Mary, Martha and Jesus

They had by this time arrived at the large well outside Magdala. Clouds had covered the sun: a pale darkness fell over the face of the earth. Black threads of rain hung down, joining sky and soil. . . . Magdalene lifted her eyes to her skylight and saw the heavens blacken. “Winter is upon us,” she murmured; “I must move quickly.” She twirled the bobbin and began with great speed to spin the choice wool she had found. She intended to weave a warm cloak for her beloved so that he would not be cold. From time to time she glanced towards the yard and admired her grand pomegranate with its burden of fruit. She was guarding the pome-granates and not cutting them, for she had vowed them all to Jesus. God is exceedingly merciful, she reflected. One day my beloved will again pass through this narrow street and then I shall fill my arms with pomegranates and place them at his feet. He will bend over, take one and refresh himself. . . . While spinning, and admiring the pomegranate-tree, she turned her life over in her mind. It began and ended with Jesus, the son of Mary. What sorrow, what joy she had had! Why had he left her, opening her door on that final night to flee like a burglar? Where had he gone? Was he still wrestling with shadows instead of digging the soil, fashioning wood or fishing the sea; instead of having a wife (women too were God’s creatures) and sleeping next to her? Ah, if he would only pass once more through Magdala so that she could run and place her pomegranates at his feet, to refresh him!

While she meditated on all this and rotated the bobbin with her quick skilled hand, she heard cries and tramping in the street and the sound of a horn—halloo! wasn’t it cross-eyed Thomas the pedlar—and then she heard a shrill voice:

“Open, open your doors. The Kingdom of heaven is here!” Magdalene jumped up, her heart leaping for joy. He had come! He had come! Cold and warm shudders passed through her entire body. Forgetting her kerchief, she rushed out, her hair flowing down to her shoulders. She went through the yard and appeared on the doorstep. Then she saw the Lord. Uttering a joyous cry, she fell at his feet. “Rabbi, rabbi,” she purred, welcome!”

She had forgotten the pomegranates and her vow. She hugged the sacred knees, and her blue-black hair, which still smelt from its old accursed perfumes, spilt out over the ground.

“Rabbi, rabbi, welcome,” she purred, and she dragged him gently towards her poor house.

Jesus bent over, took her by the hand and lifted her up. Bashful and enchanted, he held her just as an inexperienced bridegroom holds his bride. His body rejoiced from its very roots. It was not Magdalene he had lifted from the ground, but the soul of man—and he was its bridegroom. Magdalene trembled, blushed, spread her hair over her bosom to hide it. Everyone looked at her with astonishment. How she had pined away, lost her colour! Purple rings circled her eyes, and her firm full mouth had withered like an unwatered flower. As she and Jesus walked hand in hand they felt they were dreaming. Instead of treading the earth they were floating in the air and proceeding. Was this a wedding? Was the ragged multitude which followed behind, filling the whole street, their marriage procession? And the pomegranate-tree which was visible in the yard with its burden of fruit: was it a kind spirit or a household goddess, or perhaps a simple thrice-fortunate woman who had given birth to sons and daughters and now stood in the middle of her yard and admired them?

“Magdalene,” Jesus said softly, “all your sins are forgiven, for you have loved much.”

She leaned over, wonderfully happy. She wanted to say, I am a virgin! but she was so overjoyed, she could not open her mouth.

She ran, pillaged the pomegranate-tree, filled her apron and made a tower of the cool red fruit at the Beloved’s feet. What happened next was precisely what she had so ardently desired. Jesus bent down, took a pomegranate, opened it, filled his hand with seeds, and refreshed his throat. Then the disciples stooped in their turn. Each took a pomegranate and refreshed himself.

“Magdalene,” Jesus said, “why do you look at me with such troubled eyes, as though you were saying good-bye to me?”

“My Beloved, I have been saying hello and good-bye to you every single instant since the day I was born.” She spoke so softly that only Jesus and John, who were close to her, could hear.

After a moment’s silence, she continued: “I must look at you, because woman issued from the body of man and still cannot detach her body from his. But you must look at heaven, because you are a man, and man was created by God. Allow me to look to you therefore, my child.”

She pronounced these momentous words, “My child!” in such a low voice that not even Jesus heard her. But her own breast filled out and stirred as though she were giving suck to her son. A murmur arose in the crowd. New invalids suddenly arrived and occupied the entire yard.

“Rabbi,” said Peter, “the people are grumbling and impatient.’ “What do they want?” ”

A kind word; a miracle. Look at them.”

Jesus turned. In the turbulent air of the squall which was coming he perceived a multitude of half-opened mouths full of longing, and of eyes which were gazing at him with anguish. An old man came forward through the crowd. His eyelashes had fallen out: his eyes were like two wounds. Around his skeleton-like neck hung ten amulets, each containing one of the Ten Commandments. He leaned on his forked staff and stood himself in the doorway.

“Rabbi,” he said, his voice all grievance and pain, “I am one hundred years old. Hanging around my neck, constantly before me, are God’s Ten Commandments. I have not disobeyed a single one of them. Every year I go to Jerusalem and offer a sacrificial ram to holy Sabaoth. I light candles and burn sweet-incense. At night instead of sleeping, I sign psalms. I look sometimes at the stars, sometimes at the mountains—and wait, wait for the Lord to descend so that I may see him. That is the only recompense I desire. . . . I’ve waited now for years and years, but in vain. I have one foot in the grave, yet I still have not seen him. Why, why? Mine is a great grievance, rabbi. When shall I see the Lord; when shall I find peace?”

As he spoke he grew continually angrier. Soon he was banging his forked staff down on the ground and shouting. Jesus smiled.

“Old man,” he replied, “once upon a time there was a marble throne at the eastern gate of an important city. On this throne sat a thousand kings blind in the right eye, a thousand kings blind in the left eye, and a thousand kings who had sight in both eyes. All of them called God to appear so that they might see him,
Jesus watched him disappear. “Wide is the gate of hell,” he sail with a sigh, “wide the road and strewn with flowers. But the gate to God’s kingdom is narrow, the way uphill. While we live we may choose, for life means freedom. him, but all went to their graves with their wishes unfulfilled. When the kings had died, a pauper, barefooted and hungry, came and sat on the throne. ‘God,’ he whispered, ‘the eyes of man can-I tot bear to look directly at the sun, for they are blinded. How lien, Omnipotent, can they look directly at you? Have pity, Lord; temper your strength, turn down your splendour so that I, who mid poor and afflicted, may see you!’ Then—listen old man!—God became a piece of bread, a cup of cool water, a warm tunic, .1 hut, and in front of the hut, a woman giving suck to an infant. The pauper stretched forth his arms and smiled happily. ‘Thank you, Lord,’ he whispered. ‘You humbled yourself for my sake. You became bread, water, a warm tunic and my wife and son in order that I might see you. And I did see you. I bow down and worship your beloved many-faced face!’ ”

No one spoke. The old man sighed like a buffalo and putting forth his forked staff, disappeared into the crowd. Next, a young man, newly-married, lifted his fist and shouted, “They say you hold fire to burn up the world—to burn up our homes and children. Is this the kind of love you claim to bring us? Is this the justice: I re?” Jesus’s eyes filled with tears. He pitied this newly-married youth. Truly, was this the justice he brought: fire? Was there no )1 her way to attain salvation? “Tell us clearly what we have to do to be saved,” cried a house-, ,wncr who then elbowed his way through the gathering in order 0 come close for the answer, since he was hard of hearing. “Open your hearts,” thundered Jesus, “open your larders, divide your belongings among the poor! The day of the Lord has come! Whoever stingily retains a loaf of bread, a jar of oil or a strip of land for his final hours will find that bread and that jar and that earth hanging around his neck and dragging him down o hell.” “My ears are buzzing,” said the house-owner. “Excuse me if I leave, but I feel dizzy.” He went off in a rage towards his rich villa. “Listen to that! Divide our belongings among the scabby rabble! Is that justice? Damn him to hell.” Mumbling to himself and cursing, he continued on.

life means freedom. But when death comes what’s done is done and there is no deliverance.”

“If you want me to believe in you,” shouted a man with crutches “perform a miracle and heal me. Shall I enter the kingdom
of heaven lame?” ”

And I leprous?”

“And I with only one arm?”

“And I blind?”

The cripples moved forward in one body and stood threateningly in front of him. Losing all sense of restraint, they began to shout. A
blind old man lifted his staff:

“Cure us,” he howled, “or you won’t leave our village alive!” Peter ripped the staff out of the old man’s hands. “With a soul like yours, buzzard-eyes, you’ll never see the light!”

The cripples drew together andbecame ferocious. The disciples became ferocious in their turn and placed themselves nMagdalene, terrified, put out her hand to bolt the door, but Jesus stopped her.

“Magdalene, my sister,” he said, “this is an unfortunate generation—all flesh. Habits, sins, and fat crush their souls. I push away flesh, bones and entrails to find the soul, and I find nothing. Alas, I think the only cure is fire!” He turned to the multitude. His eyes were now dry and pitiless. “Just as we scorch the fields before
sowing, in order for the good seed to thrive, so shall God scorch the earth. He has no mercy for thorns, tares or tarragon. That is the meaning of justice. Farewell!”

He turned to Thomas. “Blow your horn. We’re leaving!” He put forth his staff. The benumbed people made way and he passed through. Magdalene ran into her house, seized her kerchief and—leaving the wool half-spun, the earthenware pot on the mantle and the poultry unfed in her yard—tossed the door-key into the middle of the road; then without looking back, silent and tightly wrapped in her kerchief, she followed the son of Mary.

Nikos Kazantzakis: The Greatest Greek Writer of the 20th Century

Nikos Kazantzakis


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