11th October 1945.
The lake of Tiberias is a grey sheet of water. It looks like tarnished mercury, so heavy it is in the dead calm which allows just the resemblance of tired waves, which are not successful in making foam, and stop and calm down after making a slight movement, mingling with the dull water under a dull sky.
Peter and Andrew, James and John around their respective boats on the little beach of Bethsaida, are preparing to sail. There is a smell of grass and wet earth, and a light mist on the green stretch towards Korazim. November gloominess lies heavy on everything.
Jesus comes out of Peter's house, holding by the hands Matthias and Mary whom Porphirea has tidied up with motherly care replacing Mary's little dress with one of Marjiam's. But Matthias is too small to have the same treatment and he is still shivering in his little faded cotton tunic, so much so that Porphirea, who is always so full of pity, goes back into the house and brings out a blanket in which she envelops the child as if it were a mantle. Jesus thanks her while she kneels down in taking leave and then withdraws after kissing the two orphans once more.
« Just to have children she would have taken these two as well» remarks Peter, who has been watching the scene and who in turn bends to give the two children a piece of bread spread with honey, which he had aside under a seat of the boat. Andrew laughs at him and says: « You wouldn't, would you? You even stole your wife's honey, to make these two happy.»
« Stole? It's my honey!»
« Yes, but my sister-in-law is jealous of it, because it is for Marjiam. And since you are aware of that, last night you stole into the kitchen, barefooted like a thief, and took enough of it to prepare that bread. I saw you, brother, and I laughed because you were looking about like a child who is afraid of his mother's slaps.»
« You horrible spy» replies Peter, laughing and embracing his brother, who kisses him saying: « My dear big brother.»
Jesus watches them and smiles frankly standing between the two children who eat up their bread.
The other eight apostles arrive from Bethsaida. Perhaps they were the guests of Philip and Bartholomew.
« Quick!» shouts Peter and he embraces the two children together to take them to the boat without getting their bare feet wet. « You are not afraid, are you?» he asks them while he paddles in the water with his short strong legs, bare to about a span above his knees.
« No, sir» says the girl, but she clings convulsively to Peter's neck closing her eyes when he puts her into the boat, which sways under Jesus' weight, Who also gets into it. The little boy, who is braver, or perhaps more astonished, does not say one word. Jesus sits down drawing the little ones to Himself, and covers them with His large mantle, which looks like a wing stretched out to protect two chicks.
They are all on board, six men in each boat. Peter removes the landing board, he pushes the boat farther out and jumps into it, imitated by James in the other boat. Peter's action has caused the boat to sway heavily and the girl moans: « Mummy!» hiding her face in Jesus' lap and grasping His knees. But they are now moving smoothly, although it is laborious for Peter, Andrew and the servant who have to row with the help of Philip who is the fourth oarsman. The sail hangs loose in the heavy damp calm and is of no use. They must row.
« We are having a good row!» shouts Peter to those in the other boat, in which the Iscariot is the fourth oarsman and Peter praises his perfect rowing.
« Come on, Simon!» replies James. « Row with all your might or we shall beat you. Judas is as strong as a galley-slave. Well done, Judas!»
« Yes. We will make you head of the crew» confirms Peter who is rowing as hard as two. And he laughs saying: « But you will not succeed in beating Simon of Jonah's record. When I was twenty years old I was already first oarsman in competitions among villages» and he joyfully gives the stroke to his crew: « Heave ho!... Heave ho!» Their voices spread in the silence of the lake deserted in the early morning.
The children pluck up courage again. Their emaciated faces look up from under the mantle, one on each side of Jesus, Who embraces them, and they smile faintly. They take an interest in the work of the rowers and exchange comments.
« I seem to be going in a cart without wheels» says the boy.
« No. In a cart on the clouds. Look! We seem to be walking in the sky. Look, we are climbing on a cloud!» says Mary when she sees the prow of the boat plunge into a spot which mirrors a huge woolly cloud. And she laughs faintly.
But the sun dissipates the mist and although it is a wan autumn sun, the clouds become golden and the lake mirrors them shining. « Oh! How beautiful! We are now going to a fire. How lovely!» exclaims the boy clapping his hands.
But the little girl becomes silent and bursts into tears. They all ask her why she is weeping. She explains sobbing: « Mother used to say a poem, a psalm, I don't know, to keep us quiet, that we might be able to pray even with so much grief... and the poem mentioned a Paradise which will be like a lake of Light, of a gentle fire where there will be nothing but God and joy and where all those who are good will go... after the Saviour has come... This golden lake reminded me of it... My mummy!»
Matthias also is weeping and everyone pities them.
But Jesus' sweet voice rises above the murmur of the various voices and the moans of the little orphans: « Do not weep. Your mother brought you to Me, and she is here now with us, while I am taking you to a mother who has no children. She will be happy to have two good children in place of her own baby, who is now where your mummy is. Because she wept, too, you know? Her baby died as your mother did...»
« Oh! so we are now going to her and her baby will go to our mother!» says Mary.
« That is right. And you will all be happy.»
« What is this woman like? What is she? A peasant? Has she a good master?» The little ones are anxious to know.
« She is not a peasant, but she has a garden full of roses and she is as good as an angel. She has a good husband. He will love you as well.»
« Do You think so, Master?» asks Matthew who is somewhat incredulous.
« I am certain. And you will be convinced. Some time ago Chuza wanted Marjiam to make a knight of him.»
« Most certainly not!» shouts Peter.
« Marjiam will be a knight of Christ. That is all, Simon. Be quiet.»
The lake turns grey again. The wind rises and ripples the lake. The sail is filled and the boat sails swiftly along vibrating. But the children are dreaming of their new mother and are not afraid.
Magdala passes by with its white houses among the green vegetation. And the countryside between Magdala and Tiberias passes by. The first houses of Tiberias appear.
« Where, Master?»
« To Chuza's little harbour.»
Peter veers and gives instructions to the servant. The sail drops when the boat goes near the little harbour, and then enters it, stopping near the little pier, followed by the other boat. They are one beside the other like two tired ducks. They all land and John runs ahead to inform the gardeners.
The little ones press timorously against Jesus and Mary, pulling His tunic, asks with a big sigh: « But is she really good?»
John comes back: « Master, a servant is opening the gate. Johanna is already up.»
« Very well. Wait here. I will go ahead.»
And Jesus goes away alone. The others watch Him go commenting on His action more or less favourably. There is considerable doubt and criticism. But from the place where they are they can only see Chuza hastening towards Jesus; he bows almost to the ground at the gate and then enters the garden on Jesus' left. Then nothing else can be seen.
But I can see. I can see Jesus proceeding slowly beside Chuza who shows how happy he is to have the Master as his guest: « My Johanna will be delighted. And I am, too. She is feeling better and better. She told me about the journey. What a triumph, my Lord!»
« Did you mind?»
« Johanna is happy. And I am happy to see her thus. I might have lost her months ago, my Lord.»
« Yes, you might have... And I gave her back to you. Be grateful to God for that.»
Chuza looks at Him perplexedly... he then whispers: « A reproach, Lord?»
« No, an advice. Be good, Chuza.»
« Master, I am Herod's servant...»
« I know. But your soul is the servant of no one but God, if you wish so.»
« That is true, Lord. I will amend my way of living. Sometimes I am seized by the fear of public opinion...»
« Would you have minded last year when you wanted to save Johanna?»
« Oh! No. At the cost of losing all respect I would have applied to anyone who could save her.»
« Do likewise for your soul. It is even more precious than Johanna. Here she is coming.»
They quicken their steps towards Johanna who is running along the avenue to meet them.
« My Master! I did not hope to see You so soon. Which kindness of Yours has brought You to Your disciple?»
« A favour, Johanna.»
« A favour? Which? Tell us and if we can, we will help You» they both reply together.
« Yesterday evening on a desert road I found two poor children, a little girl and a little boy... they were barefooted, ragged, starving, all alone... and I saw them being driven away, as if they were wolves, by a hard-hearted man. They were dying of starvation... Last year I gave so much wealth to that man. And he denied two orphans a piece of bread. Because they are orphans. Orphans wandering on the roads of a cruel world. That man will receive his punishment. Do you want to receive My blessing? I am stretching My hand out to you, a Beggar of love, for those orphans who have no home, no clothes, no food, no love. Will you help Me?»
« But, Master, why ask? Tell me what You want, how much You want; tell us everything!...» says Chuza impulsively.
Johanna does not speak, but with her hands pressed on her heart, tears on her long eyelashes, a smile of desire on her red lips, she waits and her silence is more eloquent than words.
Jesus looks at her and smiles: « I would like those to have a mother, a father, a home; and the mother's name to be Johanna...»
He has no time to finish because Johanna's cry is like that of one freed from prison, while she prostrates herself to kiss the feet of her Lord.
« And what do you say, Chuza? Will you receive in My name My beloved ones, who are much dearer to My heart than jewels?»
« Master, where are they? Take me to them and upon my honour I swear to You that from the moment I lay my hand on their innocent heads, I will love them in Your name as if I were their real father.»
« Come, then. I knew that I was not coming for nothing. Come. They are coarse and frightened, but good. You can trust Me because I can read the hearts of men and the future. They will give peace and strength to your union, not so much now as in the future. You will find yourselves again in their love. Their innocent embraces will be the best lime for your home of a married couple. And Heaven will always be benign, and merciful towards you because of your charity. They are outside the gate. We came from Bethsaida...»
Johanna does not listen any more. She runs away, seized by a great desire to caress them. And she does so, falling on her knees to clasp the two little orphans to her heart, kissing their emaciated cheeks, while they are amazed looking at the beautiful lady with garments adorned with jewels. And they look at Chuza, who caresses them and takes Matthias in his arms. And they look at the beautiful garden and at the servants who gather round them... And they admire the house which opens its halls full of riches to Jesus and His apostles. And they look at Esther who covers them with kisses. The world of dreams is open to the little waifs...
Jesus watches and smiles...