289. From Gerasa to the Fountain of the Cameleer.
29th September 1945.
The caravan leaves Alexander's large courtyard, in perfect order as if it were on a military parade. Jesus is at the rear with all His group. The camels are proceeding, their heavy loads swaying rhythmically and their heads, on their arched necks, seem to be asking at each step: "Why? Why?" in their silent but familiar gait, like the movement of doves, which at each step seem to be saying: "Yes, Yes" to everything they see. The caravan has to cross the town and it does so in the clear morning air. Everyone is all wrapped up because it is cool. The harness-bells of the camels, the cries of the camel-drivers, the screech of a camel regretting the idle stable inform the Gerasenes of Jesus' departure.
The news spreads as fast as lightning and some Gerasenes rush to greet Him offering fruit and other foodstuffs. There is also a man with a sick little boy. "Bless him, that he may recover. Have mercy on us!"
Jesus raises His hand and blesses the child saying: "Go and do not worry. Have faith."
And the man says "yes" so trustfully, that a woman asks: "Would You cure my husband whose eyes are ulcered?"
"I will, if you can believe."
"Well, I will go and bring him here. Wait for me, Lord" and she runs away as fast as a swallow.
Wait! Easier said than done! The camels are moving on. Alexander, at the head of the caravan, does not know what is wanted at its rear. The only thing to be done is to send word to the man.
"Run, Marjiam. Go and tell the merchant to stop before going out of the walls" says Jesus. And Marjiam dashes away to fulfill his mission.
The caravan stops and the merchant comes towards Jesus. "What is the matter?"
"Stay here and you will see."
The woman of Gerasa is soon back with her husband whose eyes are diseased. It is much worse than ulcers! His eyes are two holes full of suppuration. They look dimmed, reddened, half-blind in the centre of the holes, among repulsive dripping tears. As soon as the man lifts the dark bandage dimming the light, tears flow more copiously as the light increases the pain of the diseased eyes. The man moans: "Have mercy! I suffer so much!"
"You have also sinned very much. Are you not complaining of that? Are you only grieved at the possibility of losing the poor sight of the world? Do you know nothing about God? Are you not afraid of eternal darkness? Why did you sin?"
The man is weeping and he bends without speaking. His wife is also weeping and she moans: "I have forgiven..."
"And I will forgive him as well, if he swears to Me that he will not relapse into his sin."
"Yes, I do! Forgive me. I now know the consequences of sin. Forgive me. Forgive me as my wife did. You are the Good One."
"I forgive you. Go to that stream, wash your face in the water and you will be cured."
"Cold water will make him worse, Lord" moans the woman.
But the man is not concerned with anything else and he begins to grope until the apostle John pitifully takes him by the hand and leads him by himself at first, until the wife supports him by the other hand. The man goes down as far as the edge of the ice cold water babbling among stones, he bends. He takes some water cupping his hands and washes his face. He does not show any sign of pain. On the contrary, he appears to be relieved.
He then climbs up the bank, with his face still wet, and goes back to Jesus, Who asks him: "Well? Are you cured?"
"No, Lord. Not yet. But You said so and I will be cured."
"Well, remain in your hope. Goodbye."
The woman collapses weeping... She is disappointed. Jesus beckons to the merchant that they can go on. And the merchant, who is also disappointed, passes the word on. The camels march off again with their motion resembling a boat which raises and lowers its prow with its cut-water on the waves; they go out of the walls and take to the wide dusty caravan-route south-westwards.
The last couple of the apostolic group, that is, John of Endor and Simon Zealot, have just left the walls a few yards behind, when a shrill cry is heard in the silent air. It seems to spread all over the world, and is repeated in a higher and higher pitch, singing hosannas happily: "I can see! My blessed Jesus! I can see! I believed. I see! Jesus! Jesus! My blessed Jesus!" and the man, whose face is completely cured, with two beautiful eyes: two carbuncles full of light and life, rushes to Jesus' feet and falls almost under the camel of the merchant, who manages to move his mount away from the prostrated man just in time.
The man kisses Jesus' garment repeating: "I believed! I believed and I can see! My blessed Jesus!"
"Stand up and be happy. And, above all, be good. Tell your wife to believe unreservedly. Goodbye." And Jesus frees Himself from the grasp of the miraculously cured man and resumes His way.
The merchant strokes his beard pensively... At last he asks: "And if he had not persisted in believing, after his disappointment in washing?"
"He would have remained as he was."
"Why do You exact so much faith to work a miracle?"
"Because faith witnesses the presence of hope and love of God."
"And why did You want repentance first?"
"Because repentance makes God friendly."
"Since I have no disease, what should I do to testify that I have faith?"
"You should come to the Truth."
"And could I come without God's friendship?"
"You could not come without God's goodness. God allows those who look for Him to find Him, even if they are not yet repentant; because man generally repents when he knows God, either consciously or even with a faint consciousness of what his soul wants. Before he is like a blockhead led only by instinct. Have you ever felt the need to believe?"
"Many a time. Well, I was not satisfied with what I had. I felt there was something else. Something stronger than money, than my children, my hope... But I did not bother to try to find out what I was unknowingly seeking."
"Your soul was seeking God. God's kindness has let you find God. Repentance for your remote idle past will give you the friendship of God."
"So... in order to have the miracle of seeing the Truth with my soul, I should repent of my past?"
"Certainly. You ought to repent and decide to change your life completely..." The man begins to stroke his beard once again and he stares so intently that he seems to be studying and counting the hairs on his camel's neck. He unintentionally strikes with his heel the camel which takes the stroke as a spur to quicken its step and it obeys taking the merchant towards the head of the caravan.
Jesus does not keep him back. On the contrary He stops thus allowing the women and apostles to overtake Him, until Simon Zealot and John of Endor reach Him. Jesus joins them.
"Of what are you speaking?" He asks.
"We were speaking of the depression that those must feel who do not believe in anything or have lost the faith they had. Syntyche was really dejected yesterday, although she has come to a perfect faith" replies the Zealot.
"I was saying to Simon that if it is grievous to pass from Good to Evil, it is also disconcerting to pass from Evil to Good. In the former case one is tortured by one's reproaching conscience. In the latter case one is... tormented... Like one who is taken to a completely unknown foreign country... Or it is the dismay of a man, who being a poor unlearned wretch, should find himself at a king's Court, among learned people and gentlemen. It is a pain... I know... Such a long suffering... One cannot believe that it is true, that it can last... that one can deserve it particularly when one's soul is stained... as mine was..."
"And now, John?" asks Jesus.
And John of Endor's worn out sad face brightens with a smile which makes it look less emaciated. He says: "Now, it is no longer so. Only gratitude to the Lord remains, nay, it increases. This the Lord wanted. There is still the memory of the past to keep me humble. But there is certainty. I feel acclimatised, I am no longer a foreigner in this kind world of forgiveness and love which is Yours. And I am serene, happy and in peace."
"Do you consider your experience a good one?"
"Yes, I do. If I were not sorry for having sinned, because I grieved God through my sin, I would say that I feel that my past was a good thing. It can help me considerably to support willing but mislaid souls, in the first stages of their new belief."
"Simon, go and tell the boy not to jump about so much. He will be exhausted this evening."
Simon looks at Jesus, but he understands the truth behind the order. He smiles intelligently and goes away leaving the two all alone.
"Now that we are alone, John, listen to this desire of Mine. For a number of reasons, none of My followers have the breadth of judgement and thought which you have. And your culture is wider than the average learning of Israelites. So I ask you to help Me..."
"Am I to help You? How?"
"On behalf of Syntyche. You are such a clever teacher! Marjiam learns quickly and well with you. So much so that I am thinking of leaving you together for some months, because I want Marjiam to have a wider knowledge than that of the little world of Israel. And it gives you pleasure to take care of him. And I rejoice seeing you together, you teaching, him learning; you growing young again, him maturing in learning. But you should take care of Syntyche as well, as if she were a lost sister. You said it yourself: one feels lost... Help her to become acclimatised in My atmosphere. Will you do Me this favour?"
"It is a grace for me to do it, my Lord! I did not approach her because I considered myself superfluous. But if You wish so... She reads my rolls. There are some which are sacred, some are only cultural: rolls from Rome and Athens. I see that she goes through them and meditates... But I never intervened in order to assist her. If You want..."
"Yes, I do. I want you to be friends. Like Marjiam and you, she will be staying in Nazareth for some time. It will be lovely: My Mother and you the teachers of two souls opening to God. My Mother: the angelical Teacher of the Science of God; you: the experienced master of human knowledge, which you can now explain with supernatural references. It will be lovely and useful."
"Yes, my blessed Lord! Too beautiful for poor John!..." and the man smiles at the thought of the oncoming peaceful days with Mary, in Jesus' house...And the road winds along a beautiful country, which is now completely flat after skirting a few little hills just out of Gerasa, in the mild sunshine which is becoming warmer and warmer.
It is a well kept road on which it is comfortable to travel and to take to it again after the midday rest. It is almost evening when I hear Syntyche laugh wholeheartedly for the first time; Marjiam in fact has said something to her which makes all the women laugh. I see the Greek woman bend to caress the boy and kiss him lightly on his forehead. The boy then resumes jumping about as if he did not feel at all tired.
But all the others are tired and are glad for the decision to spend the night at the Fountain of the Cameleer. The merchant says: "I always stop here overnight. The leg from Gerasa to Bozrah, is too long both for men and animals."
"The merchant is humane" remark the apostles, comparing him to Doras...
The "Fountain of the Cameleer" is only a handful of houses around several wells. It is a kind of oasis, not in the arid desert, because there is no aridity here, but an oasis in the vast uninhabited fields and orchards which follow one another for miles and which, as the October evening draws on, give the same sad sensation as the sea at twilight. Thus, the sight of houses, the noise of voices, of crying children, the smell of smoking chimneys and the first lights to be lit are as pleasant as one's arrival at home.
While the cameleers stop to water the camels for the first time, the apostles and the women follow Jesus and the merchant who enter... the rather prehistoric inn which will shelter them during the night...
...They are all gathered near a very large fireplace which takes up the whole of the narrow wall of a large smoky room where they have taken their meal, and where the men will sleep and servants are already preparing straw beds on mats. The fire is on because it is a cold damp evening.
"Let us hope that it will not start raining" says Peter with a sigh. The merchant reassures him: "The bad weather will not begin until this lunation is over. It is always like this in the evening here. But it will be sunshine tomorrow."
"It's for the women, you know? Not for me. I am a fisherman and I live in water. And I can assure you that I prefer water to mountains and dust."
Jesus is speaking to the women and His two cousins. John of Endor and the Zealot are also listening to Him. Instead Timoneus and Ermasteus are reading one of John's rolls and the two Israelites are explaining to Ermasteus the Bible passages which are more obscure to him.
Marjiam is listening spellbound, but he looks sleepy. Mary of Alphaeus notices it and says: "That child is tired. Come, dear, let us go to bed. Come, Eliza, come Salome. Old people and children are better in bed. And you had all better go as well. You are tired."
But besides the elder ones, with the exception of Marcella and Johanna of Chuza, no one moves.
After they have gone, after being blessed, Matthew whispers: "Who would have told these women, only a short while ago, that they were to sleep on straw beds, so far from their homes!"
"I have never slept so well" states Mary of Magdala resolutely. And Martha confirms her statement.
But Peter admits that his companion is right: "Matthew is right. And I wonder why the Master has brought you here, something I fail to understand."
"Because we are His disciples!"
"Well, if He went where... lions are, would you go?"
"Of course, Simon Peter! What an effort to go for a little walk! And with Him!"
"Well: in actual fact it is a long walk. And for women who are not used to it..."
But the women protest and Peter shrugs his shoulders and becomes silent. James of Alphaeus, on looking up, sees such a bright smile on Jesus' face, that he asks Him: "Will You tell us, privately, the real purpose of this journey, with the women... and with so little fruit, as compared to its fatigue?"
"Could you expect to see now the fruit of the seed buried in the fields which we have crossed?"
"I could not. I will see it in springtime."
"I also say to you: “You will see it in due time.”"
The apostles do not reply.
The silvery voice of Mary is heard: "Son, we were talking today of what You said at Ramoth. And each of us had different impressions and reflections. Would You tell us Your thought? I said that it was better to call You at once. But You were speaking to John of Endor."
"In actual fact I raised the question. Because I am a poor heathen and I do not have the splendid light of your faith. You must sympathise with me."
"I would like to have your soul, my dear sister!" says the Magdalene impulsively. And exuberant as she is, she embraces Syntyche clasping her with one arm. Her wonderful beauty seems to give light by itself to the miserable dwelling and to decorate it with the wealth of her sumptuous house. The Greek woman, who is entirely different and yet has such a singular personality while embraced by the Magdalene, adds a meditative note to the cry of love which seems to be always bursting forth from passionate Mary, meanwhile the Blessed Virgin, sitting with Her gentle face raised towards Her Son, Her hands clasped as if She were praying, Her most pure profile outstanding against the black wall, is the perpetual Adorer.
Susanna is dozing in the shadow of a comer, while Martha, who is active notwithstanding her weariness and the pressure of the others, takes advantage of the light of the fireplace to fasten some buckles on Marjiam's garment.
Jesus says to Syntyche: "But it was not a grievous thought. I heard you laugh." "Yes, because of the boy, who solved the question easily, saying: “I do not want to come back unless Jesus does. But if you want to know everything, go to the next world, then come back and tell us whether you remember.”"
They all laugh again and say that Syntyche was asking Mary for a clarification on the explanation, which she had not understood properly, of the remembrance which souls have and which explains a certain possibility for heathens to have vague recollections of the Truth.
"I was saying: “Does that perhaps confirm the theory of reincarnation in which many heathens believe?” and Your Mother was telling me that what You say is something entirely different. Will You explain also this to me, my Lord?"
"Listen. You must not believe that the fact that souls have spontaneous recollections of Truth proves that we live several lives. By now you have already learned enough to be aware of how man was created, how he sinned and was punished. You have also been told that God incorporated a single soul in each man. That soul is created from time to time and is never again used for subsequent incarnations. This certainty would seem to cancel My statement concerning the recollections of souls. It should cancel it with regard to any other being with the exception of man, who is gifted with a soul made by God. Animals cannot remember anything, as they are born once only. But man can remember, although he is born once only. He remembers with his better part: his soul. Where do souls come from? The soul of each man? From God. Who is God? The most intelligent, powerful, perfect Spirit. This wonderful thing which is a soul, a thing created by God to give man His image and likeness as an unquestionable sign of His Most Holy Paternity, shows signs of the qualities characteristic of Him Who creates it. It is therefore intelligent, spiritual, free, immortal, like the Father Who created it. It is perfect when it originates from the divine thought and in the instant of its creation it is identical, for a thousandth of instant, with the soul of the first man: a perfection which understands the Truth through free gift. A thousandth of an instant. Then, once it is formed, it is stained by original sin. To make it clearer for you I will say that it is as if God were pregnant with the soul which He creates and the creature, in being born, were wounded by an indelible mark. Do you understand Me?"
"Yes, I do. While it is thought it is perfect. The creating thought lasts a thousandth of an instant. The thought then becomes actual fact and the fact is subject to the law brought about by Sin."
"Your reply is correct. A soul becomes thus incarnate in a human body, bringing with it the memory of the Creator, that is of the Truth, as a secret gem in the mystery of its spiritual being. A baby is born. It may become good, very good or wicked. It may become anything because it is endowed with free will. The angelical ministry throws light on its “memories” and the tempter darkness. If man craves after light and thus for a greater and greater virtue, making his soul the master of his being, the faculty of remembering increases in the soul, as if virtue made the wall interposed between soul and God thinner and thinner. That is why virtuous people in every country perceive the Truth, not in a perfect way, as they are dulled by contrasting doctrines or by lethal ignorance, but in a sufficient manner to give pages of moral perfection to the peoples to whom they belong. Have you understood? Are you convinced?"
"Yes. In conclusion, the religion of virtue practised heroically predisposes the soul to the true Religion and to the knowledge of God."
"Exactly. And now go and rest and may you be blessed. And You, too, Mother, and you sisters and disciples. May you rest in the peace of God."