19th February 1946.
They must have continued their journey during the moonlit night, and after resting for a few hours in a cave, they have set out again at dawn. And they are obviously fatigued after walking on crushed stones, through thorny bushes and creeping liane, which often entangle their feet. Simon Zealot is leading the way, as he appears to be thoroughly familiar with the area and he apologises for the difficult road, as if he were the cause of the difficulty.
« When we are once again up on those mountains, which you can see, it will be easier and I promise you plenty wild honey and ample water...»
« Water? I will dive into it! The sand has corroded my feet as if I had been walking on salt and my skin is smarting. How horrible these places are! Oh! One feels that we are close to the districts that Heaven punished with fire! The stench is still in the wind, in the earth, in the thorns, everywhere!» exclaims Peter.
« And yet it was beautiful here once, is that right, Master?»
« Very beautiful indeed. In the early centuries of the world, this area was a little Eden. The soil was very fertile and rich in spring waters suitable for many purposes. But they were so well arranged that they were a blessing. Then... the disorder of men seemed to affect the elements. And it was the end. The wise men of the heathen world explain the dreadful punishment in many ways. That is, in human terms, at times with superstitious terror. But believe Me: it was only the will of God that changed the order of the elements; and those of the sky involved those of the abyss, they broke loose clashing one against the other in malefic turmoil, thunderbolts set on fire the bitumen that the open veins of the earth had scattered everywhere in great disorder and fire from the bowels of the earth and on the earth and thunderbolts struck the earth, which was shaken in dreadful convulsion, and burned, destroyed and corroded acres of ground, which were previously a paradise, and turned it into the hell that you now see and where existence is impossible.»
The apostles are listening carefully...
Bartholomew asks: « Do You think that, if we could drain the dense salty water, we would find the ruins of the punished towns on the bottom of the Great Sea?»
« Certainly. And almost intact; because the muddy water acts as mortar on the buried towns. But the Jordan has spread a great deal of sand on them. So they are buried twice, that they may never rise again, the symbol of those who, persisting in sin, are inexorably buried by God's malediction and by the overbearance of Satan, whom they served so keenly in this life.»
« And did Mattathias of John of Simeon seek refuge here: the just Hasmonean who is with his son the glory of Israel?»
« Yes, here. Among the mountains and in the deserts and here he reorganised the people and the army, and God was with him.»
« But, at least... It was easier for him, because the Hasidaeans were more just than the Pharisees are with You!»
« Oh! It is easy to be more just than Pharisees! Even easier than it is for this thorn to prick me and stick in my leg... Look here!» exclaims Peter, who, while listening did not look where he was walking and is entangled in a thorny bush which has made his leg bleed.
« There are not so many up in the mountains. See how they are already thinning out?» says Simon Zealot comforting him.
« H'm! You know the place well...»
« I lived here when I was in exile and persecuted...»
« Oh! In that case...»
In fact the greenery is becoming less troublesome on the little mountains, which, however, are not very shady and the herbs on them are rather short but sweet-smelling and are strewn with flowers forming a many-coloured carpet. Bees suck them and then fly to the caves on the mountain sides where they deposit the honey in natural hives under curtains of ivy and honeysuckle.
Simon Zealot goes into one of the caves and comes out with combs of golden honey; he then goes into other caves until he has enough for everybody, and offers them to the Master and his friends who relish the sweet trickling substance.
« I wish we had some bread! It is delicious!» says Thomas.
« Oh! It is very good also without it! Much better than Philistine ears of corn. And... let us hope that no Pharisee will come to tell us that we cannot eat it!» says James of Zebedee.
They eat while walking and arrive at a reservoir, into which the waters of some streams flow and are then conveyed I know not where. The water that overflows from the basin is cool and clear, as it is protected from the sun and from pollution by the vault of the huge rock, in which the cistern has been dug; it flows down into a tiny lake in the blackish siliceous rock.
The apostles are evidently delighted in taking off their clothes and bathing in turns in the unexpected basin. But they wanted Jesus to be the first to enjoy it, « so that their bodies might be sanctified» says Matthew.
They resume walking, they are refreshed but more hungry than before, and the ones who are most hungry, in addition to the honey, nibble at the stalks of wild fennel and other edible shoots, the names of which I do not know.
One enjoys a beautiful view from the tablelands of these strange mountains, the peaks of which seem to have been cut off by a sword-thrust. Parts of other green mountains and of fertile plains can be seen to the south, as well as stretches of the Dead Sea, which is visible to the east, with the remote mountains of the other side fading in the mist of light clouds rising from south-east; the remote green Jordan plain can be seen to the north between mountain crests, while the high mountains of Judaea are visible to the west.
The sun is becoming warm and Peter states that « those clouds over the mountains of Moab are the sign of great heat.»
« We will now go down into the Kidron valley. It is shady...» says Simon.
« The Kidron!?! Oh, how have we come so soon to the Kidron?»
« Yes, Simon of Jonas. It is a rough road, but it cuts the journey short! Going along its valley we shall soon be in Jerusalem» explains the Zealot.
« And in Bethany... I should send some of you to Bethany, to tell the sisters to take Eglah to Nike. She begged Me so much, and quite rightly. The childless widow will also have a holy love and the orphan girl a true Israelite mother, who will bring her up in our old faith and in Mine. I would like to go too... A peaceful rest for My saddened spirit... In Lazarus' house the heart of the Christ finds but love... But the journey I want to make before Pentecost is a long one!»
« Send me, Lord. And with me, someone with good legs. We will go to Bethany and then to Kerioth and we will meet there» says the Iscariot with enthusiasm. The others, instead, while waiting for someone to be selected for the journey, which would separate them from the Master, are not at all enthusiastic.
Jesus is thinking, and while thinking, He looks at Judas. He is undecided whether He should agree or not.
Judas insists: « Say yes, Master. Make me happy!...»
« You are the least suitable, Judas, to go to Jerusalem!»
« Why, Lord? I know the town better than anybody else!»
« That is why!... The town is not only well known to you, but it affects you more than anybody else.»
« Master, I give You my word that I will not stop in Jerusalem and I will not look for anybody from Israel... But let me go. I will arrive at Kerioth before You and...»
« And you will not put pressure on anybody to pay human homage to Me.»
« No, Master, I will not. I promise.» Jesus is still pensive.
« Why do You hesitate so much, Master? Why do You not trust me?»
« You are so weak, Judas. And as soon as you go away from the Strength, you fall! You have been so good for some time! Why do you want to become upset and grieve Me?»
« No, Master, I do not want that! But one day I shall have to be without You! And then? What shall I do, if I do not prepare beforehand?»
« Judas is right» several of the apostles say.
« All right!... Go, then. Go with My brother James.»
The others give sighs of relief.
James sighs heavily but he says kindly: « Yes, my Lord! Bless us and we will depart.»
Simon Zealot feels sorry for him and says: « Master, fathers willingly replace their children to make them happy. I took him as my son together with Judas. Time has gone by, but my mind is still the same. Listen to my prayer... Send me with Judas of Simon. I am old, but I am as strong as a young man, and Judas will not have to complain about me.»
« No, it is not fair that you should sacrifice yourself, leaving the Master, in my place. It would certainly grieve you not to be with Him...» says James of Alphaeus.
« Grief is relieved by the joy of leaving you with the Master. Later you will tell me what you have done... In any case... I go to Bethany willingly...» concludes the Zealot, as if he wished to belittle the value of his offer.
« All right. You two will go. In the meantime let us proceed towards that village. Who will go up to get some bread in the name of God?»
« I will! I will!» They all want to go.
But Jesus holds back Judas of Kerioth. When they have all gone, Jesus takes his hands and speaks to him face to face. He seems to be wanting to instill His thought into him, influencing him to such an extent that Judas may not have any other thoughts than those wanted by Jesus. « Judas... Do not harm yourself, My dear Judas! Have you not been calmer and happier for some time, free from the burden of your lower ego, of the human ego, which is so easily at the mercy of Satan and of the world? Of course you know that you have! Well, protect your peace and your welfare. Do not injure yourself, Judas. I can read you. You are in such a happy period at this moment! Oh! If I could only keep you thus, at the cost of all My Blood, and destroy the last bulwark in which a great enemy of yours hides, and make you completely spiritual, with spiritual intellect, spiritual love, completely a... spirit!»
Judas, face to face with Jesus, his hands in the hands of the Master, is almost dumbfounded. He whispers: « Injure myself? Last bulwark? Which one?...»
« Which one?! You know. You know how you injure yourself! By cherishing thoughts of human grandeur and friendships, which you suppose are useful to procure such grandeur. Believe Me, Israel does not love you. It hates you as it hates Me, as it hates whoever may seem a probable victor. And since you do not conceal your ambition to be such, you are hated. Do not believe their false words, their deceitful questions, by which they pretend to take an interest in your plans in order to help you. They circumvent you to hurt you, to find out and injure you. I am not begging you on My behalf, but only on your own. If I am the target of iniquity, I am still the Lord. They may torture My body and kill it. But not beyond that. But in your case, they would kill your soul... Shun temptation, My friend! Tell Me that you will shun it! Speak this word of peace to your poor persecuted worried Master!»
Jesus clasps him in His arms and, cheek to cheek, speaks in his ear and His golden hair mixes with the thick dark curls of Judas.
« I know that I have to suffer and die. I know that My crown will be the crown of a martyr. I am aware that My Blood will be My purple. I came for that. Because through such martyrdom I will redeem Mankind, and love has been urging Me for endless time to do so. But I would not like any of My followers to be lost. Oh! All men are dear to Me, because in them there is the image and likeness of My Father and the immortal souls that He created. But you, My loved and beloved ones, you, the blood of My blood and the apples of My eyes, must not be lost! Oh! No torture could be like that, not even if Satan, who is Sin, Horror, Disgust, should pierce Me with his weapons burning with the sulphur of hell and he should bite and grasp Me, no torture could make Me suffer as much as I would for one of My chosen ones who should be lost... Judas, My Judas! Shall I ask My Father to let Me suffer My dreadful Passion three times, so that two of them may be offered to save you alone? Tell Me, My friend, and I will do that. I will ask Him to multiply My suffering infinitely for that purpose. I love you, Judas, I love you so much. And I would like to give you Myself, to make you Myself, to save you from yourself...»
« Do not weep, do not say that, Master. I love You, too. I also would give myself to see You strong, respected, feared, triumphant. I may not love You perfectly. I may not think perfectly. But I use and perhaps I misuse my whole being, because I am anxious to see You loved. But I swear to You, I swear on Jehovah, that I will not approach scribes, or Pharisees, or Sadducees, or Jews, or priests. They will say that I am mad. But it does not matter. I shall be quite happy provided You are not worried about me. Are You happy? A kiss, Master, as Your blessing and protection.»
They kiss each other and part while the others are running down the hill displaying cakes and fresh cheeses. They sit down on the green grass of the banks and divide the food, saying that they were made welcome, because the people of the few houses know the shepherd-disciples and are in favour of the Messiah.
« We did not tell them that You are here, otherwise...» concludes Thomas. « We will endeavour to come back here some other time. We must not neglect anybody» replies Jesus.
The meal is over. Jesus stands up and blesses the two who are going to Bethany and who do not wish to wait until evening to set out, as the valley is shady and rich in water.
Jesus and the ten who are staying with Him, lie down on the grass and rest awaiting sunset, when they will go back to the Engedi and Masada road, as I hear them say.