12th August 1945.
It is early morning when Jesus arrives in front of a sea-town. Four boats are following His. The town juts out strangely towards the sea, as if it were built on an isthmus. Or rather: as if a slender isthmus linked the part protruding on the sea to the part stretching along the shore. It looks like a huge mushroom, as seen from the sea, with its crown lying on the waves, its roots under the shore, the isthmus being the stem. There are two harbours, one on each side: one, to the north, is wider and full of small boats; in the other, to the south, which is more sheltered, there are large ships arriving or departing.
« We must go over there » says Isaac, pointing to the harbour of the smaller boats. « That is where the fishermen are. »
They walk round the island and I can see that the isthmus is an artificial one, a kind of Cyclopean dam linking the little island to the mainland. They built lavishly in those days! I gather from this work and from the number of boats in the harbours that the town was wealthy and commercially very active. Behind the town, beyond a flat area, there are some pretty looking little hills, and the Great Hermon and the Lebanon chain of mountains can be seen very far behind. I also understand that this is one of the towns I could see from Lebanon.
Jesus' boat is now entering the northern harbour, the roadstead, because it does not dock, but the men row slowly backwards and forwards until Isaac sees those he is looking for and calls them at the top of his voice. Two beautiful fishing boats come towards them and the crew bend over the smaller boats of the disciples.
« The Master is with us, my friends. Come, if you wish to hear His word. This evening He is going back to Sicaminon » says Isaac.
« We are coming at once. Where shall we go? »
« To a quiet place. The Master is not disembarking at Tyre nor at the town on the mainland. He will speak from the boat. So choose a shaded and sheltered place. »
« Follow us towards the rock. There are some quiet shady inlets. You can also land. »
And they go to an inlet in the cliff, farther north. The very steep cliff protects from the sun. It is a lonely spot: only sea-gulls and woodpigeons live there: they fly out for their raids at sea and then fly back to their nests in the rocks, squeaking loud. Some more small boats have joined the leading one and have thus formed a little fleet. At the end of the tiny bay there is a very small beach. It is really a sham beach: a small square strewn with stones. It can hold about one hundred people.
They land making use of a large flat rock emerging from the deep water like a small natural wharf and they gather on the little stony beach, sparkling with salt. They are thin swarthy men, parched by the sun and the sea. Their short undergarments leave their thin agile limbs uncovered. They are clearly a different race from the Jews of the present time, but the difference is not so striking with regard to Galileans. I would say that those SyroPhoenicians are more like the old Philistines than their neighbouring peoples. At least those I can see.
Jesus draws close to the beach and begins to speak.
« We read in the Book of Kings that the Lord ordered Elijah to go to Zarephath of Sidonians during the drought and famine which afflicted the Earth for over three years. The Lord did not lack means to appease the prophet's hunger in any place, neither did He send him to Zarephath because that town was rich in food. On the contrary, they were already dying of starvation there. Why then did God send Elijah the Tishbite?
There was in Zarephath a woman with a righteous heart. She was a widow, a holy living woman, the mother of a boy; she was poor and lonely, yet she never rebelled against the dreadful punishment, neither was she selfish in her hunger, or disobedient. God wanted to benefit her by granting her three miracles. One for the water she took to the thirsty man, one for the little loaf of bread she baked under ashes, when she had only a handful of flour left, one for the hospitality she offered the prophet. He gave her bread and oil, the life of her son and the knowledge of the word of God.
You can see that a charitable action not only satisfies the hunger of bodies or removes the grief for a death, but it teaches the soul the wisdom of the Lord. You have given lodgings to the servants of the Lord and He gives you the word of Wisdom. A good deed has brought the word of the Lord to this land, where that word does not come. I can compare you to the only woman in Zarephath who welcomed the prophet. Because if I had gone to town, the rich and mighty people would not have welcomed Me, the busy merchants and sailors would have neglected Me and My coming here would have been valueless.
I will now leave and you will say: “But what are we? A handful of men. What do we possess? A drop of wisdom.” And yet I say to you: “I entrust you with the task of announcing the hour of the Redeemer.” I leave you repeating the words of Elijah, the prophet: “The jar of flour will not run out. The oil will not diminish until one comes who will give it more copiously.”
You have already done that. Because there are Phoenicians here among you who have come from beyond Mount Carmel. Which means that you have spoken as you were spoken to. You can thus see that the handful of flour and the drop of oil have not run out, but have instead increased in quantity. Continue to make it grow. And if you think that it is strange that God has chosen you for this work, as you do not feel capable of carrying it out, repeat the word of great trust: “I will do what you tell me, trusting your word.” »
« Master, how are we to deal with the heathens here? We know these people because they are fishermen, like ourselves. We fraternise because we do the same work. But what about the others? » asks a fisherman of Israel.
« You say that you fraternise because of the same work. Well, then, should the same origin not cause you to fraternise as well? God created both Israelites and Phoenicians. The people of the plain of Saron or of High Judaea are not different from the people of this shore. Paradise was made for all the sons of man. And the Son of man has come to take all men to Paradise. The purpose is to attain Heaven and give joy to the Father. Meet therefore on the same road and love one another spiritually as you love one another for reasons of your trade. »
« Isaac has told us many things. But we would like to know more. Is it possible for us to have a disciple, although we are so far out of the way? »
« Send them John of Endor, Master. He is so clever and he is accustomed to living with pagans » suggests Judas of Kerioth.
« No. John is staying with us » replies Jesus resolutely. He then turns to the shepherds: « When will the murex fishing be over? »
« At the first storms in autumn. The sea is too rough here, afterwards. »
« Will you be going back to Sicaminon then? »
« We will be going there and to Caesarea. We supply many Romans. »
« You will then be able to meet the disciples. For the time being... persevere. »
« On board my boat there is one whom I did not want and he came here almost in Your Name. »
« Who is he? »
« A young fisherman from Ashkelon. »
« Tell him to disembark and come here. »
The man goes on board and comes back with a young fellow who seems rather embarrassed at being the centre of so much attention.
The apostle John recognises him. « He is one of those who gave us the fish, Master » and he gets up to greet him. « You have come, Ermasteus? Are you alone here? »
« Yes, I am alone. At Capernaum I was ashamed... I stayed on the beach, hoping... »
« What? »
« To see your Master. »
« And not yours yet? My dear friend, why are you still hesitating? Come to the Light waiting for you. See how He is watching and smiling at you. »
« How will they bear with me? »
« Master, please come here for a moment. »
Jesus gets up and goes to John.
« He does not dare to come because he is a foreigner. »
« There are no foreigners, as far as I am concerned. And your companions? Were you not many?... Do not be upset. You are the only one who persevered. But I am happy also because of you alone. Come with Me. »
Jesus goes back to His place with His new conquest. « We shall certainly give this young man to John of Endor » He says to the Iscariot. He then speaks to everybody.
« A group of diggers went down into a mine where they knew there were some treasures well hidden in the bowels of the earth... And they began to dig. But the ground was hard and the work laborious. Many became tired, threw away their picks and went away. Some made fun of the foreman and treated him almost as a fool. Some cursed their fate, the work, the ground, the metal and in a fit of anger they struck the bowels of the earth tearing the vein into useless tiny bits and when they saw that they had only caused damage without making any profit, they also went away.
Only one remained: the most persevering one. He dealt kindly with the hard layers of the soil to pierce it without damaging anything, he made various tests, he dug and went down deeper. A wonderful valuable vein was at last discovered. The perseverance of the miner was thus rewarded and with the most pure metal he had found he was able to get many work contracts, a great glory and many customers, because everybody wanted that metal, which perseverance only was able to find, whereas lazy or angry people had achieved nothing.
But once the gold has been found, it must in its turn persevere and be available to be worked on, in order to become beautiful and ready to be used by the goldsmith. If the gold, after being excavated, should refuse to undergo further treatment, however painful it might be, it would remain a coarse metal, unsuitable to be worked on. You can thus see that the first enthusiasm is not enough to be successful, either as apostles, or disciples or believers. It is necessary to persevere.
Ermasteus had many companions, and in their first enthusiasm they all promised to come. He only has come. I have many disciples and their number will increase. But only a few of them will persevere until the end. Perseverance! It is the great word. For all good things.
When you cast the drag-net to catch murex shells, do you do that only once? No. Many times, for hours, for days, for months, and you are willing to go back to the same spot the following year, because your work brings bread and comfort to you and to your families. And would you behave differently for more important things, such as the interests of God and of your souls, if You are believers; your interests and your brothers', if you are disciples? I solemnly tell you that it is necessary to persevere until the end, to extract purple for eternal garments. And now let us stay here as good friends until it is time for us to go back. We shall thus become better acquainted and it will be easy to recognise one another...»
And they spread out in the little rocky bay, cooking mussels and crabs caught on the rocks, and little fish caught with small nets. Some sleep on dried seaweeds in caves opened in the rock by earthquakes or by the sea, while sky and sea are a dazzling blue kissing each other at the horizon. Seagulls fly backwards and forwards, from the sea to their nests in the rocks, squeaking and flapping their wings, the only noises which can be heard, together with the washing of the sea, in these sultry summer hours.