21st February 1946.
Towards sunset, a fiery one that ruddies the very white houses of Engedi and makes the Dead Sea a sheet of black nacre, Jesus sets out towards the main square. He is now with the boy who gave Him hospitality and who is now leading Him through the streets of the town, with its distinctly oriental architecture.
To protect themselves from the sun - which must be very strong in this place so exposed to the heavy expanse of the Salt Sea, which I understand must exhale hot fumes in the summer months, and is so isolated in the midst of a bare desert on which the sun blazes down mercilessly burning the ground - the inhabitants of Engedi built very narrow streets, which look even more narrow because of the projecting eaves and cornices of the dwellings, so that anyone looking up can see only a very thin strip of the deep blue sky.
The buildings are tall, most of them being two storey houses, with vine-clad roof terraces, giving shade and delightful grapes, which must be as sweet as raisins, when they fully ripen in the golden sun and the reflected heat of the walls and terrace-floors. And the vines compete in giving comfort to men and the many birds, from sparrows to doves, which nest in Engedi, with the towering palm-trees, which have grown everywhere, and with magnificent opulent fruit-trees, which have come up in yards, in house gardens, and peep out over little lanes, hanging down white walls with their branches already laden with fruit ripening in the bright sun, reaching down below the numerous archivolts, which in some parts really form tunnels, interrupted here and there for architectonic reasons, and they rise towards the blue sky, a sky so uniform and mellow, that if it could be touched, it would be like touching thick velvet or smooth leather, painted and dyed by a cunning craftsman with that perfect, beautiful, unforgettable hue, which is darker than a turquoise and lighter than a sapphire.
And waters... How many fountains, large and small, must be gurgling in the yards and gardens of houses, among thousands of plants! Walking along the narrow streets, still deserted, as the people are either at work or at home, one can hear them dripping, gurgling, rustling like the notes of a harp played by a hidden harpist. And the charm is increased by the many archivolts and corners that gather together the sounds of the waters, amplifying them and increasing them through numerous echoes, composing a harmonious arpeggio.
And endless palm-trees!... Where there is a little square, even if only the size of a room, the very tall slender trunks rise towards the sky, and their tops, tufts of rustling leaves tied like brushes round the trunks, hardly move up there, and their shadows at midday fall perpendicular to the little square, covering it completely, whilst now they are forming fantastical designs on the higher terraces.
The town is clean as compared with Palestinian towns. Perhaps the fact that houses are so close together and each has a yard and cultivated garden has helped to teach the population not to throw garbage into the streets, but to gather such waste and animal excrement into special dunghills to be used as fertilizer for trees and flower-beds, or it is... a very rare case of cleanliness. The little streets are clean, dried by the sun and there is no unpleasant display of waste vegetables, old sandals, dirty rags, excrement and the like, as can be seen even in Jerusalem, in streets quite near the town centre. There is the first farmer coming back from his work, riding a little grey donkey. To protect the animal from flies, the man has caparisoned it with jasmine branches and the beast is now trotting away shaking its ears and harness-bells under the wavy scented screen of branches. When the man turns round and greets him, the boy says: « Come to the main square. You will hear the Rabbi who is staying with me.»
Now there is a flock of sheep invading the street coming from a little square beyond which one can see the country background. They proceed close to one another, each putting its feet in the places where the one preceding it puts them, with their heads stooped as if they were too heavy for their necks - so thin compared with their fat bodies - trotting in their strange fashion and their obese bodies looking like bundles resting on four sticks...
Jesus, John and Peter imitate the man who is with them, and they lean against the warm wall of a house to let them pass. A man and a boy are following the flock. They look and greet. The young man says: « Put the sheep in the fold and come to the main square with your relatives. The Rabbi of Galilee is here with us and He is going to speak to us.»
And there is the first woman to come out, surrounded by a group of children, going I wonder where. The young man says: « Come with John and his sons to hear the Rabbi, Whom they call the Messiah.»
The houses open little by little in the oncoming evening, showing green backgrounds of gardens, or peaceful yards where doves are having their last feed. The youth peeps in at each door and shouts: « Come to listen to the Rabbi, the Lord.»
They finally come to a straight road, the only straight one in this town, which was not built as people would have liked, but as palm-trees or the mighty age-old pistachio-trees wanted, and which are respected as notables by the citizens, who are indebted to them for not dying of sunstroke. At the end there is a square where many trunks of palm-trees act as columns. It looks like a hypostyle hall of temples and ancient palaces, which consisted of a large room with columns placed at symmetrical intervals forming a stony forest to support the roof. The palm-trees here act as columns and, thick as they are, with their dense rustling foliage they form an emerald ceiling over the white square in the middle of which there is a tall square fountain full of crystal-clear water gushing out from a little column in the centre of the basin, and falling into lower basins, where animals can water. Tame docile doves have rushed to it just now and they are drinking or dancing a minuet with their little pink legs on the upper edge, or they are spraying their feathers which shine increasing their iridiscent hues as the drops of water rest for a moment on the barbs of the feathers.
There are many people. And there are the eight apostles who had gone in various directions looking for lodgings, and each of them has gathered some followers, who are anxious to hear Him, Whom the apostle has pointed out as the promised Messiah. The apostles hasten towards the Master from all directions trailing, like comets, the little groups they have conquered.
Jesus raises His hand to bless His disciples and the people of Engedi.
Judas of Alphaeus speaks on behalf of everyone: « Here, Master and Lord. We have done what You told us and these people are aware that the Grace of God is among them. But they want also the Word. Many know You having heard of You. Many because they met You in Jerusalem. Everybody, and the women in particular, wish to know You, and first of all, their head of the synagogue. There he is. Come here, Abraham.»
The man, who is very old, comes forward. He is moved. He would like to speak, but moved as he is, he cannot find any of the words he had prepared. He stoops to kneel down, leaning on his stick, but Jesus stops him, embracing him at once and saying: « Peace to the old just servant of God!» and the man, who is more and more moved, can only reply: « Praise be to God! My eyes have seen the Promised Messiah! What else shall I ask of the Lord?» and raising his arms, in hieratic attitude, he intones David's 40th psalm: « “I waited anxiously for the Lord and He has stooped to me.”» But he does not recite it all. He repeats only the passages which are more appropriate to the occasion:
« “He heard my cry and has pulled me out of the pit of misery,
out of the slough of the marsh... He has put a new song in my mouth.
Happy the man who puts his trust in the Lord.
How many wonders You have done for us, o Lord my God!
You have no equal. I would like to proclaim them again and again,
but they are more than I can count.
You, Who wanted no sacrifice or oblation, opened my ear...
(he is moved more and more).
It is written that I must do Your will...
I have always loved Your Law from the depths of my being.
I have always proclaimed Your righteousness in the Great Assembly.
I did not close my lips, as You know well, o Lord.
I have never kept Your righteousness to myself,
but I have proclaimed Your faithfulness and saving help...
For Your part, o Lord, do not withhold Your kindness from me...
More misfortunes beset me than I can count
(he is now weeping copiously, uttering his words in a voice that is even more trembling and senile because of his tears)...
I am a poor wretch, but the Lord takes care of me.
You are my help, my protector, my God, do not delay!.....”
That is the psalm, my Lord, and I add of my own: “Say to me: 'Come' and I will say to You what the psalm says: 'Here I come!'”.»
He becomes silent and weeps with all his faith gathered in his eyes dimmed by age.
People explain: « His daughter died and left young grandchildren to him. His wife has become blind and dull-witted through grief, and they do not know what happened to their only son. He disappeared all of a sudden...»
Jesus lays His hand on the shoulder of the old man and says to him: « The sufferings of the just are as swift as a swallow, as compared with the duration of the eternal reward. But we shall give back to Sarah the eyesight of bygone days and the intelligence of her youth, so that she may comfort your old age.»
« Her name is Colomba» informs one of the people...
« She is his princess. But listen to the parable I am going to tell You...»
« Will You not free first from darkness the eyes and the mind of my wife, so that she also may relish Wisdom?» asks the old head of the synagogue anxiously.
« Do you believe that God can do everything and that His power spreads over the universe?»
« Yes, my Lord, I do. I remember one evening many years ago. I was then happy, but even in joy I was a believer. Because that is what man is like! While he is happy, he can also forget about God. But I believed in God also in those happy days, when my wife was young and healthy, and my daughter Eliza was growing as beautiful as a palm tree and was already engaged, and Elisha was as handsome as she was beautiful, but he exceeded her in strength as befits a man... I had gone with the boy to the fountains near the vineyard, which is Colomba's dowry, while my wife and daughter remained at home to weave the girl's trousseau... But perhaps I am boring You... A poor wretch dreams remembering his past happiness... but other people are not interested...»
« Go on, go on!»
« I had gone with the boy... The fountains... If You came along the western road, You know where they are... The fountains were at the boundary of the blessed place, and looking beyond the desert, one could see the white stones of the Roman road, which was then still visible among the sands of Judah... Later... that landmark also disappeared! It does not matter if a landmark disappears, among sands! But it is bad that the sign of God, sent to point You out, should dissolve in the hearts of Israel. In too many hearts! My son said: “Father! Look! A great caravan, with horses and camels, and servants and gentlemen going towards Engedi. They are perhaps coming to the fountains before it gets dark….” As I was attending to the vine-branches, I raised my eyes, so tired after the abundant vintage, and I saw... The men were really coming to the fountains. They dismounted, they saw me and they asked whether they could camp there for one night.
“Engedi has hospitable homes and it is not far” I replied.
“No. We will be keeping watch to be ready to flee, because Herod is pursuing us. Our guards will be able to control every road from here and it will be easy to escape from those seeking us.” “What sin have you committed?” I asked, as I was surprised and willing to show them the caves of our mountains, as is our sacred custom to assist those who are persecuted. And I added: “You are strangers and you come from different places... I do not see how you can have sinned against Herod....”
“We have worshipped the Messiah Who was born in Bethlehem of Judah and to Whom we were led by the star of the Lord. Herod is looking for Him, and that is why he wants to find us, so that we may tell him where the Child is. But he is looking for Him to kill Him. We will perhaps die in the deserts, on a long unknown road, but we will not reveal where is the Holy Child, Who descended from Heaven!.”
The Messiah! The dream of every true Israelite! My dream! And He was in the world! In Bethlehem of Judah as it was foretold!... And pressing my son to my heart, I asked for more information and details, saying: “Listen, Elisha! Remember! You will certainly see Him!.” I was already fifty years old and I no longer hoped to see Him... neither did I hope to live so long as to see Him grown into a man... Elisha... can no longer worship Him...»
The old man is weeping again. But he collects himself and says: « The three Wise Men spoke kindly and patiently and they described You in Your holy infancy, and Your Mother and father... I could have spent the night with them... but Elisha was falling asleep in my lap. I said goodbye to the three Wise Men and I promised that I would not say one word that might be detrimental to them. But I told Colomba everything in our bedroom and that was our only joyful expectation in our subsequent misfortunes. Later we heard of the slaughter... and for years I did not know whether You were alive. Now I know. But I am the only one, because Eliza died, Elisha is no longer with us, and Colomba cannot understand the happy news... But my faith in the power of God, which was already alive, became perfect after that remote evening, when three men, of different races, bore witness to the power of God by being united, through the voices of stars and of their souls, on the road of God, to worship His Word.»
« And your faith will be rewarded. Now listen.
What is faith? Like the hard seed of a palm-tree, at times it is tiny and consists in a short sentence: “God exists”, supported by one only statement: “I have seen Him.” As the faith Abraham had in Me, through the words of the three Wise Men from the East. Like the faith of our people, from the most ancient patriarchs, transmitted from one generation to the next one, from Adam to his descendants, from Adam sinner, who, however, was believed when he said: “God exists, and we exist because He created us. And I have known Him.” Like the faith that came later, and was more perfect because more deeply based on revelation, and is our heritage, shining with divine manifestations, with angelical apparitions and the light of the Spirit. But still a tiny seed as compared with the Infinite. A tiny seed. But it takes root, and splitting the hard bark of animal nature with its doubts and inclinations, and triumphing over the harmful herbs of passions, of sins, over stale discouragement and corroding vices, over everything, it rises in hearts, it grows, it rushes towards the sun, to Heaven, rising, rising... until it gets rid of the limitations of the flesh and merges with God, in its perfect knowledge and full possession, beyond life and death, in True Life.
Who possesses faith, possesses the way of Life. Who can believe, does not err. A believer sees, knows, serves the Lord and has eternal salvation. The Decalogue is of vital importance to him and each commandment is a gem, which will adorn his future crown. The promise of the Redeemer is salvation for him. It does not matter if the believer died before I came to the Earth. His faith makes him equal to those who now approach Me with faith and love. The deceased just will soon be rejoicing because their faith is about to be rewarded. After fulfilling the will of My Father, I will go to them and say: “Come!”, and all those who died in Faith will ascend with Me to the Kingdom of the Lord.
Let your faith be like the palm-trees of your country, which sprout from tiny seeds, but are so determined in growing up straight, that they forget the earth and are in love with the sun, the stars and the sky. Have faith in Me. Believe what too few people believe in Israel, and I promise that you will possess the heavenly Kingdom, through forgiveness of the original sin and the just reward to all those who practise My doctrine, which is the most sweet perfection of the perfect Decalogue of God.
I will stay with you today and tomorrow, which is the holy Sabbath, and I will leave at dawn the day after the Sabbath. Let those who suffer come to Me! Let those who are in doubt come to Me! Let those who want Life come to Me! Without any fear, because I am Mercy and Love.»
And Jesus makes a wide gesture to bless and dismiss His listeners, so that they may go and have their evening meal and rest and He is about to set off, when a little old woman, so far concealed by the corner of a narrow street, makes her way through the crowds still around the Master, and amid the crying people, she goes and kneels at Jesus' feet shouting: « May You be blessed and the Most High Who has sent You! And blessed be the womb that bore You, as it is greater than the womb of women, if it was able to bear You!»
The shouting of a man mingles with the woman's: « Colomba! You see! You understand! You are speaking wisely recognising the Lord! Oh! God! God of my fathers! God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob! God of the prophets! God of John, the Prophet! God! My God! Son of the Father! King like the Father! Saviour obedient to the Father! God like the Father, and my God, God of Your servant! May You be blessed, loved, followed, worshipped forever!»
And the old head of the synagogue kneels down beside his wife, embracing her with his left arm, pressing her to his heart, he stoops and makes her stoop to kiss the feet of the Saviour, while the joyful shouting of the crowds is so loud that it makes tree-trunks vibrate and frightens the doves, which take flight from the nests where they were already resting and fly over Engedi, as if they wished to spread over the whole town the news that the Saviour is within its walls.