22nd August 1945.
« My dear friends, what are you doing near this fire? » asks Jesus when He finds His disciples round a well fed fire, which blazes in the early evening shadows at a crossroads in the plain at Esdraelon.
The apostles start, as they did not see Him come, and they forget the fire to greet the Master. They look as if they had not seen Him for ages. They then explain: « Listen! We settled an issue between two brothers from Jezreel and they were so pleased that they gave us a lamb each. We decided to cook them and give them to Doras' men. Micah of Johanan slaughtered and prepared them and we are now going to roast them. Your Mother has gone with Mary and Susanna to tell Doras' men to come here after vesper, when the steward goes home to tipple. Women do not attract attention so much... We endeavoured to see them pretending we were wayfarers passing by their fields, but we did not do much. We decided to gather here this evening and say... a little more, for their souls, and satisfy also their bodies, as You have done in the past. And now that You are here it will be even more pleasant. »
« Who was going to speak? »
« Well... A little each... informally. We are not capable of doing any more, also because John, the Zealot and Your brother do not want to speak. Judas of Simon and Bartholomew are not anxious to speak either... We even quarrelled over that...» says Peter.
« Why do those five not want to speak? »
« John and Simon because they say that it is not right that they should be the ones who always speak. Your brother because he wants me to speak and says that if I never start... Bartholomew because... because he is afraid that he may speak too masterly and that he may not succeed in convincing people. You can see that they are excuses...»
« And you, Judas of Simon, why do you not want to speak? »
« For the same reasons as the others! For all those reasons; because they are all fair...»
« Many reasons. But not one is specified. I will now decide, and My verdict will be inappellable. You, Simon of Jonah, shall speak, as Thaddeus wisely says.. And you, Judas of Simon, shall also speak. Thus, one of the many reasons, the one known to God and to you, will no longer exist. »
« Master, believe me, there is nothing else...» Judas endeavours to retort.
But Peter cuts him short saying: « Oh! My Lord! How can I speak in Your presence? I shall never be able! I am afraid You may laugh at me...»
« You do not want to be alone; you do not want to be with Me... What do you want? »
« You are right. But... what shall I say? »
« There is your brother coming with the lambs. Help him, and while you are cooking them, think it over. Everything helps to find a subject. »
« Also a lamb on the spit? » asks Peter incredulously.
« Yes. So obey. » Peter heaves a deep sigh, a really pitiful one, but does not reply. He goes towards Andrew and helps him to fix the lambs on to a sharpened stick which is used as a spit, and he watches them cooking with such a grave countenance, that he looks like a judge on the point of passing sentence.
« Judas of Simon, let us go and meet the women » orders Jesus. And He goes away through the barren fields of Doras. « Judas, a good disciple does not despise what his Master does not despise » He says after a little while without wasting words.
« Master, I do not despise. But like Bartholomew, I feel that I would not be understood, and I prefer not to speak. »
« Nathanael is afraid that he may not fulfill My desire, which is to enlighten and relieve hearts. He is at fault, too, because he lacks confidence in the Lord. But you are much more at fault, because you are not afraid of not being understood, but you disdain being understood by poor peasants, who are ignorant of everything, except virtue. They surpass many of you, in fact, as far as virtue is concerned. You have not yet understood anything, Judas. The Gospel is really the Good News brought to the poor, the sick, the afflicted and the slaves. Later it will be given also to others. But it is given just to assist and relieve those who suffer from all kinds of misfortunes. »
Judas lowers his head but does not reply.
The Blessed Virgin, Mary of Clopas and Susanna appear coming out from a thicket.
« I greet You, Mother! Peace to you, women! »
« Son! I went to those... poor wretches. But I was given news that did not make Me suffer too much. Doras has got rid of this land and Johanan has taken it. It is not paradise... But it is no longer hell. The steward told the peasants today. He has already gone taking away on his carts all the corn to the last grain, and thus leaving everybody without anything to eat. And as Johanan's steward today has food only for his own men, Doras' peasants were to be left with nothing to eat. Those lambs are really providential! »
« It is also providential that the men no longer belong to Doras. We saw their houses... Pigsties » says Susanna who is obviously scandalised.
« The poor people are so happy! » concludes Mary of Clopas.
« I am happy, too. They will be better off than previously » replies Jesus going towards the apostles. John of Endor joins Him carrying some pitchers of water, which he is taking along with Ermasteus.
« Johanan's men gave them to us » he explains, after greeting Jesus respectfully.
They all go towards the spot where they are roasting the two lambs in a thick cloud of greasy smoke. Peter keeps turning his spit and in the meantime he broods over his thoughts. Judas Thaddeus, instead, is walking backwards and forwards, engrossed in conversation holding one arm round his brother's waist. Of the other apostles some bring firewood, some... lay the table, carrying large stones to be used as seats or as a table. I do not know.
Doras' peasants arrive. They are thinner and more ragged than ever. But they are so happy! They are about twenty in number and there is not even a child or a woman with them. Poor men all alone...
« Peace to you all and let us bless the Lord for giving you a better master. Let us bless Him by praying for the conversion of the man who has caused you to suffer so much. Is that right? Are you happy, old father? I am glad, too. I shall be able to come more frequently with the boy. Have they told you? You are weeping for joy, are you not? Come here, be not afraid...» He says speaking to Marjiam's grandfather, who stoops kissing His hand and weeping whispers: « I beg nothing else of the Most High. He has granted me more than I asked. I would now like to die lest I should live so long that suffering may overwhelm me again. »
The peasants, who were somewhat embarrassed being with the Master, soon take heart again, and when the two lambs are laid on large leaves arranged on the stones brought previously, and the portions are made, each of which is placed on a large bread-cake that serves also as a dish, they relax in their simplicity and they eat with relish, satisfying their hunger, after starving so long: they talk of the recent events.
One of them says: « I have always cursed locusts, moles and ants. But from now on they will look like messengers of the Lord to me, because it is through them that we are leaving hell. » And although the comparison of ants and locusts with angelical cohorts is somewhat queer, nobody laughs because they all perceive the tragic circumstances concealed in those words.
The fire lights up the assembly, but their faces do not look at the flame, neither do they pay much attention to what is in front of them. All eyes are turned towards Jesus' face, and are diverted only for a few moments when Mary of Alphaeus, who is busy making portions, lays more meat on the flat bread-cakes of the hungry peasants, and she finishes her work by wrapping two roasted legs in some large leaves and says to Marjiam's grandfather: « Take this. You will have a morsel each also tomorrow, And Johanan's steward in the meantime will provide something. »
« But what about you...»
« We will have less to carry. Take it, man. »
Of the two lambs there is nothing left but the picked bones and the persistent smell of dripped fat still burning on the fire, which is dying out and its light is being replaced by moonlight.
Johanan's men also join the others. It is the moment to speak to them.
Jesus' blue eyes look up in search of Judas who is sitting near a tree, half hidden in the shade. And when Jesus sees that Judas pretends he does not understand, He calls in a loud voice: « Judas! » Judas is thus compelled to stand up and come forward. « Do not seclude yourself. Please evangelize in My place. I am very tired. In any case, if I had not come this evening, one of you would have had to speak! »
« Master... I do not know what to say... At least ask me some questions. »
« It is not for Me to ask you them. Men, what do you wish to hear or to have explained to you? » He then asks the peasants.
The men look at one another... they are uncertain... At last a peasant asks: « We have become aware of the power of the Lord and of His bounty. But we know little about His doctrine. Perhaps we will now be able to learn a little more, being with Johanan. But we are really anxious to know which are the essential things we must do in order to gain the Kingdom that the Messiah promises. As we can practically do nothing, will we be able to gain it? »
Judas replies: « You are certainly in a very painful situation. Everything in you and around you conspires to drive you away from the Kingdom. The lack of freedom to come to the Master whenever you wish, your condition of servants of a master, who, if not a hyena like Doras, is, as far as we know, a Molossian hound who keeps his servants prisoners, your sufferings and dejection, are unfavorable conditions to your election to the Kingdom. Because it is difficult for you not to cherish resentment and feelings of grudge, criticism and revenge for the man who treats you so hard. And the bare essential is to love God and one's neighbour. Otherwise there is no salvation. You must be watchful to maintain your hearts passively submitted to God's will, which is revealed to you in your destiny, and bear your master patiently without ever taking the liberty of expressing a judgement that certainly could not be kind to your master, or express gratitude for your... your... In short, you must not ponder on your situation, to avoid feelings of rebellion that would kill love. And he who does not love will not reach salvation, because he infringes the first precept. But I am almost certain that you will be saved because I see that you have good will joined to kind souls, which give rise to hope that you will be able to refrain from hatred and desire for revenge. In any case God's mercy is so great that He will remit what is still lacking for your perfection. »
There is silence. Jesus has lowered His head so much that His countenance cannot be seen; but the faces of the rest can be seen and their expression is certainly not happy. The peasants look more dejected than previously, the apostles and the women seem surprised and almost frightened.
« We shall endeavour to repress every thought against patience and forgiveness » the old man replies humbly.
Another peasant says with a sigh: « It will certainly be difficult for us to reach the perfection of love, because it is already a great thing that we have not become the murderers of those who tortured us! A soul suffers a great deal, and even when it does not hate, it finds it difficult to love, like emaciated children who grow with difficulty...»
« No, man. I, instead, think that just because you have suffered so much without becoming murderers and revengeful, your souls love more strongly than ours. You love without even realising it » says Peter to comfort them.
And he becomes aware that lie has spoken and he stops to say: « Oh! Master!... But... You told me that I had to speak... and to find the subject even in the lambs that I was roasting. And I continued to watch them to find some good words for our brothers here, and for their situation. But, as I am stupid, I did not find anything suitable, and I do not know how, I found that I was wandering away in thoughts, which I do not know whether they are strange, in which case they are certainly mine, or holy, and if so, they have certainly come from Heaven. I will express them, exactly as they came to me, and You, Master, will explain them to me or reproach me, and you, my friends, will bear with me. I was looking first at the fire, and I thought: “Now: what is a fire made of? Of wood. But wood does not burn by itself. And if it is not dry, it will not burn at all, because water makes it heavy and prevents the tinder from lighting it. And when wood is dead, it rots and woodworms pulverise it, but it will not catch fire by itself. And yet if one arranges it in a suitable manner and holding tinder and flint close to it produces a spark and helps it to light by blowing on thin branches to increase the flame, because one always starts from the smallest things, then the flame rises and becomes beautiful and useful and sets everything on fire, also thick pieces of wood.” And I said to myself: “We are like wood. We do not light up by ourselves. But we must take care not to be too impregnated with the heavy moisture of flesh and blood, to allow the tinder to be lit up by a spark. And we must desire to be burnt because if we remain inactive we may be destroyed by inclement weather and by woodworms, that is, by mankind and by the demon. Whereas if we give ourselves to the fire of love, it will begin to burn the thinner branches and will destroy them, and I considered the little branches to be imperfections, then it will grow and set on fire the bigger pieces of wood, that is the stronger passions. And we, being like wood, something material, hard, dull, even ugly, will become the beautiful, incorporeal, agile, bright thing that a flame is. And that because we have given ourselves to love, which is the flint and tinder that turn us poor sinners into future angels and citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.” And that was one thought. »
Jesus has raised His head a little and is listening with His eyes closed and the shadow of a smile on His lips. The others are looking, they are still surprised but no longer frightened.
Peter continues to speak peacefully. « Another thought came to my mind looking at the lambs that were roasting. Do not say that my thoughts are childish. The Master told me to look for them in what I was watching... And I obeyed. So I was looking at the lambs and I said: “There you are. They are two innocent meek animals. Our Holy Scriptures are full of gentle allusions to lambs, both to remember Him Who is the promised Messiah and Saviour as was symbolised in the Mosaic lamb, and to remind us that God will have mercy on us. The prophets say so. He comes to gather His flock together, to assist wounded sheep and carry those whose limbs are fractured. How much goodness!” I was saying to myself. “We must not be afraid of a God Who promises us, poor wretches, so much mercy! But”, I still said to myself, “we must be meek, at least meek, since we are no longer innocent. We must be meek and anxious to be consumed by love. Because what would the most beautiful and pure little lamb also become, after it has been slaughtered, if it is not cooked on a fire? A putrid carrion. Fire instead turns it into wholesome blessed food.” And I concluded: “In short, all good things are achieved through love. Love relieves us of the burden of humanity, it makes us bright and useful, it enables us to be good to our brothers and grateful to God. It elevates our good natural qualities raising them to a height that bears the name of supernatural virtues. And he who is virtuous is holy, and who is holy possesses Heaven. So it is not science or fear that open the way to perfection for us, it is love. It detaches us from evil, much more than the fear of punishment, as through it we do not wish to grieve the Lord. It makes us pity our brothers and love them because they come from God. Therefore love is the salvation and the sanctification of man.” That is what I was thinking while watching my roast and obeying my Jesus. Forgive me if that is all. But those thoughts did me good. I offer them to you hoping they may do you good as well. »
Jesus opens His eyes, which are radiant with joy. He stretches out one arm and lays His hand on Peter's shoulder: « I solemnly tell you that you have found the words that you had to find. Obedience and love made you find them and humility and the desire to give solace to your brothers will make of them as many stars in their dark sky. May God bless you, Simon of Jonah. »
« May God bless You, Master! And are You not speaking? »
« They will be commencing their new service tomorrow. I will bless their commencement with My word. Go now in peace and may God be with you. »