600. The Various Trials.
16th February 1944.
You have by now become acquainted with all the sorrows that preceded the Passion proper. I will now let you know the sorrows of My actual Passion. Those sorrows that affect your minds more when you meditate on them.
But you meditate very little on them. Too little. You do not consider how much you have cost Me and what torture your salvation involved. You complain of a scratch, of knocking against a corner, of a headache, but you do not consider that My body was one big sore, that those sores were envenomed with many things, that things themselves served to torture their Creator, because they tortured the already tormented God-Son, without any respect for Him Who, Father of Creation, had formed them.
But things were not guilty. The guilty one was still and always man. Guilty since the day he listened to Satan in the earthly Paradise. The things of Creation, up to that moment, had no thorns, no poison, no cruelty for man, the chosen creature. God had made that man king, He made him in His own image and likeness, and in His fatherly love He did not want things to be insidious to man. Satan laid the snare. In the heart of man first of all, then, with the punishment of sin, it brought spines and thorns.
So I, the Man had also to suffer things and be grieved not only by people but also by things. The former insulted and tortured Me; the latter served as their weapons. The hand that God had made for man to distinguish him from brutes, the hand that God had taught man how to use, the hand that God had coordinated with man's mind making it the executor of the commands of the mind, this part, which is so perfect in you and which should have had nothing but caresses for the Son of God, by Whom it had only been caressed and cured, if it was diseased, turned against the Son of God and struck Him with slaps and blows, it armed itself with scourges, it became pincers to tear hair and beard and hammer to drive nails.
Man's feet, which should have run nimbly only to worship the Son of God, were swift to come to arrest Me, to push and drag Me along the streets towards My executioners, and kick Me in such a way as would be unfair even with a restive mule.
Man's mouth, which should have used words, the endowment given only to man among all animals created, to praise and bless the Son of God, filled with curses and lies and hurled them with its slaver at My person.
Man's mind, the proof of his celestial origin, exhausted itself devising tortures of refined rigour.
Man, the whole man made use of himself, in his individual parts, to torture the Son of God. And he called the earth, with its forms, to assist him in torturing. Of the stones of torrents he made projectiles to wound Me; of the branches of trees, clubs to strike Me; of twisted hemp, ropes to drag Me, cutting into My flesh; of thorns, crown of stinging fire for My tired head; of minerals, an exasperscourge; of a cane, an instrument of torture; of the stones in streets, a snare for the unsteady foot of Him Who was going uphill, dying, to die crucified.
And things of the sky combined with the things of the earth. The cold at dawn for My body already exhausted by the agony in the garden, the wind that irritates wounds, the sun that increases parching thirst and one's temperature and brings flies and dust, that dazzles tired eyes, which fastened hands cannot protect.
And the fibres granted to man to cover his nakedness combine With the things of the sky: with leather, that becomes a scourge, with the wool of a garment that sticks to the sores made by the scourges and causes a rubbing and lacerating torture at each movement.
Everything served to torture the Son of God. He, for Whom all things had been created, in the hour in which He was the Victim offered to God, had everything against Him in a hostile manner. Your Jesus, Mary, had no comfort from anything. Everything that exists turned against Me, like fierce vipers, to bite at My flesh and increase My suffering.
This is what you ought to think of when you suffer, and comparing your imperfection with My perfection and My sorrows with yours, you ought to admit that the Father loves you as He did not love Me in that hour, and therefore, you should love Him with your whole selves, as I loved Him notwithstanding His rigour."
22nd – 25th March 1945.
The painful journey begins along the stony lane leading from the clearing, where Jesus was arrested, to the Kidron, and thence, along another lane, to town. And gibes and torture begin at once.
Jesus, His wrists and even His waist tied as if He were a dangerous madman, the ends of the ropes entrusted to energumens intoxicated with hatred, is tugged here and there like a rag abandoned to the rage of a pack of puppies. But, if those who behave thus were dogs, they could still be excused. But they are men, although they only have the appearance of men. And it is to give Him greater pair, that they have thought of tying Him with two opposed ropes, one of which serves only to fasten His wrists and it scratches and cuts into them with its coarse friction, and the other, the one round His waist, compresses His elbows against His thorax, and cuts into and oppresses His upper abdomen, torturing His liver and kidneys, where there is a huge knot and where, now and again, those holding the ends of the ropes, lash Him with them saying: "Gee-up! Away! Trot, donkey!", and they kick Him at the same time, striking the back of the knees of the Tortured One, Who vacillates and does not fall on the ground only because the ropes hold Him up. But that does not prevent Him from knocking against low walls and tree trunks, while He is tugged to the right by the man holding the rope fastening His wrists, and to the left by him holding the rope round His waist, and He falls heavily against the parapet, as a result of a more violent jerk when crossing the little bridge on the Kidron. His bruised mouth is bleeding. Jesus raises His tied hands to wipe away the blood soiling His beard, but does not say anything. He is really the lamb that does not bite its torturer.
Some people in the meantime have gone down to the gravel-bed to get pebbles and stones and from below a shower of stones strikes the easy target. As progress is slow on the narrow insecure little bridge, on which people crowd hindering one another, the stones hit Jesus' head and shoulders. They hit not only Jesus but also His torturers, who react throwing back sticks and the same stones. And it all serves to knock Jesus again on the head and neck. But they are soon on the other side of the bridge and the narrow lane casts shadows on the fray, because the moon, which is beginning to set, does not illuminate the twisted lane and many torches have gone out in the turmoil. But hatred acts as light to see the poor Martyr, Who is exposed to torture also because of His high stature. He is the tallest among all of them, so it is easy to strike Him, to seize Him by the hair compelling Him to throw back His head violently and to fling on it handfuls of filthy stuff, which by force goes into His mouth and eyes, causing nausea and pain.
They begin to go through the suburb of Ophel, in which He dispensed so much good and so many caresses. The shouts of the crowd awake people who rush to their doors, and while women utter cries of sorrow and run away struck with terror seeing what is happening, men, who have also been cured and assisted and have received friendly words from Him, men either lower their heads remaining indifferent, simulating carelessness to say the least, or they pass from curiosity to hatred, to sneering, to threatening gestures or they follow the procession to join in torturing Him. Satan is already at work…
A man, a husband who wants to follow Him to insult Him, is grasped by his howling wife, who shouts at him: "Coward! You owe Him your life, you filthy man full of rottenness. Remember that!" But the woman is overwhelmed by the man, who beats her in a beastly manner throwing her on the ground and then runs to join the Martyr, Whose head he strikes with a stone.
Another woman, an old one, tries to obstruct the path of her son who is rushing looking like a hyena and holding a stick to strike Him, and she shouts at him: "As long as I live, you shall not be the killer of your Saviour!" But the poor wretch is struck by her son with a brutal kick at the groin and she collapses on the ground shouting: "Deicide and matricide! May you be cursed for rending my womb for the second time and for injuring the Messiah!"
The scene becomes more and more violent the closer they get to town.
Before arriving at the walls – the Gates are already open, and the Roman soldiers, fully armed, are observing where and how the tumult is evolving, ready to interfere should the prestige of Rome be injured – there is John with Peter. I think they have arrived there by a short cut, which they have taken crossing the Kidron upstream of the bridge, and rushing ahead of the crowd, which is proceeding slowly, so much people are hindering one another. They are in the half-light of an entrance-hall, near a little square before the walls. They have covered their heads with their mantles to conceal their faces. But when Jesus arrives, John drops his mantle and shows his wan upset face in the clear moonlight that still shines there, before the moon sets behind the hill, which is beyond the walls and which I hear is named Tophet by the hired ruffians who arrested Jesus. Peter dares not show his face. But he comes forward to be seen.
Jesus looks at them… and He smiles with infinite kindness. Peter turns round and goes back to his dark corner, covering his eyes with his hands, stooping, aged, already in very poor spirits. John remains bravely where he is, and only when the howling crowd has gone by, he joins Peter, he takes him by the elbow and he guides him as if he were a boy leading his blind father, and they both enter into the town behind the clamouring crowd.
I can hear the stupid, derisory sorrowful exclamations of the Roman soldiers. Some of them curse as they had to get out of their beds because of that "stupid blockhead"; some mock the Jews as being able "to arrest a poor little woman"; some pity the Victim Whom "they have always known to be kind"; and some say: "I would have preferred to die a violent death rather than see Him in those hands. He is a great man. I have two objects of veneration in this world: Him and Rome."
"By Jove!" exclaims the one of highest rank. "I don't want trouble. I'll go to the ensign. Let him inform who is to be informed. I don't want to be sent to fight against the Germans. These Jews stink and they are snakes and trouble. But life is safe here. And I am about to finish my military service, and near Pompeii I have a girl!…"
Jesus Before Annas
I Miss the rest as I follow Jesus, Who proceeds along the street that forms a bend uphill to go to the Temple. But I see and realise that Annas' house, where they want to take Him, is and is not in the labyrinthic aggregation which is the Temple, and covers the whole of the Zion hill. The house is at its extremities, near a series of massive walls, which seem to be the boundaries of the town here, and from this place they stretch along the side of the mountain with porches and yards, until they reach the enclosure of the Temple proper, that is, where the Israelites go for their several celebrations of cult. A tall iron door opens in the massive wall. Some voluntary hyenas rush towards it and knock loudly. And as soon as the door is slightly opened, they burst inside, almost knocking down and trampling on the maid-servant who had come to open it, and they open it wide, so that the bawling crowd, with the Prisoner in the middle of them, may go in. And as soon as they are in, they close and bolt the door, probably because they are afraid of Rome or of the followers of the Nazarene. His followers! Where are they?...
They go along the entrance hall and then they pass through a wide yard, a corridor, another porch and another yard, and they drag Jesus up three steps, compelling Him almost to run along a porch built onto the yard, in order to arrive sooner at a richly furnished hall, where there is an elderly man wearing the robes of a priest.
"May God comfort you, Annas" says he who seems to be the officer, if the rascal who has been in charge of those brigands can be called so. "Here is the culprit. I entrust Him to your holiness, so that Israel may be cleansed of the sin."
"May God bless you for your sagacity and your faith."
Fine sagacity! Jesus' voice had been enough to make them drop to the ground at Gethsemane.
"Who are You?"
"Jesus of Nazareth, the Rabbi, the Christ. And you know Me. I have not acted in darkness."
"No, not in darkness. But You have led the crowds astray with obscure doctrines. And it is the Temple's right and duty to protect the souls of the children of Abraham." "The souls! Priest of Israel, can you say that you have suffered for the soul of the least or greatest person of this people?"
"And what about You? What have You done that may be called suffering?"
"What have I done? Why do you ask Me? The whole of Israel speaks about Me. From the holy city to the poorest village, even stones speak to say what I have done. I have given sight to blind people: the sight of their eyes and of their hearts. I have opened the ears of deaf people: to the voices of the Earth and of Heaven. I have made cripples and paralytics walk, so that they might begin marching from the flesh towards God and then proceed with their spirits. I have cleansed lepers of the leprosy pointed out by the Mosaic Law and of that which makes man polluted in the eyes of God: sin. I have raised the dead, but I do not say that it is a great deed to call a body back to life, but it is a great thing to redeem a sinner, and I have done that. I have helped the poor, teaching greedy and rich Hebrews the holy precept of love for our neighbour and, remaining poor, notwithstanding that a stream of gold passed through My hands, I have wiped more tears by Myself than all of you, who possess riches. And, finally, I have given a wealth that has no name: the knowledge of the Law, the knowledge of God, the certainty that we are all equal and that in the holy eyes of the Father tears and crimes are the same, whether they are shed or committed by the Tetrarch and by the Pontiff, or by the beggar and the leper who dies on a cart-road. That is what I have done. Nothing else."
"Do You realise that You are accusing Yourself? You say: the leprosy that makes one polluted in the eyes of God and is not pointed out by Moses. You are insulting Moses and are insinuating that there are some lacunae in his Law…"
"Not his: God's. It is so. More than leprosy, which is a misfortune of the flesh and comes to an end, I declare grave, and it is so, sin, which is an eternal misfortune of the spirit."
"Do You dare say that You can remit sins? How can You do it?"
"If with a little lustral water and the sacrifice of a ram it is lawful and credible to cancel a sin, expiate it and be cleansed of it, why will My tears, My Blood and My will not be able to do so?"
"But You are not dead. So where is the Blood?"
"I am not yet dead. But I shall be, because it is written. In Heaven before Zion existed, before Moses existed, before Jacob existed, before Abraham existed, since the king of Evil gnawed at the heart of man and poisoned it in him and in his children. It is written on the Earth in the Book that contains the voices of the prophets. It is written in hearts. In yours, in Caiaphas', in the hearts of the members of the Sanhedrin who do not, no, those hearts do not forgive Me for being good. I have absolved anticipating through My Blood. I will now accomplish absolution with a purifying bath in it."
"You say that we are greedy and we ignore the precept of love…"
"Is it perhaps not true? Why are you killing Me? Because you are afraid that I may dethrone you. Oh! be not afraid. My Kingdom is not of this world. I leave you the masters of all power. The Eternal knows when to utter the “Enough” that will make You drop thunder-struck…"
"Like Doras, eh?"
"He died of a fit of anger. Not because he was struck by heavenly lightning. God was waiting on the other side to strike him."
"And You are repeating that to me? A relative of his? How dare You?" "I am the Truth. And the Truth is never cowardly."
"Proud and foolish!"
"No: sincere. You accuse Me of offending you. But do you all not hate? You hate one another. And now your hatred for Me unites you. But tomorrow, when you have killed Me, you will hate one another once again, and more fiercely, and will live with this hyena behind your backs and this snake in your hearts. I have taught love. For the world's sake. I taught people not to be greedy, to have mercy. Of what do you accuse Me?"
"Of preaching a new doctrine."
"O priest! Israel is swarming with new doctrines: the Essenes have theirs, the Sadochites and the Pharisees have theirs; everybody has his secret one, which for one is named pleasure, for another one gold, for another one power; and everybody has his idol. Not I. I have resumed the down-trodden Law of My Father, of the Eternal God, and I have gone back to repeating the ten commandments of the Decalogue in a simple way, talking Myself hoarse to make them enter the hearts that no longer knew them."
"Horror! Blasphemy! How dare You say this to me, a priest? Has Israel no Temple? Are we like the exiles in Babylon? Reply to me."
"That is what you are, and even more. There is a Temple. Yes. A building. But God is not in it. He has fled before the abomination that is in His house. But why ask Me so many questions, since My death has already been decided?"
"We are not murderers. We kill if we have the right to do so for an evident fault. But I want to save You. Tell me, and I will save You. Where are Your disciples? If You hand them over to me, I will let You go free. The names of all of them, and the secret ones more than the known ones. Tell me: is Nicodemus one of Yours? And Joseph? And Gamaliel? And Eleazar? And… But with regard to this one, I already know… It is not necessary. Speak. Speak up. You know that I can kill You and save You. I am powerful."
"You are filth. I leave to filth the business of the informer. I am Light."
A bravo lands a blow in His face.
"I am Light. Light and Truth. I have spoken openly to the world, I have taught in synagogues and in the Temple, where the Judaeans meet, and I have said nothing secretly. I repeat it. Why do you ask Me? Ask those who have heard what I have said. They know."
Another bravo gives Him a slap in the face shouting: "Is that how you reply to the High Priest?"
"I am speaking to Annas. Caiaphas is the Pontiff. And I am speaking with the respect due to the old man. But if you think that I have said something wrong, prove it to Me. If not, why do you strike Me?"
"Leave Him alone. I am going to Caiaphas. Keep Him here until I tell you otherwise. And make sure He does not speak to anybody." Annas goes out.
Jesus does not speak. Not even to John, who dares to stay at the door defying the crowd of hired ruffians. But Jesus, without saying a word, must have given him an order, because John, after a sorrowful glance, goes away and I lose sight of him.
Jesus Before Caiaphas
Jesus remains with the torturers. Blows with ropes, spittle, insults, kicks, the tearing of His hair, is what is left for Him, until a servant comes to say that the Prisoner is to be taken to Caiaphas' house.
And Jesus, still tied and ill-treated, goes out again under the porch, walks along it as far as a lobby, and then passes through a yard in which many people are warming themselves near a fire, because the night has turned cold and windy in the early hours of the Friday. Peter and John are also there, mingled among the hostile crowd. And they must be really brave to stay there… Jesus looks at them and a faint smile appears on His lips already swollen because of the blows received.
A long walk across porches, halls, yards and corridors. But what kind of houses did these people of the Temple have?
But the crowd does not go into the enclosure of the pontiff's house. It is pushed back into Anna's entrance-hall. Jesus proceeds alone, among bravoes and priests. He goes into a large hall that seems to lose its rectangular shape because of the many seats placed in horse-shoe shape along three sides, leaving an empty space in the middle, beyond which there are two or three seats placed on platforms.
When Jesus is on the point of going in, rabbi Gamaliel arrives at the same time, and the guards give the Prisoner a strong pull, so that He may give way to the rabbi of Israel. But the latter, as stiff as a statue, with a stately attitude slackens his pace and, hardly moving his lips, without looking at anyone, he asks: "Who are You? Tell me." And Jesus kindly replies: "Read the prophets and you will have the answer. They contain the first sign. The other one will come."
Gamaliel gathers his mantle and goes in. Jesus enters behind him. While Gamaliel goes to one of the seats, Jesus is dragged to the middle of the hall, in front of the Pontiff: the true figure of a criminal. And they wait until all the members of the Sanhedrin arrive.
Then the session begins. But Caiaphas notices that two or three seats are vacant and he asks: "Where is Eleazar? And where is John?"
A young man, a scribe I think, stands up, he bows and says: "They refused to come. Here is their letter."
"Keep it and make a note of it. They will answer for that. What have the holy members of this Council to say with regard to this man?"
"I will tell you. He infringed the Sabbath in my house. God bears witness that I am not lying. Ishmael ben Fabi never lies."
"Is it true, defendant?"
Jesus is silent.
"I have seen him live with well-known prostitutes. Feigning He was a prophet, He turned His haunt into a brothel, and with heathen women of all people. Sadoc, Callascebona and Nahum Annas' trustee, were with me. Am I telling the truth, Sadoc and Callascebona? Give me the lie, if I deserve it."
"It is true. Quite true."
"What do You say?"
Jesus is silent.
"He missed no opportunity to deride us and have us ridiculed, Common people no longer love us through His fault."
"Do You hear them? You have profaned the holy members."
Jesus is silent.
"This man is possessed. After He returned from Egypt He has practised black magic."
"How can you prove it?"
"On my faith and on the tables of the Law."
"A grave charge. Prove Your innocence."
Jesus is silent.
"Your ministry is illegal, You know that. And liable to death. Speak up."
"This session of ours is illegal. Stand up, Simeon, and let us go" says Gamaliel.
"Rabbi, have you gone mad?"
"I respect formulae. It is not lawful to proceed as we are doing. And I will make a public charge against it." And rabbi Gamaliel goes out, as stiff as a statue, followed by a man about thirty-five years old, who looks like him.
There is a little turmoil and Nicodemus and Joseph take advantage of it to speak in favour of the Martyr.
"Gamaliel is right. The time and the place are illicit, and the charges are not consistent. Can anybody accuse Him of having notoriously despised the Law? I am a friend of His and I swear that I have always found Him to be respectful of the Law" says Nicodemus. "And I, too. And in order not to assent to a crime, I cover my head, not for Him, but for us, and I go out." And Joseph is about to come down from his seat and go out. But Caiaphas shouts: "Ah! Is that what you say? Then let the sworn witnesses come. And listen to them. Then you will go away."
Then two jail-bird figures come in. Elusive looks, cruel sneers, sly ways.
"It is not lawful to listen to both at the same time" shouts Joseph.
"I am the High Priest. I give orders. Be silent!"
Joseph strikes the table with his fist and says: "May the fire of Heaven fall upon you! As from this moment be aware that Joseph the Elder is an enemy of the Sanhedrin and a friend of the Christ. And I am going at once to inform the Praetor that a man is being sentenced to death here without the approval of Rome!" and he rushes out giving a violent push to a young thin scribe who would like to hold him back.
Nicodemus goes out more calmly without saying a word. And when going out he passes in front of Jesus and looks at Him…
Another turmoil. They are afraid of Rome. And Jesus is always the expiating victim. "See, all this is happening through Your fault, You corrupter of the best Judaeans. You have prostituted them."
Jesus is silent.
"Let the witnesses speak" shouts Caiaphas.
"Yes, He was making use of the… the… We knew… What is the name of that thing?"
"The tetragram, perhaps?"
"That's it! You have said it! He evoked the dead. He taught people to rebel against the Sabbath and to desecrate the altar. We swear it. He said that He wanted to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days with the assistance of demons."
"No. He said: it will not be built by man."
Caiaphas comes down from his seat and approaches Jesus. Small, excessively fat, ugly, he looks like a huge toad close to a flower. Because Jesus, although wounded, bruised, dirty and unkempt, is still so handsome and solemn. "Are You not replying? What horrible charges they are bringing against You! Speak, to clear Yourself of such shame."
But Jesus is silent. He looks at him but does not speak.
"Reply to me, then. I am Your Pontiff. I adjure You by the living God. Tell me: are You the Christ, the Son of God?"
"You have said it. I am. And you will see the Son of man, sitting on the right hand of the power of the Father, come on the clouds of the sky. Moreover, why do you ask Me? I have spoken in public for three years. I have not said anything secretly. Ask those who have heard Me. They will tell you what I have said and what I have done."
One of the soldiers who is holding Him, strikes His mouth, making it bleed once again, and he shouts: "Is that how you reply, O satan, to the High Pontiff?"
And Jesus replies meekly to this one as He had replied to the previous one: "If I have spoken the truth, why do you strike Me? If I have said something wrong, why do you not tell Me where I am wrong? I tell you once again: I am the Christ, the Son of God. I cannot lie. I am the High Priest, the Eternal Priest. And I alone wear the true Rational, on which it is written: Doctrine and Truth. And I am faithful to both, even to death, ignominious in the eyes of the world, holy in the eyes of God, and until the blissful Resurrection. I am the Anointed One. Pontiff and King I am. And I am about to take My sceptre and with it, as with a winnowing-fan, I will clear the threshing-floor. This Temple will be destroyed and it will rise again, new and holy. Because this one is corrupt and God has abandoned it to its destiny."
"Blasphemer!" they all shout in chorus.
"Will You do that in three days, You silly possessed man?"
"Not this one. But Mine will rise again, the Temple of the true, living, holy, three times holy God."
"Anathema!" they howl again in chorus.
Caiaphas raises his clucking voice, he tears his linen garments with affected horror, and he says: "What else have we to hear from witnesses? He has blasphemed. So what shall we do?"
And all in chorus: "He deserves to die." And with disdainful scandalised gestures they go out of the hall, leaving Jesus to the mercy of the bravoes and of the mob of false witnesses, who with slaps, blows, spitting, blinding His eyes with a rag and then pulling His hair violently, drive Him here and there with His hands tied, so that He knocks against tables, chairs and walls, while they ask Him: "Who hit You? Guess." And several times they trip Him and make Him fall flat on His face, and they split their sides with laughter seeing how hardly able He is to stand up again, His hands being tied.
Some hours go by so and the tired torturers decide to have a little rest. They take Jesus to a closet, making Him go through many yards among the insults of the mob already numerous in the enclosure of the Pontiff's house.
Jesus arrives in the courtyard where there is Peter near a fire. And He looks at him. But Peter escapes His notice. John is no longer there. I cannot see him. I think he has gone away with Nicodemus…
Dawn is breaking and the sky looks greenish. An order is given: the Prisoner is to be taken back to the Council Hall for a more legal trial. It is just the moment in which Peter for the third time denies that he knows the Christ, when the latter is passing by, already marked by sufferings. And, in the greenish dawn light, His bruises look even more dreadful on His wan face, and His eyes more sunken and glassy: a Jesus made dull by the sorrow of the world…
A derisory sarcastic mischievous cock-crowing rends the air just beginning to stir at dawn. And at this moment of deep silence brought about by the appearance of the Christ, only Peter's harsh voice is heard to say: "I swear it, woman, I do not know Him": a resolute decided statement, to which replies at once, like a sneer, the cheeky crowing of the cockerel.
Peter gives a start. He turns round to run away and he finds himself facing Jesus, Who looks at him with infinite compassion, with such sad deep sorrow that breaks my heart, as if after that I should see my Jesus vanish forever. Peter sobs and he goes out staggering as if he were drunk. He runs away behind two servants, who go out into the street, and he disappears down the semi-dark street.
Jesus is taken back into the hall. In chorus they repeat the captious question: "In the name of the true God, tell us: are You the Christ?" And when they receive the same reply as the previous one, they sentence Him to death and they give orders to take Jesus to Pilate.
Jesus, escorted by all His enemies, except Annas and Caiaphas, goes out, passing once again through those courts of the Temple, in which so many times He had spoken, helped and cured people, and through the embattled enclosure He goes into the streets of the town, and more dragged than led, He descends towards the town, which is turning pinkish in the first announcement of dawn.
I think that for the only purpose of torturing Him longer, they make Him take a long tedious walk round Jerusalem, passing on purpose by the markets, the stablings, the hostels full of people at Passover. And both the waste vegetables in market places, and the excrement of animals in stablings, become projectiles for the Innocent, Whose face shows larger and larger bruises and small bleeding cuts, and is veiled by the various dirty things spread over it. His hair, already weighed down and slightly stretched by blood sweat, looks duller and hangs uncombed, strewn with bits of straw and dirt, falling over His eyes, because they ruffle it to veil His face.
The people at market places, buyers and vendors, leave everything to follow the Poor Wretch, but not out of love. Grooms and inn-servants come out in groups, deaf to the calling and orders of their mistresses, who, to tell the truth, like almost all the other women, are, if not all against the insults, at least indifferent to the tumult, and they withdraw grumbling at being left alone with so many people to serve.
So the howling train grows bigger every moment and minds and features seem to change nature, through a sudden epidemic, as the former become the minds of criminals, and the latter masks of ferocity in faces green with hatred or red with anger; hands become claws and mouths take the shape and howling of wolves, and eyes look sinister, red, squinted like those of madmen. Jesus only is always the same, although by now He is covered with dirt spread all over His body, and His features are disfigured by bruises and swellings.
At an archivolt that narrows the street like a ring, while everything becomes obstructed and slows down, a cry rends the air: "Jesus!" It is Elias, the shepherd, who tries to make his way by swinging a heavy club. Old, powerful, menacing and strong, he almost succeeds in approaching the Master. But the crowd, defeated by the first assault, closes its ranks and separates, drives back and overwhelms the solitary disciple who struggles against a whole crowd. "Master!" he shouts, while the vortex of the crowd absorbs and rejects him.
"Go!… My Mother… I bless you…"
And the procession passes through the narrow spot. And like water that finds an open space after a dam, it pours uproariously into a wide avenue, built above the hollow between two hills, with wonderful buildings of wealthy people at its ends.
I see the Temple once again on the top of its hill, and I realise that the vicious circle they made the Convict go round, to expose Him to the ridicule of the whole town and allow everybody to insult Him, while the insulters increase at each step, is coming to its end by going back to where it started.
A horse-man comes out of a building at a gallop. The purple caparison on the white Arab horse and the magnificence of its appearance, his sword brandished naked and landed with its flat or edge on backs and heads that begin to bleed, make him look like an archangel. When in a caracole, in a prance of the horse that curvets, using its hooves as a weapon to defend itself and its master, and as the best means to make its way through the crowd, it makes the rider's purple and gold veil fall from his head, where it was held tight by a gold strip, I recognise Manaen.
"Back!" he shouts. "How dare you disturb the Tetrarch's rest?" But that is only an excuse to justify his intervention and attempt to reach Jesus. "This man… let me see Him… Stand aside, or I will call the guards…"
The people, because of the hail of blows with the flat of the sword, of the kicks of the horse and of the threats of the horse-man, open out and Manaen can reach the group of Jesus and of the Temple guards who are holding Him.
"Go away! The Tetrarch is more important than you are, you filthy servants. Back. I want to speak to Him" and he is successful by charging the most ruthless jailor with his sword. "Master!…"
"Thank you. But go away! And may God comfort you!" And, as best He can with His tied hands, He makes a gesture of blessing.
The crowds hiss from afar and, as soon as they see Manaen withdraw, they take vengeance for being driven back by throwing a hail of stones and rubbish on the Convict.
Along the avenue, which is uphill and already warm in the sunshine, they go towards the Antonia Tower, the mass of which is already visible in the distance.
The shrill cry of a woman rends the air: "Oh! my Saviour! My life for His, O Eternal!" Jesus turns His head round and on the high flowery loggia surrounding a beautiful house He sees Johanna of Chuza, among maids and servants and with little Mary and Matthias around her, raise her arms towards the sky. But Heaven does not listen to prayers today! Jesus raises His arms and makes a gesture of farewell blessing.
"Death! Death to the blasphemer, the corrupter, the devil! Death to His friends" and hisses and stones are slung towards the high terrace. I do not know whether anybody is injured. I hear a very shrill cry and then I see the group break up and disappear. And on, on, going up… Jerusalem displays her houses in the sunshine, empty, emptied by the hatred that drives the whole town, with its real inhabitants and the temporary ones who have come here for the Passover, against a defenceless man.
Some Roman soldiers, a whole maniple, run out from the Antonia with their lances pointed at the mob, who disperse shouting. In the middle of the street there is Jesus left with the guards, the chief of the priests, of the scribes and of the elders of the people. "This man? This sedition? You will answer to Rome for this" says a centurion haughtily.
"He is liable to death according to our law."
"And since when has the “jus gladii et sanguinis” been given back to you?" asks once again the senior centurion, a real Roman, with a severe face and a cheek marked by a deep scar. And he speaks with the contempt and disgust with which he would speak to lousy galley-slaves.
"We are aware that we do not have that right. We are loyal subjects of Rome…"
"Ha! Ha! Ha! Listen to them, Longinus. Loyal! Subjects! Rotters! I would reward you with the arrows of my archers."
"Too noble a death! The backs of mules want nothing but the lash!…" replies Longinus with ironic coolness.
The chief priests, scribes and elders are foaming with poison. But they want to attain their object and are silent, they swallow the insult without showing that they have understood it, and bowing to the two officers, they ask that Jesus be led to Pontius Pilate so that "he may judge and condemn with the well-known honest justice of Rome."
"Ha! Ha! Listen to them! We have become wiser than Minerva… Here! Give Him to us! And march ahead of us! One never knows. You are stinking jackals. It is dangerous to have you behind our backs. Go on!"
"Why not? When one accuses one must be before the judge with the defendant. That is the rule of Rome."
"The house of a heathen is unclean in our eyes, and we are already purified for Passover."
"Oh! poor little things! they become contaminated by coming in!… And the murder of the only Hebrew Who is a man, and not a jackal and a reptile like you, does that not pollute you? All right. Then remain where you are. Not one step forward or you will be pierced by the spears. Let a decury stand round the Defendant. The others against this rabble that smells of badly washed billy-goat."
Jesus Before Pontius Pilate
Jesus enters into the Praetorium in the middle of the ten soldiers who are armed with lances and form a square of halberds around His person. The two centurions go on. While Jesus stops in a large entrance-hall, beyond which there is a court-yard that can be seen indistinctly behind a curtain moved by the wind, they disappear behind a door. They come back in with the Governor, who is wearing a snow white toga with a scarlet mantle on top of it. Perhaps that is how they dressed when representing Rome officially. He comes in lazily, with a skeptical smile on his shaven face, he rubs some leaves of lemon-scented verbena and smells them voluptuously. He goes to a sun-dial and comes back after looking at it. He throws some grains of incense into the brazier placed at the feet of a deity. He has citron water brought to him and he gargles his throat. He gazes at his hair completely wavy in a mirror of highly polished metal. He seems to have forgotten the Convict, Who is awaiting his approval to be killed. He would make even stones fly into a rage.
Since the front of the hall is completely open and is raised by three high steps with respect to the lobby, which opens onto the street and is three more steps higher than it, the Jews can see everything very well and they are fretting and fuming. But they dare not rebel as they fear the lances and javelins.
At last, after going round and round the large hall, Pilate goes straight towards Jesus, he looks at Him and asks the two centurions: "This one?"
"Yes, this man."
"Let His accusers come" and he goes and sits on the chair placed on the platform. Above his head the insignia of Rome interlace with the golden eagles and their powerful initials.
"They cannot come. They become contaminated."
"Phew! Better so. We shall save streams of essences to remove their goatish smell from this place. Make them come nearer, at least. Down here. And make sure they do not come in, as they do not wish to do so. This man could be a pretext for a sedition." A soldier departs to take the order of the Roman Procurator. The others draw up in front of the entrance-hall at regular distances, as handsome as nine statues of heroes.
The chief priests, scribes and elders come forward and they bow servilely and stop in the little square which is before the Praetorium, beyond the three steps of the lobby. "Speak up and be quick. You are already at fault for disturbing the peace of the night and having the Gates opened with violence. But I will have that verified. And principals and mandataries will answer for disobeying the ordinance." Pilate has gone towards them, remaining in the hall.
"We have come to submit our verdict on this man to Rome, whose divine emperor you represent."
"What charges do you bring against Him? He seems innocent to me…"
"If He were not an evil-doer, we would not have brought Him to you." And in their eagerness to accuse Him they come forward.
"Repel this populace. Six steps beyond the three steps in the square. The two centuries to arms!"
The soldiers obey promptly, one hundred draw up on the top outer step with their backs to the entrance-hall, and one hundred in the little square, onto which the main door of Pilate's abode opens. I said main door, I should say huge portal or triumphal arch, because it is a very wide opening delimited by a gate, now wide open, which admits into the hall through the long corridor of the lobby at least six metres wide, so that what takes place in the raised hall is clearly visible. Beyond the wide lobby one can see the beastly faces of the Jews look threateningly and diabolically towards the inside, beyond the armed barrier that, side by side, presents two hundred sharp-pointed spears to the chicken-hearted killers.
"I ask you once again, which charge are you bringing against this man?"
"He has committed crimes against the Law of our forefathers."
"And have you come to bother me about that? Take him and judge Him according to your laws."
"We cannot sentence anybody to death. We are not learned. Jewish jurisprudence is a mentally deficient child as compared with the perfect Law of Rome. As ignorant people and subjects of Rome, the mistress, we are in need…"
"Since when have you become honey and butter?… But you have spoken the truth, o masters of falsehood! You are in need of Rome! Yes. To get rid of this man Who causes trouble to you. I see." And Pilate laughs, looking at the clear sky that is framed like a rectangular sheet of dark turquoise among the marble snow-white walls of the hall. "Tell me: which crimes has He committed against your laws?"
"We have found out that He was causing disturbances in our country and was preventing people from paying the tribute to Caesar, saying that He is the Christ, the king of the Jews."
Pilate goes back to Jesus, Who is in the middle of the hall, left there by the soldiers, tied but without escort, so obvious is His meekness. And he asks Him: "Are You the king of the Jews?"
"Are you asking this of your own accord, or through the insinuation of other people?"
"And what do You expect me to care for Your kingdom? Am I a Jew? Your country and its leaders have handed You over to me, that I may judge You. What have You done? I know that You are loyal. Speak. Is it true that You aspire at reigning?"
"My Kingdom does not come from this world. If it were a kingdom of this world, My ministers and my soldiers would have fought to prevent the Jews from arresting Me. But My Kingdom is not of the Earth. And you know that I do not seek power."
"That is true. I know. I have been told. But You do not deny that You are a king?"
"You assert it. I am a King. That is why I came into the world: to bear witness to the Truth. Those who are on the side of the Truth listen to My voice."
"What is the Truth? Are You a philosopher? It does not serve when facing death. Socrates died just the same."
"But it served him in his lifetime, to live honestly. And also to die well. And to enter into the other life without being called a traitor of civic virtues."
"By Jove!" Pilate looks at Him for some moments full of admiration. Then he resumes his skeptical sarcasm. He makes a gesture of boredom, turns his back on Him and goes towards the Judaeans. "I find no fault in Him."
The crowd riots, seized with the panic fear of losing the prey and the spectacle of the capital punishment. And they shout: "He is a rebel!", "A blasphemer", "He encourages libertinism", "He instigates people to rebel", "He refuses respect for Caesar", "He feigns that He is a prophet", "He practises magic", "He is a devil", "He stirs up the people teaching all over in Judaea, where He came from Galilee teaching", "Death to Him!", "Death to Him!"
"Is He a Galilean? Are You a Galilean?" Pilate goes back to Jesus: "Do You hear how they accuse You? Prove Your innocence." But Jesus is silent.
Pilate is pensive… And he decides: "Let a century take Him to Herod to be judged. He is Herod's subject. I acknowledge the right of the Tetrarch and I assent to his verdict in advance. Tell him. Go."
And Jesus, surrounded like a rascal by one hundred soldiers, passes through the town again and once more He meets Judas Iscariot, whom He had already met near a market. I forgot to mention this before, disgusted as I was with the brawl of the populace. The same merciful glance at the traitor…
It is now more difficult to strike Him with kicks and clubs, but there is no shortage of stones and rubbish and, if the stones hit the Roman helmets and armour resounding without injuries, they do leave marks when they hit Jesus, Who is proceeding with only His tunic on, as He left His mantle at Gethsemane.
Jesus Before Herod
He is now in the hall, in front of Herod. And behind Him, there are the scribes and Pharisees, who feel at their ease here, and who come in to make their false charges. Only the centurion and four soldiers escort Him towards the Tetrarch.
Herod descends from his seat and walks round Jesus, while listening to the accusations of His enemies. And he smiles and flouts.
He then feigns compassion and respect, which do not upset the Martyr, as his raillery did not perturb Him. "You are great. I know. I enquired about You and I was pleased that Chuza was Your friend and Manaen Your disciple. I… the worries of the State… But how anxious I was to say that You are great… to ask You to forgive me… John's eyes… his voice accuse me and are always before me. You are the saint who cancels the sins of the world. Absolve me, o Christ."
Jesus is silent.
"I heard that they accuse You of rebelling against Rome. Are You not the promised rod to strike Assur?"
Jesus is silent.
"They told me that You predict the end of the Temple and of Jerusalem. But is the Temple not eternal as a spirit, since it was wanted by God Who is eternal?"
Jesus is silent.
"Are You mad? Have You lost Your power? Is Satan preventing You from speaking? Has he abandoned You?" Herod is laughing now.
He then gives an order. And some servants rush in carrying a greyhound, which has a broken leg and is yelping sorrowfully, and a stable-man, who is dull-witted, with a big empty head, a slavering mouth, an abortion, the laughing stock of the servants. The scribes and priests run away, shouting at the sacrilege, when they see the stretcher of the dog.
Herod, false and mocking, explains: "It's Herodias' pet. A gift of Rome. It broke its leg yesterday and she is weeping. Order it to be cured. Work a miracle."
Jesus looks at him severely and is silent.
"Have I offended You? This one, then. He is a man, although he is little more than a wild beast. Give him intelligence, since You are the Intelligence of the Father… Is that not what You say?" And he laughs offensively.
Another more severe glance of Jesus, Who is still silent.
"This man is too abstinent and is now stunned by scorn. Bring wine and women here. And untie Him."
They untie His hands. And while a large number of servants bring amphorae and cups, some dancers come in… covered with nothing: a many-coloured linen fringe is the only garment girding their thin waists and hips. Nothing else. As they are Africans they are of bronze complexion and are as agile as young gazelles, and they begin a silent lascivious dance.
Jesus refuses the cups and closes His eyes without speaking. Herod's courtiers laugh at His disdain.
"Take the woman You wish. Live! Learn how to live!…" suggests Herod.
Jesus seems a statue. With folded arms, closed eyes, He does not stir even when the lewd dancers touch Him lightly with their nude bodies.
"Enough. I treated You as God, and You did not act as God. I treated You as a man, and you have not acted as a man. You are mad. A white garment. Clothe Him with it so that Pontius Pilate may know that the Tetrarch took his subject to be mad. Centurion, please tell the Proconsul that Herod humbly presents his respect to him and venerates Rome. Go."
And Jesus, tied once again, goes out, with a linen tunic reaching down to His knees, on top of His red woollen garment.
Jesus is Returned to Pilate
And they go back to Pilate.
Now, when the century with difficulty squeeze through the crowd, which did not get tired waiting in front of the proconsular building – and it is strange to see so many people in that place and its neighbourhood, while the rest of the town seems to be empty Jesus sees the shepherds in a group and they are all there, that is, Isaac, Jonathan, Levi, Joseph, Elias, Matthias, John, Simeon, Benjamin and Daniel, together with a small group of Galileans, among whom I recognise Alphaeus and Joseph of Alphaeus with two more whom I do not know, but judging by their hair-style, I should say they are Judaeans. And farther away, He sees John, who has slipped into the hall, halfhidden behind a column, with a Roman, who I think is a servant. He smiles at this one and at those… His friends… But what are these few people and Johanna, and Manaen, and Chuza, in the middle of an ocean boiling with hatred?…
The centurion salutes Pontius Pilate and reports.
"Here again?! Phew! Cursed be this race! Make the mob come forward and bring the Accused here. Oh! what a nuisance!"
He goes towards the crowd, stopping again in the middle of the hall. "Jews, listen. You have brought me this man as an instigator of the people. I have examined Him in your presence and I have not found in Him any of the crimes of which you accuse Him. Herod did not find more than I did. And he has sent Him back to us. He does not deserve death. Rome has spoken. But, in order not to displease you, depriving you of the amusement, I will give you Barabbas. And I will order Him to be given forty lashes. That is enough."
"No, no! Not Barabbas! Not Barabbas! Death to Jesus! And a dreadful death! Release Barabbas and condemn the Nazarene to death."
"But listen! I said I will have Him lashed. Is that not enough? I will have Him scourged, then! It is terrible, you know? He may die through it. What wrong has He done? I can find no fault in Him. And I will set Him free."
"Crucify Him! Crucify Him! Death to Him! You are the protector of criminals! Heathen! You are Satan, too!"
The crowd advances and the first formation of soldiers wavers, as they cannot make use of their lances. But the second line, descending one step, swing their lances and free their companions.
"Let Him be scourged" Pilate orders a centurion.
"How many blows?"
"As many as you like… In any case the matter is over. And I am bored. Go."
The Scourging at the Pillar
Jesus is led by four soldiers to the court-yard beyond the hall. In the middle of that court-yard, which is all paved with coloured marbles, there is a high column like the one in the porch. At about three metres from the floor it has an iron bar protruding at least a metre and ending with a ring, to which Jesus is tied, with His hands joined above His head, after He has been undressed. He has on only short linen drawers and sandals. His hands tied at His wrists are raised up as far as the ring, so that, although tall, He rests only the tips of His toes on the floor… And even that position is a torture. I have read, I do not know where, that the column was low and that Jesus was bent over it. That may be. I say what I see.
Behind Him stands one who looks like an executioner, with a clear Jewish profile; in front of Him, another man, looking like the previous one. They are armed with scourges, made of seven leather strips tied to a handle and ending with small lead hammers. They begin to strike Him rhythmically, as if they were practising. One in front and one behind, so that Jesus' trunk is in a whirl of lashes and scourges. The four soldiers, to whom He has been handed, are indifferent and are playing dice with other three soldiers who have just arrived. And the voices of the players follow the rhythm of the sound of the scourges, which hiss like snakes and then resound like stones striking the stretched skin of a drum. They beat the poor body, which is so slender and as white as old ivory, and then becomes covered with stripes that at first are a brighter and brighter pink shade, then violet, then it displays blue swellings full of blood, then the skin breaks letting blood flow from all sides. They redouble their cruelty on His thorax and abdomen, but there is no shortage of blows given to His legs, arms and even to His head, so that no fragment of His skin may be left without pain.
And not a moan… If He were not held up by the rope, He would fall. But He does not fall and does not groan. Only His head hangs over His chest, after so many blows, as if He had fainted.
"Hey! Stop! He must be alive when He is killed" shouts a soldier scoffingly. The two executioners stop and wipe their perspiration.
"We are exhausted" they say. "Give us our pay, so that we may have a refreshing drink…"
"I would give you the gallows! But here you are…" and a decurion throws a large coin to each executioner.
"You have done a good job. He looks like a mosaic. Titus, do you mean that this man was really Alexander's love? We must let him know, so that he may mourn over His death. Let us untie Him."
They untie Him, and Jesus falls on the floor like a dead body. They leave Him there, pushing Him now and again with their feet shod with caligae, to see whether He moans. But He is silent.
"Is He dead? Is it possible? He is a young man and a handicraftsman, so I am told… and He looks like a delicate lady."
"I will take care of Him" says a soldier. And he sits Him with His back against the column. Clots of blood appear where He was… He then goes towards a fountain gurgling under the porch, he fills a tub with water and pours it on Jesus' head and body.
"That's it! Water is good for flowers."
Jesus draws a deep sigh and tries to stand up, but His eyes are still closed. "Oh! good. Come on, darling! Your dame is waiting for You!…"
But Jesus in vain presses His hands against the floor trying to stand up.
"Come on! Quick! Are You weak? Here is some refreshment" says another soldier sneeringly. And with the shaft of his halberd he delivers a blow to Jesus' face striking it between the right cheekbone and the nose, that begins to bleed.
Jesus opens His eyes and looks round. His eyes are veiled… He stares at the soldier who struck Him, wipes the blood with His hand, and then, with much effort, He stands up.
"Get dressed. It is immodest to stay like that. You lewd man!" They all laugh standing around Him.
And He obeys without speaking. But when He bends – and He alone knows how much He suffers when stooping to the ground, contused as He is, as His wounds open even more when the skin is stretched, and more are formed as the blisters burst – a soldier gives a kick to His garments and scatters them, and every time Jesus reaches them, staggering to where they lie, a soldier pushes them away or throws them in a different direction. And Jesus, suffering bitterly, goes after them without uttering a word, while the soldiers deride Him obscenely.
He can dress Himself again at last. And He can put on also the white tunic, which was left in a corner and is still clean. He seems to wish to conceal His poor red garment, which only yesterday was so beautiful and now is filthy with rubbish and stained with the blood sweated at Gethsemane. Furthermore, before putting on His short vest, He dries His wet face with it, cleaning it of dust and spittles. And the poor holy face looks clean, marked only by bruises and small cuts. And He tidies His hair which is hanging ruffled, and His beard, out of an inborn need to be personally tidy.
Then He squats in the sunshine. Because my Jesus is shivering… Fever begins to torture Him with its cold shivers. And He feels weak because of the blood He has lost, of fasting and walking so much.
The Crowning with Thorns
They tie His hands once again. And the rope begins to cut into His wrists, where the excoriated skin has left a mark like a red bracelet.
"And now? What shall we do with Him? I am bored!"
"Wait. The Jews want a king. Now we will give them one. Him…" says a soldier.
And he runs out to a court that is in the back, from which he comes back with a bunch of branches of wild hawthorn, still flexible, because springtime keeps the branches relatively tender, whilst the long sharp thorns are hard. With a dagger they remove leaves and buds, they bend the branches forming a circle and they place them on His poor head. But the cruel crown falls down on His neck.
"It does not fit. Make it narrower. Take it off."
They take it off and scratch His cheeks, risking to blind Him, and they tear off His hair in doing so. They make it smaller. Now it is too small, and although they press it down, driving the thorns into His head, it threatens to fall. They take it off once again, tearing more of His hair. They adjust it again. It now fits. At the front there are three thorny cords. At the back, where the ends of the three branches interweave, there is a real knot of thorns that penetrate into the nape of His neck.
"Do You see how well You look? Natural bronze and real rubies. Look at Yourself, o king, in my cuirass" says the inventor of the torture scoffingly.
"A crown is not sufficient to make a king. Purple and sceptre are required. In the stable there is a cane and in the sewer there is a red chlamys. Get them, Cornelius."
And once they have them, they put the dirty red rag on Jesus, shoulders, and before putting the cane in His hands, they beat His head with it, bowing and greeting: "Hail, king of the Jews" and they roar with laughter.
Jesus does not react. He lets them sit Him on the "throne": a tub turned upside-down, certainly used to water horses, He lets them strike and scoff at Him, without ever uttering a word. He only looks at them, casting glances of such kindness and such atrocious sorrow that I cannot bear them without feeling heart-broken.
The soldiers stop sneering at Him only when the harsh voice of a superior orders them to take the guilty prisoner to Pilate. Guilty! Of what?
Jesus is taken back again to the entrance-hall, which is now covered with a precious velarium because of the sun. He still has the crown, the chlamys and the cane.
"Come forward, that I may show You to the people."
Jesus, although exhausted, straightens Himself up with dignity. Oh! He really is a king! "Listen, Jews. Here is the man. I have punished Him. But now let Him go."
"No, no! We want to see Him. Out! That we may see the blasphemer!"
"Bring Him out. And make sure they do not take Him."
And as Jesus goes out into the lobby and is visible in the square formed by the soldiers, Pontius Pilate points to Him with his hand saying: "Here is the Man. Your King. Is that still not sufficient?"
The sun in a sultry day is shining almost perpendicular, because it is between the third and the sixth hour and it lights up and makes eyes and faces conspicuous: are those people human beings? No: they are rabid hyenas. They shout, they shake their fists, they want His death…
Jesus is holding Himself upright. And I assure you that He never had such a noble bearing as now. Not even when He performed the most wonderful miracles. Nobility of sorrow, but so divine as to suffice to mark Him with the name of God. But, in order to say that Name, it is necessary to be at least men. And Jerusalem has no men today. But only demons.
Jesus looks around at the crowd and in the sea of rancorous faces he looks for and finds some friendly faces. How many? Less than twenty friends among thousands of enemies… And He lowers His head, struck by such abandonment. A tear falls… and another… and another… The sight of His tears does not engender compassion, but gives rise to fiercer hatred.
He is taken back to the hall.
"So? Let Him go. It is justice."
"No. Death to Him. Crucify Him."
"I will give you Barabbas."
"No. The Christ!"
"In that case, take Him yourselves. And crucify Him by yourselves, because I find no fault in Him to do that."
"He said that He is the Son of God. Our Law inflicts death on whoever is guilty of such blasphemy."
Pilate becomes pensive. He goes back in and sits on his little throne. He rests his forehead in his hand and his elbow on his knee and scrutinises Jesus. "Come near me" he says.
Jesus goes to the foot of the platform.
"Is it true? Tell me."
Jesus is silent.
"Where do You come from? Who is God?"
"He is the All."
"And then? What does the All mean? What is the All for one who is dying? You are mad… God does not exist. I do."
Jesus is silent. He has let the great word drop and then He envelops Himself in silence.
"Pontius, Claudia Procula's freedwoman asks permission to come in. She has a note for you."
"Domine! Women also now! Let her come in."
A Roman woman comes in and kneels down handing a waxed tablet. It must be the one with which Procula begs her husband not to condemn Jesus. The woman withdraws backwards, while Pilate reads.
"I am advised to avoid Your being put to death. Is it true that You are more than a haruspex? You frighten me."
Jesus is silent.
"Do You not know that I have the power to free You or to crucify You?"
"You would have no power, if it were not given to you from Above. Therefore, he who handed Me over to you is more guilty than you are."
"Who is it? Your God? I fear…" Jesus is silent.
Pilate is on tenterhooks. He would like and he would not like to… He is afraid of God's punishment, he is afraid of Rome, he fears Judaean revenges. For a moment he overcomes the fear of God. He goes to the front of the hall and in a thundering voice he shouts: "He is not guilty."
"If you say so, you are no friend of Caesar's. He who proclaims himself king, is his enemy. You want to free the Nazarene. We will inform Caesar of that." Pilate is seized with the fear of man.
"So, you want Him dead? Let it be so. But the blood of this just man is not to stain my hands" and having a basin brought to him, he washes his hands in the presence of the people who appear to be seized with frenzy while they shout: "His blood on us. His blood be on us and on our children. We are not afraid of Him. Crucify Him! Crucify Him!"
Pontius Pilate goes back to his little throne and he calls the centurion Longinus and a slave. He orders the slave to bring him a board on which he places a notice and has the words written on it: "Jesus Nazarene, King of the Jews". And he shows it to the people. "No. Not so. Not king of the Jews. But that He said that He is king of the Jews." Many of them shout so.
"What I have written, I have written" says Pilate severely, and standing upright, he stretches his hand forward with its palm turned down, and he orders: "Let Him go to the cross. Soldier, go. Prepare the cross." And he descends from his throne without even looking towards the uproarious crowd or at the wan Condemned Man. He leaves the hall…
Jesus is left in the middle of it, guarded by the soldiers, awaiting the cross.
Friday, 10th March, 1944.
"I want you to meditate on the point concerning My meetings with Pilate. John, who is the most accurate witness and narrator, as he was almost always present, or at least very close, relates how I was taken to the Praetorium when I left Caiaphas' house. And he specifies “early in the morning”. In fact you saw that it was daybreak. He also specifies: “they (the Jews) did not enter in order not to be contaminated and thus be able to eat the Passover.” Being hypocritical as usual, they thought that it was dangerous to trample on the dust of a Gentile's house, as they might be contaminated, but they did not consider it a sin to kill an Innocent, and with their spirits satisfied with the crime they had accomplished, they were able to enjoy their Passover even more. They have many followers even nowadays. All those, who do wrong internally, but externally profess respect for religion and love for God, are like them. Formulae, formulae, but not true religion! I regard them with disgust and disdain.
As the Jews would not go into Pilate's house, Pilate came out to hear what the bawling crowd wanted and, experienced as he was in governing and judging, at a glance he realised that not I, but that population intoxicated with hatred was guilty. By looking at each other, we read each other's heart. I judged the man what he was. He judged Me for what I was. I felt pity for him, because he was weak. And he felt pity for Me, because I was innocent. He tried to save Me from the very beginning. And as the right to administer justice with regard to criminals was remitted and reserved to Rome, he tried to save Me by saying: “Judge Him according to your Law”.
Hypocrites for the second time, the Jews refused to condemn Me. It is true that Rome had the right of justice, but when, for instance, Stephen was stoned, Rome still ruled over Jerusalem and notwithstanding all that, they passed sentence and had the capital sentence executed disregarding Rome. With regard to Me, Whom they hated and feared and did not love – they would not believe that I was the Messiah, but did not want to kill Me materially, in case I were – they acted in a different way and accused Me of being an instigator against the power of Rome (you would say a “rebel”) in order to get Rome to judge Me. In their ill-famed court of justice, and several times in the three years of My ministry, they had accused Me of being a blasphemer and false prophet, and as such I should have been stoned or killed in any way. But now, to avoid committing the crime materially, as by instinct they felt they would be punished for it, they made Rome do it, accusing Me of being a criminal and a rebel.
When the crowds are perverted and the leaders have become devils, there is nothing easier than accusing an innocent to give vent to their thirst for ferocity and usurpation, and to get rid of those who are an obstacle and a judgement. We have gone back to those days. The world, after an incubation of perverted ideas, explodes now and again in such displays of perversion. Like a huge pregnant woman, the crowd, after nourishing its monster in its womb with doctrines of wild beasts, gives birth to it so that it may devour. So that it may devour the best people first, and then itself.
Pilate goes back into the Praetorium and calls Me near him. And he questions Me. He had already heard people speak of Me. Among his centurions there were some who repeated My Name with grateful love, with tears in their eyes and smiles in their hearts, and who spoke of Me as of a benefactor. In their reports to the Praetor, when they were questioned about this Prophet, Who attracted the crowds to Himself and preached a new doctrine which mentioned a strange kingdom, inconceivable to a heathen mind, they had always replied that I was a meek kind man who did not seek the honours of the Earth, and that I inculcated and practised respect and obedience to those who are the authorities. More sincere than the Israelities, they saw and witnessed the truth. The previous Sunday, when his attention was attracted by the shouts of the crowd, he had leaned out of the window and he had seen a disarmed man pass by riding a little donkey and blessing, surrounded by children and women. He had realised that that man could certainly not be a danger to Rome.
So he wants to know whether I am a king. In his ironic pagan skepticism he wanted to have a little laugh at that royalty that rides a donkey, that has bare-footed children, smiling women and common men as courtiers, at that royalty that for three years has preached that it has no interest in riches and power and that speaks of no conquests but those of the spirit and the soul. What is the soul for a heathen? Not even his gods have souls. And can man have it? Also now this king with no crown, with no palace, with no court, with no soldiers, repeats to him that His kingdom is not of this world. So much so that no minister and no army rises to defend their king and free Him from His enemies.
Pilate, sitting on his seat, scrutinises Me, because I am an enigma to him. If he cleared his soul of human cares, of the pride of his office, of the error of heathenism, he would understand at once Who I am. But how can light enter where too many things obstruct the openings preventing light from entering? It is always like that, My children. Even now. How can God and His light enter where there is no more room for them, and doors and windows are closed and defended by pride, by humanity, by vice, by usury, by so many guards at the service of Satan against God? Pilate cannot understand what My kingdom is. And what is more painful, he does not ask Me to explain it to him. To My invitation to know the Truth, he, the untameable heathen, replies: “What is the truth?” and with a shrug of his shoulders he lets the matter drop.
Oh! My children! Oh! My Pilates of the present times! You also, like Pontius Pilate, let the most vital matters drop with a shrug of your shoulders. You consider them useless old-fashioned things. What is the Truth? Money? No. Women? No. Power? No.
Physical health? No. Human glory? No. Then forget about it. It is not worth running after a chimera. Money, women, power, good health, comforts, honours are the real useful things that one must love and attain at all costs. That is how you reason. And, worse than Esau, you barter eternal goods for coarse food that is harmful both to your physical health and to your eternal salvation. Why do you not persist in asking: “What is the Truth”? It, the Truth, asks for nothing but to be known in order to teach what it is. It is before you as it was for Pilate, and looks at you with eyes full of suppliant love, imploring you: “Question me. I will teach you.” Did you notice how I looked at Pilate? I look at all of you in the same way. And if I look with serene love at those who love Me and ask for My words, I cast glances of sorrowful love at those who do not love Me, do not seek Me, do not listen to Me. But it is always love, because Love is My nature.
Pilate leaves Me where I am, without asking more questions, and he goes towards the wicked people who speak in coarser voices and impose themselves through their violence. And he, a real wretch, listens to them, whilst he did not listen to Me and shrugging his shoulders he declined My invitation to become acquainted with the Truth. He listens to Falsehood. Idolatry, whatever its form may be, is always inclined to venerate and accept Falsehood, whatever it may be. And Falsehood, when accepted by the weak, leads the weak to crime. And yet Pilate, on the threshold of crime, still wants to save Me and he tries twice. It is at this point that he sends me to Herod. He knows very well that the shrewd king, who keeps in with both Rome and his people, will act in such a way as not to damage Rome and not irritate the Jewish people. But, like all weak people, he puts off for a little while the decision that he does not feel like taking, hoping that the plebeian rising will abate.
I said: “When you speak say 'Yes' if you mean yes, 'No' if you mean no.” But he did not hear that, and if somebody repeated it to him, he shrugged his shoulders as usual. In order to succeed in the world, to have honours and profits, it is necessary to be able to make a no of a yes and a yes of a no, according to what common sense (read: human sense) advises. How many Pilates there are in the twentieth century! Where are the Christian heroes who said yes, constantly yes, to the Truth and for the sake of the Truth, and no, constantly no, to Falsehood? Where are the heroes who are able to face danger and events with brave strength and tranquil quickness and do not postpone, because Good is to be accomplished at once and evil shunned at once, without “buts” and “ifs”?
On My return from Herod, there is Pilate's fresh compromise: scourging. And what did he expect? Did he not know that the crowd is a wild beast that becomes merciless when it begins to see blood? But I had to be crushed to expiate your sins of the flesh. And I am crushed. There is not a shred of My body that has not been struck. I am the Man of Whom Isaiah speaks. And to the torture that had been ordered, there is added another that was not ordered, but was created by human cruelty: that of the thorns. Men, do you see your Saviour, your King, crowned with sorrow to free your heads of so many sins fermenting in them? Do you not consider the pain that My innocent head suffered to expiate, on your behalf, your sinful thoughts that are more and more dreadful and are transformed into deeds? You, who feel offended even when there is no reason for feeling so, look at your offended King, and He is God, with His ironic mantle of torn purple, with a cane as His sceptre and the crown of thorns. He is already dying, and they slap His face with their hands and with mockery. And you are not moved to pity. Like the Jews, you continue to show Me your fists, shouting: “Away, we have not other God but Caesar”, o idolaters, who do not worship God, but yourselves and those who are more overbearing among you. You do not want the Son of God. He gives you no help for your crimes. Satan is more obliging. So you want Satan. You are afraid of the Son of God. Like Pilate. And when you feel Him impend over you with His power, and stir within you with the voices of your consciences that reproach you in His name, like Pilate, you ask: “Who are You?”
You know Who I am. Also those who deny Me, know what and Who I am. Do not lie. There are twenty centuries around Me and they illustrate who I am and they make you acquainted with My miracles. Pilate is more excusable. You are not, as you have a heritage of twenty centuries of Christianity to support your faith or to inculcate it in you, but you will not hear of it. And yet I was more severe with Pilate than with you. I did not reply. I do speak to you. And even so, I do not succeed in persuading you that it is I and that you owe Me adoration and obedience. Even now you accuse Me of being My own ruin in you, because I do not listen to you. You say that you lose your faith because of that. Oh! liars! Where is your faith? Where is your love? When do you pray to Me and live with love and faith? Are you great people? Remember that you are such because I allow it. Are you anonymous in the crowd? Remember that there is no other God but I. No one is greater than I am and no one is ahead of Me. So give Me that cult of love that is due to Me and I will listen to you, because you will no longer be illegitimate children, but the sons of God.
And here is the last attempt of Pilate to save My life, if it were possible to save it after the cruel endless flagellation. He shows Me to the crowd: “Here is the Man!” I arouse human pity in him. He hopes in collective pity. But before the resisting harshness and the advancing threats, he is not capable of accomplishing a supernaturally just deed, and therefore a good one, saying: “I am setting Him free because He is innocent. You are guilty people, and if you do not disperse, you will become acquainted with the severity of Rome.” That is what he should have said, had he been a just man, without taking into account the future detriment that would befall him.
Pilate is a false good man. Longinus is good, because although he was less powerful than the Praetor and less defended, in the middle of the street and surrounded by few soldiers and a hostile multitude, he dares to defend Me, help Me, grant Me a rest, to be consoled by the pious women, be assisted by the man from Cyrene and finally to have My Mother at the foot of the Cross. He was a hero of justice and so he became a hero of Christ.
Be aware, o men who worry only about your material welfare, that God intervenes also in its favour, when He sees you behave faithfully towards justice, which is emanation of God. I always reward those who act righteously. I defend those who defend Me. I love them and succour them. I am always the One Who said: “He who gives a glass of water in My name will be rewarded.” To those who give Me love, the water that quenches the thirst of My lips of the divine Martyr, I give Myself, that is protection and blessings.