15th July 1945.
The apostles arrive at the town gate in successive little groups, according to the directions of Jesus. The Master is not yet there. But He arrives soon, emerging from a little street running along the walls.
« The Master must have had good fortune » says Matthew. « Look how He is smiling. »
They meet and then all together go out of the gate and take to the main road again, a road lined with suburb market gardens.
Jesus asks them: « Well? How did it go with you? How did you do? »
« Very badly » the Iscariot and Bartholomew reply together.
« Why? What happened? »
« They almost stoned us. We had to run away. Let us go away from this place of barbarians. Let us go back to where people love us. I will not speak again here. Actually I had no intention of speaking. Then I allowed myself to be convinced and You did not stop me. And yet You know how things are... » The Iscariot is angry.
« But what happened to you? »
« Eh! I had joined Matthew, James and Andrew. We went to Judgement Square, because it is the meeting place of refined people who have plenty time to listen to those who speak. We decided that Matthew should speak, being the most suitable one to talk to publicans and their clients. And he began by speaking to two men who were quarrelling over the ownership of a field involved in an intricate inheritance: “Do not hate each other for what is perishable and for what you cannot take with you in the next life. But love each other so that you may enjoy the eternal good which you can achieve by controlling your evil passions, without any other struggle, and thus win and possess Good.” That is what you were saying, is that right?
And when two or three people approached us, he continued: “Listen to the Truth that is teaching the world, so that the world may have peace. You can see that the world suffers because it entertains an excessive attachment for things that perish. The earth is not everything. There is also Heaven, and in Heaven there is God, as on the earth there is now His Messiah, Who sent us to inform you that the time of Mercy has come and that no sinner can say: 'I shall not be heard', because he who is really repentant is forgiven, heard, loved and invited to the Kingdom of God.”
Many people had already gathered together and some were listening respectfully, while some were asking questions, thus disturbing Matthew. I never reply to anybody, to avoid interrupting the speech. I speak and then I reply to any question at the end. Let them bear in mind what we want to tell them and be silent. But Matthew wanted to reply at once!... And they were asking us questions as well. But there were also some who sneered saying: “There is another madman! He certainly comes from that den of Israel. They are like weeds those Jews, they spread everywhere! They talk everlasting nonsense! They have God as their companion. Listen to them! God is on their sword edge and on their sharp tongues. Listen, listen. Now they are calling in question His Messiah. Some other raving lunatic who will torture us as always happened in the past. Let the plague catch Him and His race!”
Then I lost my temper. I pulled Matthew back, as he was going on speaking, smiling as if they were paying homage to him, and I began to speak, taking Jeremiah as my starting point: “See how the waters rise from the North and become an overflowing torrent... Upon hearing the noise of the water, you will lose your strength; your pride, your hearts, your arms, your feelings, everything will collapse. Because the punishment of God for you, mischievous race, will have the roar of a waterfall, whereas it will be earthly armies and heavenly warriors to punish your stubbornness, attacking you by order of the Heads of the People of God. And you, the remains of the island of sin and door of Hell, will be exterminated! You have become arrogant because Herod has rebuilt your homes? But you will be shaved until you become hopelessly bald and you will be struck by all sorts of punishments in your towns and villages, in your valleys and plains. The prophecy is not yet dead...” and I wanted to continue, but they rushed upon us and only because a heaven-sent caravan was passing along one of the streets, we managed to take shelter, as stones were already flying. They hit the camels and their drivers; there was an uproar and we made off. Afterwards we remained quietly in a little suburb yard. Ah! I will never come back here again... »
« I beg your pardon, but you offended them! It's your fault! Now we understand why they were so hostile when they came to drive us away! » exclaims Nathanael. And he continues: « Listen, Master. We, that is Simon of Jonah, Philip and I had gone towards the tower overlooking the sea. There were some sailors and ship owners there, loading goods for Cyprus, Greece and other more distant places. And they were cursing the sun, the dust and their hard work, their Philistine destiny that implied that they were slaves of overbearing people, whereas they could have been kings. And they cursed the Prophets, the Temple and all of us. I wanted to go away, but Simon objected saying: “No, on the contrary, we must approach these sinners. The Master would do that, and we must do it as well.”
“Then, you can speak to them” said Philip and I. “And if I do not know what to say?” said Simon. “Then we will help you” we replied.
Simon then, smiling, went towards two men who had sat down perspiring on a huge bale they could not lift on to the boat, and he said: “It's heavy, isn't it?.”
“It's not so much its weight, as the fact that we are tired. And we have to complete the loading, because that's what the owner wants. He wants to sail when the sea is calm, because this evening the sea will be rough and he must be beyond the rocks to be out of danger.”
“Rocks in the sea?”
“Yes, over there, where the water foams, a nasty spot.”
“Currents, eh? Of course! The south wind blows round the promontory and collides with the current there...”
“Are you a sailor?”
“A fisherman, a fresh water fisherman. But water is always water and wind always wind. I have finished up in the water more than once myself and my catch went back into the lake. Our trade is a good one but can be also unpleasant. There is no place entirely bad and no race entirely cruel. With a little good will it is always possible to come to some agreement and one finds out that there are good people everywhere. Come on! I want to give you a hand” and Simon called Philip saying: “Come on, you will catch the load there, I will catch it here and these good people will lead us over there, to the boat, and down to the holds.”
The Philistines were rather unwilling, but then they allowed them to help. After putting the bale in its place, and others, which were on the bridge as well, Simon began to praise the boat, as he only knows how, and he praised the sea, the town that was so beautiful as seen from off shore and he took an interest in navigation and in foreign towns.
And they were all round him, thanking him and praising him... Until one asked him: “But where are you from? From the Nile area?”
“No, from the sea of Galilee. But as you can see I am not a tiger.”
“That is true. Are you looking for a job?”
“I will take you on, if you wish. I can see that you are a clever sailor” said the owner.
“I instead will take you.”
“Me? But did you not tell me that you want a job?.”
“That is true. My work is to take men to the Messiah of God. You are a man. So you are work for me.”
“But I am a Philistine!.”
“And what does that mean?”
“It means that you hate us, that you have persecuted us from time immemorial. Your chiefs have always said so...”
“The Prophets, eh? But now the Prophets are voices which no longer shout. Now there is only the great holy Jesus, He does not shout, but calls people with a friendly voice. He does not curse, He blesses. He does not cause misfortunes, but removes them. He does not hate and does not want anyone to hate. On the contrary He loves everybody and He wants us to love also our enemies. In His Kingdom there will no longer be winners and losers, free men and slaves, friends and enemies. There will no longer be such distinctions which hurt, which are the consequence of human wickedness; but there will be only His followers, that is people who live in love, in freedom, in the victory over everything which is burdensome or sorrowful. I beg you. Please believe my words and desire Him. The prophecies were written. But He is greater than the Prophets and prophecies are obliterated for those who love Him. See this beautiful town of yours? You would find it much more beautiful in Heaven, if You went so far as to love our Lord Jesus, the Christ of God.” That is what Simon was saying and he was simple and inspired at the same time and everybody listened to him diligently and respectfully. Yes, respectfully.
Then some citizens came out of a street shouting, and they were armed with clubs and stones and they saw us and they knew from our clothes that we were foreigners, and now I understand, they realised that we were of your race, Judas, and they thought that we were all of your kind. If those of the boat had not protected us we would have been in trouble! They lowered a lifeboat and took us away by sea and they let us ashore near the garden where we were at midday and from there we came here together with the people who cultivate flowers for the rich of the country. But, Judas, you have ruined everything! Is that the way to abuse people? »
« It is the truth. »
« But it is to be used discreetly. Peter did not tell lies, but he knew what to say » retorts Nathanael.
« Oh! me! I tried to put myself in the place of the Master, and I thought: “He would be so kind. And I as well... “ » says Peter simply.
« I like strong attitudes. They are more regal. »
« Your usual idea! You are wrong, Judas. The Master has been endeavouring to correct that idea of yours for a year. But you will not yield to corrections. You are as obstinate in your error as those Philistines upon whom you rushed » says Simon the Zealot reproachfully.
« When did He ever correct me for that? In any case everybody has his own ways and makes use of them. »
The Zealot starts at those words and looks at Jesus, Who is silent and Who responds with a light smile of understanding to Simon's remindful glance.
« That is not a good reason » says James of Alphaeus calmly and continues: « We are here to correct ourselves before correcting others. The Master has been first our Master. And He would not have been our Master if He had not wanted us to change our habits and minds. »
« He was Master in wisdom... »
« He was? He is » says Thaddeus seriously.
« How much cavilling! All right, He is. »
« And He is our Master in everything else, not only in wisdom. His teaching applies to everything there is in us. He is perfect, we are imperfect. Let us endeavour therefore to become perfect » advises James of Alphaeus kindly.
« I don't think I committed a fault. The fault lies with that cursed race. They are all wicked. »
« No. You cannot say that » bursts out Thomas. « John went among the lowest class: the fishermen who were taking their catch to the market. And look at this damp sack. It is full of choice fish. They gave up their profit to give it to us. They were afraid that the morning catch might not be fresh by evening, so they went back to sea and they wanted us to go with them. We seemed to be on the lake of Galilee and I can assure you that if the place reminded us of it, if also the boats full of keen faces reminded us, John reminded us much more. He seemed another Jesus. Words flowed from his smiling lips as sweet as honey and his face shone like another sun. How he resembled You, Master! I was moved. We were at sea for three hours, waiting for the nets, stretched out between floats, to become full of fish and they were three hours of utter happiness. Then they wanted to see You. But John said: “We will meet at Capernaum” as if he was saying: “We will meet in the square of your village.” And yet they promised to come and they took due note. And we had to argue not to be laden with too much fish. They gave us the best ones. Let us go and cook them. We shall have a feast this evening, to make up for yesterday's fasting. »
« But what did you say to them » asks the Iscariot who is disconcerted.
« Nothing special. I spoke of Jesus » replies John.
« But the way you can speak of Him! Also John quoted the Prophets. But he turned them upside down » explains Thomas.
« Upside down? » asks the Iscariot nonplussed.
« Yes. You extracted harshness from the Prophets, he extracted sweetness. Because, after all, their severity is love, exclusive violent love, if you wish so, but it is still love for souls that they would like to be faithful to the Lord. I do not know whether you have ever considered that, as you were educated among the scribes. I have, although I am a goldsmith. Also gold is hammered and melted in a crucible, to make it more beautiful. Not out of hatred: but for love. That is how the Prophets dealt with souls. I understand it, probably because I am a goldsmith. He quoted Zechariah's prophecy concerning Hadrach and Damascus and when he came to the sentence: “Seeing this Ashkelon will be terrified, and Gaza will be seized with trembling, so will Ekron, at the ruin of her prospects. The king will vanish from Gaza”, he began to explain how all that happened because man had abandoned God, and speaking of the coming of the Messiah, Who is loving forgiveness, he promised that from a poor royalty, such as the sons of the earth wish for their countries, the men who follow the Doctrine of the Messiah will succeed in attaining an eternal infinite royalty in Heaven. To say that, is nothing, but to hear it! I thought I was listening to music and that I was being carried away by angels. And thus the Prophets, who gave you a cudgelling, gave us delicious fish. »
Judas is disconcerted and remains silent.
« And what about you? » the Master asks His cousins and the Zealot.
« We went towards the shipyards, where the caulkers work. We also preferred to go amongst the poor people. But there were also some wealthy Philistines watching their boats being built. We did not know which of us should speak so we drew lots, as children do. Judas held up seven fingers, Simon two and I four. So it was for Judas to speak. And he did » explains James of Alphaeus.
« What did you say » they all ask.
« I openly made myself known for what I am, saying that I was asking them in their hospitality to be kind enough to listen to the word of a pilgrim who considered them as brothers, having the same origin and same end, and the hope, which although not common was full of love, to take them to the house of the Father and call them “brothers” forever, in the great joy of Heaven.
Then I said: “Zephaniah, our Prophet said: 'The region of the sea will be a place for shepherds... they will lead flocks there to pasture; among the house of Ashkelon they will rest at evening'” and I clarified my idea saying: “The Supreme Shepherd has come amongst you. He is not armed with arrows, but with love. He stretches out His arms towards you and points out His holy pastures. He remembers the past only to pity men for the great harm they do and have done to themselves through hatred, like foolish children, while they could have relieved so much sorrow by loving one another, since they are brothers.
This land” I said “will be the place of holy shepherds, the servants of the Supreme Shepherd who are already aware that they will have their richest pastures here and their best flocks; and their hearts, in their declining years, will be able to rest thinking of your hearts and the hearts of your children, more intimate than friendly homes, because Jesus Our Lord, will be their Master.” They understood me. They asked me questions, nay, they asked us all questions. And Simon told them of his cure, my brother spoke to them of Your goodness towards the poor. And here is the proof. This fat purse for the poor we shall find on our way. The Prophets did not harm us either... »
Judas does not utter a single word.
« Well » says Jesus comfortingly, « Judas will do better next time. He thought he was doing the right thing by doing what he did. And as he acted for an honest purpose, he committed no sin. And I am equally satisfied with him. It is not easy to be an apostle. But one learns. I regret one thing only. That I did not have this money before and that I did not meet you. I needed it for a miserable family. »
« We can go back. It is still early... But, excuse me. Master. How did You come across it. What did You do? Just nothing? Did You not evangelize? »
« I? I walked. By means of My silence I said to a prostitute: “Abandon your sinful life.” I met a boy, somewhat of a little rogue, and I evangelized him and we exchanged gifts. I gave him the buckle which Mary Salome had put on my tunic at Bethany, and he gave Me this work of his » and Jesus takes out from His tunic the caricatural puppet. They all look at it and laugh. « Then I went to see some beautiful carpets which a man makes in Ashkelon to sell them in Egypt and elsewhere... and I comforted a little fatherless girl and I cured her mother. And that is all. »
« And You think that is little? »
« Yes. Because there was also the need of some money, but I had none. »
« But let us go back... we did not upset anyone » says Thomas.
« And what about your fish? » says James of Zebedee jokingly.
« The fish? Well. You who are... anathematised, go to the old man who is giving us hospitality and start preparing. We will go to town. »
« Yes » says Jesus. « But I will show you the house from a distance. There will be many people. I will not come, because they would keep Me. I do not wish to offend our host who is waiting for us, by declining his invitation. Rudeness is always against charity. »
The Iscariot lowers his head even more and becomes purple, such is the change of his colour, remembering how often he has committed that fault.
Jesus resumes: « You will go into the house and look for the little girl, she is the only girl there, so you cannot be mistaken. You will give her this purse and say to her: “God sends you this because you believed. It is for you, your mummy and your little brothers.” Nothing else. And come back at once. Let us go. »
And the group breaks up as Jesus goes to town with John, Thomas and His cousins, whereas the others go towards the house of the Philistine market gardener.