18th June 1945.
Jesus goes on His way towards Jerusalem along roads which are more and more crowded with pilgrims. A heavy shower during the night has made the road somewhat muddy, but, on the other hand, it has removed dust and made the air clearer. The fields look like gardens diligently tended by skilled men.
They all walk fast because they are well rested after a night's sleep, and because the boy, with his new sandals, no longer suffers when walking: on the contrary, as he becomes more and more familiar, he chatters with this one and that one, and confidentially informs John that his father's name was also John and his mother's Mary, and that he therefore is very fond of John also. « But » he concludes, « I love you all, and in the Temple I will pray so much for you and for the Lord Jesus. »
It is moving to see how this group of men, most of whom have no children, are so paternal and full of attention for the youngest of Jesus' disciples. Even the countenance of the man from Endor softens when he forces the little one to swallow a beaten egg, or when he climbs up among the woods, which make the hills as well as the higher mountains green, to pick acidulous branches of shrubs or scented stems of wild fennel, which he takes to the boy to quench his thirst, without overburdening his stomach with water. He also draws his attention to the different aspects and sights of the country, which is split here by large valleys, at the bottom of which run main roads, to take his mind off the length of the journey.
The old teacher of Cintium, ruined by human wickedness, revives because of this boy, a wretch like himself, and the wrinkles of misfortune and bitterness smooth into a gentle smile. Jabez is already less shabby looking, because of his new sandals, and his face is not so sad, because I do not know which hand of an apostle has erased every trace of the wild life the boy led for so many months, sorting his hair so far ruffled and dusty and now made soft and tidy by a good wash. The man from Endor also is quite different. He is still somewhat puzzled when he hears anyone call him John, but then he shakes his head and smiles pitying his bad memory. Day by day his countenance loses its habitual hardness and gains a gravity, which is quite serene. Of course these two wretched people who are reviving through Jesus' kindness, gravitate towards the Master in their love. Their companions are dear, but Jesus... When He looks at them or speaks just to them, the expression on their faces is a most happy one.
After crossing the large valley and then a beautiful green hill, one can still dimly see the plain of Esdraelon. This causes the child to sigh: « What will my old father be doing? » and with a very sad sigh and tears in his brown eyes he exclaims: « Oh! he is not so happy as I am... and he is so good! » and the lament of the child casts a sad veil over everybody. They begin to descend a very fertile valley, completely covered with cultivated fields and olive-groves. A light breeze causes the tiny flowers of vines and of the earlier olive-trees to fall like snow. The plain of Esdraelon is out of sight for good.
They stop for a meal and then resume the journey towards Jerusalem. But it must have rained heavily or the area is rich in underground water, because the meadows look like a marsh owing to the water that glitters among the thick grass and rises lapping on the banked road, which, however, is still very muddy. The adults pull their tunics up to prevent them from becoming soiled with mud, and Judas Thaddeus puts the boy on his shoulders to let him rest and to cross more quickly the flooded and perhaps unhealthy area.
Daylight is beginning to fade when, after walking along the edge of other hills and crossing a dry rocky valley, they enter a village situated on a raised rocky embankment. They push their way through the crowd of pilgrims and look for accommodation in a very rural type hotel: a large shed under which is spread much straw and nothing else. Small lamps lit here and there shed a glow on the supper of the pilgrim families, poor families, like the apostolic one, because most of the rich people have put up tents outside the village, disdaining contact with either the local people or the poor pilgrims.
Night and silence fall... The first to fall asleep is the boy, who, tired as he is, reclines his head on the lap of Peter, who lays him on the straw and covers him carefully.
Jesus gathers the adults in prayer and then each throws himself on the straw to rest after the long journey.
The day after: the apostolic group that left in the morning is about to enter Shechem in the evening, having passed through Samaria, a beautiful town, surrounded by walls, adorned with splendid imposing buildings, around which are grouped some lovely tidy houses. I am under the impression that the town, like Tiberias, has been recently rebuilt with systems borrowed from Rome. Outside the walls, around the town, the land is very fruitful and well cultivated. The road from Samaria to Shechem winds down from terrace to terrace, in a series of walls supporting the earth, which reminds me of the Fiesoli hills. There is a splendid view of green mountains to the south and of a most beautiful plain westwards.
The road tends to descend to the valley, but it climbs now and again to cross other hills from the top of which one commands the land of Samaria with its lovely olive-groves, corn fields, vineyards, watched over from the hill crests by woods of oak and other forest trees, which must be protective against the winds that blowing through the gorges are inclined to create whirlwinds damaging to cultivations. This area reminds me very much of certain spots in our Apennines, around Mount Amiata, where one can contemplate at the same time the flat cultivations of cereals in the Maremma and the bright hills and majestic mountains that rise higher inland. I do not know what Samaria is like now. It was very beautiful in those days.
Now, between two high mountains, the highest in the area, one can see straight through a valley, in the middle of which there is the very fertile well-watered land of Shechem. It is here that Jesus and His disciples are caught up with by the joyful caravan of the Consul's court, on its way to Jerusalem for the festivity. There are slaves on foot and slaves on the wagons guarding the luggage... My God, how many items they carried with them in those days!!! And with the slaves there are wagons that are packed with all sorts of goods, even complete litters and travelling coaches: the four wheel wagons are very wide, well sprung, with tilt, under which the ladies are sheltered. And then many other carts and slaves...
A curtain is drawn, by the bejewelled hand of a lady and the severe profile of Plautina appears: she nods smiling but does not say anything. Valeria, whose little girl on her knees trills and smiles, greets people in the same fashion. The other wagon, which is even more stately, passes by but no curtain is drawn. But when it has gone by, the pinkish face of Lydia looks out from the rear, through the closed curtains and she nods, too. The caravan goes away...
« They travel in comfort! » says Peter who is tired and wet with perspiration. « But, if God helps us, the day after tomorrow evening we will be in Jerusalem. »
« No, Simon. I must make a detour and go towards the Jordan. »
« But why, my Lord? »
« Because of the boy. He is very sad, and it would be too sad for him to see the mountain of the disaster. »
« But we will not see it! Or rather, we will see the other side... and I take it upon myself to divert his attention. John and I... His attention is easily distracted, poor little dove without a nest. To go towards the Jordan! Well! It is better this way. A straight road. Shorter. Safer. No. No. This one, this one. See? Also the Roman ladies are taking it. Along the sea and the river there is the risk of fever during the first summer rains. It is healthy here. In any case... When are we going to arrive if we lengthen the way? Consider how agitated Your Mother must be after that unpleasant business of the Baptist!...» Peter wins and Jesus agrees.
« In that case we will stop early and have a good rest and tomorrow we will leave at dawn to be at Gethsemane in the evening of the day after tomorrow. The day after Friday we will go to Bethany to see My Mother and we will leave John's books there, as they have been quite a burden for you, and we will find Isaac there and will entrust him with this poor brother of ours...»
« And the boy? Are You handing him over at once? »
Jesus smiles. « No. I am giving him to My Mother, Who will prepare him for “his” feast. And then we will keep him with us for Passover. But after we will have to leave him... Do not become too attached to him! Or rather: love him as if he were your own son, but with a supernatural spirit. As you can see he is weak and gets tired. I, too, would have liked to teach him Myself and bring him up nourished in Wisdom by Me. But I am the Untiring One and Jabez is too young and too weak to do the work we do. We will go through Judaea and will come back to Jerusalem for Pentecost, and then we will go... evangelizing... We shall find him again in our fatherland in summer. Here we are at the gate of Shechem. Go ahead with your brother and with Judas of Simon and look for accommodation. I will go to the market square and wait for you there. »
They part and Peter goes away looking for a shelter, while the others walk with difficulty in the streets crowded with people shouting and gesticulating, with donkeys, wagons, all going to Jerusalem for the oncoming Passover. The shouting, calling and cursing of people, added to the braying of donkeys cause a noise that resounds very loudly under the vaults, which link one house to another, a noise that resembles the rumble of certain shells when placed near one's ear. The echo travels from vault to vault where the shades become darker and the crowds, like an impetuous torrent, rush into the streets, insinuating themselves everywhere, looking for a roof, a square, a meadow wherein to pass the night...
Jesus, holding the child by the hand, leaning against a tree, is waiting for Peter in the square, which, for the occasion, is always full of vendors.
« Let us hope that no one sees us and recognises us! » says the Iscariot.
« How can you recognise a grain of sand among the sands? » replies Thomas. « Don't you see the crowds? »
Peter comes back: « Outside the town there is a shed with some hay. I could not find anything else. »
« Neither shall we look for anything else. It is even too much for the Son of man. »