16th July 1945.
Ashkelon and its market gardens are already but a memory. In the cool hours of a wonderful morning, Jesus and His disciples, turning their backs to the sea, direct their steps towards the low but beautiful green hills rising from the fertile plain. His apostles, who are both well rested and satisfied, are all in good fettle and speak of Ananiah, of his slaves, of Ashkelon, of the tumult in town when they went back to take the money to Dinah.
« It was my fate that I should be in straits because of the Philistines. After all, hatred and love have the same manifestations. And I, who had never suffered at the hands of Philistine hatred, was almost wounded by their love. They were on the point of capturing us to compel us to tell them the whereabouts of the Master, so elated were they because of the miracle. And how they shouted! Didn't they, John? The town was boiling like a pot. Those who were upset would not listen to reason and they were looking for the Jews to thrash them, those who had been benefited, or their friends, were endeavouring to persuade the former that a god had passed by. What a turmoil! They can talk it over for months. The trouble is that they talk with clubs rather than with their tongues. Well... it is up to them. They can do as they like » says Thomas.
« But... they are not bad... » remarks John.
« No. They are only blinded by so many things » replies the Zealot.
Jesus does not speak along a good stretch of the road. He then says: « Here, I will now go up to that village on the mountain, while you go on to Ashdod. Be careful. Be gentle, kind and patient. Even if they laugh at you, bear it in peace, as Matthew did yesterday, and God will help you. At sunset leave the town and go to the pond near Ashdod. We shall meet there. »
« But, my Lord, I will not let You go all alone! » exclaims the Iscariot. « These people are violent... It is not wise. »
« Do not be afraid for Me. Go, Judas, and be prudent yourself. Goodbye. Peace be with you. »
The Twelve go away but they are not very enthusiastic. Jesus looks at them depart and He takes the cool shady path up the hill. The hill is covered with olive, walnut and fig-trees and with well cultivated vineyards that are already promising good crops. On the plains there are little fields of cereals, while white-haired goats are grazing on the green grassy slopes.
Jesus arrives at the first houses of the village. He is about to enter when He meets a strange procession. There are women shouting, men howling an alternate lament and they are performing a kind of dance round a blindfolded billygoat, which they beat while proceeding. The knees of the animal are already bleeding after stumbling and falling on the stones of the path. Another group of people, who are also shouting and howling, are moving round a carved simulacrum, which is really very ugly and they hold up pans full of embers, which they keep alive by spraying resins and salt over them, at least I think that is what is happening, as the former smell of turpentine and the latter crackles like salt. Another group is gathered round a wizard, before whom they continuously bow, shouting:
« By your strength! » (men)
« You only can! » (women)
« Implore the god! » (men)
« Remove the witchcraft! » (women)
« Order the matrix! »
« Save the woman! »
And then all together, with a hellish howl, shout:
« Death to the sorceress! »
And they start all over again, with a variant:
« By your strength! »
« You only can! »
« Command the god! »
« To let us see! »
« Order the billygoat! »
« To show us the sorceress! »
And with another hellish cry:
« Who hates the house of Phara! »
Jesus stops a man of the last group, and kindly asks him: « What is happening? I am a foreigner... »
The procession has stopped for a moment to beat the billygoat, spray resins on the embers and take breath, and the man explains: « The wife of Phara, the great man of Magdalgad is dying in childbirth. Someone who hates her, has cast a spell on her. Her womb has become strangulated and the child cannot come into the world. We are looking for the sorceress to kill her. Only that way Phara's wife can be saved, and if we do not find the sorceress we will sacrifice the billygoat to implore supreme mercy from goddess Matrix (I now realise that the monstruous puppet is a goddess)... »
« Stop. I can cure the woman and save her son. Tell the priest » says Jesus to the man and to two more who have approached Him.
« Are You a doctor? »
« More than a doctor. »
The three men elbow their way through the crowd and go to the idolatrous priest. They speak to him. The rumour spreads. The procession, which had set out again, stops.
The priest, imposing in his many coloured rags, nods to Jesus and orders: « Young man, come here! » And when Jesus is near him: « Is what You say true? Mind you, if what You say does not happen, we will infer that the spirit of the sorceress is embodied in You and we will kill You in her place. »
« What I said is true. Take Me to the woman at once and in the meantime give Me the billygoat. I need it. Remove the bandage from its head and bring it here. »
They do so. The poor stunned staggering bleeding animal is brought to Jesus Who caresses its thick black coat.
« Now you must obey Me in everything. Will you do that? »
« Yes! » shout the crowd.
« Let us go. Do not shout any more and stop burning resins. It is an order. »
They enter the village and along the main street they go to a house situated in the centre of an orchard. Shouting and crying can be heard through the wide open doors, and above all, the lugubrious dreadful laments of the woman who cannot give birth to her child. They run to tell Phara, who looking wan and with ruffled hair comes forward together with two weeping women and some useless wizards who are burning incense and leaves on copper pans.
« Save my wife! »
« Save my daughter! »
« Save her, save her! » shout in turn the husband, an old woman and the crowd.
« I will save her and her boy as well, because it is a boy, a very healthy one, with two sweet eyes the hue of a ripe olive and dark hair on his head like this fleece. »
« How do You know? What? Can You see also inside a womb? »
« I see and penetrate everywhere. I know everything and I can do everything. I am God. »
If He had thrown a thunderbolt, the effect would not have been the same. They all throw themselves on the ground, as if they were dead.
« Stand up. Listen. I am the powerful God and I cannot bear other gods before Me. Light a fire and throw that statue on to it. »
The crowds rebel. They begin to doubt the mysterious « god » who orders the goddess to be burned. The priests are most indignant. But Phara and his mother-in-law, who are interested in the woman's life, oppose the hostile crowd and since Phara is the great man in the village, the crowd checks its anger. But the man asks Him: « How can I believe that You are a god? Give me a sign and I will order them to do what You want. »
« Look. See the wounds of this billygoat? They are open, are they not? They are bleeding, are they not? And the animal is almost dead. Well, I do not want that... Now, look. »
The man bends, looks... and shouts: « There are no wounds! » and he throws himself on the ground begging: « My wife, my wife! »
But the priest of the procession threatens: « Watch, Phara! We do not know who He is! Dread the revenge of the gods! »
The man is seized with double fear: the gods, his wife... He asks: « Who are You? »
« I am He Who I am, in Heaven, on the earth. All power is subject to Me, every thought is known to Me. The dwellers of Heaven adore Me, those in Hell fear Me. And those who believe in Me will see all wonders being performed. »
« I believe! I believe... Your Name! »
« Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Lord. Burn that idol! I cannot bear gods in My presence. Put out those thuribles. Only My Fire is powerful and willing. Obey, or I will incinerate that vain idol, and I will go away without saving anyone. »
Jesus is awesome in His linen robe, from the shoulders of which hangs His blue mantle behind Him, His arm raised in a gesture of command, His face gleaming... They are afraid of Him, no one speaks... In the silence, the heart-rending exhausting cries of the suffering woman are distinctly heard. But they are still reluctant to obey. Jesus' face is becoming more and more awesome to human eyes. It is really a fire burning both matter and souls. And the copper pans are the first to suffer. The men holding them are compelled to throw them away as they can no longer stand their heat. And yet the coal seems to be out... Then the idol-bearers are forced to lay on the ground the litter which they were carrying shoulder high as the shafts are becoming carbonised, as if a mysterious flame burned them, and as soon as the litter is on the ground, the idol catches fire.
The crowds are terrorised and run away...
Jesus turns to Phara: « Can you really believe in My power? »
« I do believe. You are God. The God Jesus. »
« No. I am the Word of the Father, of Jehovah of Israel, and I have come in Flesh, Blood, Soul and Divinity to redeem the world and give men faith in the True God, the One, Trine God Who is in the Most High Heavens. I have come to give help and mercy to men, so that they may abandon Error and come to the Truth, which is the Only God of Moses and of the Prophets. Can you still believe? »
« Yes, I do. »
« I have come to bring the Way, Truth and Life to men, to demolish idols, to teach wisdom. Through Me the world will be redeemed, because I will die for love of the world and for the eternal salvation of men. Can you still believe? »
« Yes, I believe. »
« I have come to tell men, that if they believe in the True God, they will have eternal life in Heaven, near the Most High, Who is the Creator of every man, animal, plant and planet. Can you still believe? »
« Yes, I do believe. »
Jesus does not even enter the house. He only stretches out His arms towards the poor woman's room, with His hands open as in the resurrection of Lazarus, and He shouts: « Come out to the light to know the Divine Light and by order of the Light which is God! » A thundering order, echoed after a moment, by a cry of triumph having in its sound both wail and joy, and then the feeble weeping of a new-born baby, feeble but clear and growing more and more in strength.
« Your son is crying to greet the earth. Go to him and tell him, both now and later, that not the earth, but Heaven is his fatherland. Bring him up for Heaven, and that applies also to you. That is the Truth speaking to you. Those things (and He points at the copper pans, crumpled up on the ground like dry leaves, and now completely useless, and at the ashes marking the place of the idol's litter) are Falsehood that neither helps nor saves. Goodbye. » And He is about to go away.
But a woman rushes forth with a lively baby enveloped in linen swaddling clothes and she shouts: « It's a boy, Phara. He is beautiful and strong, His eyes are as dark as a ripe olive and his hair is darker and thinner than the hair of a little sacred goat. And your wife is resting blissfully. She no longer suffers, as if nothing had happened. It was all so sudden, when she was already dying... and after those words... »
Jesus smiles and as the man presents the baby to Him, He touches its head with the tips of His fingers. The people – with the exception of the priests who go away indignantly when they see Phara's defection – gather round them to see the baby and look at Jesus.
Phara would like to give Him gifts and money for the miracle. But Jesus kindly but resolutely says: « Nothing. A miracle can only be paid for by loyalty to God Who granted it. I will retain this billygoat as a remembrance of your town. » And He goes away with the billygoat, which trots along beside Him, as if Jesus were his owner, and now that it is cured, it looks happy and bleats for joy of being with one who does not strike it...
They go down the slopes of the hill and take the main road which leads to Ashdod...
When in the evening, near the shady pond, Jesus sees the apostles coming, their amazement is reciprocal, as they see Jesus with the ram and He sees them with the disappointed faces of those who have not done any business.
« A disaster, Master! They did not hit us, but they drove us out of town. We have been wandering about the country and we got some food but we had to pay highly for it. And yet we were kind... » they say desolately.
« It does not matter. We were driven away also at Hebron last year, but this time they honoured us. You must not lose heart. »
« And what about You, Master? And that goat? »
« I went to Magdalgad. I incinerated an idol and its thuribles, I made a baby boy come into the world, I preached the True God by means of miracles and I took this goat, destined to an idolatrous rite, as My reward. Poor thing, it was covered with wounds. »
« But now it is all right! It's a wonderful animal. »
« It is a sacred animal, destined to the idol... Yes, it is now sound. The first miracle I worked to convince them that I am the Powerful One, and not their piece of wood. »
« And what are You going to do with it? »
« I am taking it to Marjiam. A puppet yesterday, a goat today. It will make him happy. »
« Are You going to take it with You all the way to Bether? »
« Of course. I see nothing horrible about it. If I am the Shepherd, I can certainly have a ram. We will give it to the women. And they will go to Galilee with it. We will find a little she-goat. Simon, you will become the shepherd of little goats. It would be better if they were sheep... But there are more goats than lambs in the world... It is a symbol, My dear Peter. Remember that... By means of your sacrifice you will make many lambs of rams. Come. Let us go to that village among the orchards. We shall find lodgings either in the houses or on the sheaves which are already tied up in the fields. And tomorrow we will go to Jabneel. »
The apostles are surprised, grieved, disheartened. They are surprised at the miracles, grieved because they were not there, disheartened because of their inability, whereas Jesus can do everything.
He, instead, is So happy!... And He is successful in convincing them: « Nothing is useless. Not even defeat, because it serves to make you humble, whereas speech serves to make a name, Mine, resound and leave a remembrance in hearts. » And He is so persuasive and bright with joy that they also cheer up.