17th November 1945.
Jesus is with the six apostles in a room where there are some very poor beds, placed very close to one another. The free space is barely sufficient to let them go from one end of the room to the other. They eat their very plain food sitting on the beds, because there are no chairs or table in the room. At one point, John goes and sits on the window-sill, to be in the sunshine. That is why he is the first to see Peter, Simon, Philip and Bartholomew coming towards the house. He shouts to them and then runs out followed by all the rest. Only Jesus remains inside and He stands up and turns towards the door...
The new arrivals come in. It is easy to imagine the exuberance of Peter, as it is easy to imagine the deep respect of Simon Zealot. But the attitude of Philip and particularly of Bartholomew is a real surprise. I would say that when they come in they look afraid and worried, and although Jesus opens His arms wide towards them, to exchange the kiss of peace, which He has already given Peter and Simon, they fall on their knees, and bend their foreheads to the floor, kissing Jesus' feet, and they remain thus... and Bartholomew's stifled sighs indicate that he is weeping silently on Jesus' feet.
« What is worrying you, Bart? Are you not coming to be embraced by your Master? And you, Philip, why are you so timid? If I did not know that you are two honest people, in whose hearts no wickedness can dwell, I should suspect that you are guilty. But it is not so. Come, therefore! I have been waiting so long to receive your kisses and see the limpid look of your faithful eyes...»
« So have we... Lord...» says Bartholomew raising his face on which tears shine. « We have desired nothing but You, and we have been wondering how we might have displeased You to deserve to be kept away from You for such a long time. And we thought that it was unfair... But now we know... Oh! forgive us, Lord! We ask You to forgive us. I, in particular, because Philip was separated from You because of me. And I have already asked him to forgive me. I... I am the guilty one, I... the old Israelite, who is so reluctant to change, and who has grieved You...»
Jesus bends and forces him to stand up, as He forces Philip and He embraces them together saying: « But of what are you accusing yourself? You have done nothing wrong. Neither has Philip. You are My dear apostles, and today I am very happy to have you here with Me, re-united forever...»
« No... For a long time we have been unaware of the reason why You rightly distrusted us to the extent of excluding us from the apostolic family. But now we know... and we ask You to forgive us, and I in particular ask You, Jesus, my Master...» And Bartholomew looks at Him full of anxiety, of love and compassion. Old as he is, he seems a father who looks at his afflicted son and scans his face thinned by grief, which he had not noticed, neither had he noticed how that face had thinned and aged... And fresh tears stream down Bartholomew's cheeks. And he exclaims: « But what have they done to You? What have they done to us, to make us all suffer like this? An evil spirit seems to have come among us to upset us, to make us sad, weak, listless, foolish... So stupid that we did not understand that You were suffering... On the contrary we increased Your suffering through our meanness, dullness, respect for public opinion and our old humanity... Yes, the old man has always triumphed in us, and Your perfect vitality has never been able to renew us. That is what disturbs me! Notwithstanding all my love, I have not been able to change, to understand You and follow You... I have followed You only with my body... But You wanted us to follow You with our souls... to understand Your perfection... in order to be able to perpetuate You... Oh! My Master! You will leave us one day, after so many struggles, snares, so much disgust and sorrow, and You will be grieved seeing that we are still unprepared!...» And Bartholomew inclines his head on Jesus' shoulder and weeps desolately, afflicted with the knowledge that he has been a dull disciple.
« Do not lose heart, Nathanael. You see all that like an absurdity that surprises you. But your Jesus knew that you are men... and He does not expect more than you can give. Oh! You will give Me everything. But now you must grow and be perfected... It is slow work. But I can wait. And I rejoice at your perfecting. Because it is a continuous improvement in My Life. Also your tears, also the harmony among those who were with Me, also the kindness that follows the harshness typical of your nature, and comes about after selfishness and spiritual greed, even your present gravity, everything is a stage of your growing in Me. So, do not worry. Set your mind at rest, for I know. Everything. Your honesty, your good faith, your generosity, your sincere love. Should I doubt My wise Bart and Philip, so sensible and loyal? I would wrong My Father, Who granted Me to have you among My dearest ones. Now... Let us sit down here, and those who have already rested can look-after their tired hungry brothers giving them food and relief. In the meantime tell your Master and brothers what they do not know.»
And He sits on His little bed with Philip and Nathanael beside Him, while Peter and Simon sit on the next bed, opposite Jesus, knees to knees.
« Will you speak, Philip? I have already spoken. And you have been more just than I have, all this time...»
« Oh! Bartholomew! Just! I had only understood that if the Master had not taken us with Him, it was not because of inconstancy or animosity towards us... And I endeavoured to set your mind at peace... preventing you from thinking of things as later you would have repented of your thoughts and would have felt remorse. I had one remorse only... for preventing you from disobeying the Master when you wanted to follow Simon of Jonah who was going to Nazareth to get Marjiam... Later... I saw both your body and soul suffer so much, that I said: “It would have been better if I had let him go! The Master would have forgiven his disobedience and Bartholomew would not be poisoning his soul with such ideas”... But... see? If you had gone, you would never have had the key to the mystery... and perhaps your suspicion of the Master's inconstancy would never have been dispelled. Instead...»
« Yes. Thus... I understood. Master, Simon of Jonah and Simon Zealot, whom I harassed with questions to find out many things and have confirmation of things I already knew, said only this to me: “The Master has suffered very much, so much that He has grown thin and old. And the whole of Israel, and first of all we ourselves, are to be blamed for that. He loves and forgives us. But He does not want to speak of the past. So we advise you not to ask questions and not to say anything... But I want to say something. I will not ask any question. But I must speak, so that You may know. Because nothing of what is in the soul of Your apostle is to be concealed from You. One day - Simon and the others had already gone away a few days before - Michael of Cana came to me. He is a distant relation, a good friend and an old schoolmate... I am sure that he came in good faith. Because he is fond of me. But he who sent him is not in good faith. He wanted to know why I had remained at home... while the others had left. And he said to me: “So it is true? You parted from them because, as a good Israelite, you could not approve of certain things. And the others, beginning with Jesus of Nazareth, let you go quite willingly, because they know that you would not help them, not even as a silent accomplice. You are doing the right thing! I see that you are still the man of good old days. I thought you had become corrupt by denying Israel. You are doing the right thing for your spirit, your own welfare and for your relatives. Because the Sanhedrin will not forget what is happening, and those who are taking part in it will be persecuted.” I said to him: “What are you talking about? I told you that I was instructed to stay at home both because of the season and to send eventual pilgrims to Nazareth or inform them to wait for the Master at Capernaum by the end of Shebat, and you are talking about parting, complicity, persecutions? What do you mean?... Philip, that is what I said, did I not?»
Philip nods assent. Bartholomew resumes: « Michael then told me that it was a known fact that You were rebelling against the advice and order of the members of the Sanhedrin by keeping John of Endor and a Greek woman with You... My Lord, I am grieving You, am I not? But I must tell You. I ask You: is it true that they were at Nazareth?»
« Yes, it is.»
« Is it true that they left with You?»
« Yes, it is.»
« Philip: Michael was right! But how did he know?»
« That's no problem! It's those snakes who stopped me and Simon, and goodness knows how many more. The usual vipers» says Peter impulsively.
Jesus instead asks quietly: « Did he not tell you anything else? Be sincere with your Master, to the very end.»
« Nothing else. He wanted to know from me... And I told Michael a lie. I said: “I will be staying at home until Passover.” I was afraid he might follow me, or... I don't know... I was afraid I might injure You...Then I understood why You had left me... You realised that I was still too much an Israelite...» Bartholomew begins to weep again... « ... and You had doubts about me...»
« No. Absolutely not. It was not necessary for you to be with your companions at that particular moment, whereas you were necessary, and you can see that yourself, at Bethsaida. Each man has his mission; every age has its work...»
« No. Don't put me aside because of work, Lord. Don't worry about that... You are good. But I want to be with You. It is a punishment to be away from You... And I, although silly and incapable... I could have at least comforted You, if I could have done nothing else. I have understood... You sent these ones here away with those two. Don't tell me. I don't want to know. But I feel that it is so, and I say so. Well, in that case, I could and should have been with You. But You did not take me to punish me for being so reluctant to become “new”. But I swear it to You, Master, what I suffered has changed me and never again will You see the old Nathanael in me.»
« So you can see that our suffering has come to a joyful end for everybody. And now we shall slowly go to meet Thomas and Judas, without waiting for them to go to the appointed place. And we shall set out again with them... There is so much to be done!... We will set off tomorrow. Quick.»
« And You will be doing the right thing. Because the weather is changing in the north. A calamity for cultivations...» says Philip.
« Yes! The recent hailstorms have destroyed strips of the country. You should see them, Lord! Certain places seem to have been burned out by fire. And the strange thing is that the disaster happened as I said: in strips» says Peter.
« While you were away, we had many hailstorms. One day, about the middle of Tebeth, it looked like a real scourge. I am told that down in the plain they have to sow all over again. It was warmer previously. But since then sunshine is a pleasure. We are going backwards... What strange signs! What will they be?» asks Philip.
« Nothing but the effect of lunations. Do not worry about it. These things should not impress you. In any case we are going towards the plain and it will be pleasant to travel. It will be cold, but not very, and in return it will be dry weather. Come with Me in the meantime. There is lovely sunshine on the terrace. We can rest up there, all together...»