17th June 1945.
« Is that the top of Mount Carmel, my Lord? » asks His cousin James.
« Yes, it is, brother. That is the chain of the Carmel and the highest peak is the one that gives the name to the chain. »
« The world must be beautiful also from there. Have You ever been up there? »
« Yes, once, by Myself, at the beginning of My mission. And at the foot of it I cured the first leper. But we will go there together, to commemorate Elijah...»
« Thank You, Jesus. You have understood me as usual. »
« And as usual I perfect you, James. »
« Why? »
« The reason is written in Heaven. »
« Would You not tell me, brother, since You can read what is written in Heaven? »
Jesus and James are walking one beside the other and only little Jabez, who is held by the hand by Jesus, can hear the confidential conversation of the two cousins who smile looking at each other's eyes.
Jesus embraces James' shoulders with His arm to draw him closer to Himself and asks: « Do you really want to know? Well, I will tell you by means of a riddle, and when you find the answer you will be wise. Listen: “After assembling the false prophets on Mount Carmel, Elijah stepped out in front of all the people: 'How long' he said 'do you mean to hobble first on one leg then on the other? If the Lord is God, follow Him; if Baal, follow him.' The people did not reply. Elijah then said to the people: 'I, I alone, am left as a prophet of the Lord' and the only strength of the lonely prophet was his cry: 'Answer me, Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that You are the Lord God, and are winning back their hearts.' Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the holocaust.” Guess, My brother. »
James is pensive with his head lowered and Jesus looks at him smiling. They walk for a few yards thus, then James asks: « Is it in connection with Elijah or with my future? »
« With your future, of course...»
James becomes thoughtful again and then whispers: « Am I perhaps destined to invite Israel to follow a way with sincerity? Am I destined to be the only one left in Israel? If so, do You mean that all the others will be persecuted and scattered and that... I will pray You for the conversion of this people... as if I were a priest... as if I were... a victim... But if it is so, Jesus, inflame me as from now...»
« You already are inflamed. But you will be carried away by Fire, like Elijah. That is why you and I will go, all alone on Mount Carmel to speak...»
« When? After Passover? »
« Yes, after a Passover. And then I will tell you many things...»
A lovely little river which flows towards the sea and is in flood because of the springtime rains and the thawing snow, prevents them from proceeding.
Peter runs towards them and says: « The bridge is further up, where the road from Ptolomais to Engannim passes. »
Jesus goes back submissively and crosses the little river by a strong stone bridge. Immediately afterwards they meet some little mountains and hills, but they are of little importance.
« Will we be at Engannim by evening? » asks Philip.
« Certainly... But... we have the boy now. Are you tired, Jabez? » Jesus asks fondly. « Be as frank as an angel. »
« A little, Lord. But I will do my best to walk. »
« This boy is very weak » says the man from Endor in his guttural voice.
« No wonder! » exclaims Peter. « Considering the life he has been leading for months! Come here, I will carry you in my arms. »
« Oh! No, sir. Don't tire yourself. I am still able to walk. »
« Come, come here. You are certainly not heavy. You look like an underfed little bird » and Peter puts him astride his square shoulder's, holding him by the legs.
They walk fast because the sun is now strong and urges them to reach the shady hills.
They stop in a village, the name of which I hear is Mageddo, to take some food and rest near a very cool fountain, which is also noisy because of the abundance of water that gushes out into a dark stone basin. But no one in the village takes an interest in the travellers, anonymous among many other more or less rich pilgrims, who on foot or riding donkeys or mules are going towards Jerusalem for Passover. There is already a holiday atmosphere and there are many boys among the travellers, exhilarated at the idea of the ceremony for their coming of age.
Two boys, of well-to-do families, who have come to play near the fountain while Jabez is there with Peter – who takes the boy with him everywhere attracting him with a thousand little things – ask the boy: « Are you going, also, to become a son of the Law? »
Jabez replies shyly: « Yes » almost hiding himself behind Peter.
« Is this man your father? Are you poor? »
« Yes, I am poor. »
The two boys, probably the sons of Pharisees, look him over ironically and curiously and then say: « One can see it. »
It can be seen, indeed... His tunic is really shabby! Perhaps the boy has grown, and although the hem of the tunic has been let down, the garment, a brown faded by inclement weather, hardly reaches half way down his thin legs. His little feet are badly shod in two shapeless sandals held together by strings which must torture his feet.
The boys, with the ruthless selfishness typical of many children and with the cruelty of ill-mannered urchins, say: « Oh! In that case you will not have a new suit of clothes for your feast! We instead!... Is that right Joachim? Mine is all red with mantle to match. His, instead, is sky blue and we will have sandals with silver buckles, a precious belt and a talet held by a pale gold leaf and...»
« ...and a heart of stone, I would say! » bursts out Peter, who has finished cooling his feet and drawing water to fill all the flasks. « You are bad boys. The ceremony and your clothes are not worth a fig if your hearts are not good. I prefer my boy. Go away, you proud urchins! Go amongst the rich but respect the poor and the honest. Come, Jabez! This water is good for your tired feet. Come here that I may wash them. You will walk better afterwards. Look how these strings have hurt you! You must not walk any more. I will carry you in my arms until we reach Engannim. I will find a shoemaker there and I will buy you a new pair of sandals. » And Peter washes and dries the little feet which had not received so many caresses for a long time.
The boy looks at him, hesitates, then bends over the man who is tying his sandals and embraces him with his emaciated arms saying: « How good you are! » and kisses his grey hair.
Peter is moved. He sits on the damp ground, as he is, takes the boy in his lap and says to him: « Call me “father” then. »
They form a tender group. Jesus and the others approach them.
But before the two parties meet, the two proud little fellows already mentioned who had remained there inquisitively, ask: « But is he not your father? »
« He is father and mother to me » replies Jabez without hesitation.
« Yes, dear! You are right: father and mother. And, my dear little gentlemen, I can assure that he will be properly dressed for the ceremony. He, too, will have a dress fit for a king, as red as fire and a belt as green as grass, and his talet will be as white as snow. »
And although the match is not a very harmonising one, it shocks the two conceited boys and drives them away.
« What are you doing, Simon, sitting on the wet ground? » asks Jesus smiling.
« Wet? Ah! yes. I am just noticing it. What am I doing? I am becoming a lamb again having innocence on my heart. Ah! Master. Well, let us go. But you must leave this boy in my hands. Afterwards I will surrender him. But he is mine until he becomes a true Israelite.
« All right! And you will be his guardian, like an old father. Is that all right? Let us go, so that we shall be at Engannim before evening, without making the boy run too much. »
« I will carry him.. My fishing net is heavier. He cannot walk with these broken soles. Come here. » And with his godson astride his shoulders Peter takes happily to the road again. The road is now more shady, through woods of various kinds of trees, gently ascending hills, from which one's eyes rove over the fertile plain of Esdraelon.
They are already near Engannim – which must be a beautiful little town supplied with water brought from the hills by means of an elevated aqueduct, probably a Roman work – when the noise of an oncoming military squad makes them take refuge on the edge of the road. The hooves of the horses resound on the road, which here, near the town, shows signs of a paving that appears through the dust gathered on it with rubble. The road has obviously never been swept with a besom.
« Hail, Master! How do You happen to be here? » shouts Publius Quintilianus dismounting from his horse, and going towards Jesus with a broad smile, holding the horse by the reins. His soldiers slow down to keep pace with their superior.
« I am going to Jerusalem for Passover. »
« I am going, too. We are reinforcing the guard for the festivity, also because Pontius Pilate is coming to town, too, and Claudia is there. We are her runners. The roads are so insecure! The eagles drive jackals away » says the soldier laughing and looks at Jesus. He then continues in a low voice: « Double watch this year, to protect the back of filthy Antipas. There is a lot of ill-feeling because of the capture of the Prophet. Ill-feeling in Israel... and consequently dissatisfaction among us. But... we have already ensured that the High Priest and his stooges have been... benignly lectured...» and he ends in a low voice: « Go without any fear. All the claws have been retracted into the paws. Oh! They are afraid of us. If we only clear our throats, they take it for a roar. Will you speak at Jerusalem? Come near the Praetorium. Claudia speaks of You as of a great philosopher. That is a good thing because Claudia is the proconsul. » He looks around and sees Peter flushed, perspiring with his load. « And that boy? »
« An orphan I brought with Me. »
« But that man of Yours is working too hard! Boy, are you afraid to come on the horse with me for a few yards? I will keep you under my chlamys and I will go slow. I will hand you back to him when we are at the gate. »
The boy does not object, he is as mild as a lamb, and Publius lifts him up on to the saddle.
And while he is ordering his soldiers to go slow he sees also the man from Endor. He stares at him and says: « What! You here? »
« I am here. I have stopped selling eggs to the Romans. But the chicken are still there. I am now with the Master...»
« Good for you! You will have greater comfort. Goodbye. Hail, Master. I will wait for You at that group of trees. » And he spurs his horse.
« Do you know him? And does he know you? » many ask John of Endor.
« Yes, as his supplier of chicken. He did not know me before, but once I was summoned to the headquarters at Nain to fix the prices, and he was there. Since then he always spoke to me when I went to Caesarea to buy books or tools. He calls me Cyclops or Diogenes. He is not a bad fellow, and although I cannot bear Romans I have never offended him because he might be useful to me. »
« Did you hear that, Master? My speech to the centurion at Capernaum was a good thing. I feel more relaxed now » says Peter.
They reach the thicket in the shade of which the patrol has dismounted.
« I am handing the boy back to You. Have You orders, Master? »
« No, Publius. May God show Himself to you. »
« Hail », he mounts his horse and spurs it, followed by his men with a loud rattle of hooves and body-armour.
They enter the town and Peter with his little friend goes to buy sandals.
« That man is dying for a son » says the Zealot, and he concludes: « He is right. »
« I will give you thousands. Now let us go and look for a place to rest, so that tomorrow we can start at dawn. »