10th May 1945.
« Master! Master! Do You know who is ahead of us? There is rabbi Gamaliel! He is sitting with his servants, in a caravan, in the shade in a wood, sheltered from the winds! They are roasting a lamb. What are we going to do now? »
« What we were going to do, My friends. We will proceed along our way...»
« But Gamaliel is of the Temple. »
« Gamaliel is not wicked, Do not be afraid. I will go ahead. »
« Oh! I am coming too » say His cousins at the same time, as well as all the Galileans and Simon. Only the Iscariot, and to a lesser degree, Thomas, do not seem very anxious to proceed. But they follow the others.
They walk for a few yards along a mountainous road deep set between the wooded slopes of the mountain. The road then bends and opens on to a kind of tableland and crosses it, widening out, and soon after that it becomes once again narrow and winding under a roof of interwoven branches. In a sunny bare patch, which is however shaded by the first leaves of the wood, there are many people under a rich tent, while other people are busy in a corner turning the lamb on the fire.
There is no doubt about it! Gamaliel took very good care of himself. For one person travelling he set a crowd of servants in motion with I do not know how much luggage. He is now sitting in the centre of his tent: a cloth supported by four gilt poles, a kind of canopy under which there are low seats covered with cushions and a table the top of which rests on carved wooden legs. A very fine table-cloth is spread on the table and the servants are laying valuable dishes on it. Gamaliel looks like an idol. With his hands open on his knees, stiff and hieratic, he looks like a statue to me. The servants move round him like large butterflies. But he pays no attention to them. He is pondering, his eyelashes rather lowered on his severe eyes, and when he raises them, his deep very dark pensive eyes are displayed in all their severe beauty at the sides of a long thin nose and under the high rather bald forehead of an elderly man. His forehead is marked by three parallel wrinkles and by a large bluish vein which forms a V shaped angle in the centre of his right temple.
The noise of the oncoming people causes the servants to turn round. Gamaliel also looks round. He sees Jesus approaching ahead of everyone and he makes a gesture of surprise. He stands up and moves to the edge of the tent, but no farther. From there he bows low with his arms crossed on his chest. Jesus replies to him in the same way.
« You are here, Rabbi? » asks Gamaliel.
« I am here, rabbi » replies Jesus.
« May I ask You where You are going? »
« It is a pleasure for Me to tell you. I am coming from Naphtali and I am going to Giscala. »
« On foot? But it is a hard and long road along these mountains. You are tiring Yourself too much. »
« Believe Me. If I am welcomed and listened to, all tiredness disappears. »
« Well, then... allow me to be for once the one who will remove Your fatigue. The lamb is ready. We would have left the leavings to the birds because I never take them with me. You can see that it is no trouble for me to offer food to You and to Your followers. I am friendly to You, Jesus. I do not consider You inferior to me, but greater than I am. »
« I believe you. And I accept your hospitality. »
Gamaliel speaks to a servant who appears to be the highest in authority and who passes on the order. The tent is extended and more seats and dishes for Jesus' disciples are taken off the many mules.
They bring bowls to purify their fingers. Jesus performs the rite with the greatest courtliness, whereas the apostles, on whom Gamaliel is casting sharp sidelong glances, do so as well as they can, with the exception of Simon, Judas of Kerioth, Bartholomew and Matthew, who are more accustomed to Jewish refinements.
Jesus is beside Gamaliel who is alone on one side of the table. The Zealot is in front of Jesus. After the prayer of thanksgiving, which Gamaliel says with calm solemnity, the servants carve the lamb and divide it among the guests and they fill the cups with wine or water sweetened with honey, for those who prefer it.
« We have met by chance, Rabbi. I was never expecting to see You and on the way to Giscala. »
« I am going towards the whole world. »
« Yes, You are the indefatigable Prophet. John is the stationary one, You are the roaming One. »
« It is easier, therefore, for souls to find Me. »
« I would not say so. Your continuous moving about, disorientates them. »
« I disorientate My enemies. But those who want Me, because they love the Word of God, find Me. Not everybody can come to the Master. And the Master, Who wants everybody, goes to everybody, helping thus the good and warding off the conspiracies of those who hate Me. »
« Are You referring to me? I do not hate You. »
« Not to you. But since you are just and frank, you can say that I am speaking the truth. »
« Yes, it is so. But... see... The fact is that we old people do not understand You well. »
« Yes, old Israel does not understand Me well. That is her misfortune... and because of her will. »
« No, no. »
« Yes, rabbi. They are not willing to understand the Master. And who confines himself to that, does evil, but a comparative evil. Many instead deliberately misunderstand and distort My word to harm God. »
« God? He is above human snares. »
« Yes. But every soul that goes astray or is led astray, – and it is misleading to distort My word or My work, both with regard to oneself and to other people, – harms God in the soul which is lost. Every soul that is lost is a wound to God. »
Gamaliel lowers his head, and closing his eyes, he meditates. He then presses his forehead between his long thin fingers, in an involuntary gesture of pain. Jesus watches him. Gamaliel raises his head, opens his eyes, looks at Jesus and says: « But You know that I am not one of those. »
« I know. But you are one of the former. »
« Oh! It is true. But it is not true that I am not willing to understand You. The truth is that Your word stops on my mind and does not penetrate farther. My mind admires it as the word of a learned man and the spirit...»
« And the spirit cannot receive it, Gamaliel, because it is encumbered with too many things. And ruined things. A short while ago, coming here from Naphtali, I passed near a mountain, which juts out from the mountain chain. I was pleased to pass there to see the two beautiful lakes of Gennesaret and Merom, from high above, as eagles and the angels of the Lord see them, to say once again: “Thank You, Creator, for the beauty You grant us.” Well, whilst the whole mountain is covered with flowers, green meadows, orchards, fields, woods, and the laurels smell sweet near the olive-trees, preparing the white host of thousands and thousands of flowers and also the strong oak-tree seems to become gentler as it dresses itself with wreaths of clematis and woodbine: over there, there is no flowering, no fertility, neither of man nor of nature. All the efforts of the winds, all the toil of men are frustrated because the Cyclopean ruins of ancient Hatzor encumber everything and between one large stone and another only nettles and bushes can grow and snakes can hide. Gamaliel...»
« I understand. We are ruins, too... I understand the parable, Jesus. But... I cannot... I cannot... do otherwise. The stones are too heavy. »
« One in Whom you believed said to you: “The stones shall vibrate hearing My last words.” But why wait for the last words of the Messiah? Will you not regret that you did not follow Me before? The last!... Sad words, like those of a friend who is dying, and to whom we have to listen, but too late. But My words are more important than the words of a friend. »
« You are right... But I cannot. I am waiting for that sign, that I may believe. »
« When a piece of ground is barren, a thunderbolt is not sufficient to till it. The soil will not receive it. But the stones that cover the soil will receive it. Endeavour at least to remove them, Gamaliel. Otherwise, if they are left where they are, in the depth of your heart, the sign will not lead you to believe. »
Gamaliel is silent, engrossed in thought. The meal is over.
Jesus stands up and says: « I thank You, My God, both for the meal and for the opportunity of speaking to a wise man. And thank you, Gamaliel. »
« Master, do not go away like that. I am afraid You are angry with me. »
« Oh! no! You must believe Me. »
« Then, do not go away. I am going to Hillel's tomb. Would You disdain coming with me? It will not take us long, because I have mules and donkeys for everybody. All we have to do is to take off their pack-saddles, which the servants will carry. And the hardest part of the road will be shortened for You. »
« I do not mind coming with you or going to Hillel's tomb. It is an honour. Let us go. »
Gamaliel gives the necessary instructions, and while they are all busy taking down the temporary dining-room, Jesus and Gamaliel mount two mules and they go ahead, one beside the other, along a quiet steep road, on which the ironshod hooves resound loudly.
Gamaliel is silent. Only twice he asks Jesus whether His saddle is comfortable. Jesus replies and then becomes quiet, engrossed in thought. So much so that He does not notice that Gamaliel, holding his mule back a little, lets Him go forward by a full neck, so that he may study every gesture of His. The eyes of the old rabbi are so keen in penetration that they look like the eyes of a hawk gazing at its prey But Jesus is not aware of it. He proceeds calmly, following the undulant pace of His mount, He is pensive and yet He observes all the features of what is around Him. He stretches out a hand to pick a hanging bunch of golden cytisus, He smiles at two little birds which are building their nest in a thick juniper, He stops the mule to listen to a blackcap and, as a blessing, He nods assent to the anxious cry by which a wild dove urges her mate to work.
« You love herbs and animals very much, do You not? »
« Yes, very much. They are My living book. Man always has the foundations of faith in front of him. Genesis lives in nature. Now, one who knows how to see, knows also how to believe. This flower, so sweet in its scent and in the substance of its pendulous corollas, and in such a contrast with this thorny juniper and with that furze, how could it have made itself by itself? And look: that robin redbreast, could it have made itself with that dried bloodstain on its soft throat? And those two doves, where and how have they been able to paint those onyx collars on the veil of their grey feathers? And over there, those two butterflies: a black one with large gold and ruby rings, while the other, with blue stripes, where have they found the gems and ribbons for their wings? And this stream? It is water. Agreed. But where did it come, from? Which is the first source of the water-element? Oh! To look means to believe, if one knows how to look. »
« To look means to believe. We look too little at the living Genesis that is in front of us. »
« Too much science, Gamaliel. And too little love, and too little humility. »
Gamaliel sighs and shakes his head.
« Here. We have arrived, Jesus. Hillel is buried over there. Let us dismount and leave our mules here. A servant will take them. »
They dismount tying the two mules to a tree trunk and they turn their steps towards a burial ground which protrudes from the mountain near a large house completely closed up.
« I come here to meditate and prepare myself for the feasts of Israel » says Gamaliel pointing at the house.
« May Wisdom grant you all its light. »
« And here (and Gamaliel points at the sepulchre) to prepare myself to meet death. He was a just man. »
« He was a just man. I will be pleased to pray near his ashes. But, Gamaliel, Hillel must not teach you only to die. He must teach you to live. »
« How, Master? »
« “A man is great when he humbles himself” was his favourite saying...»
« How do You know if You have not met him? »
« I did meet him... in any case, even if I had never met Hillel, the rabbi, personally, I know his thought, because there is nothing I ignore of human thoughts. »
Gamaliel lowers his head and whispers: « God only can say that. »
« God and His Word. Because the Word knows the Thought and the Thought knows the Word, and loves Him, communicating with Him and granting Him all His treasures, to make Him participate in Himself. Love fastens the bonds and makes one Perfection of them. It is the Trinity that loves Itself, is divinely formed, generates, proceeds and is completed. Every holy thought was born in the Perfect Mind, and is reflected in the mind of the just man. Can the Word therefore ignore the thoughts of the just, since they are the thoughts of the Thought? »
They pray near the closed sepulchre. They pray for a long time. The disciples and then the servants reach them, the former on horseback, the latter carrying the luggage. But they stop at the edge of the meadow, beyond which is the sepulchre. The prayer is over.
« Goodbye, Gamaliel. Ascend as Hillel did. »
« What do You mean? »
« Ascend. He is ahead of you because he knew how to believe more humbly than you. Peace be with you. »