It is early on a very clear summer morning and the sun, already above the horizon, is rising higher and higher, smiling at the charming earth; all the previous night’s stars seem to have turned into gold and gem dust, now settled on all stems and leaves and sparkling with dew. Even the siliceous chips of the stones strewn on the ground and now wet with dew, seem like diamond powder or gold dust.
Jesus and Simon are now walking along a little side road that departs from the main road at a sharp ‘V’ angle, heading towards magnificent orchards and fields of flax as tall as a man and almost ready to be cut. Farther away, there are large bright red spots of poppies amongst other stubble in other fields.
‘We are already in the property of my friend. You can see, Master, that the distance was within the prescription of the Law. I would never take the liberty of deceiving You. Behind that apple orchard there is the garden wall and the house. I made You come along this short cut to be within the prescribed mile.’
‘Your friend is very wealthy!’
‘Yes, very. But he is not happy. He owns property also elsewhere.’
‘Is he a Pharisee?’
‘His father was not. He… is very observant. I told You: a true Israelite.’
They walk on. Ahead of them, there is a high wall and beyond it, trees and more trees, through which the house begins to emerge. A rise in the ground where they walk prevents them from seeing the garden that is as beautiful as a park.
They go round a corner and come up level with the wall that has branches of roses entwined and splendid sweet smelling jasmines in dewy corollas, hanging down from the top. Simon knocks with a heavy bronze knocker at the heavy wrought iron gate.
‘It is too early to go in, Simon,’ Jesus remarks.
‘Oh! My friend gets up at sunrise as he finds comfort only in his garden or in books. Night is a torture for him. Please do not delay further to give him Your joy.’
A servant opens the gate.
‘Good morning, Aseus. Tell your master that Simon Zealot has come with his Friend.’
The servant lets them in and says; ‘Your servant greets you. Come in. Lazarus’ house is open to his friends.’ and then he runs away.
Simon, who is familiar with the place, turns away from the central avenue and instead follows a path that runs in the direction of a jasmine bower between rose hedges.
Lazarus emerges from the bower shortly afterwards, in a snow white linen garment and walking with difficulty as one suffering from leg trouble. He is tall, thin and pale with short hair that is neither thick nor curly, and a little sparse beard confined to the lower part of his chin.
When he sees Simon, he waves affectionately and then runs as best as he can towards Jesus and throws himself on his knees, bending down to the ground to kiss the hem of Jesus’ tunic;
‘I am not worthy of so much honour…’ says Lazarus. ‘But since Your holiness stoops to my misery, come, my Lord, come in and be the Master in my poor house.’
‘Rise, My friend. And receive My peace.’
Lazarus gets up and kisses Jesus’ hands and looks at Him with veneration not devoid of curiosity.
They walk towards the house.
‘How anxiously I have waited for You, Master! Every morning, at dawn, I would say: “He will come today”, and every evening I said: “I have not seen Him today, either.”‘
‘Why were you expecting Me so anxiously?’
‘Because… whom are we in Israel expecting, but You?’
‘And do you believe that I am the Expected One?’
‘Simon has never lied, neither is he a boy that gets excited over nothing. Age and sorrow have made him as mature as a wise man. In any case… even if he had not recognized Your true nature, Your deeds would have spoken and said that You are a “Saint” Who accomplishes the deeds of God, must be a man of God. And You accomplish them. And You do things in a way that says how truly You are the Man of God. My friend came to You because of the fame of Your miracles and he received a miracle. And I know that Your way is strewn with miracles. Why, then, not believe that You are the Expected One? Oh! It is so sweet to believe what is good! We have to feign to believe as good, many things that are not good, for the sake of peace because it would be useless to change them; many dubious words that seem adulation, praise, kindness of heart and instead are sarcasm and blame, poison concealed by honey. We must pretend we believe them although we know they are poison, blame, sarcasm… we must do so because… it is not possible to do otherwise. And we are weak against a whole world that is strong. And we are alone against a whole world that is hostile to us… why, then, should we have difficulty in believing what is good? On the other hand the time is ripe and the signs of the time are here. What might still be missing to make belief certain and beyond all possible doubt, should be supplied by our anxiety to believe and to appease our hearts in the certainty that the expectation is finished and that the Redeemer has come, the Messiah is here… He Who will give peace to Israel and to the children of Israel, Who will let us die without anguish, knowing that we have been redeemed, and will enable us to live without that nostalgic feeling for our dead ones… Oh! the dead! Why mourn the death if not because, as they no longer have children, they have not yet the Father and God?’
‘Has your father been dead long?’
‘Three years, and my mother seven… but I no longer lament their deaths… I also would like to be where I hope they are awaiting Heaven.’
‘In which case you would not have the Messiah as your guest.’
‘That is true. Now I am in a better position than they are because I have You… and my heart calms down because of this joy. Come in, Master. Grant me the honour of making my house Yours. Today is the Sabbath and I cannot invite friends to honour You…’
‘Neither do I wish that. Today I am all for Simon’s friend and Mine.’
They go into a beautiful hall, where some servants are ready to receive them. ‘Please follow them’ says Lazarus. ‘You will be able to refresh yourselves before the morning meal.’ And while Jesus and Simon go into another room, Lazarus gives instructions to the servants. The house displays wealth and refinement…
… Jesus drinks some milk, which Lazarus insists on serving personally, before sitting at the table for the morning meal.
‘I have found the man who is willing to purchase your property and to pay the price that your agent fixed as a fair one. He will not deduct one drachma.’ says Lazarus to Simon.
‘But is he willing to comply with my conditions?’
‘Yes, he is. He accepts everything, providing he gets the property. And I am happy because at least I know who my neighbour is. However, as you do not want to be present at the transaction, so he also wishes to remain unknown to you. And I would ask you to yield to his request.’
‘I see no reason why I should not. You, my friend, will take my place… Whatever you do, is well done. It is enough for me that my faithful servant is not put out… Master, I am selling, and as far as I am concerned, I am happy that I have nothing more that may tie me to anything that is not Your service. But I have an old faithful servant, the only one left after my misfortune. And, as I have already told You, he has always helped me during my isolation, looking after my property, as if it were his own, nay, with the help of Lazarus, passing it off as his own, in order to save it and thus subsidize me. Now it would not be fair if I should leave him homeless, now that he is old. I have decided that a small house, near the boundary of the property, should be his and that part of the money should be given to him for his future maintenance. Old people, You know, are like ivy: having lived always in one place, they suffer too much being torn away from it. Lazarus wanted my servant with him, because he is good. But I preferred thus. The old man will not suffer so much…’
‘You are good, too, Simon. If everybody were as just as you are, My mission would be easier…’ remarks Jesus.
‘Do You find the world averse, Master?’ asks Lazarus.
‘The world?… No. The strength of the world: Satan. If he were not the master of men’s hearts and did not hold them in his possession, I would not find any resistance. But Evil is against Good, and I have to defeat evil in every man to put good into them… and they are not all willing…’
‘It is true. They are not willing! Master: what words do You use to convert and convince those who are sinful? Words of severe reproach, like the ones that fill the history of Israel against guilty people, and the Precursor is the last to use them, or words of mercy?’
‘I use love and mercy. Believe Me, Lazarus, a loving glance has more power on those who have fallen, than a curse.’
‘And if love is mocked at?’
‘One must insist again. Insist to the very utmost. Lazarus, do you know those lands where quick sands swallow unwary people?’
‘Yes, I do. I have read about them because in my situation I read a lot, both out of enthusiasm and to pass the long sleepless hours at night. I know there are some in Syria and in Egypt and there are some near the Chaldeans. And I know that they are like suckers; They suck what they catch. A Roman says they are the mouths of Hell, where pagan monsters live. Is that true?’
‘No, it is not true. They are only special formations of the earth. Olympus has nothing to do with them. People will stop believing in Olympus and still exist and the progress of mankind will only be able to give a more truthful explanation of the fact, but will not eliminate it. Now I say to you: since you read about them, you may also have read how a person who has fallen into them can be saved.’
‘Yes. By means of a rope thrown to the person or by means of a pole or even a branch. Sometimes a small thing is sufficient to give a sinking man the minimum support to hold on to and in addition, the necessary calm, without struggling, to await rescue.’
‘Well. A sinner, a man possessed, is one who has been swallowed by a deceitful soil, the surface of which is covered with flowers, whereas underneath it is quicksand. Do you think that if a man knew what it means to give Satan the possession of even an atom of himself, he would do it? But he does not know… and after… Either the astonishment and the poison of Evil paralyse him, or drive him mad and to avoid the remorse of being lost he struggles, he clings to other sands, he stirs up huge waves with his rash movements and thus hastens his own end. Love is the rope, the wire, the branch you mentioned. We must insist, insist… until it is caught. A word… forgiveness… a forgiveness greater than the fault… just to stop the sinking and await God’s assistance. Lazarus, do you know the power of forgiveness? It brings God to assist the rescuer… Do you read much?’
‘Yes, I do. But I do not know whether I do the right thing. My disease and… and other things have deprived me of many of the delights of men… and now, I have but the passion for flowers and books… For plants and also for horses… I know that I am criticised for it. But how can I go to my estate in this condition (and he uncovers two huge legs all bandaged up) on foot or riding a mule? I must use a cart, and a fast one. That is why I bought some horses, of which I am now very fond, I admit. But if You tell me that that is wrong… I will have them sold.’
‘No, Lazarus. These are not corrupting things. What upsets the soul and drives away from God is cause of corruption.’
‘Now, Master. What I would like to know is this. I read a lot. I have but this comfort. I like to learn… I think that after all it is better to know than to do wrong, it is better to read than to do other things. But I do not read only our pages. I like to learn about the world of other peoples and I am attracted by Rome and Athens. Now, I am aware of the great evil that befell Israel when she became corrupted by the Assyrians and the Egyptians and of the great harm done to us by Hellenistic governments. I do not know whether a man can do himself the same harm that Judas did himself and us, his children. What is Your opinion on the matter? I am anxious to be taught by You, as You are not a rabbi, but the wise and divine Word.’
Jesus stares at him for a few seconds, His glance penetrating and distant at the same time. He seems to pierce Lazarus’ opaque body and scrutinise his heart and penetrating even further, He appears to see… ‘Are you upset by what you read? Jesus asks at last. ‘Does it detach you from God and His Law?’
‘No, Master. On the contrary, it urges me to make comparisons between our true God and pagan falseness. I make comparisons and I meditate on the glories of Israel, her just people, the Patriarchs, the Prophets and the questionable figures of other peoples’ histories. I compare our philosophy, if we can call so the Wisdom that speaks in our sacred texts, with the poor Greek and Roman philosophies which contain sparks of fire but not the blaze that bums and shines in the books of our Wise Men. And after, with greater veneration, I bow down with my soul to adore our God Who speaks in Israel through deeds, people and our books.’
‘Well, then, continue to read… It will help you to understand the pagan world… Continue. You may continue. There is no ferment of evil or of spiritual gangrene in you. You, therefore, may read without any fear. The love you have for your God makes sterile the profane germ that reading might spread in you. In all man’s actions there is the possibility of good and of evil. It depends on how they are accomplished. Love is not a sin, if one loves in a holy way. Work is not a sin, if one works when it is the right time. To earn is not a sin, if one is satisfied with what is honest. To educate oneself is not a sin, providing the
education does not kill the idea of God in us. Whereas it is a sin to serve also at
the altar, if one does it for one’s own benefit. Are you convinced, Lazarus?’
‘Yes, Master. I asked other people the same question and they scorned me… But You give me light and peace. Oh! If everybody heard You! Come, Master. Amongst the jasmines there is a cool breeze and silence. It is sweet to rest under their cool shade awaiting the evening.’
And they go out.