334. Ishmael Ben Fabi. The Parable of the Banquet.
11th September 1944.
I see Jesus walk fast along a main road, which the cold wind of a winter morning sweeps and hardens. The fields on both sides of the road are covered with a thin green veil of corn, which has just began to grow and is a promise of future bread, although a promise that is even difficult to imagine. There are drills in the shade, which are still devoid of that blessed green down, and only those in the more sunny places have the light green veil that is so joyous as it announces the oncoming springtime. Fruit-trees are still bare, none of the dark branches have yet put forth buds. Only olive-trees have their everlasting green-grey foliage, which is as sad in the August sunshine as it is in the first light of this winter morning. Also the thick leaves of cacti are green, a mellow green of freshly painted ceramic.
As usual, Jesus is walking two or three steps ahead of His disciples. They are all enveloped in their woollen mantles. At a certain point Jesus stops and turning round He asks the disciples: "Are you familiar with the road?"
"This is the road, but we do not know where the house is, because it is farther inland... Perhaps it is over there, where those olive-trees are..."
"No. It must be down there, at the bottom, where those big bare trees are..."
"There should be a road for carts..."
In short: they do not know anything precisely. There are no people to be seen on the road or in the fields. They proceed at random, looking for the road.
They find a little house of poor people, with two or three little fields around it. A little girl is drawing water from a well.
"Peace to you, little girl" says Jesus stopping at the hedge where there is a passage way.
"Peace to You. What do You want?"
"Some information. Where is the house of Ishmael, the Pharisee?"
"You are on the wrong road, Lord. You must go back to the crossroads and take the road that goes in the direction where the sun sets. But it is a long way, a very long one, because You have to go back to the cross-roads and then walk a good distance. Have You had anything to eat? It is cold and one feels the cold more on an empty stomach. Come in, if You wish. We are poor. But You are not rich either. You can make the best of it. Come." And in her shrill voice she shouts: "Mother!"
A woman about thirty-five forty years old comes to the door. Her face is honest but rather sad. She is holding in her arms a half-naked child about three years old.
"Come in. The fire is lit. I will give You bread and milk."
"I am not alone. I have these friends with Me."
"Let them all come in and may the blessing of God come with the pilgrims to whom I am giving hospitality."
They enter a low dark kitchen that is made cheerful by a blazing fire. They sit here and there on rustic chests.
"I will have something ready in a moment... It is still early... I have not tidied anything up yet... Excuse me."
"Are you alone?" It is Jesus who asks.
"I am married and I have seven children. The first two are still at the market in Nain. They have to go because their father is not well. It's a very sad situation... The girls help me. This is the last one. But I have another one just a little older."
The little one, who is now wearing his little tunic, runs barefooted towards Jesus and looks at Him inquisitively. Jesus smiles at him. They have made friends. "Who are You?" asks the boy confidently.
"I am Jesus."
The woman turns round looking at Him attentively. She stops between the fireplace and the table, with a loaf of bread in her hands. She opens her mouth to speak, but does not say anything.
The boy continues: "Where are You going?"
"Along the roads of the world."
"To bless good children and their homes where people are faithful to the Law." The woman makes a gesture. Then she nods to Judas Iscariot who is closest to her. He bends towards the woman who asks: "But who is your friend?"
And Judas replies conceitedly (one would think that the Messiah is what He is, thanks to Judas' kindness): "He is the Rabbi of Galilee: Jesus of Nazareth. Don't you know, woman?"
"This is a secluded road and I have so many sorrows!... But... could I speak to Him about them?"
"You can" replies Judas condescendingly. He seems an important person of the world granting an audience.
Jesus is still speaking to the boy who asks Him whether He has any children. While the girl seen at the well and another older one bring milk and bowls, the woman approaches Jesus. She remains for a moment in suspense, then she stifles a cry: "Jesus: have mercy on my husband!"
Jesus stands up. He dominates her with His height, but looks at her so kindly that she plucks up courage again. "What do you want Me to do?"
"He is very ill. He is swollen like a wineskin and he cannot bend to work. He cannot rest because he chokes and tosses about... And we still have little children..."
"Do you want Me to cure him? But why do you want that of Me?"
"Because You are You. I did not know You, but I heard people speak of You. My good luck has brought You to my house after I looked for You three times at Nain and Cana. My husband was with me twice. He was looking for You, although travelling by cart makes him suffer so much... Even now he has gone with his brother... We were told that the Rabbi, after leaving Tiberias, was going towards Caesarea Philippi. He has gone there waiting for You..."
"I did not go to Caesarea. I am going to see Ishmael, the Pharisee and then I shall go towards the Jordan..."
"What? You, a good man, are going to Ishmael?"
"Yes, I am. Why?"
"Because... because... Lord, I know that You say that we must not judge, that we must forgive and love one another. I have never seen You before. But I have tried to learn as much as I could about You, and I have prayed the Eternal Father to grant me to hear You at least once. I do not want to do anything which may displease You... But how can one not judge Ishmael and how can one love him? I have nothing in common with him and therefore I have nothing to forgive him. We just shake off the insolent words he says to us when he meets our poverty on his way, with the same patience with which we shake off the dust and mud when he splashes us passing by in his fast coaches. But it is too difficult to love him and not judge him... He is so bad!"
"Is he so bad? To whom?"
"To everybody. He oppresses his servants, he lends on usury and exacts pitilessly. He loves but himself. He is the most cruel man in the countryside. He is not worth it, Lord."
"I know. You have spoken the truth."
"And You are going there?"
"He invited Me."
"Do not trust him, Lord. He did not do it out of love. He is not capable of loving. And You... You cannot love him."
"I love also sinners, woman. I came to save those who are lost..."
"But You will not save him. Oh! Forgive me for judging! You know... Everything You do is good! Forgive my silly tongue and do not punish me."
"I will not punish you. But do not do it again. Love also wicked people. Not because of their wickedness, but because it is through love that mercy is granted to them, that they may convert. You are good and willing to become even better. You love the Truth and the Truth speaking to you says that He loves you because you are pitiful to guests and pilgrims according to the Law and you have brought up your children accordingly. God will be your reward. I must go to Ishmael who invited Me to show Me to many of his friends who want to meet Me. I cannot wait any longer for your husband, who, incidentally, is on his way back home. But tell him to be patient for another little while and to come immediately to Ishmael's house. And I ask you to come as well. I will cure him."
"Oh! Lord!..." the woman is on her knees at Jesus' feet and looks at Him smiling and weeping. She then says: "But this is the Sabbath!..."
"I know. I need it to be the Sabbath to say something to Ishmael concerning it. Everything I do, I do for a definite unerring purpose. You must all be aware of that, including you, My friends, who are afraid and would like Me to follow a behaviour according to human convenience to avoid eventual damage. You are led by love. I know. But you must love in a better way those whom you love. Do not postpone the interests of God to the interests of the person you love. Woman, I must go now, I will wait for you. May peace last forever in this house in which God and His Law are loved, marriage is respected, children are brought up holily, the neighbour is loved and the Truth sought. Goodbye."
Jesus lays His hand on the heads of the woman and of the two young girls, He then bends to kiss the little ones and goes out.
Winter sunshine now mitigates the very cold air. A boy about fifteen years old is waiting with a rustic ramshackle cart.
"This is all I have. But it will be quicker and more comfortable for You." "No, woman. Keep the horse fresh to come to Ishmael's house. Just show Me the shortest road."
The boy walks at His side and through fields and meadows they go towards an undulating ground, beyond which there is a well cultivated dell a few acres wide, in the middle of which there is a beautiful large low house, surrounded by a well-kept garden.
"That is the house, Lord" says the boy. "If You no longer need me, I will go back home to help my mother."
"Go and be always a good son. God is with you."
... Jesus enters Ishmael's magnificent country house. Many servants rush to meet the Guest, Who is certainly expected. Some go and inform the landlord, who comes out to meet Jesus bowing deeply.
"You are welcome to my house, Master!"
"Peace to you, Ishmael Ben Fabi. You wanted to see Me. Here I am. Why did you want Me?"
"To have the honour of having You and to introduce You to my friends. I want them to be Your friends as well. As I want You to be my friend."
"I am the friend of everybody, Ishmael."
"I know. But, You know! It is wise to have friends high up. And I and my friends are such. Forgive me for telling You, but You neglect too much those who can help You..."
"And are you one of those? Why?"
"I am. Why? Because I admire You and I want You to be my friend."
"Friend! But do you know, Ishmael, the meaning I attach to that word? Friend to many people means acquaintance, to some it means accomplice, to some servant. To Me it means: faithful to the Word of the Father. Who is not such, cannot be My friend, neither can I be his."
"I want Your friendship, Master, just because I want to be faithful. Do You not believe me? Look: there is Eleazar coming. Ask him how I defended You with the Elders. Hallo, Eleazar. Come here, the Rabbi wants to ask you something."
They exchange greetings with low bows and inquisitive looks.
"Will you repeat, Eleazar, what I said for the Master the last time we met?"
"Oh! A true praise! An impassioned speech! Ishmael spoke so well of You, Master, as of the greatest Prophet who ever came to the people of Israel, that I have longed to hear You ever since. I remember that he said that no one had wiser words than Yours, or greater charm, and that if You can draw Your sword as well as You can speak, there will be no greater king than You in Israel."
"My Kingdom!... That Kingdom, Eleazar, is not a human one."
"But the King of Israel!"
"Open your minds to understand the meaning of the arcane words. The Kingdom of the King of kings will come. But not according to human standards. Not with regard to what perishes; but with regard to what is eternal. You do not enter it along a flowery road of triumph or on a carpet made purple by enemy blood; but climbing a steep path of sacrifices and a mild staircase of forgiveness and love. Our victories over ourselves will give us that Kingdom. And God grant that most people in Israel may understand Me. But it will not be so. You are thinking of what does not exist. A sceptre will be in My hand, and it will be put there by the people of Israel. A regal eternal sceptre. No king will ever be able to remove My House. But many people in Israel will not be able to look at it without shuddering with horror, because it will have a dreadful name for them."
"Do You think that we are not capable of following You?"
"If you wanted, you could. But you do not want. Why do you not want? You are elderly now. Your age should make you understand and be just, also for your own sake. Young people... may make mistakes and then repent. But you! Death is always close to elderly people. Eleazar, you are less entangled in the theories of many people of your rank. Open your heart to the Light..."
Ishmael comes back with five more pompous Pharisees: "Come in" says the landlord. They leave the hall, which is well furnished with seats and carpets, and they enter a room into which amphorae are brought for ablutions. They then pass into the dining room, in which everything has been magnificently arranged.
"Jesus beside me. Between me and Eleazar" orders the landlord. And Jesus, Who had remained at the end of the room, near the rather intimidated and neglected disciples, has to sit at the place of honour.
The banquet begins with numerous dishes of roast meat and fish.
Wines and syrups, I think, or at least water sweetened with honey, are served several times.
Everybody tries to make Jesus speak. A shaky old man asks in a decrepit clucking voice: "Is it true what people say, that You are going to change the Law?"
"I will not change one iota of the Law. On the contrary (and Jesus emphasizes His words) I have come to complete it again, as it was given to Moses."
"Do You mean that it was modified?"
"No, never. It only had the same fate as all sublime things entrusted to man."
"What do You mean? Explain Yourself."
"I mean that man, through ancient pride or the ancient incentive of treble lust, wanted to touch up the straightforward word and the result was something that oppresses faithful believers, whilst, with regard to those who touched it up, it is nothing but a pile of sentences... to be left to other people."
"But, Master! Our rabbis..."
"That is an accusation!"
"Don't disappoint our desire to be of assistance to You!..."
"Hey! They are quite right in saying that You are a rebel!"
"Silence! Jesus is my guest. Let Him speak freely."
"Our rabbis began their work with the holy purpose of making the application of the Law easier. God Himself began that school when He added detailed explanations to the words of the Ten Commandments. So that man could not find the excuse that he had not understood. The work therefore of those teachers who break into crumbs for the children of God the bread given by God for their souls, is holy work. But it is holy when it pursues a righteous aim. Which was not always the case. And least of all it is nowadays. But why do you want Me to speak, when you take offence if I enumerate the faults of the mighty ones?"
"Faults! Have we nothing but faults?"
"I wish you had nothing but merits!"
"But we do not have them. That is what You think and what Your eyes say. Jesus, one does not make powerful friends by criticising them. You will not reign. You are not acquainted with that art."
"I do not ask to reign according to your ideas, neither do I beg for friendship. I want love. Honest holy love. A love that extends from Me to those whom I love and is displayed by making use of what I preach to use: mercy."
"Since I heard You, I have not lent on usury any more" says one.
"And God will reward you for that."
"God is my witness that I have not thrashed my servants any more, although they deserve to be lashed, after I heard one of Your parables" says another one.
"And what about me? I left over ten bushels of barley in the fields for the poor!" states a third one.
The Pharisees praise themselves excellently.
Ishmael has not spoken. Jesus asks him: "And what about you, Ishmael?"
"Oh! I! I have always used mercy. I have but to continue as I behaved in the past."
"Good for you! If it is really so, you are really the man who feels no remorse."
"No! I really do not."
Jesus' sapphire glance pierces him.
Eleazar says touching His arm: "Master, listen to me. I have a special case to submit to You. I recently bought a property of a poor wretch who ruined himself for a woman. He sold it to me, without telling me that there was an old servant, his nurse, in it. She is now blind and feeble-minded. The vendor does not want her. I... would not like to have her either. But to throw her out... What would You do, Master?"
"What would you do if you were to advise somebody else?"
"I would say: “Keep her. A piece of bread will not be your ruin.”"
"Why would you say so?"
"Well!... because I think that is what I would do and what I would like to be done to me..."
"You are very close to Justice, Eleazar. Do as you would advise and the God of Jacob will always be with you."
"Thank You, Master."
The others are grumbling among themselves.
"What have you to grumble about?" asks Jesus. "Is what I said not just? And has Eleazar not spoken justly? Ishmael, since you have always been merciful, defend your guests."
"Master, You are right but... if one always did that!... One would become the victim of other people."
"Whereas, according to you, it is better if other people become our victims, is that right?"
"I don't mean that. But there are cases..."
"The Law says that we must be merciful..."
"Yes, to a poor brother, to a stranger, a pilgrim, a widow, to an orphan. But this old woman, who turned up in Eleazar's property, is not his sister, a pilgrim, a stranger, an orphan or a widow. She is nothing to him. She is just an old piece of furniture, which does not belong to him, and was forgotten by her true master in the sold property. Eleazar, therefore, could throw her out without any scruple at all. He would not be responsible for the death of the old woman. Her true master would..."
"... and he cannot keep her any longer because he is poor himself and thus he is free from obligations as well. So if the old woman dies of starvation, it is her own fault. Is it not so?"
"It is, Master. It is the destiny of those who... are no longer of any use. Sick, old, unfit people are condemned to misery, to begging. And death is the best thing for them... It has always been like that since the beginning of the world, and it will ever be so..."
"Jesus, have mercy on me!" A moaning voice is heard through the closed windows; the room is in fact closed and the chandeliers are lit. Perhaps because it is cold.
"Who is calling Me?"
"A nuisance of a fellow. I will have him driven away. Or a beggar. I will have a piece of bread given to him."
"Jesus, I am ill. Save me!"
"As I said, it is a pestering fellow. I will punish the servant for letting him in." And Ishmael stands up.
But Jesus Who is at least twenty years younger than he is and head and shoulders over him, makes him sit down again, laying a hand on his shoulders and ordering: "Stay, Ishmael. I want to see the man who is looking for Me. Let him in."
A dark-haired man comes in. He must be about forty years old. But he is as swollen as a barrel and as yellow as a lemon, his half open lips are violaceous and he is panting. The woman seen in the first part of the vision is with him. The man comes forward with difficulty because of his disease and because he is afraid. He in fact sees that he is being looked at with such evil eyes!
But Jesus has left His place and has gone towards the unhappy man taking him by the hand and leading him to the middle of the room, in the empty space of the 'U' shaped table, right under the chandelier. "What do you want from Me?"
"Master... I have sought You so much, for such a long time... I want nothing but health... for the sake of my children and of my wife... You can do everything... See in what a state I am..."
"And do you believe that I can cure you?"
"I do believe it!... Every step... every jerk is painful... and yet I have travelled for miles and miles looking for You... and I followed You also by cart, without ever reaching You... Of course I believe!... I am surprised that I have not already been cured, since my hand has been in Yours, because everything in You is holy, o Holy Man of God."
The poor man is puffing and blowing owing to the effort of speaking so much. His wife looks at him and at Jesus and weeps.
Jesus looks at them and smiles. He then turns round and asks: "You, old scribe (He addresses the trembling old man who was the first to speak) tell Me: is it lawful to cure on a Sabbath?"
"It is not lawful to do any work on the Sabbath."
"Not even to save a man from despair? It is not manual work."
"The Sabbath is sacred to the Lord."
"Which deed is more worthy of a sacred day than get a son of God to say to the Father: “I love and praise You because You have cured me”?!"
"He must do so even when he is unhappy."
"Hananiah, do you know that your most beautiful wood is on fire this very moment and the whole slope of the Hermon is bright in the purple flames?"
The old man jumps as if he had been bitten by an asp: "Master, are You telling the truth or are You joking?"
"I am speaking the truth. I see and I know."
"Oh! Poor me! My most beautiful wood. Thousands of shekels reduced to ashes! Damn! Cursed be the dogs that set it on fire! May their bowels burn like my wood!" The little old man is in despair.
"It is only a wood, Hananiah, and you are complaining! Why do you not praise the Lord in your misfortune? This man is not losing just wood, which will grow again, but his own life and the bread for his children, and he should praise the Lord, while you do not. Well, scribe, am I allowed to cure him on the Sabbath?"
"Cursed be You, him and the Sabbath! I have more important things to think of..." and pushing Jesus aside, Who had laid a hand on his arm, he rushes out furiously and he can be heard shouting in his clucking voice to have his cart. "And now?" says Jesus looking around at the others. "Now, will you tell Me? Is it lawful or not?"
No reply. Eleazar lowers his head, after moving his lips, which he sets again, shocked by the cold atmosphere in the hall.
"Well, I will speak" asks Jesus. His countenance is imposing and His voice thundering as usual, when He is about to work a miracle. "I will speak. And I say: man, let it be done to you according to your faith. You are cured. Praise the Eternal God. Go in peace."
The man remains dumbfounded. Perhaps he thought that he would become as thin as in the past all of a sudden. And he does not think that he is cured. But I wonder what he feels... He shouts with joy and throws himself at Jesus' feet and kisses them.
"Go. You may go! Be always good. Goodbye!"
And the man goes out followed by the woman, who turns round until the last moment to greet Jesus.
"But, Master... In my house... On the Sabbath..."
"You do not approve? I know. That is why I came. You are My friend? No. You are My enemy. You are neither sincere with Me nor with God."
"Are You offending me now?"
"No. I am speaking the truth. You said that Eleazar is not obliged to keep that old woman because she does not belong to him. But you had two orphans who belonged to you. They were the children of two faithful servants of yours, who died working for you, the man with a sickle in his hand, the woman killed by too much work, because she had to serve you both for herself and for her husband, as you exacted from her, in order to keep her. In fact you said: “I made the agreement for the work of two people and if you want to stay here, I want your work and the work of your dead husband.” And she gave you that and died with the child she had conceived. Because that woman was a mother. And for her there was not even the compassion one feels for an animal about to give birth to its little one. Where are those two children now?"
"I don't know... They disappeared one day."
"Do not tell lies now. It is enough to have been cruel. It is not necessary to add falsehood to make your Sabbaths hateful to God, even if they are free from servile work. Where are those children?"
"I do not know. Believe me."
"I know. I found them one cold, wet, dark November evening. I found them starving and shivering, near a house, like two little dogs looking for a mouthful of bread... Cursed and expelled by a man with the entrails of a dog, but who was worse than a dog, because a dog would have felt pity for those two little orphans. But you and that man did not feel any. Their parents were no longer of any use to you, is that right? They were dead. And the dead can only weep, in their graves, hearing their unhappy children's sobs, which other people neglect. But the dead, with their souls, take their tears and the tears of their orphans to God and say: “Lord, take vengeance on our behalf because the world oppresses us when it can no longer exploit us.” The two little ones were not yet able to serve you, is that right? Perhaps the girl might have been able to glean... And you drove them away and denied them also the few things, which belonged to their father and mother. They might have died of starvation and cold, like two dogs on a cart-road. They might have lived, becoming one a thief and the other a prostitute. Because starvation leads to sin. But what did it matter to you? A little while ago you were quoting the Law to support your theories. Well, does the Law not say: “You must not be harsh with the widow, or with the orphans, if you are harsh with them and they cry out to Me, I shall hear their cry and My anger will flare and I shall kill you with the sword, your own wives will be widows, your own children orphans”? Does the Law not state that? Well, then, why do you not keep it? And you defend Me against other people? Why, then, do you not defend My doctrine in yourself? You want to be My friend? Why, then, do you do the opposite of what I say? One of you is running at break-neck speed, tearing his hair, because of the ruin of his wood. And he does not tear it because of the ruin of his heart! And what are you waiting for to do so? “Why do you, whom destiny has placed high up, always want to consider yourselves perfect? And supposing you were perfect in something, why do you not endeavour to be so in everything? Why do you hate Me, because I open your wounds? I am the Doctor of your souls. Can a doctor cure a sore if he does not open it and clean it? Do you not know that many people, and that woman who has just gone out is one of them, deserve the first places in the banquet of God, although they apparently look miserable? Outward appearance does not count; it is the heart and the soul that matter. God sees you from the height of His throne. And He judges you. How many He sees who are better than you are! So listen. As a rule, always act as follows: When you are invited to a wedding banquet, always choose the last place. Double honour will come to you when the landlord says to you: “Come forward, my friend.” Honour to your merit and your humility. Whereas... It will be a sad moment for a proud man to be shamed and hear the landlord say: “Go down there to the end, because there is someone here more worthy than you are.” And do the same in the secret banquet of your souls at the wedding with God. He who humbles himself will be exalted and he who exalts himself will be humbled. Ishmael, do not hate Me for curing you. I do not hate you. I came to cure you. You are more seriously ill than that man. You invited Me to give prestige to yourself and satisfaction to your friends. You often invite people, but you do it out of pride and for pleasure. Do not do that. Do not invite rich people, relatives and friends. Open your house and your heart to the poor, to beggars, cripples, to lame people, orphans and widows. In return they will give you blessings. And God will change them into graces. And at the end... what a happy destiny for all the merciful who will be rewarded by God at the resurrection of the dead! Woe to those who cherish only hopes of profit and later close their hearts to the brothers who can no longer serve them. Woe to them! I will revenge the forlorn."
"Master... I... I want to please You. I will take those children again."
"No, you will not."
Ishmael lowers his head. He wants to appear humble. But he is a viper deprived of its poison and does not bite because it knows it has none, but waits for the opportunity to bite...
Eleazar endeavours to restore peace saying: "Blessed are those who feast with God, in their souls and in the eternal Kingdom. But, believe me, Master. At times it is life that hinders us. Offices... occupations..."
At this point Jesus tells the parable of the wedding feast and concludes: "Offices... occupations, you said. It is true. That is why I said to you, at the beginning of this banquet, that My Kingdom is conquered through victories over ourselves, not by means of victories in the battle field. The places at the Great Supper are for the humble-hearted, who are great through their faithful love, which takes no account of sacrifices and overcomes all difficulties to come to Me. Even one hour is sufficient to change a heart. Providing that heart wants to change. And one word is sufficient. I have told you many. And I am looking... A holy tree is springing up in a heart. In the others, there are thorns for Me, and in the thorns there are asps and scorpions. It does not matter. I will proceed in My straight way. Let those who love Me follow Me. I go round calling... Let righteous people come to Me. I go round teaching... Let the seekers of justice approach the Fountain. With regard to the others... the Holy Father will judge. Ishmael, I say goodbye to you. Do not hate Me. Meditate. You will see that I was severe out of love, not out of hatred. Peace to this house and to those who dwell in it, peace to everybody, if you deserve peace."