6th October 1945.
Arbela also is now far away. In the group there are also Philip of Arbela and the other disciple, whose name I hear is Mark.
The road is muddy because of the heavy rain. The sky is overcast. A little river, but quite worthy of this name, crosses the road to Aera. Swollen with the rain which has stormed in this area it is certainly not sky-blue; it is reddish yellow as if the water had been flowing through ferrous ground.
« The weather is now bad. You did the right thing in sending the women away. It is no longer the season for them to be on the roads» states James sententiously.
And Simon the Zealot, who is always calm in his devotion to the Master, proclaims: « Everything He does, the Master does well. He is not dull like us. He sees and arranges everything for the best, and more to our behalf than to His own.»
John, who is happy to be beside Him, looks up at Him with a smiling face and exclaims: « You are the dearest and best Master the earth ever had, has or will have, besides being the most holy.»
« Those Pharisees... What a disappointment! Also the bad weather has helped to convince them that John of Endor was not there. But why are they so hostile to him?» asks Ermasteus, who is very fond of John of Endor.
Jesus replies: « Their hatred is not against him or because of him. He is an implement which they manoeuvre against Me.»
Philip of Arbela says: « Well the rain has more than convinced them that it was useless to wait for and suspect John of Endor. Long live the rain! It served also to keep You in my house for five days.»
« I wonder how worried those at Aera are! It is surprising that my brother has not come to meet us» says Andrew.
« Meet us? He will be following us» remarks Matthew.
« No. He was taking the road along the lake. Because he was going from Gadara to the lake and by boat to Bethsaida to see his wife and tell her that the boy is at Nazareth and that he will be soon going back. From Bethsaida through Merom he will take the road to Damascus for a little while, and then the road to Aera. He is certainly at Aera.»
There is silence. Then John says smiling: « But that little old woman, Lord!»
« I thought that You were going to grant her the joy of dying on Your chest, as You did with Saul of Kerioth» remarks Simon Zealot.
« I have loved her even more. Because I will wait to call her to Me, when the Christ is about to open the gates of Heaven. The little mother will not have to wait long for Me. She now lives with her remembrance, and with the assistance of your father, Philip, her life will not be so sad. I bless you and your relatives once again.»
John's joy is darkened by a cloud thicker than the ones in the sky. Jesus notices it and asks: « Are you not glad that the old woman will soon be coming to Paradise?»
« Yes... but I am not as it means that You will be going... Why die, Lord?»
« Those who are born of woman, die.»
« Will You have her only?»
« Oh! no! How joyfully will those proceed, whom I save as God, and whom I loved as man...»
They cross two more little rivers, one close to the other. It is beginning to rain on the flat region which stretches in front of the pilgrims after they have climbed the hills at the junction with the road, which follows a valley and runs northwards. A mighty mountain chain appears to the north, or rather to the north-west, but more north than west, with many clouds piling on the mountain tops, forming almost unreal new tops on the real ones, covered with woods on the sides and with snow on the peaks. But the chain is very far away.
« There is water down here, and snow up there. That is the chain of the Hermon. It has covered its summit with a large white blanket. If there is sunshine at Aera, you will see how beautiful it looks when the sun tinges the high peak with pink» says Timoneus, who is urged by the love for his fatherland to praise the beauty of the country.
« But it is raining now. Is Aera still far?» asks Matthew.
« Yes, very. We shall not be there until this evening.»
« In that case, may God save us from aches and pains» concludes Matthew, who is not very keen on walking in such weather.
They are all wrapped up in their mantles, under which they hold their travelling sacks to protect them from dampness, so that they may change their clothes on arrival, as the ones they are wearing are dripping wet and the bottom parts are heavy with mud.
Jesus is ahead of them, engrossed in thought. The others are nibbling at their pieces of bread and John says jokingly: « There is no need to look for fountains to quench our thirst. It is enough to hold sore heads back and open our mouths and the angels will give us water.» Ermasteus, who being young is like Philip of Arbela and John so lucky as to take everything humorously, says: « Simon of Jonah was complaining of the camels. But I would rather be on one of those towers shaken by an earthquake than in this mud. What do you think?»
And John: « I say that I am comfortable everywhere, providing Jesus is there...»
The three young men go on talking incessantly. The four older ones quicken their steps and reach Jesus. The remaining couple, that is, Timoneus and Mark follow the rest speaking...
« Master, Judas of Simon will be at Aera...» says Andrew.
« Of course. And Thomas, Nathanael and Philip will be with him.»
« Master... I will regret these peaceful days» says James with a sigh.
« You must not say that, James.»
« I know... But I cannot help it...» and he draws another deep sigh.
« There will be also Simon Peter with My brothers. Does that not make you happy?»
« It does, very much! Master, why is Judas of Simon so different from us?»
« Why do rain and sunshine, warm and cold, light and darkness alternate?»
« Because it is not possible to have the same situation all the time. Life would come to an end on the earth.»
« Quite right, James.»
« Yes, but that has got nothing to do with Judas.»
« Tell Me. Why are all the stars not like the sun, that is, huge, warm, beautiful, mighty?»
« Because... because the earth would go on fire with so much heat.»
« Why are the trees not all like those walnut-trees? By trees I mean all vegetables.»
« Because animals would not be able to eat of them.»
« Well, why are they not all like grass?»
« Because... we would have no wood to light fires, to build houses, to make tools, carts, boats, furniture.»
« Why are the birds not all eagles, and the animals are not all elephants or camels?»
« We would be in a mess if it were so!»
« So, do you think that such varieties are a good thing?»
« So you think... Why, according to you, did God make them?»
« To give us all possible help.»
« So, for a good purpose. Are you sure?»
« As I am sure that I am now alive.»
« Well, if you consider that it is right that there should be different kinds of animals, vegetables and stars, why do you expect all men to be alike? Each man has his mission and his temperament. Do you think that the infinite variety of species is a sign of the power or powerlessness of the Creator?»
« Of His power. One species enhances another.»
« Very well. Judas also serves the same purpose, as you do with your companions, and your companions with you. You have thirty-two teeth in your mouth and if you examine them carefully, you will see that one is quite different from another. Not only in their three basic groups, but each individually in its group. And consider their task when you eat. You will see that also those which seem of little use and to be doing little work, are instead the ones which fulfill the first task of breaking the bread and conveying it to others which crunch it and then pass it to others which turn it into soft pulp. Is it not so? You think that Judas does nothing or does wrong. I remind you that he evangelized southern Judaea very well, and, as you said yourself, he is very tactful with Pharisees.»
« That is true.»
Matthew remarks: « He is also very clever in collecting money for the poor. He can ask for it better than I can... Probably because money disgusts me now.»
Simon Zealot bends his head and he blushes so much that his face turns crimson.
Andrew notices it and asks him: « Are you not feeling well?»
« No... Fatigue... I don't know.»
Jesus gazes at him and he blushes more and more. But Jesus does not say anything.
Timoneus comes forward running: « Master, over there you can see the village before Aera. We can stop there or get some donkeys.»
« The rain is now ceasing. It is better to go on.»
« As You wish, Master. But, if You allow, I will go ahead.»
« You may go.»
Timoneus runs away with Mark. And Jesus remarks smiling: « He wants us to have a triumphal entrance.»
They are all together in a group once again. Jesus lets them get excited talking about the difference of regions and He then withdraws to the rear of the group taking the Zealot with Him. As soon as they are alone He asks: « Why did you blush, Simon?»
The apostle turns crimson again but does not reply. Jesus repeats His question. Simon blushes more and more but remains silent. Jesus asks him once again.
« My Lord, You already know! Why do You want me to tell You?» shouts the Zealot sorrowfully, as if he were tortured.
« Are you certain?»
« He did not deny it. But he said: “I do so because I am provident. I have common sense. The Master never thinks of the future.” Which we can say is true. But... it is always... it is always... Master, tell me the right word.»
« It is always a proof that Judas is only a “man.” He cannot elevate himself to be a spirit. But, you are all more or less alike. You are afraid of silly things. You worry about useless providence. You cannot believe that Providence is powerful and always present. Well: let us keep that to ourselves. All right?»
« Yes, Master.»
There is silence. Then Jesus says: « We shall soon be going back to the lake... A little concentration after so much travelling will be lovely. You and I will be going to Nazareth for some time, towards the feast of the Dedication. You are alone... The others will be with their families. You will stay with Me.»
« My Lord, Judas, Thomas and Matthew are also alone.»
« Do not worry about that. Everyone will celebrate the festivity in his own family. Matthew has a sister. You are alone. Unless you want to go to Lazarus...»
« No, Lord» exclaims Simon. « No. I love Lazarus. But to be with You is to be in Paradise. Thank You, Lord» and he kisses Jesus' hand.
They have just left the little village behind when, in another heavy shower Timoneus and Mark appear on the flooded road shouting: « Stop! Simon Peter is coming with some donkeys. I met him on the way. He has been coming for three days to this place with the donkeys, always in the rain.»
They stop under a thicket of oak-trees which shelter them somewhat from the downpour. And then Peter appears riding a donkey and leading a line of donkeys; he looks like a friar under the blanket which covers his head and shoulders.
« May God bless You, Master! I said that He would be drenched like one who had fallen into the lake! Come on, quick, all of you, mount the donkeys, because Aera has been on fire for three days, as the people have kept the fireplaces lit to dry You! Quick... Look what a state He is in! But you... could you not keep Him back? Ah! if I am not there! But I say: just look at that! His hair is hanging as if he were drowned. You must be frozen. In all this rain! How thoughtless! And what about you all? You reckless ones! And you first of all, my stupid brother, and all the rest of you. How pretty you all look! You are like sacks soaked in a pond. Come on, quick. I will never trust Him to you again. I am almost dying with horror...»
« And with talking, Simon» says Jesus calmly while His donkey trots along beside Peter's at the head of the caravan of donkeys. Jesus repeats: « And with talking. And with talking uselessly. You have not told Me whether the others have arrived. Whether the women left. Whether your wife is well. You have told Me nothing.»
« I will tell You everything. But why did You leave in all this rain?»
« And why did you come?»
« Because I was anxious to see You, my Master.»
« Because I was anxious to join you, My Simon.»
« Oh! My dear Master! How much I love You! Wife, boy, house? They are nothing, nothing is beautiful without You. Do You believe that I love You so much?»
« I do. I know who you are, Simon.»
« A big boy full of little faults, under which so many lovely qualities are buried. But one is not buried. And that is your honesty in everything. Well, who was there at Aera?»
« Your brothers Judas and James, Judas of Kerioth with the others. Judas seems to have done a lot of good. Everybody praises him...»
« Did he ask you any questions?»
« Oh! So many! I did not reply to any of them, I said that I did not know anything. In fact, what do I know, except that I took the women as far as Gadara? You know... I did not tell him anything about John of Endor. He thinks that John is with You. You ought to tell the others.»
« No. Like you, they do not know where John is. There is no point in saying anything else. But all these donkeys!... For three days!... What an expense! And the poor?»
« The poor... Judas has loads of money and he sees to them. The donkeys cost me nothing. The people of Aera would have given me a thousand for You, without any charge. I had to raise my voice against them to avoid coming here with an army of donkeys. Timoneus is right. Everybody believes in You here. They are better than we are...» and he sighs.
« Simon, Simon! In Trans-Jordan they honoured us; a galley-slave, some heathen women, prostitutes, women gave you a lesson in perfection. Remember that, Simon of Jonah. Always.»
« I will try, Lord. Here are the first people from Aera. Look how many! There is the mother of Timoneus. There are Your brothers among the crowds. There are the disciples whom You sent ahead of those who came with Judas of Kerioth. And there is the richest man in Aera with his servants. He wanted You to stay in his house. But Timoneus' mother asserted her rights and You will be staying with her. Look, look! They are irritated because the rain is putting out their torches. There are many sick people, You know. They remained in town, near the gates, to see You at once. A man who owns a timber store sheltered them under the sheds. The poor people have been there for three days, since we arrived and we were surprised that You were not here.»
The shouts of the crowds prevent Peter from going on speaking, so he becomes quiet riding beside Jesus like an equerry. The crowds, whom they have now reached, part and Jesus passes through them on his little donkey, blessing them unceasingly. They enter the town.
« To the sick people at once» says Jesus, Who pays no attention to the protestations of those who would like to take Him into their houses to give Him food and warmth, lest He might suffer too much. « They suffer more than I do» He replies.
They turn right and there is the rustic enclosure of the timber store. The door is wide open and complaining lamentations can be heard through it: « Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us!»
It is an imploring chorus as unchanging as a litany: voices of children, of women, of men, of old people. They are as sad as the bleating of suffering lambs, as melancholy as the voices of dying mothers, as dejected as the voices of those who have but one hope left, as trembling as the voices of those who can but weep...
Jesus enters the enclosure. He stands up as much as He can in the stirrups and with His right hand up He says with His powerful voice: « To all those who believe in Me, health and blessing.»
He sits in the saddle once again and is about to go back to the road, but the crowds press Him and the cured people throng round Him. And in the light of the torches, which burn in the shelter of the sheds and illuminate the twilight, the crowds can be seen acclaiming the Lord in a frenzy of joy. And the Lord disappears in a flowery collection of cured children, whom mothers have put on His arms, on His lap and even on the neck of the little donkey, holding them so that they might not fall. Jesus' arms are full of them, as if they were flowers, and He smiles happily, kissing them as He cannot bless them, since His arms are engaged in supporting them. The children are then taken away, and it is the turn of the old people who have also been cured and are now weeping out of joy; they kiss His mantle and are followed by the men and women...
It is dark when He can enter Timoneus' house and rest near the fire wearing dry clothes.