26th June 1945.
It must be Wednesday morning because the group of apostles and women, preceded by Jesus and Mary with the boy between them, is approaching the Gate of the Fish. Joseph of Arimathea, who went to meet them as he had promised, is also there. Jesus looks for Alexander, the soldier, but does not see him.
« He is not here today either... I wonder why...»
The crowd is so large that it is quite impossible to inquire of the soldiers, and in any case it might not be wise to do so, as the Jews are more intolerant than ever before festivities; they are also upset because of the capture of the Baptist and they accuse Pilate and his satellites of being accomplices. I realise that the situation is such because of the epithets which are exchanged during squabbles between soldiers and citizens at the Gate, where picturesque... rude insults crack every moment like fireworks.
The women from Galilee are scandalised and they envelop themselves closer in their mantles and veils. Mary blushes, but proceeds without hesitation, as straight as a palm tree, looking at Her Son, Who does not even attempt to make the overexcited Jews see reason or induce the soldiers to be merciful towards the Israelites. And as some rather unpleasant epithet is addressed to the Galilean group, Joseph of Arimathea moves forward towards Jesus and is recognised by the crowd who become silent out of respect for him.
At last the Gate of the Fish is behind them, and the great crowd of people, pouring into the town in waves, rushes along the streets, along with donkeys and herds...
« Master, we are here! » shouts Thomas, who is on the other side of the Gate with Philip and Bartholomew.
« Is Judas not here? », « Why are you here? » ask many.
« No. We came here at daybreak, because we were afraid that You might come earlier. But we have not seen him. I met him yesterday, he was with Sadoc, the scribe, you know, Joseph? The old, very lean man, with a wart under his eye. And there were other people with him... young people. I shouted to him: “Hallo, Judas.” But he did not reply, pretending he did not know me. I said: “But what's the matter with him?” and I followed him for a few yards. He left Sadoc, in whose company he looked like a Levite, and went with the other men of his own age... who were certainly not Levites... And now he is not here... And he knew that we had decided to come here! »
Philip does not say anything. Bartholomew tightens his lips so much that they can no longer be seen, in an effort to stifle his opinion, which is rising from his heart.
« Very well! Let us go just the same! I will certainly not weep because of his absence » says Peter.
« Let us wait for a little while. He may have been held up » says Jesus gravely.
They lean against the wall, on its shady side, the women in one group, the men in another.
They are all wearing their best clothes. Peter, especially, is really magnificent. He is showing off brand new snow-white headgear, adorned with a galloon embroidered in red and gold. He is wearing his best tunic, a very dark garnet-red, adorned with a new belt identical in style with the decoration of his headgear. A knife, like a dagger, with an engraved hilt and an open-work brass sheath, through which the blade shines, hangs from his belt. The others are also armed more or less in the same fashion. Only Jesus is without a weapon. He is wearing a pure white linen tunic and a fleur-de-lis blue mantle, which Mary has certainly woven for Him during the winter months. Marjiam's dress is pale red with a festoon in a darker hue round the neck, cuffs and hem. A similar galloon is embroidered round the waist and the hem of the mantle, which the boy is carrying on his arm and caresses happily. Now and again he raises his head and his little face looks half smiling and half worried... Also Peter has a little parcel in his hand and he holds it very carefully.
Some time goes by... but there is no sign of Judas.
« He did not deign...» grumbles Peter, and perhaps he would say something else, but John, the apostle, says: « Perhaps he is waiting for us at the Golden Gate...»
They go to the Temple. But Judas is not there.
Joseph of Arimathea loses patience. He says: « Let us go. »
« Marjiam turns rather pale and kisses Mary saying: « Pray... pray for me! »
« Yes, My dear. Do not be afraid. You are so clever...»
Marjiam then clings to Peter. He presses Peter's hand nervously and as he still does not feel safe, he would like to take Jesus' hand.
« I am not coming, Marjiam. I am going to pray for you. I will see you later. »
« You are not coming? Why, Master? » asks Peter who is greatly surprised.
« Because it is better thus...» Jesus is very serious, I would say that He looks sad. And He concludes: « Joseph, who is a just man, can but approve of My decision. »
In fact Joseph does not utter one word and his silence, with an eloquent sigh, confirms his agreement.
« Well, then... let us go...» Peter is somewhat distressed.
Marjiam then clings to John. And they set out, preceded by Joseph to whom people bow deeply showing their respect. Also Simon and Thomas go with them. The others remain with Jesus.
They enter the hall which Jesus also entered once. A young man, who is writing in a corner, springs to his feet on seeing Joseph and he bows so profoundly as almost to touch the floor.
« God be with you, Zacharias. Please call Asrael and Jacob at once. »
The young man goes out and comes back almost at once with two men who are rabbis, or members of the synagogue, or scribes, I do not know. Two sullen personages whose haughtiness subsides only in Joseph's presence. Eight other less imposing men follow them. They sit down leaving the postulants, Joseph of Arimathea included, standing.
« What do you want, Joseph? » asks the senior examiner.
I wish to present to your wisdom this son of Abraham who has reached the age prescribed to come under the Law and comply with it by himself. »
« Is he a relative of yours? » and they look at one another amazed.
« We are all relatives in God. But the boy is an orphan, and this man, whose honesty I guarantee, has adopted him as he does not wish to be without descendants. »
« Who is the man? Let him reply himself. »
« Simon of Jonas, from Bethsaida in Galilee, married with no children, a fisherman for the world, a son of the Law for the Most High. »
« And you, a Galilean, are taking this paternity upon yourself? Why? »
« It is written in the Law that we must take care of orphans and widows. That is what I am doing. »
« Can he possibly know the Law so well as to deserve to... But, boy, tell me. Who are you? »
« Jabez Marjiam of John, from the country near Emmaus, I was born twelve years ago. »
« So you are a Judaean. Is it lawful for a Galilean to take care of him? Let us look up the laws. »
« But what am I? A leper or am I cursed? » Peter begins to boil with anger.
« Be quiet, Simon, I will speak for him. I told you that I am standing surety for this man. I know him as if he were of my own household. Joseph the Elder would never propose anything against the Law or the laws. Please examine this child with justice and dispatch. The yard is full of children waiting to be examined. Please make haste, for everybody's sake. »
« But who can prove that the child is twelve years old and was redeemed from the Temple? »
« You can prove it looking up the documents. It is a piece of boring research, but can be done. Boy, did you tell me that you were the first-born? »
« Yes, sir. You will be able to see that, because I was consecrated to the Lord and redeemed with the prescribed offerings. »
« Let us look for these details then...» says Joseph.
« It is not necessary » reply coldly the two captious examiners. « Come here, child. Say the Decalogue » and the boy replies without any hesitation. « Give me that roll, Jacob. Read, if you can. »
« Where, rabbi? »
« Wherever you wish. What comes first under your eyes » says Asrael.
« No. Here. Give it to me » says Jacob. He then unfolds the roll and says: « Here. »
« “He then said to them secretly: 'Bless the Lord of Heaven, utter His praise before all the living, because He has been merciful with you. It is right to keep the secret of a king, but it is also right to reveal...'”»
« That is enough, quite enough! What are these? » asks Jacob, showing the fringes of his mantle.
« The sacred fringes, sir: we wear them to remember the precepts of the Most High Lord. »
« Is it lawful for an Israelite to eat any meat?...» asks Asrael.
« No, sir. Only the ones which are declared clean. »
« Tell me the precepts...»
And the docile child begins the string of: « You shall not...»
« That is enough! As a Galilean, he knows even too much. Man, it is for you now to swear that the boy is of age. »
Peter, with the best grace of which he is still capable after so much rudeness, delivers his paternal speech: « As you have ascertained, my son, at the prescribed age, knows how to conduct himself, as he knows the Law, the precepts, habits, traditions, ceremonies, blessings, prayers. Therefore, as you have verified, both he and I can ask you to declare him of age. In actual fact, I should have stated that before; but the custom has been infringed here, and not by us Galileans, and the child was questioned before the father. But I say this to you: since you have judged him competent, from this moment I am no longer responsible for his actions, neither in the eyes of God nor of men. »
« Pass into the synagogue. »
The little procession passes into the synagogue, followed by the sullen looks of the rabbis, whom Peter has put in their place. While Marjiam is standing in front of the lecterns and lamps, they cut his hair, shortening it so that it covers his ears, whereas before it reached down to his shoulders. Peter then opens his little parcel and takes out of it a beautiful red woollen belt embroidered in gold-yellow and ties it round the boy's waist, and while the priests are tying little leather strips on his forehead and arm, Peter is busy fixing the sacred fringes on to the mantle which Marjiam has handed over to him. And Peter is deeply moved when he intones the hymn praising the Lord!...
The ceremony is over. They slip out quickly and Peter says: « Thank goodness! I could not stand it any longer! What do you think, Joseph? They did not even fulfill the rite. It does not matter. You, my son, have Who will consecrate you... Let us go and get the lamb for the sacrifice of praise to the Lord. A little lamb, as dear as you are. And I thank you, Joseph! Say “thanks” to this great friend. If you had not been there, they would have thoroughly abused us. »
« Simon, I am glad I have been useful to a just man like you, and I beg you to come to my house in Bezetha for dinner. Of course, you will bring all the others. »
« Let us go and tell the Master. For me... it is too great an honour! » says Peter humbly, but he is beaming with joy.
They go through the yards and the halls once again to the yard of the women, where Marjiam's friends congratulate him. The men then go into the hall of the Israelites where Jesus is present with His disciples. They all join together in a dignified happy union, and while Peter goes to sacrifice the lamb, they all proceed through porches and yards to the first enclosure.
How happy is Peter with his boy, who is now a perfect Israelite! He is so happy that he does not notice the wrinkle that furrows Jesus' forehead. So happy that he does not notice the rather oppressive silence of his companions. It is only in the hall of Joseph's house – when the boy, who is asked the ritual question as to what he wants to do in future, replies: « I will be a fisherman like my father » – that Peter, weeping, remembers and understands...
« But... Judas has spoiled our feast with a drop of poison... And You are upset, Master... and that is why the others are sad. Forgive me if I did not notice it before... Ah! Judas!...»
I think that everybody's heart is sighing like Peter's. But Jesus, to remove the poison, strives to smile and says: « Do not worry, Simon. We miss only your wife... I was thinking also of her; she is so good and is always sacrificed. But she will soon have her joy, unexpected but so welcome. Let us think of the good that is in the world. Come. So Marjiam answered all the questions correctly? I knew he would...»
Joseph comes back into the hall after giving instructions to his servants. « I thank you all » he says « for making me feel young again with this ceremony and for the honour of having in my house the Master, His Mother, His relatives and you all, my dear fellow disciples. Come into the garden. It is cool and the flowers...» and it all ends.