16th February 1946.
The little group comes out of the house; there is also the old man who admires himself in the tunic of one of the rather short apostles.
« If you wish to remain here, father...» says Jesus.
But the old man interrupts Him: « No, I will come, too. Oh! let me come. I had a meal yesterday! Last night I slept, and in a bed! And my heart is no longer grieved! I feel as strong as a youth...»
« Come, then. You will stay with Me, with Bartholomew and My brother Judas. The rest will go around in twos as I said. We shall all be here again by the sixth hour. Go! and peace be with you.»
They part, some go towards the river, some towards the country. Jesus lets them go away and He then sets out last. He crosses the village slowly and He is looked at by the fishermen coming back from the river or going there and by the industrious housewives, who have got up at dawn to do the washing, or water their kitchen gardens or bake bread. But none of them speak.
Only a boy, who is leading seven sheep to the river, asks the old man: « Where are you going, Ananias? Are you leaving the village?»
« I am going with the Rabbi. But I will come back with Him. I am His servant.»
« No. You are My father. Every just old man is a father and a blessing for the place giving him hospitality and for those who assist him. Blessed are those who love and respect the old» says Jesus with solemn countenance.
The boy looks at Him and seems to be frightened. He then whispers: « I always gave some of my bread to Ananias...» as if he wished to say: « Do not reproach me, for I do not deserve it.»
« Yes. Michael was good to me. He was a friend of my grand children... and he is still a friend of their grandfather. His mother is also good and she would help. But she has eleven children and they make their living by fishing...»
Some women approach them out of curiosity and listen.
« God will always help those who do what they can for the poor. And there is always a way to help them. Very often it is a lie to say: “I cannot.” Because if one is willing, one will always find a superfluous mouthful, an old blanket, a garment that is no longer worn, and give it to someone who has none. And Heaven rewards for the gift. God will give you back, Michael, the mouthfuls you gave the old man.» Jesus caresses the boy and walks away.
The women remain mortified where they were, they ask the boy questions and he tells them what he knows. And the stingy women are seized with fear, as they had closed their hearts to the needs of the old man...
In the meantime Jesus has arrived at the last house and, He turns His steps towards a cross-road, which from the main road leads towards the little village. From there they can see caravans on the main road going back to the towns of the Decapolis and Perea.
« Let us go over there and preach. Do you want to preach, too, father?»
« I am not capable. What can I say?»
« You are capable. Your soul is aware of the wisdom in forgiving and being faithful to God and resigned also in the hours of grief. And you know that God assists those who hope in Him. Go and tell the pilgrims.»
« Oh! I can do that!»
« Judas, go with him. I will remain here at the cross-road with Bartholomew.»
And when He is there He stops in the shade of a group of leafy plane-trees and waits patiently.
The nearby fields have beautiful crops and orchards. They look fresh in the early morning and it is a pleasure to admire them. And the caravans pass along the road... Only few people look at the two leaning against the trunks of the plane-trees. Perhaps they think that they are tired travellers. But some recognise Jesus and point Him out or they bow greeting Him.
At last there is one who stops his little donkey and those of his relatives, dismounts and goes towards Jesus saying: « God be with You, Rabbi! I come from Arbela. I heard You in autumn. This is my wife, this is her sister, a widow, and this is my mother. This elderly man is her brother. And that young man is my wife's brother. And these are our children. Give us Your blessing, Master. I heard that You spoke at the ford. But I arrived there last night... Will you not say a word to us?»
« The Word never refuses. But wait a few minutes, because other people are arriving...»
In fact the people of the village are arriving at the cross-road and they look very dejected. Other people, who had passed by along the main road, going north, come back, while others stop out of curiosity dismounting from their horses or remaining on horseback. The little group of listeners is increasing more and more.
Judas of Alphaeus also comes back with the old man; there are also two sick people with them and many more healthy ones.
Jesus begins to speak.
« Those who go along the roads of the Lord, the roads indicated by the Lord, and they do so with good will, end up by finding the Lord. You have found the Lord coming here after fulfilling your duty of faithful Israelites at holy Passover. And here is Wisdom speaking to you, as you wished, at this cross-road, where Divine Providence has made us meet. Man comes to many cross-roads on the way of his life. More supernatural cross-roads than material ones. Every day our conscience has to face the road-forks and cross-roads of Good and Evil. And one must choose carefully to avoid making mistakes. And if one does make a mistake, one must come back humbly, when one is called and warned. And even if the way of Evil, or also the way of tepidness, looks more beautiful, one must choose the rough but safe road of Good.
Listen to a parable.
A group of pilgrims, who had come from remote regions looking for work, arrived at the frontier of a nation. At the frontier there were agents sent by various masters to employ labour. Some were looking for men for mines, some for woods and forests, some for servants for a wicked rich man, and some for soldiers for a king who lived in a castle on the top of a mountain, which could be reached by a very steep road. The king needed soldiers, but he wanted them to be not so much men of violence as of wisdom, to send them to his various towns to sanctify his subjects. That is why he lived up there, in a kind of hermitage, to perfect his servants, preventing them from being corrupted by worldly distractions, which delay or annul the perfecting of their spirits. He did not promise high wages, or a comfortable life. But he assured them that they would obtain holiness and a reward at his service. That is what his agents said to those who arrived at the frontier. The agents of the owners of mines and fields instead said: “It will not be a comfortable life, but you will be free and you will earn enough to enjoy yourselves.” And those who were looking for servants for a wicked master promised rich meals, an idle life, enjoyment, wealth: “All you need do is to give consent to his exacting whims - oh! not at all painful! - and you will be able to enjoy yourselves like satraps.”
The pilgrims consulted with one another. They did not want to part... They asked: “The fields and mines, the palace of the wealthy man and that of the king, are they close to one another?”
“Oh! no!” replied the agents. “Come to that cross-roads and we will show you the different roads.” They went.
“Now! This wonderful, shady, flowery, smooth road, with cool fountains, leads to the palace of the wealthy man” said the agents looking for servants.
“Now! This dusty one, through pleasant fields, leads to the fields. It is exposed to the sun, but you can see that it is beautiful, after all” said those of the fields.
“Now! This one furrowed by heavy wheels and stained with dark spots, takes to the mines. It is neither beautiful nor ugly” said those of the mines.
“Now! This steep path, cut in the rocks inflamed by the sun, spread with thorn-bushes and ravines, which delay people, but are excellent defence against attacks of enemies, leads eastwards, to the severe, we could almost say sacred castle, where spirits are perfected in Good” said those of the king.
And the pilgrims looked and looked. They reckoned... They were tempted by many things, of which one only was entirely good. And they slowly parted. They were ten. Three went towards the fields... and two towards the mines. The remainders looked at one another and two of them said: “Come with us, to the king. We shall not make a profit and we shall not enjoy ourselves on the Earth, but we shall be saints forever.”
“That path there? Do you think we are mad? No profit? No enjoyment? It was not worth leaving everything and coming into exile to have even less than what we had in our country. We want to earn much and enjoy ourselves...”
“But you will lose the eternal Good! Have you not heard that he is a wicked person?”
“Nonsense! After a little while we will leave him, but we shall have had a good time and we shall be rich.”
“You will never get rid of him. The first were wrong in complying with their greed for money. But you! You are led by your greed for pleasure. Oh! Do not exchange your eternal destiny for a fleeting hour!.”
“You are fools and you believe in idealistic promises. We are after facts. Goodbye!...” and they began to run along the beautiful, shady, flowery, smooth road, rich in water, at the end of which the magic palace of the wicked epicurean was shining in the sunshine.
The two remainders took the steep path weeping and praying. And they almost lost heart after a few metres, as it was so hard. But they persevered. And their bodies seemed to become lighter and lighter the more they proceeded and their fatigue was comforted by a strange rejoicing. They were panting and scratched all over when they arrived at the top of the mountain and were admitted to the presence of the king, who told them what he expected from them in order to make them his brave men, and he concluded saying: “Think about it for eight days and then let me know.”
And they thought it over and struggled fiercely with the Tempter, who wanted to frighten them with their bodies which said: “You are sacrificing us”, with the world, the remembrance of which was still alluring. But they won. They remained. They became heroes of Good. Death came, that is their glorification. From the height of Heaven they saw in the abyss those who had gone to the wicked master. They were in chains also after their lifetime and were groaning in the darkness of Hell. “And they wanted to be free and enjoy themselves!” said the two saints.
And the three damned souls saw them and cursed them and everybody, God first of all, in a horrid manner, saying: “You have all deceived us!”
“No. You cannot say that. You were warned of the danger, You wanted your own ruin” replied the blessed souls, who were serene even when seeing and hearing their obscene mockery and curses cast at them.
And they saw those of the fields and of the mines in various regions of Purgatory, and those saw them and said: “We were neither good nor bad, and we are now expiating our tepidity. Pray for us!”
“Oh! We will! But why did you not come with us?”
“Because we were not demons, but men... We lacked generosity. We loved what is temporary, even if honest, more than what is Eternal and Holy. We are now learning to know and love with justice.”
That is the end of the parable. Every man is at a cross-roads. At a perpetual cross-roads. Blessed are those who are firm and generous in following the ways of Good. May God be with them. And may God touch and convert those who are not so and lead them to become so. Go in peace.»
« And what about the sick people?»
« What is the matter with that woman?»
« Malign fever, which distorts her bones. She has gone as far as the Great Sea. But without any relief.»
Jesus bends over the sick woman and asks her: « Who do you think that I am?»
« He Whom I have been looking for. The Messiah of God. Have mercy on me, for I have looked for You so much!»
« May your faith give health both to your limbs and to your heart. And what about you, man?»
The man does not reply. The woman who accompanies him, replies on his behalf: « A tumor is eating his tongue. He cannot speak and he is dying of hunger.» The man in fact is a skeleton.
« Have you faith that I can cure you?» The man nods assent.
« Open your mouth» orders Jesus. And with His face close to the horrible mouth eaten away by the tumor, He breathes into it saying: « I want it!»
After a moment two cries are heard: « My bones are sound again»; « Mary, I am cured! Look! Look at my mouth. Hosanna! Hosanna!» and he wants to stand up, but he staggers through weakness.
« Give him something to eat» orders Jesus. And He is about to withdraw.
« Don't go away! Other sick people will be coming! Others are coming back... Cure them, too!» shout the crowds.
« Every morning I will be here from dawn until the sixth hour. Volunteers should gather the pilgrims together.»
« I will, Lord!» several people say. « May God bless you for that.»
And Jesus turns towards the village with His first companions and with the other disciples who have come, few at a time while He was speaking, and who have brought other people with them.
« But where are Peter and Judas of Kerioth?» asks Jesus.
« They have gone to the nearby town. They have a lot of money. They have gone shopping...»
« Yes. Judas worked a miracle and he is jubilant» remarks Simon Zealot smiling.
« Also Andrew, and he got a sheep, as a souvenir. He cured the broken leg of a shepherd, who rewarded him thus. We will give it to the old father. Milk is good for old people...» says John, caressing the old man who is happy.
They go into the house and prepare some food...
They are about to sit at the table, when the two missing apostles arrive, laden like donkeys and followed by a cart with a load of those mats used as beds by poor people in Palestine.
« Forgive me, Master. But this was needed. We are all right now» says Peter.
And Judas: « Look. We bought the bare necessities, clean and poor. As You like things» and they are busy unloading, dismissing the carter.
« Twelve little beds and twelve mats. A few dishes. Here is the seed. And here are the doves. There is the money. And tomorrow there will be many people. Phew! How warm it is! But everything is all right now. And what have You done, Master?...»
And while Jesus tells him, they sit happily at the table.