14th November 1945.
Jesus is walking across a very mountainous region. The mountains are not high, but the road runs up and down hills all the time; and there are many torrents, which flow merrily in the cool fresh season, and are as clear as the sky and as fresh as the first leaves that are beginning to grow more and more copiously on the trees. But although the season is so beautiful and cheerful as to comfort one's heart, Jesus' humour does not appear to be much relieved and the apostles look even more worried than He is. They are walking very quietly along the bottom of a valley. Shepherds and flocks are the only visible life. But Jesus does not even seem to see them.
A down-hearted sigh of James of Zebedee and his sudden words, the obvious result of a concerned mind, draw Jesus' attention... James says: « And defeats!... and defeats!... We seem to be cursed...»
Jesus lays a hand on his shoulder: « Do you not know that that is the lot of the better ones?»
« Eh! I know since I have been with You! But now and again we would need something different, which we did get in the past, to cheer up hearts and faith...»
« Do you doubt Me, James?» How much grief there is in Jesus' trembling voice.
« No!...» His “no” is certainly not a very definite one.
« But you do doubt. What, then? Do you no longer love Me as you did before? The fact that you have seen Me expelled, derided, or only neglected near the Phoenician borders, has perhaps weakened your love, has it?» There is deep grief in Jesus' trembling words, although there are no sobs or tears. His very soul is weeping.
« No, my Lord, not that! On the contrary, the more I see You misunderstood, rejected, humiliated, afflicted, the more my love for You increases. And I would willingly offer my life as a sacrifice, in order not to see You thus, and to be able to change the hearts of men. You must believe me. Do not crush my heart, which is already so depressed, by doubting that I do not love You. Otherwise... otherwise I will go to extremes. I will go back and I will revenge myself upon those who grieve You, to prove that I love You, to remove Your doubt, and if they catch me and kill me, I will not care in the least. I will be satisfied with giving You a proof of my love.»
« Oh! son of thunder! Whence so much impetuosity? Do you want to be an exterminating thunderbolt?» Jesus smiles at the ardour and intentions of James.
« Oh! At least I see You smile! That is already one result of my intentions. What do you say, John? Shall we carry out my intentions to relieve the Master, Who is depressed because of so many repulses?»
« Oh! yes. Let us go. We will go back and speak to them. And if they still insult Him saying that He is king only by word, or is a laughing-stock king, a penniless or a mad king, we will give them a good thrashing until they realise that the king has an army of faithful men, who are not prepared to stand their mockery. Violence can be useful at times. Let's go, brother!» John replies to him, and angry as he is, he seems to be another man, so different from the ever mild John.
Jesus places Himself between the two, catches them by the arms to hold them back and says: « Just listen to them! And what have I been preaching for such a long time? Oh! What a wonderful surprise! Also John, My dove, has become a hawk! Look how ugly, gloomy, perturbed he looks, disfigured by hatred. Oh! shame! And you are surprised because some Phoenicians remain indifferent, some Jews are resentful, some Romans expelled Me, while you are the first who have not understood anything after being with Me for two years, and you have become gall because of the hatred in your hearts, and you cast My doctrine of love and forgiveness out of your hearts and you reject it as if it were a foolish thing, and you welcome violence as a good ally! Oh! Holy Father! This is a defeat indeed! Instead of being hawks sharpening their beaks and claws, would it not be better if you were angels praying the Father to give relief to His Son? When has a storm ever done any good with its thunderbolts and hailstones? Well, in memory of this sin of yours against Charity, in memory of the moment when I saw the animal-man come to light on your faces instead of the man-angel whom I always wish to see in you, I will call you “the sons of thunder”.»
Jesus is half serious while speaking to the two excited sons of Zebedee. But His reproach does not last long, because as soon as they repent He clasps them both to His heart, His face shining with love, saying: « Never again I want to see you like that. And thank you for your love. And thank you for yours, My friends» He says addressing Andrew, Matthew and His two cousins. « Come here, that I may embrace you as well. Do you not know, that if I had nothing else but the joy of doing the will of My Father and your love, I would always be happy, even if the whole world smacked Me? I am sad, not about Myself, or about My defeats, as you call them, but because I feel sorry for the souls that reject Life. Good, we are all happy now, are we not, you big babies? Come on, then. Go to those shepherds who are milking the sheep and ask them to give you some milk in the name of God. Be not afraid» He says seeing the desolate look of the apostles. « Obey with faith. You will get milk, not a thrashing, even if the man is a Phoenician.»
And the six go off while Jesus waits for them on the road. And the sad Jesus, Whom no one wants, prays in the meantime...
The apostles come back with a little pail of milk, and they say: « The man asks You to go over there, he wants to speak to You, but he cannot leave his unreliable goats to young shepherds.»
Jesus says: « Well, let us go there and eat their bread.» And they go to the edge of the ditch where the goats are chewing precariously. « Thank you for the milk you have given Me. What do you want of Me?»
« You are the Nazarene, are You not? The one who works miracles?»
« I am the one who preaches Eternal Salvation. I am the Way to go to the true God, the Truth that gives itself, the Life that enlivens you. I am not a wizard that works wonders. The miracles that I work are a manifestation of My goodness and of your weakness that needs proofs in order to believe. But what do you want of Me?»
« Well... Were You at Alexandroscene two days ago?»
« Yes, I was. Why?»
« I was there, too, with my kids, and when I realised that there was going to be a quarrel, I went away, because they are in the habit of stirring up trouble to steal what is in the market. They are thieves, all of them: the Phoenicians... and the others. I should not say so because I am the son of a proselyte father and a Syrian mother and a proselyte myself. But it is the truth. Well. Let us go back to my story. I took shelter in a stable with my kids, waiting for my son's cart. And in the evening, when I was leaving the town, I met a woman, who was weeping, with her little daughter in her arms. She had walked eight miles to come to You. Because she lives out in the country. I asked her what was the matter, as she is a proselyte. She had come to sell some goods and do some shopping. She had heard of You and hope had filled her heart. She ran home to get the little girl. But one walks slowly with a load. When she arrived at the warehouse of the brothers, You were no longer there. The brothers said to her: “They expelled Him. But last night He told us that He would go back via the steps of Tyre.” As I am a father, too, I said to her: “Well, go there.” But she replied to me: “If after what happened He goes back to Galilee by a different road?” I said to her: “Now listen. It is either that road or the one along the border. I am pasturing my flock between Rohob and Lesemdan, on the border road between here and Naphtali. If I see Him I will tell Him, I promise you on my honour.” And I have told You.»
« And may God reward you. I will go to the woman. I Must go back to Achzib.»
« Are You going to Achzib? Well, we can go together, if You do not scorn the company of a shepherd.»
« I scorn no one. Why are you going to Achzib?»
« Because my lambs are there. Unless... I have lost them all.»
« Because there is a disease... I do not know whether it was witchcraft or something else. I know that my lovely flock has been taken ill. That is why I brought the goats here, as they are still healthy and I keep them away from the sheep. Two of my sons will look after them here. They are now in town, shopping. But I am going back there, to see them die, my beautiful woolly sheep...» The man sighs... He looks at Jesus and he apologises: « It is foolish to speak to You of these things, considering who You are, and to distress You, as You must be already distressed by the way they treat You. But our sheep are love and money to us, You know?...»
« I understand. But they will recover. Did you get anyone, who is familiar with these things, to see them?»
« Oh! They have all said the same thing: “Kill them and sell the skins. There is nothing else to be done”, and they have also threatened me if I take them about... They are afraid of the disease... for their own sheep. So I have to keep them in and they die quicker. They are bad, You know, those of Achzib».
Jesus says simply: « I know.»
« I say that they have bewitched them...»
« No. Do not believe such nonsense... Will you be leaving at once when your sons arrive?»
« Yes, I will. They will be here any moment now. Are these Your disciples? Only these?»
« No. I have more.»
« Why do they not come here? Once, I met a group of them near Merom. A shepherd was their head. So they said. A tall strong man, Elias was his name. It was in October, I think. Either before or after the Tabernacles. Has he left You now?»
« None of My disciples have left Me.»
« I was told.»
« That You... that the Pharisees... In short, that Your disciples had left You because they were afraid, and that You were...»
« A demon. You may say it. I know. Double merit for you, as you believe just the same.»
« And because of that merit, could You not... but perhaps I am asking for a sacrilege...»
« Tell Me. If it is wicked, I will let you know.»
« Could You not bless my flock, when passing by?» the man says very anxiously...
« I will bless your flock. This one...» and He raises His hand blessing the goats scattered around « ... and your flock of sheep. Do you believe that My blessing will save them?»
« As You save men from diseases, so You must be able to save animals. They say that You are the Son of God. Sheep were created by God. So they belong to the Father. I... did not know whether it was respectful to ask You. But if it is possible, please do it, Lord, and I will take large offerings to the Temple. Nay, I will not! I will give them to You for the poor. It will be better.»
Jesus smiles and is silent. The shepherd's sons arrive and shortly afterwards Jesus, the apostles and the old man set out, leaving the young men to look after the goats. They walk fast as they want to reach Kedesh soon and then proceed at once towards the road that from the sea takes to the mainland. It must be the road that forks at the foot of the promontory, the one they took going to Alexandroscene. At least that is what I understand from the conversation of the shepherd with the disciples. Jesus is ahead of them, all alone.
« But shall we not have further trouble?» asks James of Alphaeus.
« Kedesh is not in the jurisdiction of the centurion. It is outside the Phoenician border. And if one does not provoke them, centurions do not interfere with religion.»
« In any case we are not stopping...»
« Will you be able to cover more than thirty miles in one day?» asks the shepherd.
« Oh! We are perpetual untiring pilgrims!»
They walk on... They reach Kedesh and pass by it without any trouble. They take the straight road. Achzib is indicated on the milestone. The shepherd points it out saying: « We shall be there tomorrow. You will come with me tonight. I know farmers in the valleys, but many of them are within the Phoenician borders... Well... we will cross the frontier. And we will certainly not be found out... Oh! Their vigilance! They had better look out for robbers!...»
The sun sets and daylight is dimmed in the woody valleys. But the shepherd is familiar with the road and proceeds resolutely.
They reach a little village, just a handful of houses.
« If they give us hospitality here, we shall be with Israelites. We are at the border. If they will not take us in, we will go to another village, a Phoenician one.»
« I am not biased, man.»
They knock at a door.
« Is that you, Annas? With friends? Come in, and may God be with you» says an elderly woman.
They go into a large kitchen, with a gaily blazing fireplace. The members of a large family of all ages are sitting round the table but they kindly make room for the new arrivals.
« This is Jonah. This is his wife, his sons and grandchildren and daughters-in-law. A family of patriarchs faithful to the Lord» says Annas, the shepherd, to Jesus. He then addresses old Jonah: « And this man who is with me is the Rabbi of Israel, Whom you wanted to meet.»
« I bless the Lord that I can give you hospitality as I have room tonight. And I bless the Rabbi Who has come to my house, and I ask Him to bless us.»
Annas explains that Jonah's house is like an inn for pilgrims travelling from the sea to the mainland.
They all sit down in the warm kitchen and the women serve the guests. There is so much respect that it is almost embarrassing. But Jesus overcomes the difficulty by gathering all the children around Him, when the meal is over, and taking an interest in them, and they soon fraternise. And after the children, in the short time between supper and bedtime, also the men in the house become bold and they inform Jesus of what they have learned about the Messiah and ask Him questions. And Jesus explains, confirms, rectifies in a kind peaceful conversation, until both guests and members of the household go to rest, after Jesus has blessed them all.