17th December 1945.
Thomas, who was at the rear of the group speaking to Manaen and Bartholomew, leaves his companions and catches up with the Master, Who is in front with Marjiam and Isaac. « Master, we shall soon be near Ramah. Would You come and bless my sister's baby? She is so anxious to see You! We could stop there. There is room for everybody. Make me happy, Lord!»
« I will, and with great joy! We shall enter Jerusalem tomorrow and we shall be well rested.»
« Oh! I will go ahead and warn them! May I go?»
« Yes, go. But remember that I am not a worldly friend. Do not compel your relatives to spend a lot of money. Treat Me as a “Master”. Is that clear?»
« Yes, my Lord, it is. I will tell my relatives. Are you coming with me, Marjiam?»
« If Jesus will allow me...»
« You may go, son.»
The others, who have seen Thomas and Marjiam go towards Ramah, situated on the left hand side of the road, which, I think, takes one from Samaria to Jerusalem, quicken their paces to find out what is happening.
« We are going to the house of Tom's sister. I have stayed in all the houses of your relatives. It is fair that I should go to his as well. And that is why I sent him ahead.»
« Well, if You do not mind, I will go away, too. I want to see whether there is anything new. If there is bad news, I will be at the Damascus Gate when You arrive there. Otherwise I will meet You... Where, Lord?» says Manaen.
« At Bethany, Manaen. I am going to Lazarus' house at once. But I am leaving the women in Jerusalem. I will be going alone. Nay, I would ask you to escort the women to their houses after today's rest.»
« As You wish, Lord.»
« Tell the driver to follow us to Ramah.»
In fact the wagon is coming up slowly behind the apostolic group. Isaac and the Zealot stop waiting for it, while all the others take the side road, which with a good gradient leads to the very low little hill on which Ramah is built.
Thomas, who is beside himself with joy and looks even more rubicond as his face is so bright, is waiting at the entrance of the village. He runs to meet Jesus: « How happy we are, Master! All the family is here! My father who was so anxious to see You, my mother, my brothers!... How happy I am!» And he walks beside Jesus strutting through the village like a conqueror in triumph.
The house of Thomas' sister is at a cross-roads on the eastern side of the town. It is the typical house of a well to do Israelite, with very few windows, with an iron door with judas-hole, a terraced roof and high dark walls enclosing the garden also at the rear of the house, with tall fruit trees standing above them.
Today the maidservant does not have to look through the peephole. The door is wide open and all the inhabitants of the house are lined up in the hall where the adults are busy holding back boys and girls, who, excited at the news, are restless and are continuously rushing to the front, thus infringing the hierarchical order, as the first row, the place of honour, is for Thomas' parents, his sister and her husband.
But when Jesus appears at the door, no one can hold the children back. They are like a brood of chickens coming out of their nest after a night's rest. And Jesus receives the impact of the kind garrulous group who clash against His knees and press Him, raising their little faces to be kissed, and will not move away notwithstanding the fact that their fathers and mothers call them and Tom gives a few slaps to restore order.
« Leave them! Leave them alone! I wish the whole world were like that!» exclaims Jesus Who has stooped to please all the children.
At last He can go in and is welcomed by the more respectful greetings of the adults. What I particularly like is the greeting of Thomas' father, a typical elderly Jew, who is raised from his knees by Jesus, Who wants to kiss him « out of gratitude for his generosity in giving Him an apostle».
« Oh! God has loved me more than He loved anybody else in Israel, because while every Jew has one son, the first-born, consecrated to the Lord, I have two: the first and the last one; and the last one is even more sacred, because, although he is neither a Levite nor a Priest, he does what not even the High Priest does: he constantly sees God and receives His commands!» he says in the trembling voice of elderly people, made even more trembling by emotion. And he concludes: « Tell me one thing only to make my soul happy. Since You do not lie, tell me: this son of mine, by the way he follows You, is he worthy of serving You and deserving eternal Life?»
« You may rest in peace, father. Your Tom has a great position in the heart of God because of his behaviour, and he will have a great place in Heaven because of the way he will serve God till he breathes his last.»
Thomas gasps for air like a fish out of water, deeply moved by what he has heard. The old man raises his trembling hands, while tears stream down the deep wrinkles of his face and disappear in his patriarchal beard, and he says: « May the blessing of Jacob descend upon you; the blessing of the patriarch upon the just one among his sons: may the Almighty bless you with the blessings of Heaven above, blessings of the deep lying below, blessings of breasts and womb. May the blessings of your father exceed those of his ancestors and until the desire of the eternal hills comes, may they rest upon the head of Thomas, upon the head of him who is nazirite among his brothers!»
And they all reply: « Amen.»
« And now, my Lord, will You please bless this house and above all these little ones who are blood of my blood» says the old man pointing at the children.
And Jesus, stretching His arms out, says the Mosaic blessing in a loud voice and He adds: « May God, in Whose presence your ancestors walked, God Who has nourished Me since My childhood to the present day, may the angel who has delivered Me from all evil, bless these children; may they be named after Me and after My ancestors and may they multiply copiously upon the earth» and He ends by taking the last born from his mother's arms to kiss his forehead saying: « And may the chosen virtues that dwelt in the just Man, after whom you have been named, descend upon you like butter and honey, making your name worthy of Heaven and adorned like a palm-tree laden with golden dates and a cedar covered with royal leaves.»
Everybody is moved and enraptured. Then they all utter a cry of joy while Jesus enters the house and they stop only when He is in the yard, where He introduces His Mother, the women disciples, the apostles and the disciples.
It is no longer morning, neither is it noon. The weak ray of sunlight which pierces with difficulty the ruffled clouds while the weather is still so unsettled, makes me understand that the sun is about to set and that twilight is approaching.
The women are no longer here. Neither are Isaac and Manaen. Marjiam instead is with Jesus, and is so happy to be with Him, while He goes out with the apostles and all the male relatives of Thomas to see some vineyards, which appear to be of a special quality. Both the old man and Thomas' brother-in-law enlarge upon the position of the vineyard and the rarity of the vines, which at present have but a few tender leaves.
Jesus listens kindly to the explanations showing an interest in pruning and hoeing, as if they were the most useful things on the earth. At the end He says to Thomas smiling: « Shall I bless this dowry of your twin sister?»
« Oh! My Lord! I am neither Doras nor Ishmael. I know that Your very breath, Your presence in a place is already a blessing. But if You wish to raise Your hand on these plants, please do so, and their fruit will certainly be holy.»
« And will it not be plentiful? What do you say, father?»
« Holy... is enough. And I will press the grapes and will send You the wine for next Passover, so that You may use it in the ritual chalice.»
« Very well. I will look forward to that. At next Passover I want to use the wine of a true Israelite.»
They leave the vineyard to go back to the village.
The news of the presence of Jesus of Nazareth in the village has spread and the people of Ramah are all in the streets and are anxious to approach Him.
Jesus notices it and says to Thomas: « Why do they not come? Are they perhaps afraid of Me? Tell them that I love them.»
Oh! Thomas does not wait to be told twice! He goes from one group to another so quickly that he looks like a large butterfly fluttering from flower to flower. And those who hear the invitation do not wait to be told twice either. They all run, passing the word round, and gather round Jesus, so that when they arrive at the cross-roads, where Thomas' house is, there is quite a large crowd speaking respectfully to the apostles and Thomas' relatives, asking various questions.
I realise that Thomas has worked hard during the winter months and much of the Gospel is already known in the village. But they wish to have detailed elucidations and one who has been deeply affected by the blessing given by Jesus to the little ones of the hospitable house and by what the Master said of Thomas, asks: « Will they thus all be just, because of Your blessing?»
« Not because of it, but because of their actions. I gave them the strength of My blessing to strengthen them in their actions. But it is for them to perform deeds and only good deeds to attain Heaven. I bless everybody... but not everybody in Israel will be saved.»
« On the contrary, only very few will be saved, if they continue to behave as they are behaving now» grumbles Thomas.
« What are you saying?»
« The truth. Those who persecute the Christ and calumniate Him, those who do not practise what He teaches, will have no part in His Kingdom» says Thomas in his deep voice.
One pulls him by the sleeve asking: « Is He very severe?» pointing at Jesus.
« No, He is not. Nay, He is too good.»
« What do you think, shall I be saved? I am not one of the disciples. But you know what I am like and that I always believed what you said. But I do not know what I should do, in addition to that. What should I do exactly to be saved, besides what I already do?»
« Ask Him. His judgement will be more truthful and kind than mine.»
The man comes forward. He says: « Master, I comply with the Law, and since Thomas repeated Your words to me, I try to comply more and more. But I am not very generous. I do what I must do. I refrain from doing what it is not right to do, because I am afraid of Hell. But I am very fond of a comfortable life and, I admit it, I endeavour to do things in such a way that while I do not commit sin, I do not trouble myself too much either. Shall I be saved by behaving so?»
« You will. But why be avaricious with good God Who is so generous with you? Why do you expect only to be saved, and with some difficulty, and you do not wish to attain great holiness, which gives eternal peace at once? Come on, man! Be generous with your soul!»
The man says humbly: « I will think about it, my Lord. I feel that you are right and that I am wronging my soul by compelling it to go through a long purification period before having peace.»
« Very well. Your thought is already the beginning of perfectioning.»
Another man from Ramah asks: « Lord, are only few people saved?»
« If man knew how to behave with respect towards himself and with reverential love towards God, all men would be saved, as God desires. But man does not behave thus. And like a fool, he plays with tinsel, instead of taking pure gold. Be generous in wishing Good. Does it pain you? That is where is the merit. Strive to go through the narrow door. The other one, which is wide and ornate, is an allurement of Satan to lead you astray. The gate of Heaven is narrow, low, barren and rough. In order to enter it one must be agile, light, without pomp and without materialism. One must be spiritual to be able to do so. Otherwise when the hour of your death comes, you will not be able to pass through it. And many will be really seen trying to pass through it without being successful, as they are so laden with materialism, so decked out with worldly pomp, so stiffened by the crust of sin, unable to stoop because of their pride, which acts as a skeleton. And the Landlord of the Kingdom will then come to close the gate, and those who are outside, those who have not been able to go in at the right time, will knock at the door shouting: “Lord, open the gate to us. We are here as well.” But He will reply: “I really do not know you, neither do I know where you come from.” And they will say: “What? Do You not remember us? We ate and drank with You and we listened to You when You preached in our squares.” But He will reply: “I really do not know you. The more I look at you the more you seem to be sated with what I declared was impure food. The more I examine you, the more I see that you do not belong to My family. Now, I really see whose sons and subjects you are: the Other one's. Satan is your father, the Flesh your mother, Pride your nurse, Hatred your servant, sin is your treasure, vices your gems. On your hearts there is written: 'Selfishness'. Your hands are dirty with the robberies committed against your brothers. Away from here! Away from Me, all of you, operators of iniquity.” Then, while Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the prophets and the just of the Kingdom of God will come from the heights of Heaven shining with glory, those who did not love but were selfish, who did not sacrifice themselves but lived in the lap of luxury, will be driven away and confined to the place where there is eternal weeping and nothing but terror. And those who have risen gloriously and have come from east and west, from north and south, will gather round the nuptial table of the Lamb, the King of the Kingdom of God. And then one will see that many who appeared to be “the least” in the army of the earth, will be the first in the city of the Kingdom. And one will also see that not all the mighty ones in Israel are mighty in Heaven, and not all those chosen by the Christ to be His servants have deserved to be elected to the nuptial table. Instead one will see that many, who were considered to be “the first” will be not only the last, but not even the last. Because many are called, but few are those who can turn their election into true glory.»
While Jesus is speaking, some Pharisees arrive with a pilgrimage on its way to Jerusalem, or coming from Jerusalem looking for lodgings, the Holy City being overcrowded. They see the concourse of people and approach them to see. They soon see Jesus' fair-haired head shining against the dark wall of Thomas' house.
« Let us pass, because we want to speak to the Nazarene» they shout overbearingly.
The crowds open out with no enthusiasm and the apostles see the group of Pharisees come towards them.
« Peace to You, Master!»
« Peace to you. What do you want?»
« Are You going to Jerusalem?»
« Like every faithful Israelite.»
« Don't go! A serious danger threatens You there. We know because we have come from Jerusalem to meet our families. And we came to warn You because we heard that You were at Ramah.»
« Who told you, if you do not mind Me asking you?» asks Peter who has become suspicious and is ready to begin a discussion.
« It does not concern you, man. All you need know, since you call us snakes, is that there are many snakes near the Master and that you ought to mistrust the too many and too powerful disciples.»
« Hey! You are not insinuating that Manaen or...»
« Be silent, Peter. And you, Pharisee, you ought to know that no danger can dissuade a faithful believer from fulfilling his duty. If one loses his life, it is nothing. What is grave, is to lose one's soul by infringing the Law. But you know. And you know that I know. So why are you tempting Me? Do you perhaps not know that I am aware why you are doing it?»
« I am not tempting You. It is the truth. Many among us are hostile to You. But not everybody. We do not hate You. We know that Herod is looking for You and we say to You: go away. Go away from here, because if Herod captures You, he will certainly kill You. That is what he wants.»
« It is what he wants, but he will not do it. I know that for certain. In any case you may go and tell the old fox that He, Whom he is seeking, is in Jerusalem. In fact I come expelling demons and curing people, without hiding Myself. And I do and will do it today, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, until My time is over. But I must proceed until I reach the end. And I must enter Jerusalem today and then once more, and once more and once more again, because it is not possible for Me to stop before. And it must be fulfilled with justice, that is, in Jerusalem.»
« The Baptist died elsewhere.»
« He died in holiness, and holiness means: “Jerusalem.” If Jerusalem now means “Sin”, that is only because of what is only earthly and will soon no longer be. But I am talking of what is eternal and spiritual, that is, of the Heavenly Jerusalem. All the just and the prophets die in it, in its holiness. And I will die in it and in vain you are trying to lead Me into sin. And I will die also among the hills of Jerusalem but not by Herod's hand, but by the will of him who hates Me more subtly than Herod does, because he sees in Me the usurper of the longed for Priesthood and the Purifier of Israel from all the infectious diseases polluting it. So do not throw on Herod all the eagerness to kill, but each of you should take his share, because, truly, the Lamb is on a mountain which wolves and jackals are climbing on every side to slaughter it and...»
The hailstorm of burning truth makes the Pharisees flee.
Jesus watches them run away. He then looks southwards, towards a clearer brightness, which perhaps indicates the area of Jerusalem and He sadly says: « Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you that kill your prophets and stone those who are sent to you, how often have I longed to gather your children, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you refused! So be it! Your House will be left to you devoid of its true Master. He will come, He will act, as prescribed by the rite, as the first and last son of Israel must act, and then He will go away. He will no longer stay within your walls to purify you by means of His presence. And I assure you that you and your inhabitants will no longer see Me, in My true figure, till the time comes when you say: “Blessings on Him Who comes in the name of the Lord”... And you people of Ramah, remember these words and tell the others so that you may not be involved in the punishment of God. Be faithful... Go. Peace be with you.»
And Jesus withdraws to the house of Thomas with all his relatives and the apostles.