398. At Bether.
12th March 1946.
Jesus, followed by the Zealot who is leading by the reins the little donkey on which Eliza is riding, knocks at the door of the keeper at Bether. They have not taken the same road as the last time and they have arrived at Johanna's estate from the village spread on the western slopes of the mountain on which the castle rises.
The keeper, who recognises the Lord, hastens to open the gate wide, which is beside his little house and admits to the garden before the residence and is the beginning of the land of dreams, that is, of the rose gardens of Johanna. A strong scent of fresh roses and of attar of roses stagnates in the warm air at twilight and when the first evening breeze blows from the east causing the rosebushes to undulate, the scent becomes stronger, fresher and more genuine, because it comes from the hillocks planted with roseries and it overwhelms the heavy smell of the essence coming from a low wide shed placed against the western wall of the estate.
The keeper says: "My mistress is over there. She goes there every evening, where the workers, who pluck the flowers and make the essence, gather. She speaks to them, asks them questions, cures them and comforts them. Oh! our mistress is good. She has always been. But... since she has been Your disciple... I will call her now... This is a very busy time and the usual workers are not enough, although since Passover she has taken on new servants and maidservants. Wait here, Lord..."
"No, I will go to her. May God bless you and give you peace" says Jesus raising His hand to bless the old keeper, to whom He has been listening patiently. And He goes towards the low wide shed.
The noise of His steps on the hard ground makes Matthias − a rather curious little boy − look out and rush out with a cry, arms outstretched, inviting and desiring an embrace. "Jesus is here! Jesus is here!" he shouts while running. And when he is already in the arms of the Lord, Who kisses him, Johanna looks out from the middle of her servants.
"The Lord!" she shouts, too, and falls on her knees on the spot to venerate Him at once. She prostrates herself and then stands up, with her face tinged purple with emotion, like the petal of a bright rose. She then moves towards Jesus. And she stoops to kiss His feet.
"Peace to you, Johanna. Did you want Me? I have come."
"Yes, I wanted You, Lord..." Johanna turns pale and grave.
Jesus notices it. "Stand up, Johanna. Is Chuza well?"
"Yes, my Lord."
"And little Mary, whom I do not see here?"
"Also, Lord... She has gone with Esther to take some medicines to a servant who is ill."
"Is that why you called Me?"
"No, Lord... It was for... You." Johanna clearly does not want to speak in the presence of all the people who have crowded round them.
Jesus understands and says: "All right. Let us go and see your roseries..."
"You must be tired, Lord. You will have to eat... You must be thirsty..."
"No. During the hot hours we stopped in the house of disciples of the shepherds. I am not tired..."
"Let us go then... Jonathan, prepare everything for the Lord and for those who are with Him... Come down, Matthias..." she orders the steward, who is standing respectfully beside her, and the little boy, who has cuddled in Jesus' arms, resting his dark-haired head in the hollow of Jesus' neck, like a little dove under its father's wing. The boy sighs heavily, but he hastens to obey.
But Jesus says: "No. He will come with us and will give us no trouble. He will be the little angel in whose presence nothing scandalous can be said or done and will thus prevent the least suspicion from arising in anybody's heart. Let us go..."
"Master, shall Eliza and I go into the house, or do You want us to come with You?" asks the Zealot.
"You may go."
Johanna leads Jesus along the wide avenue, which divides the garden, towards the roseries that climb up and down the opposite slopes of her flowery estate. And she proceeds further, as if she wished to stand aloof where there are only rose-bushes, trees and little birds among the branches, in their last quarrels to find a place where to sleep or preparing their nestlings for the night. The roses, which this evening are closed buds and will open tomorrow and be cut with shears, smell sweetly before resting in the dew. They stop in a little valley between two undulations of the ground, where festoons of flesh-coloured roses smile on one side, and roses as red as congealing blood on the other. There, is a rock that is used as a seat, or as a table on which gatherers place their baskets. Shrivelled roses and petals lying among the grass and on the rock witness the day's work.
With her ring-adorned hand Johanna sweeps the waste flowers off the seat and says: "Sit down, Master. I have quite a lot to tell You."
Jesus sits down and Matthias begins to run about on the grass until he finds it very interesting to chase a big frog, which had come there to enjoy the cool of the evening and he follows the poor creature, shouting and jumping joyfully, until his attention is attracted by the hole of a cricket and he begins to rummage in it with a little stick.
"Johanna, I am here to listen to you... Are you not going to speak?" asks Jesus after a moment's silence and He stops watching the boy, to look at the disciple who is standing before Him serious and silent.
"Yes, Master. But... it is very difficult and I think it will be painful to hear..."
"Speak with simplicity and confidence..."
Johanna kneels on the grass half-sitting on her heels, below Jesus, Who is sat higher up, on the seat, in an austere rigid attitude; as a man, He is more distant than if He were separated quite away by several obstacles, but as God and a Friend, He is close because of the kindness of His glance and His smile. And Johanna looks at Him in the mild twilight of a May evening. At last she speaks: "My Lord... before speaking... I must ask You a question... to know what You think... to ascertain whether I have misunderstood Your words. I am a woman, a foolish woman... perhaps I have dreamed and only now I know the real situation... as You explained things, as You prepared them, as You want them for Your Kingdom... Perhaps Chuza is right... and I am wrong..."
"Has Chuza reproached you?"
"He has and he has not, Lord. He only said to me, with the authority of a husband, that if the situation is as recent facts make him think it is, I must leave You, because he, as Herod's dignitary, cannot allow his wife to conspire against Herod."
"And when have you been a conspiratress? Who is thinking of harming Herod? His poor throne, which is so filthy, is inferior to this seat among these rose bushes. I am sitting here, but I would not sit there. Chuza need not worry! I have no desire for Caesar's throne, never mind Herod's. They are not My thrones, or My kingdoms."
"Oh! Is that so, Lord? May You be blessed! How much peace You give me! I have been suffering for days because of that! My holy and divine Master, my dear Master, my Master as I always understood, saw and loved You, so high, so high above the Earth, so... so divine, o my Lord and heavenly King!" and Johanna takes Jesus' hand and respectfully kisses the back of it, on her knees, as if she were in adoration.
"But what happened? Something of which I am unaware, which could upset you so much as to dim in you the pellucidity of My moral and spiritual figure? Tell Me!"
"What? Master, the fumes of error, of pride, of greed, of stubbornness have risen as if from fetid craters and have obscured You in the opinion of some men and women... and they tried to do the same with me. But I am Your Johanna, Your grace, o God. And I would not have got lost, at least I hope so, knowing how good is God, but who is only the embryo of a soul struggling to improve, may die through deceit. And he who is in an oozy sea, roughened by heavy currents, and strives to reach the shore, the harbour, to be purified and find other places of peace and justice, may be overcome by tiredness, if he loses confidence in the shore and those places, and may be swept away again by the currents and the mud. And I was sorry for and worried about the ruin of such souls, for whom I implore Your Light. The souls we perfect in the eternal Light are dearer to us than the bodies we give birth to in the earthly light. I now understand what it is to be the mother of a body and the mother of a soul. We mourn over the death of a child of ours. But it is only our grief. But for a soul which, we have endeavoured to perfect in Your Light and which dies, we do not suffer by ourselves. We suffer with You, with God... because in our grief for the spiritual death of a soul there is also Your sorrow, the infinite sorrow of God... I do not know whether I have made myself understood..."
"Yes, you have. But give Me a precise account, if you want Me to comfort you."
"Yes, Master. You sent Simon Zealot and Judas of Kerioth to Bethany, did You not? It was in regard to that Jewish girl who was given to You by the Roman ladies and who was sent by You to Nike..."
"Yes, I did. So?..."
"And she wanted to say goodbye to her good mistresses, and Simon and Judas took her to the Antonia. Did You know?"
"I did. Well?"
"Master... I am afraid I must grieve You... Master, You are really only a spiritual King? You are not aiming at earthly kingdoms?"
"Of course not, Johanna. How can you still doubt that?"
"Master, only to have once again the joy of seeing You as a divine being, nothing but a divine being. And just because You are such, I must give deep sorrow to You... Master, the man from Kerioth does not understand You, neither does he understand those who respect You as a wise man, a great philosopher, as Virtue on the Earth, and admire You and promise to protect You as such. It is strange that heathen ladies should understand what one of Your apostles does not understand, after being such a long time with You..."
"His human nature, his human love blind him."
"You excuse him... But he is injuring You, Master. While Simon was speaking to Plautina, Lydia and Valeria, Judas spoke to Claudia on Your behalf, as Your ambassador. He wanted to wring from her promises for the restoration of the kingdom of Israel. Claudia asked him many questions... And he told her a good lot. He certainly thinks that he is on the threshold of his silly dream, when a dream becomes reality. Master, Claudia was irritated. She is a daughter of Rome... The empire is in her blood... Is it possible that a daughter of the Claudi family would plot against Rome? She was so shocked that she began to doubt about You and the holiness of Your doctrine. She still cannot conceive or understand the holiness of Your Origin... But she eventually will, because she is full of good will. She will understand, when she is reassured about You. For the time being You seem a false greedy rebel and usurper to her... Plautina and the other ladies have tried to reassure her... But she wants an immediate reply from You."
"Tell her not to fear. I am the King of kings, I create them and judge them, and I will have no other throne but that of the Lamb, first sacrificed and then triumphant in Heaven. Let her know at once."
"Yes, Master. I will go personally. Before they leave Jerusalem, because Claudia is so irritated that she does not want to stay any longer at the Antonia, as she says... that she does not want to see the enemies of Rome."
"Who told you that?"
"Plautina and Lydia. They came... and Chuza was present... and later... he put me in the dilemma: either You are the spiritual Messiah or I must leave You for good."
A sad smile appears on Jesus' face, which has turned pale with grief at the report of Johanna and He asks: "Is Chuza not coming here?"
"Tomorrow is the Sabbath and he will come."
"And I will reassure him. Do not fear. Let no one fear. Chuza must not fear for his position at Court, or Herod for possible usurpations, or Claudia for the sake\ of Rome, and you must not be afraid of being deceived or of the possibility of being separated... Let no one be afraid... I only must fear... and suffer..."
"Master, I wish I could not have grieved You thus. But not informing You, would have been as good as deceiving You... Master, how will You behave with Judas?... I am afraid of his reactions... only and always for Your sake..."
"With sincerity. I will make him understand that I know and that I disapprove of his action and his obstinacy."
"He will hate me because he will understand that I told You..."
"Are you sorry for that?"
"Your hatred would upset me. Not his. I am a woman. But I am more virile in serving You than is he. I serve You because I love You, not to receive favours from You. If because of You in future I should lose my wealth, the love of my husband, and my very freedom and life, I would love You even more. Because in that case I would have but You to love and to be loved by" says Johanna impulsively, standing up.
Jesus also stands up and says: "May you be blessed, Johanna, for what you have said. And be in peace. Neither Judas' hatred nor his love can change what is written in Heaven. My mission will be accomplished, as it was decided. Feel no remorse, never. Be as tranquil as little Matthias, who after working to make a house − a nicer one, according to him − for his cricket, has fallen asleep with his forehead on petals of roses, and is smiling... thinking that it is on roses. Because life is beautiful when one is innocent. I also smile, even if My human life has no flowers, but only withered petals that have fallen. But in Heaven I shall have all the roses of those who have been saved... Come. Night is falling. We shall soon not be able to see the path."
Johanna is about to take the boy in her arms.
"Leave him... I will take him. Look how he smiles! He is certainly dreaming of Heaven... of his mother... of you... I also, in My grief of every hour, dream of Heaven... of My Mother and of good women disciples."
And they slowly set out towards the house...