520. Arrival at Jericho. Zacchaeus' Apostolate.
1st November 1946.
Jesus is anxiously awaited. A large crowd is in the fields near the town waiting for Him, and as soon as a look-out man, who has climbed a tall walnut-tree, shouts: "Here is the Lamb of God!" the people stand up and run towards Jesus, Who is coming forward in the early misty twilight.
"Master! Master! We have been waiting for You for such a long time! Our sick people! Our children! Your blessing! The old people are waiting for You to die in peace! If You bless us, Lord, no misfortune will befall us!" they all speak at the same time, while Jesus raises His hand repeatedly to bless and continues to say: "Peace, peace to all of you!" The apostles who are still with Him are caught in the crowd and carried away from Jesus, Who is almost prevented from walking by the very ones who gently complain of the long wait.
Poor Zacchaeus struggles convulsively to reach Jesus, to make himself heard by Him, or at least to be seen. But so short as he is, and not very agile or strong, he is always pushed back by fresh waves of people, his voice is lost in the clamour, and in the confusion of restless heads, arms and garments, his person disappears. In vain he implores and at times he reproaches to have some compassion. People are always selfish with regard to what gives them pleasure, and are cruel to their weaker neighbour. Poor Zacchaeus, feeling exhausted after all his efforts and convinced of their uselessness, is no longer willing to struggle and utterly disheartened, resigns himself. In fact how can he possibly succeed if more people come rushing from every street, which look like streams flowing into the same river: the street along which Jesus is walking? And each new affluent, with a fresh wave that makes the crowd thicker and thicker, to the extent of making it frightening to be caught in it, pushes back poor Zacchaeus. Thaddeus sees him and tries to elbow his way through the crowd to tear him away from the corner into which the crowd has pushed and confined him. But Judas Thaddeus in turn is pushed by those pressing in upon him from behind and his attempt fails. Thomas, relying on his strength, elbows his way and shouts in his powerful voice: "Make way!" for the same purpose... Not a hope! The crowd is a wall more solid than rock, and at the same time as pliable as caoutchouc. It bends but will not break. It is no longer an embrace: it is an unbreakable chain. Thomas also resigns himself.
And Zacchaeus loses all hope, because Didimus is the last of the apostles caught in the stream of people. And at last it passes... It has passed... Strips of cloth, tassels, fringes, hairpins, clothes-clasps are lying on the ground witnessing the violence. There is also a little child's sandal, completely crushed, and seems to be sadly awaiting the little foot that lost it... Zacchaeus queues up behind them all looking sad as well, just like the little sandal snatched from its little owner by the crowd.
Jesus cannot be seen any longer. A bend in the street has concealed him from poor Zacchaeus' eyes... When, last in the crowd, he arrives at the square where once he had his bench, he sees the crowds have stopped shouting, praying, imploring. And he sees Jesus, Who has mounted the little step of a house, shake His head and arms. And He says something that cannot be understood because of the roar of the crowd. And finally he sees Jesus, Who has come off His pedestal with difficulty, take to the road again and turn towards that part of the town where his house is.
Zacchaeus then grows daring again. The crowd is a large one, but the square is wide, the people therefore are not so compact and... one can go through it, as if it were not too thick a hedge, if one is willing to do so and is not afraid of being injured. And Zacchaeus, who has now become a wedge, a catapult, a battering ram, butts and bumps against people, insinuates himself, delivering and receiving punches on the nose, thrusts with elbows in the stomach and kicks in the shin, but he pushes his way through and moves forward... He is now at the opposite side... But the square narrows here, and he meets the impenetrable wall again. He is only a few steps from Jesus, Who is already standing near his house. But if deserts and rivers separated him from it, he could have better hopes to succeed in reaching Him. He gets angry, and he shouts in a commanding voice: "I have to go home! Let me pass! Can't you see that He wants to go into my house?"
He should never have said so! That rekindles the wishes of the people to have the Master in other houses. Some people laugh making fun of poor Zacchaeus, some give him rude answers. There is not one person who feels sorry for him. On the contrary they begin to shout and get excited so that the Master may not hear or see Zacchaeus. And some shout: "You have already had even too much from Him, you old sinner!" I think that the memory of old tax collections and vexations influences so much ill-will... Even the man who is more inclined to the supernatural almost always has a little corner in which the love for his hoard is lively and even more lively is the memory of whoever has been detrimental to that hoard...
But the time for Zacchaeus' trial has passed and Jesus rewards his perseverance. Jesus shouts at the top of His voice: "Zacchaeus! Come to Me. Let him pass, because I want to go into his house."
It is absolutely necessary to obey. The people press against one another in order to open out and Zacchaeus comes forward, flushed with fatigue and blushing for joy, and he tries to tidy his ruffled hair, his unbuttoned garment, and his belt the tassels of which are around his back instead of being in front of him. He looks for his mantle... Who knows where it is!... It does not matter. He is by now in front of Jesus, stooping to pay his respects to Him. It is impossible for him to do more than that as he has hardly enough room to bend a little.
"Peace to you, Zacchaeus. Come here, that I may give you the kiss of peace. You deserve it" says Jesus smiling a really cheerful juvenile smile that makes Him look rejuvenated.
"Oh! yes, Lord. I did deserve it. How difficult it is to reach You, Lord" says Zacchaeus, raising himself up as much as possible on the tips of his toes to be at the level of Jesus Who bends to kiss him. As he does so, his face appears to be bleeding because of a scratch on his right cheek, and one of his eyes is bruised, probably because of a thrust of an elbow on his eye-socket.
Jesus kisses him and then says:
"But I am not rewarding you for this effort. But for the others you have made, unknown to many people, but known to Me. Yes, it is true. It is difficult to reach Me, and the crowd is not the only obstacle, and it is not even the most difficult obstacle one finds to meet Me.
But, o people who have almost carried Me shoulder-high, the most difficult, the most composed obstacle, and which is always recomposed after one tries to destroy it or overcome it, is one's ego. I did not seem to be seeing, but I saw everything. And I evaluated everything. And what did I see? I saw a converted sinner, one who was hard-hearted, who loved comfort, was proud, vain, lascivious and avaricious. And I saw him divest himself of his old ego also in minor matters, and change in his behaviour and affections, in order to come to his Saviour, as he did by struggling to reach Him, by imploring with humbleness, by accepting gibes and reproaches patiently, suffering in his body to be knocked about by the crowd and in his heart to be pushed to the very end of it, without even one glance from Me. And I saw other things in him. Things which you know as well, but you do not want to take them into account, although they have given you relief.
You may say: “How do You know them, since You do not live among us?” I reply: as I read the hearts of men so I am aware of the actions of men and I know how to be just and reward in proportion to the distance covered to reach Me, to the efforts made to uproot the wild forest which covered the spirit, to improve it eliminating what was not the vital tree, and making it the king of one's ego, surrounding it with plants of virtues so that it may be honoured, and watching that no animal that is unclean because it creeps, or is eager for corruption, or lascivious, or idle - the various wicked passions - should nestle in the thicket, but this spirit of yours should be inhabited only by what is good and capable of praising the Lord, that is supernatural affections, singing birds and meek lambs willing to be sacrificed, inclined to perfect praise out of love for God.
And as I noticed Zacchaeus' action, thoughts and labour, so I noticed that in this town the love of many people who have acclaimed Me, is more sensitive than spiritual. If you loved Me according to justice, you would have taken pity on your fellow citizen and you would not have mortified him by reminding him of his past. That past that he has cancelled and God does not remember, because He does not go back on forgiveness granted, unless man sins again. And he is judged again only for the new sin, not for the one already forgiven. Now I say to you, and I give this as a subject for meditation at night, that true love for Me does not consist in acclamations, but in doing what I do and teach, in practicing reciprocal love, in being humble and merciful, bearing in mind that your material part was made with one only dust, and that dust always has an attraction for mire, and that consequently, if so far what in you is the strength that has held you up above the mire, the spirit, has never known defeats - and that is impossible because man is a sinner and God only is without sin - in future your spirit might have to admit defeats, and in greater number and gravity than those of the old sinner now reborn to Grace. In fact through Grace he has become juvenile and new, just like a new-born baby, with in his favour the humility deriving from his recollection of having been a sinner and the firm will to do, during the rest of his lifetime, as much good as is necessary to fill a long life entirely consecrated to doing good, and thus make amends, and with full and overflowing measure, for all the wrongs he may have done.
I will speak to you tomorrow. I have said enough for this evening. Go and bear in mind My warning and bless God Who has sent you the Doctor Who amputates your sensuality hidden under a veil of spiritual health, like hidden diseases that corrode life under a veil of seeming health... Come Zacchaeus."
"Yes, my Lord. I have only one old servant and I will open the door myself, and with it my deeply moved heart, oh! how moved it is, because of Your infinite goodness."
And after opening the gate he lets Jesus and the apostles go in, and leads Him towards the house, through the garden, now turned into a kitchen garden. The house also has been stripped of all superfluous items. Zacchaeus lights a lamp and calls the servant.
"Here we are. The Master is here. He will be sleeping here with His apostles and will have dinner here. Have you prepared everything as I told you?"
"Yes, I have. With the exception of the vegetables, which I will boil now, everything is ready."
"Change your clothes, then, and go and inform those I told you, that He is here and ask them to come."
"I am going, master. May You be blessed, Master, as You are letting me die a happy death!" He goes away.
"He is the servant of my father and has remained with me. I dismissed all the others. But he is dear to me. He is the voice that was never silent when I sinned. And because of that I used to ill-treat him. After You, he is the one I love more than anybody else... Come, my friends. There is a fireplace there and what can give comfort to tired cold limbs. You, Master, to my room..." and he takes Him towards a room at the end of a corridor.
He goes in, closes the door, pours hot water into a pitcher, takes off Jesus' sandals and serves Him. Before putting the sandals on again, he kisses the bare foot and places it on his neck saying: "Thus! That it may crush the residue of the old Zacchaeus!" He stands up. He looks at Jesus, with a smile that trembles on his lips, a humble smile, which looks as if it were moistened with tears. He makes a gesture indicating the whole room and says: "I sinned so much in here! But I have changed everything, so that that savour should no longer be present... Memories... I am weak... I wanted only the memory of my conversion to be alive on these bare walls, in this hard bed... The rest... I made money of it, because I was left without any and I wanted to accomplish good deeds. Sit down, Master..."
Jesus sits on a wooden seat and Zacchaeus places himself on the floor, at Jesus' feet, half sitting, half kneeling. He resumes speaking.
"I do not know whether I have done the right thing, and whether You can approve of my behaviour. Perhaps I began where I should have finished. But they exist, too. And only an old publican can show no repugnance against them in Israel. No, I am wrong. Not only an old publican, but You as well, nay it is You Who taught me to love them truly. Previously they were my accomplices in vice, but I did not love them. Now I reproach them but I love them. You and I. The all Holy One, the converted sinner. You because You have never sinned and You want to give us the joy that is Yours, of the Man without sin. And I because I sinned so much and I know how sweet is the peace that comes from being forgiven, redeemed, renewed... I wanted it for them. I looked for them. Oh! it was hard at the beginning! I wanted to make them good and I had myself to improve... What a difficult task! I had to watch over myself because I felt that they were watching over me. A mere nothing would have sufficed to drive them away... And then... Many sinned out of need, urged by their occupation. I sold everything to have money to keep them until they found other jobs, less profitable, more laborious, but honest. And some of them still come, and they are half curious, half willing to be men, not only animals. And I have to give them hospitality until they become submissive to the new yoke. Many have been circumcised. The first step towards the true God. But I do not compel them. I have wide arms to embrace their miseries, and I cannot be disgusted with them. I also would like to give them what You would like to give everybody: the joy of being without remorse, since we cannot be, like You, without sin. Now, tell me, my Lord, whether I have been too daring."
"You have acted well, Zacchaeus. You are giving them more than what you hope and think I want to give men. Not only the joy of being forgiven, without remorse, but the joy of being soon citizens of My heavenly Kingdom. I was aware of these deeds of yours. I followed you while you proceeded along the hard but glorious path of charity; because that is charity, and of the purest quality. You have understood the word of the Kingdom. Few people have understood it because the ancient idea survives in them with the firm belief that they are already holy and learned. After removing the past from your heart, you remained empty and you were able to, nay you wanted to put the new words, the future, the eternal into your heart. Continue so, Zacchaeus, and you will be the collector of your Lord Jesus" concludes Jesus smiling and laying His hand on Zacchaeus' head.
"Do You approve of what I did, Lord? Of everything?"
"Of everything, Zacchaeus. I also told Nike, who was speaking to Me about you. Nike understands you. She is open to universal mercy."
"Nike used to help me a lot. But now I see her only once a month, at the new moon... I would have liked to follow her. But Jericho is favourable to my new work..."
"She will not stay long in Jerusalem... You would move for no time. Afterwards Nike will come back here..."
"After how long, Lord?"
"After My Kingdom has been proclaimed."
"Your Kingdom... I am afraid of that moment. Will those who now say that they are faithful to you, be able to be so, then? Because there will certainly be risings and struggles between those who love You and those who hate You... Do You know, Lord, that they engage even highwaymen, the scum of the people, to have followers ready to form a large mass and thus impose themselves on others? I was told by one of my poor brothers... Oh! is there much difference between him who steals lawfully, between him who steels somebody's honour and him who robs a wayfarer? I also used to steal lawfully until You saved me, but even then I would not have countenanced those who hate You... It was a young man. A thief. Yes, a thief. One evening, when I had gone towards mount Adummim awaiting three peers of mine, who were coming from Ephraim with some cattle purchased at a low price, I found him lying in wait in a gorge. I spoke to him... I have never had a family, and yet I think that if I had had children, I would have spoken to them thus to convince them to change life. He explained to me how and why he had become a thief... Eh! how often the true culprits are those who do not seem to be doing anything wrong!... I said to him: “Don't steal any more. If you are hungry, there is some bread for you, too. I will find you an honest job. As you have not yet become a killer stop, save yourself”. And I convinced him. He told me that he was by himself, as all the others had been bought over with much money by those who hate You, and now they are ready to foment risings and to say that they are Your followers, in order to scandalise the people, and they hide in the caves of the Kidron, in the sepulchres, towards the Phasael, in the caves to the north of the town, among the tombs of the Kings and Judges, everywhere... What do they want to do, Lord?" "Joshua was able to stop the sun, but by no means whatsoever will they be able to stop the will of God."
"They have money, Lord! The Temple is rich, and the gold offered to the Temple is not Corban for them, if it serves them to triumph."
"They have nothing. The power is Mine. Their building will collapse as if it were built with leaves dried by the autumn winds and shaped into a castle by a little boy. Do not be afraid, Zacchaeus. Your Jesus will be Jesus." (1)
"God grant it!... They are calling us. Let us go."..
(1) That is: Saviour. Jesus, in fact, in Hebrew means "Yahweh saves" (Yehoshua). See Mt.1, 20-21; Ac.4,12