497. The Man from Petra, near Heshbon.
22nd September 1946.
I cannot see the town of Heshbon. Jesus and His apostles are coming out of it and from their looks I realise that they are disappointed. They are followed, or rather chased, a few metres away, by a bawling threatening crowd...
"These places around the Dead Sea are cursed like the sea itself" says Peter. "This place! It is still the same as in Moses' days and You are too kind to punish it as it was punished then. But that is what is needed: to subdue the people with the power of Heaven or with that of the Earth, all of them, to the last man and the last place" says Nathanael angrily, his sunk en eyes flashing with wrath. The Jewish race shows up remarkably in the lean elderly apostle in his outburst of indignation and makes him look very much like the many rabbis and Pharisees who always oppose Jesus.
And the Master turns round and lifting His arm He says: "Peace! Peace! They will be drawn to the Truth as well. But peace is necessary. And compassion. We have never been here. They do not know us. Other places were like that the first time, they then changed."
"The trouble is that these places are like Masada. Corrupted! Let us go back to the Jordan" says Peter insisting.
But Jesus proceeds southwards along the main road, which they have taken again. Those who are most enraged with Him continue to follow Him, drawing the attention of wayfarers all the time.
One, who must be a rich merchant or employed by a merchant, and is driving a long caravan going northwards, watches with astonishment and stops his camel. All the others stop at the same time. He looks at Jesus, he looks at the apostles, whose appearance is so defenceless and benign, he looks at the bawling crowds which arrive threateningly and he asks them what it is all about. I cannot hear his words, but I hear those shouted in reply: "He is the cursed Nazarene, the mad possessed Nazarene. We don't want Him within our walls!"
The man does not ask any further question. He turns the camel round, he shouts something to one of his men who was following him closely and he goads his animal which, with few curvets, reaches the apostles. "In the name of your God, which of you is Jesus the Nazarene?" he asks the apostles Matthew, Philip, Simon Zealot and Isaac, who are in the last group.
"Why do you want to know? Do you want to molest Him as well? Are His fellow-countrymen not enough? Do you want to start, too?" says Philip quite worriedly.
"I am not as bad as they are. And I am seeking grace. Do not reject me. I beg you in the name of your God."
Something in the man's voice convinces the four apostles and Simon says: "The one ahead of everybody, with the two youngest ones."
The man goads his camel again because Jesus, Who was ahead, has gone even farther away during the short conversation of which He is unaware.
"Lord!... Listen to an unhappy man..." he says, as soon as he catches up with Him. Jesus, John and Marjiam turn round quite astonished. "What do you want?"
"I come from Petra, Lord. I carry goods coming from the Red Sea as far as Damascus, on behalf of other people. I am not poor. But I am just as unhappy. I have two children, Lord, and a disease has affected their eyes and they are blind; one, who was taken ill first, is completely blind, the other is almost blind and will soon lose his sight completely. Doctors do not work miracles, but You do." "How do you know?"
"I know a rich merchant who knows You. He often stops in my enclosure and at times I serve him. When he saw my sons he said to me: “Only Jesus of Nazareth could cure them. Look for Him”. I would have looked for You. But I do not have much time and I have to follow the most suitable roads."
"When did you see Alexander?"
"Between your two springtime festivals. Since then I have made two trips but I never met You. Lord, have mercy!"
"Man, I cannot go down as far as Petra, and you cannot leave the caravan..."
"Of course I can. Arisa is a reliable man. I will tell him to go on slowly. I will fly to Petra. My camel is faster than the wind in the desert and more agile than a gazelle. I will take my children and another faithful servant. I will catch up with You. You will cure them... Oh! light in their dark eyes as beautiful as stars, now dimmed by a thick cloud! Then I will carry on, while they go back to their mother. I see that You are going on, Lord. Where are You going?"
"I was going to Dibon..."
"Don't go there. It is full of those... of Machaerus. Cursed places, Lord. Don't abandon unhappy people, Lord, to give Yourself to those who are cursed."
"Just what I was thinking" mutters Bartholomew into his beard, and many say that he is right.
By now all the people are around Jesus and the man from Petra. On the contrary, the citizens of Heshbon, seeing that the caravan is well disposed to the persecuted Master, retrace their steps. The caravan, standing still, is awaiting the outcome and the decision.
"Man, if I do not go to the towns in the south, I will go back to the north. But that does not mean that I will listen to you."
"I know that I am contemptible for you Israelites. I am uncircumcised and I do not deserve being listened to. But You are the King of the world, and we are in the world, too..."
"That is not the point. The matter is... How can you believe that I can do what doctors were not able to do?"
"Because You are the Messiah of God and they are men. You are the Son of God. Misace told me and I believe it. You can do everything, also for a poor man like me." His reply is a resolute one and the man completes it by sliding down to the ground, without even getting his camel to kneel down, and he prostrates himself in the dust.
"Your faith is greater than that of many. Go. Do you know where mount Nebo is?"
"Yes, Lord. That is mount Nebo. We also have heard of Moses. A great man! Too great to be ignored. But You are greater. The comparison between You and Moses is like that between a mountain and a stone."
"Go to Petra. I will be waiting for you on mount Nebo..."
"There is a village at the foot of the mountain for visitors. And there are hotels... I shall be there in ten days' time at most. I will force my camel and if He Who sends You protects me, I shall not meet any storm."
"Go and come back as soon as possible. I must go to other places..."
"Lord! I... am not circumcised. My blessing is a dishonour for You. But the blessing of a father is never so. I bless You and I am off."
He takes a silver whistle and blows it three times. The man at the head of the caravan comes back at a gallop. They speak to each other and then say goodbye. The man goes back to the caravan which sets off. The other man mounts his camel again and departs southwards at a gallop.
Jesus and His apostles set forth again.
"Are we really going to mount Nebo?"
"Yes, and we shall leave the towns and climb the slopes of the Abarim mountains. There will be many shepherds. And we shall learn from them the road to mount Nebo and we shall teach them the Way to the mountain of God. And we shall stop there for a few days, as we did on the mountains of Arbela and near mount Cherit."
"Oh! how lovely it will be! And we shall become better. We were always stronger and better when we came down from those places" says John.
"And You will speak to us of everything that Nebo reminds us of. Brother, do You remember, when we were children, that one day you played Moses who blessed Israel before dying?" says Judas of Alphaeus.
"Yes. And Your Mother uttered a cry seeing You lie down as if You were dead? Now we are really going to mount Nebo" says James of Alphaeus. "And You will bless Israel. You are the true Leader of the people of God!" exclaims Nathanael.
"But You will not die there. You will never die, will You, Master?" asks Judas of Kerioth with a strange giggle.
"I shall die and rise as it has been stated. Many men will die without being dead on that day. And while the just will rise again, even if they have been dead for years, those living in their bodies but whose spirits are definitely dead, shall not rise again. Make sure you are not one of them."
"And You make sure that no one hears You repeat that You will rise again. They say it is blasphemy" replies Judas of Kerioth.
"It is the truth. And I say it."
"What faith that man has! And that Misace!" says the Zealot trying to make a digression.
"But who is Misace?" ask those who last year did not take part in the journey beyond the Jordan. And they go away speaking of those events, while Jesus resumes with Marjiam and John the thread of their interrupted discourse.