10th December 1945.
Jesus is already beyond the Jordan. And from what I understand, the town I can see on top of a green hill, is Gadara and it is the first town they reach after landing on the south-east coast of the lake of Galilee. In fact that is where they landed, as they did not disembark at Hippo, where they were preceded by the boats carrying the people hostile to Jesus. I think that they set ashore opposite Tarichea, where the Jordan flows out of the lake.
« You know the shortest road to Gadara, do you not? Do you remember it?» asks Jesus.
« Of course I do! When we are at the hot springs near the river Yarmuk, all we have to do is to follow the road» replies Peter.
« And where will you find the springs?» asks Thomas.
« Oh! Your nose will tell you where they are. They smell a mile away!» exclaims Peter turning up his nose in disgust.
« I did not know that you were troubled with pains...» remarks Judas Iscariot.
« Pains? Me? Never!»
« Hey! if you are so familiar with the hot springs at the Yarmuk, you must have been there.»
« I never needed hot springs to be fit! The poison in my bones always came out with the perspiration of my honest work... in any case, as I worked more than I enjoyed myself, there was always very little poison in me...»
« That one is for me, isn't it? I am guilty of everything...» says Judas angrily.
« Who bit you? You asked me a question and I replied to you, as I would have replied to the Master or to a companion. And I think that none of them, not even Matthew... who was a pleasure-seeking person, would have taken it amiss.»
« Well, I do!»
« I did not know that you are so touchy. But I apologise for the assumed insinuation. For the Master's sake, you know. He is so stressed by strangers that there is no need for us to vex Him further. Instead of running after your own touchiness, look at Him, do you will realise how much He needs peace and love.»
Jesus does not speak. He simply looks at Peter and smiles gratefully.
Judas does not reply to Peter's fair remark. He is taciturn and irritated. He wants to appear kind, but the anger, bad mood, and disappointment of his heart are clearly revealed by his eyes, voice and countenance, and even by his overbearing gait, as he stamps the ground angrily giving vent to what boils within him.
But he strives to look calm and be kind, he does not succeed, but he tries... He asks Peter: « Well, then, how do you know these places? Perhaps you have been here for your wife?»
« No, we passed here when in the month of Ethanim we came to Hauran with the Master. I took His Mother and the women disciples to Chuza's estate. Coming via Bozrah, we passed by here» replies Peter sincerely and wisely.
« Were you alone?» asks Judas ironically.
« Why? Do you think that I by myself am not as good as several people when it is the case of showing how clever you are, and there is an important task to be done and one does it with all good will?»
« Oh! How proud you are! I would have loved to see you!»
« You would have seen a grave man accompanying holy women.»
« But were you really alone?» asks Judas with the true attitude of an inquisitor.
« I was with the Lord's brothers.»
« Ah! You are beginning to make admissions!»
« And you are beginning to get on my nerves! Can you tell me what is the matter with you?»
« That's true. It is a shame» says Thomas.
« It's time you stopped it» corroborates James of Zebedee.
« It is not right for you to sneer at Simon» states Bartholomew reproachingly.
« You ought to remember that he is the Head of us all» concludes the Zealot.
Jesus is silent.
« Oh! I am not sneering at anybody, and nothing is the matter with me. I just like to tease him a little...»
« That is not true! You are a liar! You ask sly questions because you want to arrive at some conclusion. A sly man thinks that everybody is sly. We have no secrets. We were all there, and we all did the same thing: what the Master told us. And there is nothing else. Is that clear?» shouts the other Judas who is really angry.
« Be quiet. You are like quarrelsome women. You are all wrong. And I am ashamed of you» says Jesus severely.
There is total silence while they go towards the town on the hill. Thomas breaks the silence exclaiming: « What a dreadful smell!»
« It's the springs. That is the Yarmuk and those buildings are the Roman Thermae. Beyond them there is a beautiful paved road that takes one to Gadara. Romans like to travel in comfort. Gadara is beautiful!» says Peter.
« It is even more beautiful because we will not find certain... beings here, at least not many of them» grumbles Matthew between his teeth.
They cross the bridge over the river in the pungent smell of sulphur water. They pass near the Thermae, among Roman vehicles, and they take a beautiful road, paved with large slabs, which takes to the town on the top of the hill, a beautiful town enclosed by walls.
John approaches the Master and asks: « Is it true that in old days a damned soul was hurled down into the bowels of the earth where those waters are? My mother used to tell us that when we were little children to make us understand that one must not commit sin, otherwise hell opens under the feet of a soul cursed by God and swallows the sinner. And then in memory and as a warning, cracks remain through which smell, heat and water of hell come up. I would be afraid to bathe in there...»
« Afraid of what, boy? It would not infect you. It is easier to be infected by those men who have hell within themselves and exhale the stench and poison of hell. But only those are contaminated who are inclined to become so by themselves.»
« Could I be contaminated?»
« No. Not even if you were among a crowd of demons.»
« Why not? What has he got which is different from everybody else?» asks Judas of Kerioth at once.
« He is pure in every way and thus he can see God» replies Jesus and Judas laughs maliciously.
John asks once again: « So those springs are not mouths of hell?»
« No. On the contrary they are good things made by God for His children. Hell is not enclosed in the earth. It is on the earth, John, in the hearts of men. And it expands further there.»
« But does Hell really exist?» asks the Iscariot.
« What are you saying?» ask his companions who are thoroughly scandalised.
« I am asking: does it really exist? I don't believe it does, and I am not the only one.»
« Heathen!» they shout with horror.
« No. Israelite. Many of us in Israel do not believe such nonsense.»
« Well, how can you believe in Paradise?», « And in God's justice?», « Where do you put sinners?», « What about Satan?» many of the apostles object shouting.
« I say what I think. A short while ago I was blamed for being a liar. I am proving that I am sincere, even if what I say scandalises you and makes me hateful in your eyes. In any case I am not the only one in Israel, since Israel has improved in knowledge through contacts with Hellenists and Romans, who are of such opinion. And the Master, the only one whose opinion I respect, cannot reproach me or Israel, as He protects Romans and Greeks and is openly their friend... I base myself on the following philosophical concept. If everything is controlled by God, everything we do depends on His will, and He must reward us all in the same way, because we are only automata moved by Him. We are beings devoid of will. The Master Himself says so: “The Will of the Most High. The Will of the Father.” That is the only Will. And it is so infinite that it crushes and destroys the limited will of creatures. Consequently, both the Good and the Evil, which we appear to do, is done by God, Who imposes it on us. Thus He will not punish us for evil deeds and His justice will be administered that way, because our sins are not voluntary but they are imposed by Him Who wants us to commit them, so that both good and evil may be on the earth. He who is bad is the means of expiation for those who are not so bad. And he suffers within himself as he cannot be considered good, and thus expiates his part of sin. Jesus said so. Hell is on the earth and in the hearts of men. I do not perceive Satan. He does not exist. Once I believed he existed. But for some time I have convinced myself that it is a lot of nonsense. And one attains peace through such belief.»
Judas expounds such... theory with so much ostentation that the others stand breathless with astonishment... Jesus is silent. And Judas teases Him: « Am I not right, Master?»
« No.» His « no» is so sharp that it sounds like an explosion.
« And yet I... I do not perceive Satan, neither do I admit free will or Evil. And all the Sadducees are of my opinion as well as many other people in Israel. No, Satan does not exist.»
Jesus looks at him. His glance is so complex that it cannot be analysed. It is the glance of a Judge, of a Doctor, of a grieved astonished man... There is everything in it...
Judas, who is already launched out, concludes: « Perhaps it is because I am better and more perfect than the others, that I have overcome the terror of men for Satan.»
And Jesus is silent. But Judas teases Him: « Speak! Why am I not terrified?» Jesus keeps silent. « Are You not replying, Master? Why? Are You afraid?»
« No. I am Charity. And Charity withholds its opinion until it is compelled to give it... Leave Me and go away» He says at last, because Judas tries to embrace Him, and when He is held by force in the arms of the blasphemer, He whispers to him: « You disgust Me! You do not see or perceive Satan, because he is all one with you. Go away, you demon!»
Judas kisses Him impudently and laughs, as if the Master had praised him secretly. He goes back to the others who are so aghast that they have stopped and he says to them: « See? I know how to open the Master's heart. And I make Him happy by showing Him my confidence and I learn. You, instead!... You never dare speak to Him. Because you are proud. Oh! I will know more about Him than anybody else. And I will be able to speak...»
They reach the gates of the town. They all go in together, because Jesus has waited for them. But while going through the entrance hall, Jesus commands: « My brothers and Simon, go ahead and gather the people.»
« Why not I, Master? Are You not giving me any more missions to fulfill? Are they no longer necessary now? You gave me two, one after the other, and they lasted for months...»
« And you complained and said that I wanted to keep you away. Are you now complaining because I want to keep you with Me?»
Judas does not know what to reply and is silent. He goes ahead with Thomas, the Zealot, James of Zebedee and Andrew. Jesus stops to let Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew and John pass, as if He wished to be left alone. They do not interfere.
But the loving heart of John, whose eyes have often been shining with tears during the blasphemous dispute of Judas, compels the apostle to turn round shortly afterwards, just in time to see Jesus press His forehead with His hands, with a gesture of sorrow, and bend forward like one in great pain. Jesus does so thinking He was unobserved in the little lonely street, which is also dark owing to the many arches across it. Fair-headed John leaves his companions and goes back to his Master: « What is the matter, my Lord? Are you Suffering once again as when we found You at Achzib? Oh! My Lord!»
« It is nothing, John! Help Me with your love. And do not say anything to the others. Pray for Judas.»
« Yes, Master. He is very unhappy, is he not? He is in darkness, and does not know. He thinks that he has attained peace... Is it peace?»
« He is very unhappy» says Jesus dejectedly.
« Don't be so sad, Master. Think of how many sinners have become good, although they were hardened in sin. Judas will do the same. Oh! You will certainly save him! I will spend the night praying for that. I will tell the Father to make me capable only of loving, I do not want anything else. I was hoping to give my life for You or to make Your power shine through my work. Now no longer so. I renounce everything, I choose the most humble and common life and I will ask the Father to give what is mine to Judas... to make him happy... so that he may turn to holiness... Lord... I should tell You something... I think I know why Judas is like that.»
« Come tonight. We will pray together and speak.»
« And will the Father listen to me? Will He accept my sacrifice?»
« The Father will bless you. But you will suffer...»
« Oh! No! It is enough for me to see that You are happy... and that Judas... and that Judas...»
« Yes, John. Look, they are calling us. Let us run.»
The little street becomes a beautiful one, adorned with porches and fountains. And it is embellished with beautiful squares: each one being more beautiful than the others. It crosses another main street, which is just as beautiful, and at the end of it there is an amphitheatre. Several sick people have already gathered in a corner of the porches waiting for the Saviour.
Peter comes towards Jesus: « They have retained faith in what we told them about You in the month of Ethanim. They came at once.»
« And I will reward their faith at once. Let us go.»
And while the sun is setting and tingeing the marble buildings with red, He goes to heal those who are waiting for Him with faith.