18th February 1946.
I do not know what Gilgal is like now. When Jesus enters it, it is an ordinary Palestinian town, quite densely populated, situated on a low hill covered mainly with vineyards and olive groves. But there is so much sunshine, that cereals also can be cultivated, at random, under trees or between rows of vines. And they ripen notwithstanding the foliage above them, because the sun is very warm and the effect of the nearby desert is felt.
There is the dust, noise, dirt and confusion of market days. And inflexible as fate, there are the usual zealous not convinced Pharisees and scribes, who are discussing with great gestures and displaying their learning in the best corner of the square, pretending they do not see Jesus or they do not know Him.
Jesus goes straight on and takes His meal in a little side square, almost in the outskirts, well shaded by interlaced branches of all kinds of plants. I am under the impression that it is part of the mountain recently annexed to the village and still keeping a semblance of its natural state.
The first person to approach Jesus, Who is eating bread and olives, is a man in ragged clothes. He asks for a little bread. Jesus gives him His portion with all the olives that He is holding in His hand.
« And what about You? You know that we have no money» remarks Peter. « We gave everything to Ananias...»
« It does not matter. I am not hungry. But I am thirsty...»
The beggar says: « There is a well at the rear of the village... But why did You give me everything? You could have given me half of Your bread... If You are not disgusted at taking it back...»
« Eat it. I can do without it. But to remove every possible doubt that I feel disgusted with you, give Me with your own hands just a mouthful and I will eat it to be your friend...»
The man's face, so far sad and gloomy, brightens in a smile of surprise and he says: « Oh! It is the first time since I became poor Ogla that anyone says to me that he wants to be my friend!» and he gives a mouthful of bread to Jesus. And he asks: « Who are You? What is Your name?»
« I am Jesus of Nazareth, the Rabbi of Galilee.»
« Ah!... I heard of You from other people... But... are You not the Messiah?...»
« I am.»
« And You, the Messiah, are You so good to beggars? The Tetrarch gets his servants to beat us, if he sees us in his way...»
« I am the Saviour. I do not beat, I love.» The man stares at Him. And he begins to weep slowly. « Why are you weeping?»
« Because... I would like to be saved... Are You no longer thirsty, Lord? I could take You to the well and speak to You...»
Jesus understands that the man wishes to confess something and He gets up saying: « Let us go.»
« I am coming, too!» exclaims Peter.
« No. I shall be back at once, in any case... And we must respect those who repent.»
He goes with the man behind a house, beyond which there is the country.
« The well is over there... Have a drink and then You can listen to me.»
« No, man. Pour first your anxiety into Me and then... I will drink. And perhaps I shall have for My thirst a fountain even more pleasant than the water of this well.»
« Which, Master?»
« Your repentance. Let us go under those trees. The women are watching us here. Come» and laying His hand on the man's shoulder He leads him towards a thicket of olive-trees.
« How do You know that I am guilty and that I am repentant?»
« Oh!... Speak and be not afraid of Me.»
« Lord... We were seven brothers born of one father, but I was born of the woman whom my father married when he became a widower. And I was hated by the other six. When my father died, he left the same amount to each of us. But after his death my six brothers bribed the judges, took everything away from me, and drove my mother and me away with infamous accusations. She died when I was sixteen years old... and she died of want... And since then no one has ever loved me...» he says weeping uncontrollably. He calms down and goes on: « My six brothers were rich and happy and they throve also with what belonged to me, while I was dying of starvation, because I was taken ill assisting my feeble mother... But God struck them one by one. I cursed and hated them so much, that I set the evil eye on them. Was I doing the wrong thing? Certainly. I know. And I knew. But how could I not hate them and curse them? The last one, who in actual fact was the third born, was withstanding all curses, nay he was prospering with the property of the other five, as he legally got the goods of the three younger brothers who had died without dependants, and he married the widow of the first born who had died childless, and he had fraudulently taken possession of the property of the second born, cheating his widow and orphans whom he deprived of most of their share with tricks and loans. And when he met me by chance at the market, where I used to go as the servant of a rich man to sell victuals, he insulted and beat me... I met him one evening... I was alone and he was alone. He was intoxicated with wine... I was intoxicated with recollections and hatred... It was the tenth anniversary of my mother's death... He insulted me and my dead mother... He called her “filthy bitch” and he called me “son of the hyena...” Lord... if he had not insulted my mother, I would have endured him But he insulted her... I caught him by the neck. We struggled I only wanted to beat him... But he slipped and fell on the ground... and the sloping ground was covered with slippery grass... and below there was a ravine and a torrent... Drunk as he was, he turned over and fell... They are still looking for him after so many years... He is buried among the stones and the sand of one of the torrents in Lebanon. I did not go back to my master. And he never went back to Caesarea Paneas. I have been wandering without peace... Ah! The curse of Cain! To be afraid of living... and to be afraid of dying I was taken ill... And later... I heard of You... But I was afraid They told me that You could read the hearts of men. And the rabbis of Israel are so bad!... They do not know what mercy is... You, the Rabbi of rabbis, were my terror... And I fled before You. And yet, I would like to be forgiven...» He is prostrated on the ground and is weeping...
Jesus looks at him and whispers: « I will take also those sins upon Me!... Listen, son! I am Mercy, not terror. I have come also for you. Be not ashamed before Me... I am the Redeemer. Do you want to be forgiven? Of what?»
« Of my crime. Why ask me? I killed my brother.»
« You said: “I only wanted to beat him” because you had been offended and you were angry. But when you hated and cursed not one, but six brothers, you were not offended or angry. You did it as spontaneously as you breathe. Hatred and curses, and the delight in seeing them struck was your spiritual bread, is that right?»
« Yes, Lord. It was my bread for ten years.»
« So, your greatest crime began the moment you hated and cursed. You are six times the murderer of your brothers.»
« But, Lord, they had ruined and hated me... And my mother died of starvation...»
« Do you mean that you had a reason to avenge yourself?»
« Yes, I do.»
« You had no reason. It was for God to punish. You should have loved. And God would have blessed you on the Earth and in Heaven.»
« So, will He never bless me?»
« Repentance brings blessings again. But how much grief, how much anxiety you caused yourself! You caused much more through your hatred than your brothers did!...»
« That is true! My horror has lasted twenty-six years. Oh! forgive me in the name of God. You can see that I am grieved for my sin! I am not asking anything for my life. I am a beggar and I am ill. And I wish to remain such, to suffer and expiate. But give me the peace of God! I offered sacrifices at the Temple and I starved to put together the money for the holocaust. But I could not confess my crime and I do not know whether the sacrifice was accepted.»
« It was not. Even if you offered one every day, what value could it have for you, when you were acting with falsehood? A rite which is not preceded by a sincere confession of sins is superstitious and of no value. It is sin added to sin, and thus more than useless. A sacrilegious offer. What did you say to the priest?»
« I used to say: “I have sinned out of ignorance, doing what the Lord had forbidden, and I want to expiate.” I used to think: “I know in what I have sinned, and God knows. But I cannot tell any man openly. God, Who sees all things, knows that I am thinking of my sin.”»
« Mental reservations, mean expedients. The Most High hates them. When one sins, one must expiate. Never do that again.»
« No. Lord. And shall I be forgiven? Or must I go and confess everything? And pay with my life for the life I took? All I want is to die with God's forgiveness.»
« Live to expiate. You cannot give her husband back to the widow or their father to the children... One ought to think before killing, before letting hatred become one's master! But rise and walk along the new way. On your way, you will find My disciples. They are certainly in the mountains of Judaea and you will find them if you go from Tekoah to Bethlehem and farther towards Hebron. Tell them that Jesus has sent you and that He said that before Pentecost He will go up to Jerusalem via Bethzur and Bether. Look for Elias, Joseph, Levi, Matthias, John, Benjamin, Daniel, Isaac. Will you remember those names? Apply especially to them. Let us go now...»
« But are You not having a drink?»
« I have drunk your tears. A soul returning to God! There is nothing more refreshing for Me.»
« So, I am forgiven?! You said: “Returning to God”...»
« Yes. You are forgiven. But never hate anybody again.»
The man bends again, as he had stood up, and kisses Jesus' feet.
They go back to the apostles and find them disputing with some scribes.
« Here is the Master. He will be able to reply to you and tell you that you are sinners.»
« What is the matter?» asks Jesus, Who greets respectfully but is not greeted in return.
« Master, they are harassing us with questions and mockery...»
« It is an act of mercy to put up with troublesome people.»
« But they are offending You. They are making You a laughing stock... and people hesitate. See? We had been successful in gathering many people... But who is left now? Two or three women...»
« Oh! no! You have also a man, a filthy man! He is even too much for you! But, Master, don't You think that You are becoming too contaminated, since You always say that filth disgusts You?» says scoffingly a young scribe pointing at the beggar beside Jesus.
« He is not filth. He is not the filth which disgusts Me. He is a “poor man”. Poor people do not disgust. Their misery must inspire souls with feelings of brotherly pity. I feel disgusted with moral miseries, with fetid hearts, with souls torn to shreds, with injured spirits.»
« And do You know that he is not such?»
« I know that he believes and hopes in God and in His mercy, now that he has become acquainted with it.»
« Acquainted? Where does it live? Tell us, that we may go as well to see its face. Ah! The terrible God, Whom Moses did not dare to look at, must have a dreadful face even in His mercy, even if His rigour has softened after so many centuries!» insists the young scribe laughing and his laughter is more negatory than blasphemy.
« I, Who am speaking to you, am the Mercy of God!» shouts Jesus, standing upright, dazzling with the power of His eyes and gesture.
I do not know why the other one is not terrified... But although he does not run away, he can no longer be sarcastic and he becomes silent, while another scribe replaces him: « Oh! how many useless words! We would only like to be able to believe. We could not ask for anything better. But in order to believe, we must have proofs. Master, do You know what Gilgal is to us?»
« Do you think that I am a blockhead?» says Jesus. And in the tone of a psalm, in a slow rather drawling utterance, He begins: « “And Joshua, rising before daybreak, struck camp. And he set out from Shittim with all the Israelites and arrived at the Jordan where they stopped for three days, after which the heralds went through the camp shouting: 'When you see the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord your God carried by the levitical priests, you must leave as well and follow them, between you and the Ark, however, keep a distance of two thousand cubits, so that you may see from afar which road you have to take as you have never gone this way before and...' ”»
« That is enough. You know the lesson. Now, in order to believe, we would like a similar miracle from You. At Passover we were dinned in the Temple with the news brought by a boatman that You had stopped the river in spate. Now, if for an ordinary man You did so much, we, who are much more than a common man, ask You to go down into the Jordan with Your disciples and cross it without wetting your feet, as Moses did at the Red Sea and Joshua at Gilgal. Come on! Sorcery serves only with ignorant people. But we shall not be deceived by Your necromancy, although it is well known that You are familiar with Egyptian secrets and magical formulae.»
« I do not need them.»
« Let us go down to the river and we will believe in You.»
« It is written: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test”!»
« You are not God! You are a poor fool. You are one who subverts ignorant crowds. That is easy for You because Beelzebub is with You. But with us, who are adorned with the power of exorcism, You are less than nothing» says a scribe bitingly.
« Do not offend Him! Beg Him to satisfy our request. The way you treat Him, He will lose both heart and power. Come on, Rabbi of Nazareth! Give us a proof and we will worship You» says a venomous old scribe, who is more hostile in his crooked flattery than the others in their open fierceness.
Jesus looks at him. He then turns southwestwards and stretching His arms out He says: « The desert of Judah is over there and there the Evil Spirit asked Me to put the Lord My God to the test. And I replied: “Be off, Satan! It is written that God only is to be worshipped; He is not to be put to the test. And He is to be given priority over flesh and blood.” I say the same to you.»
« Are You giving us the name of Satan? Are You? Ah! Curse You!» and behaving more like urchins than doctors of the Law, they start picking up stones on the ground to strike Him, and they shout: « Go away! May You be damned forever!»
Jesus looks at them fearlessly. He paralyses them in their sacrilegious gesture, picks up His mantle and says: « Let us go! Man, go ahead of Me» and He goes back towards the well and into the olive-grove of the confession... And He lowers His head, looking utterly crushed, while two unrestrainable tears stream down His pale face.
They arrive at a road. Jesus stops and says to the beggar: « I cannot give you any money, because I have none. I bless You. Goodbye. Do what I told you.» They part...
The apostles are distressed. They cast furtive glances at one another...
Jesus breaks the silence resuming the tone of the psalm interrupted by the scribe: « “And the Lord said to Joshua: 'Choose out twelve men, one man from each tribe, and tell them to take from mid-Jordan, where the feet of the priests stood, twelve very hard stones and to put them in the camp where you will put up your tents tonight'. And Joshua called twelve men chosen from the children of Israel, one from each tribe, and he said to them: 'Pass on before the Ark of the Lord your God into mid-Jordan, and each of you take one stone on his shoulder, matching the number of the tribes of Israel, to make a memorial in your midst. And when in future your sons ask you: What do these stones mean? you will reply to them: The waters of the Jordan disappeared in front of the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord, when it crossed them, and these stones are an everlasting reminder of this to the Israelites.'”»
He then raises His head, and turns His eyes towards the apostles who are looking at Him. In a different voice, the voice of the moments of deepest sadness, He says: « And the Ark was in the river. Not the waters, but the sky opened out of respect for the Word Who was sanctifying them and making them more holy than the Ark did, standing in the bed of the river. And the Word chose twelve stones. He chose very hard ones, because they are to last until the end of the world, and they are to be the foundation of the new Temple and of the eternal Jerusalem. Twelve. Remember that. That is to be the number. And then He chose twelve more as second witnesses. The first shepherd-disciples and Abel the leper and Samuel the cripple, those cured first... and grateful... They are very hard as well, because they will have to withstand the blows of Israel, who hates God!... Who hates God!...»
How sorrowful and feeble is Jesus' voice - it almost sounds like a boy's voice - as He weeps over the harshness of Israel. He resumes: « Time and men scattered the memorial stones in the river... Hatred will scatter My twelve on the Earth. On the banks of the river, time and men have destroyed the remembrance altar... The first and the second stones can no longer be identified: the bitter hatred of demons, who dwell not only in hell, but also in the hearts of men, have used them for all purposes. Some have been used also for killing. And how do I know that among the stones lifted against Me, there were no splinters of the very hard stones chosen by Joshua? Very hard! Hostile! Oh! Very hard! Also among My followers some perverted ones will act as a pavement for the demons marching against Me... and they will become stones to strike Me... and they will no longer be the chosen stones... but demons... Oh! James, My dear brother! How hard is Israel to its Lord!» and, what has never been seen before, Jesus, overwhelmed by I do not know which impressively deep depression, leans on the shoulder of James of Alphaeus and embraces him weeping...