342. Going towards Caesarea Philippi. Peter's Primacy.
27th November 1945
The Jordan runs across a plain before flowing into lake Merom. It is a beautiful plain where cereals grow more and more vigorously day by day and fruit-trees blossom. The hills beyond which Kedesh lies, are now behind the pilgrims, who are walking fast at daybreak. They appear to be very cold, as they cast keen glances at the rising sun and they look for it, as soon as its rays shine on meadows and caress leaves. They must have slept out in the open, or at most in a stack-yard, because their garments are creased and show particles of straw and dry leaves, which they remove as they see them in the light, which is becoming clearer and clearer.
The river is detected through its gurgling, which sounds loud in the silent morning in the country, and by the sight of a thick line of trees, the new leaves of which are quivering in the light morning breeze. But it cannot be seen as yet, sunken as it is in the flat plain, although it is swollen by many torrents flowing into it from the eastern hills. When they can see its blue water sparkle through the new greenery on its banks, they are almost on its bank.
"Shall we walk along the bank as far as the bridge, or shall we cross the river here?" they ask Jesus, Who was alone, pensive, and has now stopped waiting for them.
"See if there is a boat to cross over. It is better to cross here..."
"Yes, at the bridge, which is just on the road to Caesarea Paneas, we might come across someone who has been sent to follow our footsteps" remarks Bartholomew frowning, while he looks at Judas.
"No. Don't look back at me. I did not know that we were coming here, and I have not said anything. It was easy to understand that from Saphet Jesus would go to the sepulchres of the rabbis and to Kedesh. But I would never have thought that He wanted to go as far as Philip's capital. So they know nothing about it. So we shall not find them through my fault or through their own decision. Unless Beelzebub himself leads them" says calmly and humbly the Iscariot.
"Very well. Because with certain people... We must be sharp-sighted and speak very carefully, without letting them have any clue of our plans. We must watch everything. Otherwise our evangelization will become a perpetual flight" replies Bartholomew.
John and Andrew come back. They say: "We found two boats. They will take us to the other side for a drachma each boat. Let us go down the embankment." And they cross to the other side in the two little boats, in two trips. There is a fertile plain also on this side, fertile but not thickly populated. Only the local farmers live there.
"H'm! What shall we do for bread? I am hungry. And there are no Philistine ears of corn here... Grass and leaves, leaves and flowers. I am neither a little sheep nor a bee" grumbles Peter to his companions who smile at his remark.
Judas Thaddeus turns round − he was a little ahead − and he says: "We will buy some bread in the next village."
"Providing they don't make us flee" concludes James of Zebedee.
"You, who say that we have to watch everything, be careful lest you pick up the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees. I think that is what you are doing, without considering the wrong you are doing. Be careful, very careful!" says Jesus.
The apostles look at one another and whisper: "What is He saying? The bread was given to us by the woman of the deaf-mute and by the inn-keeper at Kedesh. I still have it here. It is the only bread we have. And we do not know whether we will be able to find any more to satisfy our hunger. So why does He say that we buy bread of Sadducees and Pharisees with their yeast? Perhaps He does not want us to buy any in the villages here..."
Jesus, Who once again was ahead of them all alone, turns round. "Why are you afraid to be left without bread? Even if all the people here were Sadducees and Pharisees, you would not be without bread, because I told you not to buy any. I am not speaking of the yeast which is in bread. So you can buy bread anywhere you like lo satisfy your hunger. And if nobody would sell you any, you would not be left without bread just the same. Do you not remember the five loaves with which five thousand people appeased their hunger? Do you not remember that you collected twelve baskets full of the scraps remaining? I could do for you, who are twelve and have one loaf, what I did for five thousand people with five loaves. Do you not understand to which yeast I am referring? To the yeast that rises in the hearts of Pharisees, Sadducees and doctors, against Me. It is hatred. It is heresy. You are now going towards hatred, as if part of the Pharisaical yeast had entered your hearts. Not even your enemy is to be hated. Not even a very small inlet is to be opened to anything that is not God. After the first element, others opposed to God would enter. Sometimes one perishes or is defeated, because one wants to fight enemies with equal weapons. And once you have been defeated, you could by contact absorb their doctrine. Be charitable and reserved. You are not yet in a position to oppose such doctrines, without being infected. Because you have some of their elements as well. And hatred is one of them. I would also warn you that they may change method in order to entice you and take you away from Me, by being extremely polite, showing that they are repentant and anxious to make peace. You must not avoid them, but when they try to imbue you with their doctrines, you must reject them. That is the yeast to which I was referring. Animosity, which is against love, and false doctrines. I say to you: be prudent."
"That sign which the Pharisees asked for yesterday, was it “yeast”, Master?" asks Thomas.
"It was yeast and poison."
"You did the right thing in not giving it to them."
"But I will give it to them one day."
"When?" they ask curiously.
"And what sign is it? Are You not telling even us, Your apostles? So that we may recognise it at once" asks Peter who is anxious to know.
"You should not need a sign."
"Oh! It is not to be able to believe in You! We have not many ideas as the people have. All we want is to love You" says James of Zebedee passionately. "But the people you approach in a simple friendly way, more than I do, without making them feel uneasy, as I may do, who do they say that I am? And who do they say the Son of Man is?"
"Some say that You are Jesus, that is the Christ, and they are the best. Some say that You are a Prophet, some only a Rabbi, others, and You know, say that You are mad and possessed."
"But some call You by the same name that You use and they say: “Son of man.”"
"And some say that that is not possible, because the Son of man is a different thing. But that is not always a denial. Because in actual fact they acknowledge that You are more than the Son of man: You are the Son of God. Others instead say that You are not even the Son of man, but a poor man agitated by Satan or deranged by madness. You can thus see that there are many different opinions" says Bartholomew.
"What is the Son of man, therefore, according to the people?"
"He is a man in whom there are all the most beautiful virtues of men, a man gifted with all the requisites of intelligence, wisdom, grace, which we think were in Adam, to which some add the gift of not having to die. You know that there is already a rumour that John the Baptist is not dead. They say that he was only carried elsewhere by angels and that Herod, and above all, Herodias, to prevent people from saying that they had been defeated by God, killed a servant, had him beheaded and then showed his mutilated body saying it was the corpse of the Baptist. People say so many things! So many think that the Son of man is either Jeremiah, or Elijah, or one of the Prophets, or the Baptist, who was gifted with grace and wisdom and said that he was the Precursor of the Christ. Christ: the Anointed of God. The Son of man: a great man, born of man. Some cannot admit, or do not want to admit, that God has sent His Son to the earth. You said so yesterday: “Only those will believe, who are convinced of the infinite goodness of God.” Israel believes more in God's severity than in His goodness..." says Bartholomew again.
"Yes. They feel so undeserving that they consider it impossible that God has been so good as to send His Word to save them. The degraded state of their souls is a hindrance to their believing that" confirms the Zealot. And he adds: "You say that You are the Son of God and of man. In fact in You there is all grace and wisdom as man. And I really think that he who was born of Adam in the state of grace, would have been like You in beauty and intelligence and all virtues. The power of God shines in You. But who can believe that, among those who consider themselves gods and judge God by their standards in their infinite pride? Cruel, hateful, greedy, impure as they are, they cannot possibly think that God has gone to such an extreme of kindness as to give Himself to redeem them, His love to save them, His generosity to be at their mercy, His purity to sacrifice His life among men. Since they are so inflexible and captious in looking for faults and punishing them, they cannot believe that."
"And who do you say that I am? Tell Me your own personal opinion, without taking into account My words or the words of other people. If you were compelled to judge Me, who would you say that I am?"
"You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God" exclaims Peter, kneeling down with his arms stretched upwards, towards Jesus, Who looks at him with His face bright with love and Who bends to raise and embrace him, saying:
"Simon, son of Jonah, you are a happy man! Because it was not the flesh and blood that revealed this to you, but My Father in Heaven. Since the first day you came with Me, you have been asking yourself that question, and because you are simple and honest, you have been able to understand and accept the reply that came to you from Heaven. You did not see supernatural manifestations as your brother, John and James did. You did not know My holiness as son, workman, citizen, as My brothers Judas and James did. You did not receive any miracle neither did you see Me work any; I showed no sign of power to you as I did with Philip, Nathanael, Simon Cananean, Thomas and Judas, who saw them. You were not subdued by My will, as Levi the publican was. And yet you exclaimed: “He is the Christ!.” You believed since the first moment you saw Me, and your faith was never shaken. That is why I called you Cephas. And that is why on you, Peter, I will build My Church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you bind on earth, shall be bound also in Heaven. And whatever you loose on the earth shall be loosed also in Heaven, o prudent faithful man, whose heart I have been able to test. And now, from this moment you are the head, to whom obedience and respect are due as to another Myself. And I proclaim him such before all of you."
If Jesus had crushed Peter under a hailstorm of reproaches, Peter would not have wept so copiously. He is weeping and is shaken by sobs, with his face on Jesus' chest. His weeping can be compared only to the tears he will shed in his grief for denying Jesus. He now weeps for many good humble feelings... A little of the old Simon − the fisherman of Bethsaida who had laughed incredulously and facetiously at his brother's first announcement saying: "Of course, the Messiah would appear just to you!..." − a good little of the old Simon crumbles under those tears, and from his vanishing frail human nature, Peter appears, more and more clearly, the Pontiff of the Church of Christ.
When he raises his shy embarrassed face, he can make only one gesture to say everything, to promise everything, to strengthen himself completely for his new ministry: he throws his arms round Jesus' neck, compelling Him to bend and kiss him, mingling his somewhat bristly grizzled hair and beard with the soft golden hair and beard of Jesus. And he looks at Jesus with his large, loving, imploring and adoring eyes, still shining and red with tears, holding the Master's ascetic face, bent over his own, in his rough large stumpy hands, as if it were a vase from which a vital liquid flowed... and he drinks kindness, grace, confidence and strength from Jesus' face, eyes and smile...
They separate at last, and resume their journey towards Caesarea Philippi, and Jesus says to everybody: "Peter has spoken the truth. Many guess it, you are aware of it. But for the time being, do not say to anybody who the Christ is, in the full truth known to you. Let God speak to the hearts of people, as He speaks to yours. I solemnly tell you that those who add perfect faith and perfect love to My statements or yours, will learn the true meaning of the words “Jesus, the Christ, the Word, the Son of man and of God.”"