CHAPTER XXX. AT THE HOUSE OF SIMON
|Philippe de Champaigne, Christ at Supper with Simon the Pharisee, c. 1656|
ON the outskirts of Jerusalem Mary of Magdala still possessed a little house, toward which they turned, seeking its shelter for the Mother of God and her companions. Quite suddenly after her joyous transports, deep sadness had fallen upon the Virgin. She had seen too well in her secret soul what the triumphs of her Son preceded. When she reached the house of Magdalen her trembling limbs could scarcely support her. Salome, Mary of Cleophas, and Joanna were alarmed. They knelt at her feet, kissing her hands, and weeping.
"Daughter of David! Mother of the Saviour!" they exclaimed. "What has cast down thy courageous soul?"
"Alas!" said Our Lady, mournfully. "There are treason and hatred at His very side! Terror has taken possession of me!"
She sank back upon the couch and closed her eyes, and her companions sat looking at her with anxiety. And then angels slowly descended: faint harmonies reached them.
"He shall be led as a sheep to the slaughter, and shall be dumb as a lamb before the shearer and He shall not open His mouth* He will be offered because it is His own will; the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of all." (Isaias liii, 6, 7.) "Many are they who rise up against Him." (Psalms iii, 2, 3.) "They have sharpened their tongues like a serpent: the venom of asps is under their lips." (Psalms, cxxxix, 4) "The council of the malignant hath besieged Him." (Psalms xxi, 17.)
Then came a voice that sounded faint and far away.
"O My people, what have I done to thee, or in what have I molested thee? Answer thou Me. For I have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, and delivered thee out of the house of slaves. (Micheas vi, 3, 4,) Dost thou now prepare a cross for Me? Because for forty years have I conducted thee in the desert, where I fed thee with manna, and because I have made thee enter a fertile land, dost thou prepare a cross for thy Saviour? What is there that I ought to do more than I have done?"
And so the angels surrounded Mary. The harmonies died away. Silence descended. Silence deep and profound. Sleep closed the eyelids of the weary Mother, and God clothed her soul with strength for the trial which lay before her.
Magdalen waited until she was sure that the Virgin slept, and until the other women had retired to rest. Then she left the house. She had concealed under her veil a vase of alabaster, exquisite in workmanship, which was filled with oil of spikenard, a most rare perfume and one of great price. Learning the place to which Jesus had retired, she went to the borough of Bethania, to the house of Simon the leper—since she had been told that she would find Him there. He was indeed within, seated with His disciples in a lofty and richly decorated hall, for Simon was a rich Pharisee and lived in great opulence.
Magdalen entered the hall trembling. The room was spacious and hung with purple. All the guests reclined, according to custom, about the table, upon slightly raised but magnificent couches. She paused, her eyes seeking Jesus, who was in the place of honor, between John and Simon the Pharisee. He was conversing with them, and upon His face shone the brilliant light which had transfigured it at the marriage feast of Cana. For a moment she stood—not daring to advance. It seemed to her that she was penetrating into the Holy of holies, into which even the High Priest entered with fear and trembling. Then the sound of Jesus' voice fell upon her ears. She recalled the words which she had heard Him repeat: "Come to Me, all ye that are heavily laden and oppressed, and I will refresh you."
The recollection emboldened her. She advanced, and sinking upon her knees beside the couch, she broke the precious vase and poured the perfume it contained upon the Saviour's feet.
Instantly the sweetness of its odor spread throughout the room, and permeated the entire house, arresting the attention of the guests. Jesus bent grave and merciful eyes upon her, but when she met that glance—the pitying glance of a God and a Father, she could not endure it. Tears welled forth —tears that followed the perfume, and lifting her beautiful hair—her only glory since she had given up the world of luxury in which she had reigned a queen—she wiped them away.
Simon had known Magdalen in the days of her folly, and now he started up, wishing to remove her from the presence of Jesus. But Jesus saw what immense love filled this heart. It had remained void and cold in the midst of unholy passions, but now it burned with a heavenly fire.
Some among them—Judas Iscariot was of the number—grumbled at seeing the waste of so precious a perfume, the price of which would have helped many poor people.
And Jesus turned to them.
"Why do you trouble this woman? For she hath wrought a good work upon Me. The poor you have always with you—but Me you have not always.
"For she, in pouring this ointment upon My body, hath done it for My burial." (St. Matthew xxvi, 10-12.)
"Go in peace," said Jesus, in His gentlest voice.
A celestial joy descended upon the troubled soul of Magdalen, and filled her whole being, even as the precious oil of spikenard had filled the whole house with perfume.
Judas, one of the Twelve, rose in great agitation and left the table, for the speech aroused fear within him. It was this man whose presence near Jesus terrified the heart of the holy Virgin. Impulsive, rude, and vindictive, he was jealous of every preference as if he alone had merited it, and he bore a violent envy toward those who gained the affection of others. The regard that was not bestowed upon him offended him.
Against Jesus he nourished a secret hatred on account of the tenderness which He displayed toward John, the beloved disciple. Jealousy, a desire of revenge, devoured his soul like birds of prey, for such evil passions are the vultures of the heart.
Nevertheless, the Saviour's words of peace and mercy had moved him. For an instant, he, too, was impelled to cast himself at the feet of the divine and blessed One who forgave sins with such benignity. His guardian angel, in that dread moment, redoubled most fervent prayers for his unfortunate soul, and whispered sweet counsels in his wavering heart. But the wretch had listened so long to the spirit of darkness, had yielded so long to the promptings of the devil, that in this crucial moment Satan could easily excite him anew. For as he stood irresolute, he saw John lean toward Jesus to address Him, and the fair head of the beloved disciple rested against the Master's cheek.
This goodness, these graces, which Judas saw the Saviour shedding upon those surrounding Him; this quietude, this peace, the calm and serene beauty of these young men, vivified by divine love; the gentleness, mildness, and affection from which he perceived that he was excluded by hateful and base passions, increased his jealousy. Yielding to the suggestions of the spirit of darkness, he stole out of the banquet-room.
Magdalen left the house of Simon the Pharisee and returned to Mary. Seated at the Mother's knee she, told her what happened, and Mary stretched out her arms, and thanked her.
"Magdalen!" she exclaimed. "Why is not the whole earth filled with the love that animates your soul? That which the Lord, in His goodness, has done for you, He has accomplished for all men. He has come to give them a law of love and mercy., Who has ever practised as He does the sublime virtue of universal charity which He came on earth to preach? And for such love as this the hatred of the world increases. Who could believe it?"
Magdalen's tears had not ceased to flow since her eyes rested on her beloved Master. They welled up anew now, as she said:
"Is it not because it is necessary, as you have told me, that Christ should suffer and die to redeem the earth and restore its glory?"
"Yes," said Mary. "The decrees must be accomplished. Evil having entered into the world, its effects are foreseen from all eternity, and the prophecies are to be accomplished."
The Virgin, in speaking thus, felt the most bitter anguish. But identifying herself then, as ever, with her divine Son, she murmured:
"My God! May Thy will, not mine, be done!"