18th January 1945.
I see the Jordan ford once again: the green road coasting the river on both banks, beaten by many travellers on account of its `lade. Lines of little donkeys come and go, as well as many people. On the bank of the river, three men are pasturing a few sheep.
Joseph is on the road, waiting, and he looks up and down.
Jesus appears in the distance, with His three disciples, at the junction of the river path with the main road. Joseph calls the shepherds, who lead the sheep on to the road, driving them along the grassy bank. They walk fast towards Jesus.
« I haven't got the courage… What shall I say to greet Him? »
« Oh! He is so good! Say: “Peace be with You.” He always says that. »
« Yes, He… but we… »
« And what about me? I am not even one of His first worshippers, and He is so fond of me… oh! so fond! »
« Which one is it? »
« The tallest One, with fair hair. »
« Matthias, will we tell Him of the Baptist? »
« Of course we will! »
« Will He not think that we preferred the Baptist to Him? »
« No, Simeon. If He is the Messiah, He can see into the hearts of men, and in ours He will see that in the Baptist we were still looking for Him. »
« Yes, you are right. »
The two groups are now a few yards apart. Jesus is already smiling His indescribable smile. Joseph hastens his step. Also the sheep begin to run urged by the herdsmen.
« Peace be with you » says Jesus raising His arms as if He were embracing them. And He specifies:
« Peace to you, Simeon, John and Matthias, faithful to Me, and faithful to John the Prophet! Peace to you, Joseph » and He kisses him on his cheeks. The other three are now on their knees. « Come, My friends. Under these trees, on the exposed river-bed and let us talk. »
They go down and Jesus sits on a large protruding root, the others on the ground. Jesus smiles and looks at them intently, one by one: « Let Me become familiar with your faces. Your souls are already known to Me, souls that seek and love what is good contrary to all worldly yearnings. Isaac, Elias and Levi send you their regards, and there are other greetings, from My Mother. Have You any news of the Baptist? »
The men, so far gagged by embarrassment, take heart. They find words at last: « He is still in jail. Our hearts tremble for him, because he is in the hands of a cruel man who is dominated by an infernal creature and is surrounded by a corrupted court. We love him… You know that we love him and that he deserves our love. After you left Bethlehem, we were persecuted by men… but we were distressed and disheartened because we had lost You, rather than by their hatred, and we were like trees uprooted by the wind. Then, after years of suffering, like a man, whose eyelashes have been stitched, endeavors to see the sun, but cannot, also because he is closed in a prison, but feels the warmth of the sun on his body, we felt that the Baptist was the man of God, foreseen by the Prophets to prepare the way to His Christ and we went to him. We said: “If the Baptist precedes Him, if we go to the Baptist, we will find Him.” Because, my Lord, it was You we were looking for. »
« I know, and you found Me. And now I am with you. »
« Joseph told us that You came to the Baptist. But we were not there that day. Perhaps he had sent us somewhere. We serve him, in spiritual matters, when he asked us, with so much love, and we listened to him with love, although he was so severe, because he was not You – the Word – but he always spoke words of God. »
« I know. And do you know this man? » and He points to John.
« We saw him with the other Galileans in the crowds which were most faithful to the Baptist. And, if we are not mistaken, you are the one whose name is John, and of whom he used to say to us, his closest disciples: “Here: I am the first, he is the last. And then: he will be the first and I the last.” But we never understood what he meant. ».
Jesus turns round to His left side where John is and He draws him against His heart and with a most kind smile He explains: « He meant that he was the first to say: “Here is the Lamb” and that John here will be the last of the friends of the Son of man, to speak of the Lamb to the crowds; but that in the heart of the Lamb, John is the first, because he is dearer than any other man to the Lamb. That is what he meant. But when you see the Baptist – You will see him again, and you will serve him again until the predetermined hour – tell him that he is not the last in Christ's heart. Not so much because of the blood, as on account of his holiness, he is loved as much as John. And remember that. If the saint in his humility proclaims himself “last”, the Word of God proclaims him equal to the disciple who is dear to Me.. Tell him that I love this disciple because he has the same name and because I find in him the signs of the Baptist, who prepares the souls for Christ. »
« We will tell him… But will we see him again? ».
« Yes, you will. »
« Yes, Herod dare not kill him for fear of the people and at his court, which is full of greed and corruption, it would be easy to free him if we had a lot of money. But, although there is quite a lot – because friends have given a lot – there is still a lot missing. And we are afraid we will not be in time… and he may be killed. ».
« How much do you think you need for the ransom? »
« Not for his ransom, Lord. He is hated too much by Herodias and she has too much control of Herod, to think of the possibility of a ransom. But I think that all the greedy people of the kingdom have gathered at Machaerus. Everybody is anxious to have a good time and stand out, from the ministers down to the servants. And to do that, they need money… We have also found who would let the Baptist out for a large sum of money. Perhaps also Herod would prefer that… because he is afraid. Not for any other reason. He is afraid of the people and afraid of his wife. In that way, he could please the people, and his wife could not accuse him of disappointing her. »
« And how much does that person want? »
« Twenty silver talents. But we have only twelve and a half. »
« Judas, you said that those jewels are beautiful. »
« Yes, beautiful and valuable. »
« How much will they be worth? I think you are an expert. »
« Yes, I am a good judge. Why do You want to know how much they are worth, Master? Do You want to sell them? Why? »
« Perhaps… Tell Me: how much will they be worth? »
« At least six talents, if they are sold well. »
« Are you sure? »
« Yes, Master. The necklace by itself, so big and heavy, of the purest gold, is worth at least three talents. I have examined it carefully. And also the bracelets… I don't know how Aglae's thin wrists could hold them. »
« They were her shackles, Judas. »
« That's true, Master… But so many would like to have such beautiful shackles! »
« Do you think so? Who? »
« Well… many people! »
« Yes, many who are human beings only by name… And do you know a possible buyer? »
« So, do You want to sell them? And is it for the Baptist? But look, it's cursed gold! »
« Oh! Human inconsistency! You have just said with evident desire, that many people would love to have that gold, and then you say it is cursed?! Judas, Judas!… It is cursed, indeed. But she said: “It will be sanctified if it is used for poor and holy people” and that is why she gave it, that who benefits by it, may pray for her poor soul that like the embryo of a future butterfly swells in the seed of her heart. Who is holier and poorer than the Baptist? He is equal to Elijah in his mission but greater than Elijah in holiness. He is poorer than I am. I have a Mother and a home… And when one has such things, and pure and holy as I have, one is never forlorn. He no longer has a home, and he has not got even the tomb of his mother. Everything has been violated and desecrated by human iniquity. So who is the buyer? »
« There is one in Jericho and there are many in Jerusalem. But the one in Jericho!!! He is a shrewd Levantine gold-beater, a usurer, a middleman, a pander, he is certainly a thief, probably a killer, he is definitely persecuted by Rome. He has changed his name to Isaac, to be considered a Hebrew… But his real name is Diomedes. I know him very well… »
« Yes, we see that! » intervenes Simon Zealot, who speaks little, but notices everything. And he asks:
« How come you know him so well? »
« Well… you know… In order to please certain mighty friends. I went to see him… and did some business… You know… we of the Temple… »
« I know… you do all sorts of jobs » Simon ends with cold irony. Judas flares up, but keeps silent.
« Will he buy? » asks Jesus.
« I think so. He has plenty money. Of course, one must be skilful in selling because the Greek is shrewd and if he realizes he is dealing with an honest person, with a nestling dove, he plucks him mercilessly. But if he has to deal with a vulture like himself… »
« You ought to go, Judas. You are the right man. You are as sly as a fox and as raptorial as a vulture. Oh! Forgive me, Master. I spoke before You! » says Simon Zealot again.
« I am of the same opinion, and I will therefore tell Judas to go. John, you will go with him. We will meet again at sunset, and the meeting place will be the market square. Go. And do your best. »
Judas gets up at once. John's eyes are imploring like a chastened puppy's. But Jesus is speaking to the shepherds and does not notice John's imploring look. And John sets out behind Judas.
« I would like to see you happy » says Jesus.
« You will always make us happy, Master. May God bless You for it. Is that man a friend of Yours? »
« Yes, he is. Do you think he should not be? »
The shepherd John lowers his head, and keeps silent. Simon, the disciple, speaks: « Only who is good, can, see. I am not good, and therefore I do not see what Bounty sees. I see the exterior. Who is good penetrates also into the interior. You, John, see as I do. But the Master is good… and sees… »
« What do you see in Judas, Simon? I want you to tell Me. »
« Well, when I look at him, I think of certain mysterious places which look like dens of wild beasts and malarial ponds. Only a huge tangle can be seen and one is frightened, and keeps clear… Instead… behind it there are turtle-doves and nightingales and the soil is rich in healthy waters and beneficial herbs. I want to believe that Judas is like that… I think he must be, because You chose him. And You know… »
« Yes, I know… There are many flaws in the heart of that man… But he has some good points. You saw that yourself in Bethlehem and in Kerioth. And his good points which are humanly good are to be raised to a spiritual goodness. Judas will then be as you would like him to be. He is young… »
« Also John is young… »
« And in your heart, you conclude that he is better. But John is John! Love poor Judas, Simon, I beg you.. If you love him… he will appear to be better. »
« I endeavor to love him, for Your sake. But he breaks all my efforts as if they were water canes… But, Master, there is only one law for me: to do what You want. I will therefore love Judas, although something within me shouts against him and towards myself. »
« What, Simon? »
« I do not know exactly what it is: something that resembles the cry of the night watchman… and says to me: “Do not sleep! Watch!” I do not know. That something has no name. But it is here… in me, against him. »
« Forget about it, Simon. Do not trouble to give it a definition. It is better not to know certain truths… and you might be mistaken. Leave it to your Master. Give Me your love, and you can be sure that it makes Me happy… »
And it all ends.