10th February 1945.
Jesus is walking beside Jonathan along a green shady embankment. The apostles are behind talking among themselves. But Peter parts from them and comes forward and, as frank as usual, he asks Jonathan: « But was the road to Caesarea Philippi not quicker? We have taken this one… but when will we arrive? You went that way with your mistress, didn't you? »
« With an invalid I dared everything. But you must realize that I am a courtier of Antipas, and Philip after that filthy incest, does not approve of Herod's courtiers… You know, I am not afraid for myself. But I do not want to cause trouble to you, and particularly to the Master, and make enemies for you. In Philip's Tetrarchy, the Word is required, as in Antipas'… and if they hate you, how will you manage? On your way back you can come this way, if you prefer to do so. »
« I praise your prudence, Jonathan. But coming back I intend passing through the Phoenician region » says Jesus.
« They are enveloped in the darkness of errors. »
« I will call at the border areas to remind them that there is a Light. »
« Do you think that Philip would revenge himself on a servant for the wrong he received from his brother? »
« Yes, Peter. They are both alike. They are dominated by the lowest instincts and they make no distinction. They seem animals, not men, believe me. »
« And yet he should be fond of us, that is, of Him, a relative of John's. John after all spoke in his name and on his behalf, when he spoke in the name of God. »
« He would not even ask you where you came from or who you are. If you were seen with me, if he recognized me or if I was pointed out to him by an enemy of Antipas' household as the servant of his Procurator, you would be imprisoned at once. If you knew how much mud there is behind purple dresses! Revenge, abuse of power, betrayals, lust, thefts are the nourishment of their souls. Souls?… Well! Let us say so. I think they have no souls any longer. You can see. It ended well. But why was John freed? Because of a feud between two court officials. One, to get rid of the other, who was so favored by Antipas that John was placed in his custody, for a sum of money opened the jail at night… I think he must have dulled his rival's senses with a drugged wine, and the following morning… the poor fellow was beheaded in place of the Baptist who had escaped. Disgusting, I tell you. »
« And your master stays there? He seems to be a good man. »
« He is. But he cannot do otherwise. His father and his grandfather were at the court of Herod the Great, and the son was compelled to be there. He does not approve. But he can only keep his wife away from that vicious court. »
« Could he not say: “You are disgusting” and go away? »
« He could. But, although he is so good, he is not yet capable of such a deed. It would almost certainly mean death. And who is anxious to die because of his soul's honesty, elevated to the highest degree? A saint like the Baptist. But we, poor people! »
Jesus, Who has allowed them to speak among themselves, comes in: « Before long in all known areas of the world the saints happy to die for such fidelity to Grace and for the love of God will be as thick as flowers on a meadow in April. »
« Really? Oh! I would like to greet those saints and say to them: “Pray for poor Simon of Jonas!” » says Peter.
Jesus looks steadfastly at him smiling.
« Why are You looking at me like that? »
« Because you will see them as their assistant and you will see them when they assist you. »
« For what, Lord? »
« To become the Stone consecrated by the Sacrifice, on which My Testimony will be celebrated and built. »
« I do not understand You. »
« You will understand. »
The other disciples, who have come near and have listened, talk among themselves.
Jesus turns round: « I solemnly tell you that you will all be tested by one torture or another. For the time being it is the renunciation of comfort, of affections, of material profit. Afterwards it will be a greater and greater thing, up to the sublime thing that will crown you with an immortal diadem. Be faithful. And you will all be faithful. And that is what you will have. »
« Will the Jews, the Sanhedrin, perhaps kill us because of our love for You? »
« Jerusalem washes the thresholds of its Temple in the blood of its Prophets and its Saints. But also the world is waiting to be washed… There are many temples of dreadful gods. They will in future be temples of the true God, and the leprosy of paganism will be cleansed by the lustral water made with the blood of martyrs. »
« Oh! Most High God! Lord! Master! I am not worthy of so much! I am so weak! Afraid of evil! Oh! Lord!… Either send away Your useless servant or give me strength. I would not like to make You cut a poor figure with my cowardice. » Peter has thrown himself at the feet of the Master and He really implores Him with heartfelt words.
« Stand up, My dear Peter. Do not be afraid. You still have a long way to go… and the time will come when you will wish only to endure your final trial. And then you will have everything, both from Heaven and from yourself. I will be looking at you full of admiration. »
« You say so… and I believe it. But I am such a poor man! »
They resume walking…
… and after a long interruption I begin to see again when they have already-left the plain to climb up a very high wooded mountain. Probably it is not even the same day, because whilst then it was a very torrid morning, now a beautiful dawn causes tiny liquid diamonds to sparkle on all the stems. Endless coniferous forests have been left behind and they dominate from their height and like green cathedrals they receive the untiring pilgrims amongst their columns.
Lebanon is really a wonderful mountain chain. I do not know whether the whole chain is Lebanon or only this mountain. I know that I can see well-wooded mountain ranges rise in a high tangle of ridges and cliffs, of valleys and plateaux, along which torrents like light green-blue silver ribbons flow and then fall into the valleys. All kinds of birds fill the forests of conifers with their warblings and their flights, and the morning air is perfumed with the fragrance of resins. On turning towards the valley, or rather, to the west, one can see the wide, quiet, solemn sea, so pleasant to the view, and the coast, which stretches northwards and southwards, with its towns, its harbours, and the few water-courses, that flow into the sea, and look like shiny commas on the arid land, so scarce is their water which the summer sun dries up, and seem yellowish finger marks on the blue sea.
« These are lovely places » remarks Peter.
« And it is not even very warm » says Simon.
« The sun is no trouble because of the trees » adds Matthew.
« Did they get the Temple cedars here? » asks John.
« Yes, they did. These forests yield the most beautiful wood. Daniel and Benjamin's master owns many of them as well as large herds. They saw the trunks on the spot and then carry them down to the valley along those gullies or by strength of arms. It is hard work when the trunks are to be used totally undressed, as was so in the case of the Temple. But he pays well and many work for him. And then he is quite good. He is not like cruel Doras. Poor Jonah! » replies Jonathan.
« Why are his servants almost slaves? When I said to Jonah: “Leave him in the lurch and come with us. Simon of Jonas will always have some bread for you”; he replied: “I cannot, unless I redeem myself.” What is the situation? »
« Doras, and he is not the only one in Israel, is used to doing this: when he sees a good servant, he makes him a slave by subtle cunning. He debits him with false amounts of money, which the poor man cannot pay, and when the sum is sufficient he says: “You are my slave by debt.” »
« Oh! What a shame! And he is a Pharisee! »
« Yes, as long as Jonah had some savings, he was able to pay… then… one year it was a hailstorm, the next year the drought. Corn and vineyards yielded little and Doras multiplied the damage by ten, and by ten again… Then Jonah was taken ill through excessive fatigue. And Doras lent him the money for the cure, but he exacted repayment twelve to one, and as Jonah could not pay, he added it to the rest. In short: after a few years there was a debt that made him a slave. And he will not let him go… He will always find other excuses and other debts… » Jonathan is sad thinking of his friend.
« And could your master not… »
« What? Have him treated as a human being? And who would go against the Pharisees? Doras is one of the most powerful ones; I think that he is also a relative of the High Priest… At least so they say. Once, when he was thrashed almost to death, and I was told, I wept so much that Chuza said to me: “I will redeem him to make you happy.” But Doras laughed in his face and would not accept anything. Eh! That rascal… He owns the best fields in Israel… but I can assure You: they are fertilised by the blood and tears of his servants. »
Jesus looks at the Zealot and the Zealot looks at Him. They are both grieved.
« And is Daniel's master good? »
« At least he is human. He exacts, but he does not oppress. And, as the shepherds are honest, he treats them with affection. They are responsible for the pastures. He knows and respects me because I am a servant of Chuza… and I may be useful to him… But why, my Lord, is man so selfish? »
« Because love was strangled in the earthly Paradise. But I have come to loosen the noose and to give life back to love. »
« Here we are in Elisha's estate. The pastures are still far away. But at this time the sheep are almost always in the folds because of the heat. I'll go and see if they are there. » And Jonathan runs away.
He comes back after some time with two robust grey-haired herdsmen, who really dash down the slope to meet Jesus.
« Peace to you. »
« Oh! Oh! Our Baby of Bethlehem! » says one, and the other: « May the peace of God, which has come to us, be blessed. » The two men are prone on the grass. The reverence paid to an altar is not so deep as the present reverence for the Master.
« Stand up. I reciprocate your blessing, and I am happy to do so because it descends joyfully on whoever is worthy of it. »
« Oh! We worthy! »
« Yes, you are, because you have always been faithful. »
« And who would not have been faithful? Who can forget that hour? Who can say: “It is not true what we saw?” Who can forget that You smiled at us for months, when we used to call You in the evening, when we came back with our sheep and you clapped your hands to the sound, of our pipes?… Do you remember, Daniel? Almost always dressed in white in Your Mother's arms, You appeared to us in the sun-rays in Anne's meadow or at the window, and You looked like a flower on Your Mother's Snowwhite dress. »
« And once You came, taking Your first steps, to caress a little lamb, not quite so curly as You! How happy You were! And we did not know what to do with our rustic persons. We would have liked to be angels to be less coarse… »
« Oh! My friends. I saw your hearts, and I still see them now. »
« And You smile at us as You did then! »
« And You came here to see us poor shepherds! »
« To My friends. I am happy now. I have found you all and I will not lose you any more. Can you give hospitality to the Son of man and His friends? »
« Oh! Lord! Do You have to ask us? We are not short of bread and milk. But if we had only one morsel, we would give it to You, to have You here with us. Is that right, Benjamin? »
« We would give You our hearts as food, our longed for Lord! »
« Let us go then. We shall speak of God… »
« And of Your relatives, Lord. Joseph, so good! Mary… Oh! She: the Mother! See, look at this dewy narcissus. It is beautiful and pure and its top is like a diamond star. But She… Oh! this flower is insignificant when compared to the Mother! A smile of Hers was purification, to meet Her was a feast, to listen to Her was to be sanctified. Do you remember Her words, too, Benjamin? »
« Yes, and I can repeat them for you. Because what She told us, during the months we could listen to Her, is written here (and he strikes his chest). It is the page of our wisdom. And we also understand it, because it is a word of love. And love… oh! love is understood by everybody! Come, Lord, come in and bless our happy abode. »
They enter a room near the large fold and it all ends.