473. Going towards Sephoris.
17th August 1946.
"Get up and let us go" Jesus orders the apostles who are sleeping soundly on some hay - probably bog grass rather than hay - piled up near a little river, which is waiting for the autumn rains to fill its bed with water.
The apostles, still half asleep, obey without speaking. They pick up their sacks, put on the mantles which they had used as blankets during the night, and set out with Jesus.
"Are we going via the Carmel?"
"No, via Sephoris. We shall then take the road to Megiddo. We have just enough time…" replies Jesus.
"Yes. And the nights are becoming too damp and cold to sleep in the fields when for some reason no house gives us hospitality" remarks Matthew.
"Men! How easily they forget!… Lord? But will it always be like this?" asks Andrew.
"Well! If it is like this with You, when it is our turn, as soon as we turn our backs, everything will be cancelled" says Thomas downheartedly.
"But I say that there is someone who makes people forget. Because men, I agree, forget quite easily. But they do not always forget. I see that we men remember the things we have received and those which we have given. With regard to You, instead… No, it is always the same people who strive to cancel the memory of You" says Peter.
"Do not judge without a valid reason" says Jesus.
"Master, I have a good reason!"
"Have you? What have you discovered?" asks the Iscariot with keen interest, and at the same time other apostles ask the same question. But Judas is more eager, I would say that he is anxious.
Peter, who was looking at Jesus, turns round and looks at Judas… a quick, watchful suspicious glance, and he remains silent, while looking at him, for a moment. He then says: "Oh! nothing… and everything, if you do not mind being informed. Enough, if I were anxious to use every possible means to succeed, to go and report many facts to those who rule over us, and I am sure that someone would get into trouble. But I prefer not to be successful, rather than have help from that side. In matters concerning God I take only the help of God, and I would appear to be profaning the things of God if I should get them… to help to crush reptiles. They are reptiles themselves… and… I would not trust them… They are quite capable of crushing those who are denounced together with their denouncers… So… I act on my own. That's it!"
"But do you not realise that you are offending the Master?"
"I am? Why?"
"Because He approaches them."
"He is He, and if He approached them He does not do it for any profit, but to take them to God. He can do it… and He does. But He does not run after them… You can see that… they have to come to Him to hear “the philosopher” as they say. But I don't think that they are so anxious now. And I am not weeping over it."
"You seemed to be happy as well at Passover!"
"He seemed. Man is very often foolish. He no longer seems now, and he is not. And I am right."
"As a person who does not mix human profit with spiritual matters, you are right, Simon. But as an apostle who rejoices at other people moving away from the Light, no, you are not right. If you considered that every soul won over to the Light is a glory for your Master, you would not speak thus" says Jesus. Judas Iscariot looks at Peter with a sarcastic smile. Peter notices it… but he controls himself and does not say anything.
Jesus also notices it and, addressing Peter, but as if he were speaking to everybody He says: "You must know, however, that an excess of religious scruple, for a good purpose, is more justifiable than overlooking everything with indifference just to achieve a human aim. I have told you several times: it is the good will or the bad will which qualifies an action. And in this case it is good will, even if imperfect in its form, to oppose carrying human interests into superhuman matters, and what one considers unclean in the eyes of God. His intolerance is not fair because I have come for everybody. But his opinion is very close to perfection when he states that in the things of God one must have recourse only to His supernatural help, without begging for interested or utilitarian human help." And with this impartial judgement Jesus puts an end to the argument.
They have crossed another river-bed parched by summer heat without getting wet, and they have reached the main road which from Sicaminon takes one towards Samaria, I think, if I remember correctly the place I saw previously. The road is very busy because of the oncoming festivity and it has already assumed the typical aspect of Palestinian roads when pilgrimages to the Temple are compulsory. There are wayfarers, donkeys, carts carrying people, tents, household furnishings for stops at halting-places and even in Jerusalem, which is always overcrowded at solemnities, so much so that it is advisable to camp on the surrounding hills, weather permitting. In the present festival of the Tabernacles the emigration of entire families is more noticeable, not because pilgrims are more numerous than at Passover and Pentecost, but as they are compelled to live in tents for some days, they have household furnishings which on the occasion of other solemnities they leave at home. It is really the exodus of a people who rush from every direction towards the capital as blood, from every vein, flows towards the heart.
To understand even now the obstinate religion of Israel, so tenacious, so compact - whereby co-religionists help one another wherever they are, driven by destiny and, whatever the Country may be where they were born, that does not prevent another Jew of a different Country from always feeling that he is a brother and a fellow-country man of the co-religionist he meets - one must bear in mind that, although they are dispersed, persecuted, derided, apparently without a real Fatherland, they do not feel like that at all. They have their Fatherland, that their Jehovah gave them, they have their capital: Jerusalem, and from all over the world the best of their beings converges there: their spirits, their hearts. Have they sinned? Has God punished them? Have the prophecies come true? Yes, it is true. But they are still left with that bright cause of a shining hope: the reconstruction of the kingdom of Israel… of the Messiah Who is to come… And in the grief trembling with fear of having deserved to be censured by God, and in an everlasting question: "Was Jesus of Nazareth the true Messiah?" they try to be reconstituted as a Nation in order to have the Messiah; they try to keep their firm faith in their religion to deserve to be forgiven by God and see the promise accomplished.
I am a poor woman, I know nothing of political problems, I have never taken an interest in the present Jews and in their troubles, sometimes I even laughed at them as they are still awaiting Him Who has come and Whom they crucified, their tears seemed somewhat crocodilian to me, their actions did not seem and do not seem to be such as to deserve what they hope from God: not the Christ Who will come only on the Last Day, and not even the reconstruction of the scattered Jewish race as an independent Nation. But now that I spiritually see the ancestors of the present Jews, I understand their age-old tragedy and their tenacity, the source of their tenacity. They are still the People of God and by God's will they converge towards the land promised to their Fathers, to the Patriarchs, and for ages they have fulfilled the Mosaic rite, thinking of Jerusalem, of its Temple shining on the Moriah. Are they prevented from going there? Yes, they are. But their spirits go there.
Bayonets, guns, prisons serve against man, not against the spirit. Israel cannot perish because it has remained in its religion. A theoretic, Pharisaic, ritual religion devoid of what is the true life of a religion: the congruity of the spirit with the material rite? As you wish. But around the crumbled body that was a Nation, and is now numberless fragments scattered all over the Earth, there are ties of ideas, of rites, of age-old precepts, coming from prophets and rabbis, to keep it together and, like a lighthouse visible from all over the world, a place shines: Jerusalem, and its name is like a cry to rally them all, it is like a flag waved to recall them, it is a memento, a promise. No. This people cannot be silenced by any human power. There is a strength in it greater than human power.
All this is understood when one watches these people go along impervious roads, in uncomfortable seasons, heedless of what is painful, cheerful with the joy of going to the Holy City. It is understood seeing them go, rich people with poor fellows, children with old men, from Palestine or from the Diaspora towards their heart: Jerusalem. It is understood hearing them sing their songs… And, I confess it, I wish we, Christians and Catholics, were like them, and we had for the heart of Catholicism, Rome, the Church, and for him who lives in it: the present Peter, the feelings of these people whom I see go on and on untiringly; I wish we had what they have, and in addition our Faith, which is perfect because it is Christian.
One may object: "They are full of faults." And what about us? Are we faultless? We who have been fortified by Grace and the Sacraments? We who should be "perfect just as the Father Who is in Heaven is perfect"? I have digressed. But, following the march of the apostles mingled with the other crowds of Israel, my mind is active… At a cross-roads a group of disciples sees the Master and they crowd round Him. Among them there is Abel of Bethlehem, who throws himself immediately at Jesus' feet saying: "Master, I have prayed the Most High so much that He might make me meet You. And I had given up hope. But He has heard me. I beg You now to hear Your disciple."
"What do you want, Abel? Let us go over there, to the edge of the field. There are too many people here and we are causing trouble to them."
They all go in a group to the spot pointed out by Jesus and Abel says what he wants. "Master, You saved me from death and from slander and You made me one of Your disciples. So do You love me very much?"
"How can you ask Me that?"
"I am asking You to be sure that You will hear my prayer. When You saved me, You punished my enemies with a terrible chastisement. You gave it, so it must be right. But, oh! Lord! it is so horrible! I looked for those three men. I looked for them every time I came to see my mother: in the mountains, in the caves near my town. But I could never find them."
"Why were you looking for them.?"
"To speak to them of You, Lord. That believing in You, they might invoke You and be forgiven and cured. I found them only in summer, but they were not together. One, the one who hated me because of my mother, left the others who went farther up, towards the highest mountains of Jiphthahel. They told me where he is staying… And I was given indications of their whereabouts by some shepherds of Bethlehem, the ones who gave You hospitality that night. Shepherds wander about quite a lot with their flocks, and they know many things. They knew that the two lepers I was looking for were in the mountain of the Beautiful Spring. I went there. Oh…" Horror appears on the face of the young man, who is still an adolescent.
"They recognised me. But I could not recognise my fellowcitizens in those two monsters… They called me… and they prayed me, as if I were a god… The servant in particular aroused my pity, because of his sincere repentance. He wants nothing but Your forgiveness, Lord… Aser wants also to be cured. He has an old mother, Lord, an old mother who is dying broken-hearted in town…"
"And the other one? Why did he go away?"
"Because he is a demon. He is the most guilty one, he was already an adulterer when he became homicide, he incited Aser, he corrupted Joel's servant who is a bit silly and easily subdued, and he continues to be a demon. From his lips hatred and curses, from his heart hatred and cruelty. I saw him as well… I wanted to convince him to be good. He threw himself against me like a vulture and I found my salvation only in taking to flight, and as I am young and healthy I was able to run fast and for a good distance. But I have not lost all hope of saving him. I will go back… Once, twice, many times with succour and love and I will make him love me. He thinks that I go to sneer at his ruin. But I go to rebuild it. If he succeeds in loving me, he will listen to me, and if he listens to me he will end up by believing in You. That is what I want. Oh! it was easy with the others because they meditated and understood by themselves. And the servant has become the simple master of the other one, because there is so much faith in him and such a great desire to be forgiven. Come, Lord! I promised them that I would take You to see them whenever I met You."
"Abel, their crime was a grave one, many crimes in one. They have expiated only for a short time…"
"Their torture has been great, and also their repentance. Do come."
"Abel, they wanted your life."
"It does not matter, Lord. I want to give them life."
"The life You give, the life of the spirit, forgiveness, redemption."
"Abel, they were your Cains, and no one could have hated you more than they did. They wanted to deprive you of everything: of your life, honour and mother…"
"They have been my benefactors, because I had You through them. I love them because of that gift and I ask You to grant them to be where I am, among Your followers. I want their salvation like mine, more than mine, because their sin is greater."
"What would you offer God in exchange for their salvation, if He should ask you for an offer?"
Abel thinks for a moment… then he says sure of himself: "Even myself. My life. I would lose a handful of rubbish to possess Heaven. A happy loss. A great, infinite gain: God, Heaven. And two sinners would be saved: the first-born of the flock, which I hope to lead and offer to You, Lord."
Jesus makes a gesture which He never makes thus in public. He bends, because He is much taller than Abel, and taking his head with His hands, He kisses his lips saying: "Let it be so", at least I think that is what His "Maranatha" means. And He adds: "Because of your feeling let it be done to you according to the request of your words. Come with Me. You will lead Me. John, come with Me. And you can all go on, to Engannim via the Megiddo road. You will wait for Me there, if you do not meet Me before."
"And we shall preach You and Your doctrine" says the Iscariot.
"No. You will wait. Nothing else, behaving like just and humble pilgrims, nothing else. And be like brothers to one another. And on your way you will call on Johanan's peasants and will give them what you have and tell them that, if possible, the Master will pass through Jezreel at dawn, in two days' time, as from today. Go. Peace be with you."