13th June 1945.
Jesus and the apostles have passed Mount Tabor and left it behind them. They are now walking on a plain lying between that mountain and another one facing it, talking of the climb made by them all, although at the beginning the elder ones had not been too keen. But now they are happy they had gone up to the top. The journey is now easy because they are on a main road which is quite comfortable for walking. It is early in the morning because I am under the impression that they have spent the night on the slopes of the Tabor.
« That is Endor » says Jesus pointing to a poor village built on the first heights of the other mountain. « Do you really want to go there? »
« If You wish to make me happy...» responds the Iscariot. « Let us go, then. »
« But is it a long way? » asks Bartholomew, who, because of his age, is not very keen on walking tours.
« Oh! no! But if you wish to stay...» says Jesus.
« Yes! You may stay. I will go with the Master » says Judas of Kerioth immediately.
« Listen, before making up my mind, I would like to know what there is to be seen... From the top of Mount Tabor we saw the sea and after the boy's speech I must admit that I saw it properly for the first time and I saw it as You see: with my heart. Here... I would like to know whether there is anything to learn, because in that case I will come even if it is tiresome...» says Peter.
« Do you hear that? You have not yet said what you intend doing. Be kind to your companions and tell us now » says Jesus invitingly.
« Did Saul not go to Endor to consult the necromancer? »
« Yes, he did. So? »
« Well, Master, I would like to go there and hear You speak of Saul. »
« In that case I will come, too! » exclaims Peter full of enthusiasm. « Let us go then. »
They walk fast along the last stretch of the main road, which they leave to follow a secondary road, which takes straight to Endor.
It is a poor village, as Jesus said. The houses cling to the slopes which, beyond the village become steeper. Poor people live in them. Most of them must be shepherds who pasture their flocks on the sides of the mountain and in the woods of old oak-trees. There are a few small fields of barley, or similar fodder grains, in favourable sites and some apple and fig-trees. There are only a few vines around the houses, decorating the walls, which are dark because the place is obviously a damp one.
« We will now ask where the place of the necromancer was » says Jesus. And He stops a woman who is coming back from the fountain with pitchers.
She looks at Him curiously, then replies impolitely: « I don't know. I have much more important things to worry about than such nonsense! » and she goes away.
Jesus turns to an old man who is carving a bit of wood.
« The necromancer?... Saul?... Who bothers about them now? But, wait... There is one here who has studied and perhaps he knows... Come with me. »
And the old man climbs laboriously up a stony lane to a very poor and shabby looking house. « He lives here. I will go in and call him. »
Peter, pointing at some poultry scratching about in a dirty yard, says: « This fellow is not an Israelite. » But he says no more because the old man comes back followed by a man blind in one eye who is as dirty and untidy as everything round his house.
The old man says: « See? This man says that it is over there beyond that dilapidated house. There is a path, a stream, a wood and some caves, the one at the top, where there are still traces of ruined walls on one side, is the one you are looking for. Is that right? »
« No. You have muddled everything. I will go with these strangers. » The man's voice is harsh and guttural, which increases everybody's feeling of uneasiness.
He starts walking. Peter, Philip and Thomas make repeated signs to Jesus to advise Him not to go. But Jesus does not pay attention. He walks with Judas behind the man, and the others follow Him... unwillingly.
« Are You an Israelite? » asks the man.
« Yes, I am. »
« I, too, or almost, although I do not look like one. But I lived a long time abroad and I got into many habits, of which these fools here disapprove. I am better than the others. But they say that I am a demon, because I read a great deal, I breed poultry which I sell to the Romans and I can cure people by means of herbs. When young, because of a woman, I quarrelled with a Roman – I was at Cintium then – and I stabbed him. He died, I lost one eye and all my wealth and I was sentenced to life imprisonment. But I knew how to cure people, and I cured the daughter of one of the guards. I thus won his friendship and some freedom... I used it to escape. I acted badly, because the man certainly paid for my flight with his life. But freedom seems so beautiful when one is a prisoner...»
« Is it not really beautiful afterwards? »
« No. Jail, where one is alone, is better than being in contact with men who do not allow you to be alone and come around us to hate us...»
« Did you study philosophy? »
« I was a teacher at Cintium... I was a proselyte...»
« And now? »
« Now I am nothing. I live according to the reality of facts. And I hate, as I was and am still hated. »
« Who hates you? »
« Everybody. And God is the first. She was my wife... and God allowed her to be unfaithful to me and ruin me. I was free and respected, and God allowed me to become a convict serving a life sentence. God abandoned me, men were unfair. Both He and they destroyed me. There is nothing left here...» and he strikes his forehead and his chest. « Rather, here, in my head, there are my thoughts, my knowledge. It is in here that there is nothing » and he spits contemptuously.
« You are wrong. You have still two things there. »
« Which? »
« Remembrance and hatred. Remove them. Become really empty... and I will give you something new to put in there. »
« What? »
« Love. »
« Ah! Ah! You make me laugh. I have not laughed for thirty-five years, man. Since I had the proof that the woman was unfaithful to me with the Roman wine merchant. Love! Love to me! It is like me throwing jewels to my chickens! They would die of indigestion, unless they passed them out with their excrement. The same would happen to me. Your love would be a burden to me, if I could not digest it...»
« No, man! Do not say that! » Jesus lays His hand on the man's shoulder, He is deeply and openly distressed.
The man looks at Him with his only eye and what he sees on that most sweet and beautiful face causes him to be struck dumb and to change his expression. From being sarcastic he becomes very serious and then really sad. He lowers his head and with a changed voice he asks: « Who are You? »
« Jesus of Nazareth. The Messiah. »
« You!!! »
« I. Did you not know about Me, since you read so much? »
« I knew... But I did not know that You were alive and... above all, I did not know this. I did not know that You are good to everybody... thus... also to murderers... Forgive me for what I said... about God and love... Now I understand why You want to give me love... Because without love the world is hell, and You, the Messiah want to make a paradise of it. »
« A paradise in every heart. Give Me the remembrance and the hatred that make you ill and let Me put love into your heart! »
« Oh! I wish I had known You before!... then... But when I killed, You were certainly not born yet... But later... when I was free, as free as a snake in a forest, I lived to poison people with my hatred. »
« But you did also some good. Did you not say that you cured people by means of herbs? »
« Yes. To be tolerated. But how many times I had to struggle against my desire to poison people by means of potions!... See? I took refuge here because... it is a place where the world is ignored and which the world ignores. A cursed place. In other places I hated and was hated and I was afraid of being recognised... But I am wicked. »
« You regret having harmed the prison guard. Do you not see that there is still some goodness in you? You are not wicked... Your only trouble is that you have a large open wound, which nobody is curing... Your goodness runs out of it as blood from a wound. But if someone would cure your wound and heal it, My dear brother, goodness would increase in you, because it would no longer vanish as it forms...»
The man weeps with bent head trying to conceal his tears. Only Jesus Who is walking beside him notices them. He notices but does not say anything further.
They arrive at a cavern made of rubble and mountain caves. The man endeavours to steady his voice and says: « Here it is. You may go in. »
« Thank you, My friend. Be good. »
The man does not say anything and remains where he was, while Jesus with His apostles, passing over large stones which must have been part of very strong walls, upsetting green lizards and other ugly looking insects, enters a large smoky grotto, on the walls of which there are still graffiti signs of the zodiac and similar things. In a corner blackened by smoke there is a niche and under it a hole which looks like a gully-hole for water. Bats hanging in disgusting bunches decorate the ceiling and an owl, upset by the light of a branch which James has lit to ensure they do not tread on scorpions or asps, complains flapping its wadded wings and closing its ugly eyes which cannot bear the light. It is perched in the niche, and the foul smell of dead mice, of weasels and birds in decomposition at its feet is mixed with the stench of dung and of the damp soil.
« It is really a lovely place! » says Peter. « Your Tabor and your sea were much better, my boy! » And then addressing Jesus: « Master, satisfy Judas at once because this is not... Antipa's royal hall! »
« Certainly. What is it that you want to know? » He asks Judas of Kerioth.
« Well... I would like to know whether and why Saul sinned coming here... I would like to know whether it is possible for a woman to evoke the dead. I would like to know whether... Oh! It is better if You speak. I will ask You questions. »
« It's a long story. At least let us go out there, in the sunshine, on the stones... We will get away from the dampness and the stench » begs Peter.
And Jesus agrees. They sit as best they can on the ruins of the walls.
« Saul's sin was only one of his sins. It was preceded and followed by many more. All of them grave. Double ingratitude towards Samuel who had annointed him king and who subsequently disappeared so as not to share with the king the admiration of the people. He was several times ungrateful to David who saved him from Goliath and spared him in the caves at Engedi and Hachilah. He was guilty of many acts of disobedience and of scandalising his people. He was guilty of grieving his benefactor Samuel by lacking in charity. He was guilty of jealousy, of making attempt on David's life, David being another benefactor of his, and finally, of the crime he committed here. »
« Against whom? He did not kill anyone here. »
« He killed his soul in here, he finished killing it. Why are you lowering your head? »
« I am thinking, Master. »
« You are thinking. I can see that. What are you thinking of? Why did you want to come? You must admit it was not out of mere curiosity of a scholar. »
« We always hear someone talk of magicians, necromancers, evoked spirits... I wanted to see whether I could discover anything... I would like to know how it is done... I think that since we are destined to amaze people in order to attract them, we should be, somehow, necromancers, too. You are You and You do things by means of Your power. But we must ask for power, for help in order to perform exceptional deeds, which are necessary...»
« Are you mad? What are you saying? » shout many.
« Be quiet. Let him speak. He is not mad. »
« Yes, I thought that by coming here a little of the magic of gone by days would assume possession of me and make me greater. In Your interest, believe me. »
« I know that your present desire is a sincere one. But I will reply to you with eternal words, because they are words of the Bible and the Bible will exist as long as man exists. Believed or mocked at, employed to defend the truth or scorned at, it will always exist. It is written: “And Eve, seeing that the fruit of the tree was good to eat and pleasing to the eye, took it and ate it and gave some to her husband... Then their eyes were opened and they realised that they were naked and they made themselves loin-cloths... And God said: 'How did you realise that you were naked? Only because you ate of the forbidden fruit'. And He expelled them from the garden of delights.” And in the book of Saul, it is written: “Samuel appearing said: 'Why have you disturbed me, conjuring me up? Why do you consult me when the Lord has abandoned you? The Lord will deal with you as I told you... because you did not obey the voice of the Lord.'” Son, do not stretch your hand towards the forbidden fruit. It is imprudent even to go near it. Do not be curious to know ultramundane things, lest its satanic poison should conquer you. Avoid the occult and what cannot be explained. One thing only is to be accepted with holy faith: God. But avoid what is not God and what cannot be explained by man's reason or cannot be done by man's power, so that the sources of wickedness may not be opened for you and you may realise that you are “naked”. Naked: repellent in your humanity mixed with satanism. Why do you wish to amaze people by means of obscure prodigies? Amaze them through your holiness, which should be as bright as things coming from God. Do not be anxious to rend the veils which separate the living from the dead. Do not disturb the deceased. Listen to them, if they are wise, while they are on the earth, venerate them by obeying them also after their death. But do not upset their second life. Who does not obey the voice of the Lord, loses the Lord. And the Lord has forbidden occultism, necromancy, satanism in all its forms. What more do you wish to know than the Word already tells you? What more do you wish to perform than your goodness and My power enable you to perform? Do not crave for sin, but for holiness, son. Do not feel mortified. I am glad that you disclose your humanity. Many people, too many, like what you like. But the purpose of your desire: “to be powerful to attract people to Me” removes a heavy weight from that humanity and puts wings on it. But they are the wings of a night bird. No, My dear Judas. Put wings as bright as the sun, wings of an angel on your spirit. By the simple breeze caused by flapping them you will attract hearts and will lead them in your wake to God. Can we go? »
« Yes, Master! I was wrong...»
« No. You have been an inquirer... The world will always be full of them. Come. Let us get away from the stench of this place. Let us go towards the sun! In a few days it will be Passover, and afterwards we will go to your mother's. I conjure her up for you: your honest home, your holy mother. How peaceful it is! »
As usual, the recollection of his mother and the Master's praise for her, cheer Judas.
They come out of the ruins and they begin to descend the path they had walked up previously. The man blind in one eye is still there.
« Are you still here? » asks Jesus pretending that He does not notice that his face is flushed because of the many tears he has shed.
« Yes, I am still here. I will follow You if You allow me. I have something to tell you...»
« Come with Me, then. What do you want to tell Me? »
« Jesus... I find that to have the strength to speak and to work the holy magic of changing myself, of conjuring up my dead soul as the necromancer evoked Samuel for Saul, I must pronounce Your Name, which is as sweet as Your eyes, and as holy as Your voice. You have given me a new life, but it lacks form and energy, like the life of a new-born baby after a difficult birth. It still struggles in the grip of wicked old habits. Help me to come out of my death. »
« Yes, My friend. »
« I... I have realised that there is still a little humanity in my heart. I am not entirely a beast, and I can still love and be loved, forgive and be forgiven. Your love, which is forgiveness, has taught me. Is it not so? »
« Yes, My friend. »
« Then... take me with You. I was Felix! What an irony! But give me a new name. That my past may be really dead. I will follow You like a stray dog, which finally finds a master. I will be Your slave, if You wish so. But do not leave me alone...»
« Yes, My friend. »
« What name will You give me? »
« A name dear to Me: John. Because you are grace granted by God. »
« Will You take me with You? »
« Yes, for the time being. Later you will follow Me with My disciples. But what about your house? »
« I have no house any longer. I will leave what I have to the poor. Just give me love and bread. »
« Come. » Jesus turns round and calls His apostles. « I thank you, My friends, and you in particular, Judas. Through you, Judas, through you all, a soul is coming to God. Here is a new disciple. He is coming with us until we can entrust him to our brother disciples. Be happy because you have found a heart and bless God with Me. »
But the Twelve do not really look very happy. But out of obedience and kindness they welcome him.
« If You do not mind I will go ahead. You will find me at the door of my house. »
« Yes, go. »
The man runs away. He seems another man.
« And now that we are by ourselves I order you, and this is an order, to be kind to him and not to mention his past to anybody. I will immediately reject anyone who should speak or be uncharitable to our redeemed brother. Is that clear? And see how good the Lord is! We came here for a human purpose and He allows us to go away after achieving a supernatural deed. Oh! I rejoice because of the joy now in Heaven for the new convert. »
They reach the house. The man is there, on the threshold, wearing a clean dark tunic and a mantle to match it, a pair of new sandals and carrying a large haversack over his shoulder. He closes the door and then, what is strange in a man who might be considered hard-hearted, he takes a white hen, perhaps his pet, which squats tamely in his hands, he kisses it weeping and lays it down.
« Let us go... and forgive me. But my chicken always loved me... I used to speak to them and... they understood me...»
« I understand you, too... and I love you. So much. I will give you all the love that the world denied you in thirty-five years...»
« Oh! I know! I can feel it! That is why I am coming. But be indulgent to a man who... loves an animal which has been more faithful to him than men...»
« Yes... Forget your past. You will have so much to do! And, experienced as you are, you will do it very well. Simon, come here and you, too, Matthew. See? This man was more than a prisoner, he was a leper. And this one... a sinner. And they are very dear to Me, because they know how to understand poor hearts... Is that right? »
« Thanks to Your goodness, my Lord. But you may rest assured, my friend, that everything is cancelled by serving Him. Only peace remains » says the Zealot.
« Yes. Peace and a new youth take over from old vices and hatred. I was a tax collector. Now I am an apostle. The world is in front of us. And we know all about it. We are not absent-minded children who pass near the harmful fruit and the bending plant and do not see facts. We know. We can avoid evil and teach other people how to avoid it. And we can straighten up those who bend. Because we know what a relief it is to be supported. And we know Who supports: Him » says Matthew.
« That's true! Quite true! You will help me. Thank you. I feel as if I were passing from a dark foul smelling place to the open in a flowery meadow... I felt something similar when I came out, at long last free, after twenty years of imprisonment and brutal work in the mines in Anatolia and I found myself – I escaped one stormy evening – on the top of a wild mountain, but in the open, in a place full of sunshine at dawn, and covered with scented woods... Freedom! But now it is better! Everything is more sublime! I had not been in chains for fifteen years. But hatred, fear and solitude were still like chains to me... But now they have been shaken off!... Here we are at the house of the old man who brought You to me. Ehi! Man! »
The old man rushes towards them and is dumbfounded seeing the fellow blind in one eye clean, wearing new clothes and smiling.
« Here, take this. It's the key of my house. I am going away, for good. I am grateful to you because you are my benefactor. You have given me a family. Do what you like with my property... and look after my chicken. Treat them well. A Roman comes every Sabbath and buys eggs... You will make a profit... Take care of my little hens... and may God reward you for it. »
The old man is astonished... He takes the key and stands open-mouthed.
Jesus says: « Yes, do as he told you and I will be grateful to you, too. I bless you in the name of Jesus. »
« The Nazarene! You! Mercy! I have spoken to the Lord! Women! Men! The Messiah is here! »
He screams like an eagle and people rush from everywhere.
« Bless us! Bless us! » they shout. Some shout: « Stay here! » and others: « Where are You going? At least tell us where You are going. »
« To Nain. I cannot stay. »
« We will follow You. Do You mind? »
« Come. Peace and blessing to those who remain here. » They go towards the main road and take it.
The man, who is walking near Jesus and can hardly carry his haversack, draws Peter's curiosity. « What have you got in there that is so heavy? » he asks.
« My clothes... and some books... My friends after and at the same time as the chicken. I could not part with them. But they are heavy. »
« Eh! Science is heavy! Of course! And who likes it, eh? »
« They prevented me from becoming mad. »
« Eh! You must be fond of them! What books are they? »
« Philosophy, history, Greek and Roman poetry...»
« Lovely, certainly lovely. But... do you think you will be able to carry them with you? »
« Perhaps I will be able to part with them. But you cannot do everything at once, can you, Messiah? »
« Call Me Master. No, you cannot. But I will let you have a place where you will be able to keep your friends, your books. They may help you to discuss of God with the heathens. »
« Oh! How free Your thought is from all restrictions! »
Jesus smiles and Peter exclaims: « No wonder! He is Wisdom! »
« And Goodness, believe me. And are you learned? »
« Me? Oh! Most learned. I can tell an allice from a carp and my erudition ends there. I am a fisherman, my friend! » and Peter smiles humbly and frankly.
« You are an honest man. It is a science you learn by yourself. And a very difficult one to learn. I like you. »
« And I like you, too. Because you are sincere. Also when you accuse yourself. I forgive everything, I help everybody. But I am a ruthless enemy of false people. They make me sick. »
« You are right. A false man is a delinquent. »
« A delinquent. You are right. Say, would you mind giving me your sack for a little while? In any case, you may be sure that I will not run away with books... I think you are finding it difficult...»
« Twenty years in a mine breaks your back... But why do you want to toil? »
« Because the Master has taught us to love one another like brothers. Give them to me. And take my rags. My bag is not heavy... There is no history, no poetry in it. My history, my poetry and the other thing you mentioned, is He, my Jesus, our Jesus. »