75: Jesus and the Shepherds Elias, Levi and Joseph.
11th January 1945.
The hills are becoming much higher and woodier than those around Bethlehem and they rise continuously and eventually form a real chain of mountains. Jesus is climbing ahead of them all and He looks around, as if He were anxious to find something. He does not speak. He listens more to the voices of the woods than to the apostles', who are a few yards behind Him and are speaking to one another.
A bell rings in the distance, but the wind carries its ding-dong. Jesus smiles. He turns round: "I hear the bells of sheep."
"I think near that hillock. But the wood prevents Me from seeing."
John, without uttering one word takes off his tunic – they have all rolled up their mantles and are carrying them across their backs, because they feel warm – and having on only his short tunic, he throws his arms around a tall smooth trunk, which I think is an ash tree, and he climbs up… until he can see. "Yes, Master. There are many herds and three shepherds over there, behind that thicket." He comes down, and they proceed, sure of their way.
"Will it be them?"
"We shall ask, Simon, and if they are not, they will tell us something… They know one another."
After approximately one hundred yards, there is a large, green pasture, surrounded on all sides by huge aged trees. Many sheep are grazing on the thick grass of the undulated meadow. Three men are watching over them. One is old: his hair is all white, of the other two, one is about thirty, the other about forty years old.
"Be careful, Master. They are herdsmen…" advises Judas, when he sees Jesus hastening His step.
But Jesus does not even answer. He goes on, tall and handsome in His white tunic, with the setting sun in front of Him. He seems an angel, so bright He is… "Peace be with you, My friends" He greets when He reaches the edge of the meadow.
The three men turn round, surprised. There is silence. Then the oldest one asks:
"Who are You?"
"One Who loves you."
"You would be the first in so many years. Where are You from?"
"From Galilee? Oh!" The man watches Him carefully. Also the other two have come near.
"From Galilee" repeats the shepherd, and he adds in a very low voice, as if speaking to himself: "He came from Galilee, too… From which town, my Lord?"
"Oh! Well, tell me. Has a Child ever come back to Nazareth, a Child with a woman whose name was Mary and a man called Joseph, a Child, Who was even more beautiful than His Mother, so beautiful that I have never seen a fairer flower on the slopes of Judah? A Child born in Bethlehem of Judah, at the time of the edict? A Child Who later fled, most fortunately for the world. A Child, oh! I would give my life just to hear whether He is alive… He must be a man by now."
"Why do you say that His flight was a great fortune for the world?"
"Because He was the Savior, the Messiah and Herod wanted Him dead. I was not there when He fled with His father and Mother. When I heard of the slaughter and I came back… because also I had children (he sobs), my Lord, and a wife… (he sobs), and I heard they had been killed (he sobs again), but I swear by the God of Abraham, I was more afraid for Him than for my own family – I heard He had fled and I could not even enquire; I could not even take away my own slaughtered creatures… They threw stones at me, as they do with lepers and unclean people, they treated me like a murderer… and I had to hide in the woods, and live like a wolf… until I found a master. Oh! it's no longer Anne… He is hard and cruel… If a sheep gets hurt, if a wolf preys on a lamb, he either beats me till I bleed or he takes my poor pay, and I have to work in the woods for other people, I must do something, to pay him back three times the value. But it does not matter. I have always said to the Most High: “Let me see Your Messiah, at least let me know that He is alive, and all the rest is nothing.” My Lord, I have told You how the people in Bethlehem treated me, and how my master deals with me. I could have repaid them in their own coins, I could have wronged them, stealing, so that I would not suffer under my master. But I preferred to suffer, to forgive, to be honest, because the angels said: “Glory to God in the Highest Heaven and peace on earth to men of good will.”"
"Is that what they said?"
"Yes, they did, my Lord, You must believe, at least You, Who are good. You must know and believe that the Messiah is born. No one would believe it any longer. But angels do not lie… and we were not drunk, as they said. This man here, was a boy then, and he was the first to see the angel. He drank but milk. Can milk make one drunk? The angels said: “Today, in the town of David the Savior was born, He is Christ, the Lord. And here is a sign for you. You will find a Child wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger.”"
"Did they say exactly that? Did you not misunderstand them? Are you not mistaken, after such a long time?"
"Oh! no! Isn't it, Levi? In order not to forget, – we could not forget in any case, because they were heavenly words and were written in our hearts with a heavenly fire – every morning, every evening, when the sun rises, when the first star starts shining, we repeat them as a prayer, as a blessing, to have strength and comfort in His name and in His Mother's."
"Ah! You said: “Christ”?"
"No, my Lord. We say: “Glory to God in the Highest Heaven and peace on earth to men of good will, through Jesus Christ Who was born of Mary in a stable in Bethlehem and Who, wrapped in swaddling clothes, was in a manger, He Who is the Savior of the world.”"
"But, in short, whom are you looking for?"
"Jesus Christ, the Son of Mary, the Nazarene, the Savior."
"It is I." Jesus is radiant when saying so, revealing Himself to His persevering lovers: persevering, faithful, patient.
"You! Oh! Lord, Savior, Our Jesus!" The three men prostrate themselves on the ground and kiss Jesus' feet, crying with joy.
"Stand up. Get up. Elias and you, Levi and you, whose name I do not know."
"Joseph, the son of Joseph."
"These are My disciples, John, a Galilean, Simon and Judas, Judaeans."
The shepherds are no longer prostrated on the ground, they are kneeling, sitting back on their heels. They worship thus the Savior, with loving eyes, trembling lips, while their faces blanch and blush with joy. Jesus sits down on the grass.
"No, my Lord. You, King of Israel, must not sit on the grass."
"Never mind, My dear friends. I am poor. A carpenter as far as the world is concerned. I am rich only in My love for the world, and in the love I get from good people. I have come to stay with you, to share the evening meal with you and sleep beside you on the hay, and to be comforted by you…"
"Oh! comfort! We are coarse and persecuted."
"I am persecuted, too. But you give Me what I am seeking: love, faith and hope, a hope that will last for years and bear flowers. See? You waited for Me and you believed without the least doubt, that I was the Messiah. And I have come to you."
"Oh! Yes! You have come. Now, even if I die, I will not be upset, by the fact that I hoped in vain."
"No, Elias. You will live until Christ's triumph and after. You saw My dawn, you must see My glory. And what about the others? You were twelve: Elias, Levi, Samuel, Jonah, Isaac, Tobias, Jonathan, Daniel, Simeon, John, Joseph, Benjamin. My Mother always mentioned your names to Me. Because you were My first friends."
"Oh!" The shepherds are more and more moved.
"Where are the others?"
"Old Samuel died of old age about twenty years ago. Joseph was killed because he fought at the gate of the enclosure to give time to his wife, who had just become a mother a few hours before, to escape with this man, whom I took with me for the sake of my friend… also to have children around me once again. I took Levi also with me… He was persecuted. Benjamin is a shepherd on Lebanon with Daniel. Simeon, John and Tobias, who now wants to be called Matthew in memory of his father, who was also killed, are disciples of John. Jonah works on the plain of Esdraelon for a Pharisee. Isaac suffers very much from his back which is bent in two, he lives in dire poverty, all by himself at Juttah. We help him as much as we can, but we have all been badly hit and our help is like dew drops on a fire. Jonathan is now the servant of one of Herod's big men."
"How could you, and particularly Jonathan, Jonah, Daniel and Benjamin get such jobs?"
"I remembered Your relative Zacharias… Your Mother had sent me to him. When we were in the mountain gorges in Judaea, fugitives and cursed, I took them to him. He was good to us. He sheltered and fed us. And he found work for us. He did what he could. I had already taken all Anne's herd for the Herodian… and I remained with him… When the Baptist, grown into a man, began to preach, Simeon, John and Tobias went to him."
"But now the Baptist is in jail."
"Yes, and they are keeping watch near Machaerus, with a few sheep, to avoid arousing suspicion. They were given the sheep by a rich man, a disciple of Your relative John."
"I would like to see them all."
"Yes, My Lord. We will go and say to them: “Come, He is alive. He remembers us and loves us.”"
"And He wants you to be His friends."
"Yes, my Lord."
"But we will go first to Isaac. And where are Samuel and Joseph buried?"
"Samuel in Hebron. He remained in Zacharias' service. Joseph… has no tomb. He was burned with the house."
"He is no longer in the cruel fire, but in the flames of God's love and will soon be in His glory. I am telling you, and particularly you, Joseph, son of Joseph. Come here, that I may kiss you to thank your father."
"And my children?"
"They are angels, Elias. Angels who will repeat the “Gloria” when the Savior is crowned."
"No, Redeemer. Oh! What a procession of just people and saints! And in front there will be the white and purple phalanges of the martyrs! As soon as the gates of Limbo are opened, we shall ascend together to the eternal Kingdom. And then you will come and will find your fathers, mothers and children in the Lord! Believe Me."
"Yes, my Lord."
"Call Me: Master. It is getting dark, the first evening star is beginning to shine. Say your prayer before supper."
"Not I. You say it, please."
"Glory to God in the highest Heaven, and peace on earth to men of good will who have deserved to see the Light and serve it. The Savior is among them. The Shepherd of the royal line is with His herd. The morning Star has risen. Rejoice, just people! Rejoice in the Lord. He Who made the vaults of heaven and has strewn them with stars, Who placed the seas at the boundaries of the land, Who created winds and dew, and fixed the course of seasons to give bread and wine to His children, He is now sending you a more Sublime food: the living Bread that descends from Heaven, the Wine of the eternal Vine. Come to Me, you who are the first of My worshippers. Come to meet the Eternal Father in truth, to follow Him in holiness and receive His eternal reward." Jesus has said the prayer, standing up, with His arms stretched out, while the disciples and shepherds are on their knees.
They then offer bread and new milk, and since there are only three bowls, or emptied marrows, I do not know which, Jesus is the first to eat, with Simon and Judas. Then John, to whom Jesus hands His cup, with Levi and Joseph. Elias is last.
The sheep are no longer grazing. They gather in a compact group, perhaps waiting to be led to their enclosure. Instead I see the three shepherds taking them into the wood, under a rustic shed formed with branches and enclosed by ropes. They then busy themselves preparing hay beds for Jesus and His disciples. They light fires, probably to keep wild animals away.
Judas and John lie down, and tired as they are, they soon fall asleep. Simon would like to keep Jesus company. But shortly afterwards, he falls asleep too, sitting on the hay leaning against a pole. Jesus remains awake with the shepherds. And they talk of Joseph, of Mary, of the flight into Egypt, of their return… and after such questions about loving friendship, they ask more noble questions: what can they do to serve Jesus? How will they, poor, rough shepherds, be able to do anything?
And Jesus teaches them and explains: "Now I am going to go through Judaea. My disciples will keep in touch with you all the time. Later I will let you come. In the meantime, get together. Make sure that you are all in touch with one another, and that everyone knows that I am here, in this world, as Master and Savior. Let everybody know, as best as you can. I will not promise that you will be believed. I have been mocked at and beaten. They will do the same to you. But as you have been strong and just in your long expectation, persist in being so, now that you are Mine. Tomorrow, we will go towards Juttah. Then to Hebron. Can you come?"
"Of course, we can. The roads belong to everybody and the pastures to God. Only Bethlehem is forbidden by an unfair hatred. The other villages know… but they jeer at us, calling us “topers”. Thus we will not be able to do very much here."
"I will employ you elsewhere. I will not abandon you."
"For all our lifetimes?"
"For all My lifetime."
"No, Master, I will die first. I am old."
"Do you think so? I do not. One of the first faces I saw, Elias, was yours. It will also be one of the last. I will take with Me, impressed in My eyes, the image of your face deranged by sorrow for My death. But after, you will treasure in your heart the memory of the joy of a triumphal morning, and will thus await death… Death: the everlasting meeting with Jesus, Whom you adored when He was a baby. Also then the angels will sing the Gloria: “for the man of good will.”"
I hear nothing more, the sweet vision fades away and ends.