that! No, it is not that! Lord! Master! My Saviour! I... I..."
Annaleah is unable to speak, partly because of her sobbing, partly out of shame or something else.
"She was afraid of reprisals because she is a disciple. That is certainly the reason. Many are going away because of that..." says the Iscariot.
"Oh! no! Even less so! Man, you do not understand anything, or you lend your thoughts to other people. But You know, Lord, why I am weeping. I was afraid that You were dead and that You had forgotten the promise..." she says, ending with a sigh, after uttering the first words vigorously, rebelling against Judas' insinuation.
Jesus replies to her: "I never forget. Be not afraid. Go home, in peace, awaiting the hour of My triumph and of your peace. Go. The sun is about to set. Withdraw, women. And may peace be with you."
"Lord, I am not happy to leave You..." says Nike.
"Obedience is love."
"True, Master. But why can I not follow You like Eliza?"
"Because you are as useful to Me here as she is at Nob. Go, Nike. Let some men escort the women so that no one may importune them."
Manaen and Jonathan are ready to obey, but Jesus stops Jonathan asking him: "So, are you going back to Galilee?"
"Yes, Master, the day after the Sabbath. My master is sending me."
"Have you room in the wagon?"
"I am by myself, Master."
"Then you will take Marjiam and Isaac with you. You, Isaac, know what you have to do. And you, too, Marjiam..."
"Yes, Master" reply the two, Isaac with his mild smile, Marjiam with a tremor of tears in his voice and on his lips.
Jesus caresses him, and Marjiam, forgetting all reservedness, throws himself on His chest saying: "Leave You... now that everybody is persecuting You!... Oh! my Master! I shall never see You again!... You have been all my Good. I found everything in You!... Why are You sending me away? Let me die with You! Of what importance is life to me, if I do not have You?"
"I say to you what I said to Nike. Obedience is love."
"I will go! Bless me, Jesus!"
Jonathan goes away with Manaen, Nike and the other three women. Also the other disciples go away in small groups.
Only when the room, previously overcrowded, is almost empty, the absence of Judas of Kerioth is noticed. And many are surprised, because he was there shortly before, and he has not been given any order.
"He must have gone to do some shopping for us" says Jesus to prevent comments, and He continues to speak to Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, the only ones left besides the eleven apostles and Marjiam, who is close to Jesus, anxious to enjoy His company during these last hours. Jesus is thus between Marjiam, an adolescent, and Martial, a boy, both swarthy, lean, equally unhappy in their youth, and equally accepted by two good Israelites in Jesus' name.
Joseph of Sephoris and his wife have prudently withdrawn to leave the Master free.
Nicodemus asks: "But who is this boy?"
"He is Martial. A boy that Joseph has taken as son."
"I did not know."
"No one, or almost no one, knows."
"He is a very humble man. Anybody else would have made his gesture known " remarks Joseph.
"Do you think so?... Go, Martial. Take Marjiam to see the house..." says Jesus. And when the two have gone, He resumes speaking: "You are mistaken, Joseph. How difficult it is to judge according to justice!"
"But, Lord! To take in an orphan, because he is certainly an orphan, and not boast about it, is surely humility."
"The boy, his name tells you, is not from Israel..."
"Ah! now I see. He does the right thing then in keeping him hidden."
"But he has been circumcised..."
"It does not matter. You know... Also John of Endor was... But he was the cause of reproach for You. Joseph, a Galilean in addition, might have trouble, despite the circumcision. There are so many orphans in Israel as well... Certainly with that name... and his features..."
"How “Israel”.-minded you all are, even the best! Even in doing good deeds you do not understand and you are not able to be perfect! Do you not yet understand that One Only is the Father of Heaven, and that each creature is His child? Do you not yet understand that man can have only one reward and only one punishment and that it is really a reward or a punishment? Why become slaves to the fear of men? But that is the fruit of the corruption of the divine Law, which has been altered and oppressed to such an extent by petty human laws, as to dull and obscure even the thought of the just people who practise it. In the Mosaic Law, therefore divine, in the pre-Mosaic law, merely moral or risen through celestial inspiration, is it perhaps stated that those who did not belong to Israel, could not become part of it? Do we not read in Genesis: “When they are eight days old all your male children must be circumcised, no matter whether they be born within the household or bought from a foreigner not one of your descendants”.? That was stated. Any further addition is your own. I told Joseph and I am telling you. The ancient circumcision will soon no longer have much importance. A new and truer one will replace it and on a nobler part. But while the first one lasts and you, out of loyalty to the Lord, apply it to males born of you or adopted by you, do not be ashamed of having done it also on the flesh of other races. The flesh belongs to the sepulchre, the soul to God. The flesh is circumcised because it is not possible to circumcise what is spiritual. But the holy sign shines on the spirit. And the spirit comes from the Father of all men. Meditate on that."
There is silence, then Joseph of Arimathea stands up and says: "I am going, Master. Come to my house tomorrow."
"No, it is better if I do not come."
"Then come to me, to the house on the Mount of Olives, on the road to Bethany. There is peace and..."
"No, not even there. I will go to the Mount of Olives, to pray... But My spirit is seeking solitude. Please excuse Me."
"As You wish, Master. But... do not go to the Temple. Peace to You."
"Peace to you."
The two go away...
"I would like to know where Judas has gone!" exclaims James of Zebedee. "I would say to the poor people. But his purse is here."
"Do not worry... He will come..."
Mary of Joseph comes in with some lamps, as the light no longer shines through a thick sheet of mica placed as skylight in the large room, and also the two boys come back in.
"I am glad to leave You with one whose name is almost like mine. So, when You call him, You will remember me" says Marjiam.
Jesus draws him to Himself. Judas also come in. The maidservant opened the door to him. He is bold, smiling, frank! "Master, I wanted to see... The storm has calmed down. And I escorted the women... That virgin is so fearful! I did not say anything to You because You would have stopped me, and I wanted to see whether there was any danger for You. But no one thinks any more about it. The streets are empty on Sabbaths."
"Very well. Let us stay in peace here now and tomorrow..."
"You are not going back to the Temple already!" shout the apostles.
"No. To our synagogue, as good Galilean believers."