24th April 1946.
The gravel bed is white in the moonless but very clear night, as thousands of large, unusually large stars are shining in the Eastern sky. It is not an intense light like moonlight, but it is already a pleasant phosphorescence, which enables those whose eyes are accustomed to darkness, to see where they walk and what is around them. Here, on the right hand side of the wayfarers, who are going up northwards along the river, the mild starlight shows the vegetable border made by cane-brakes, willows and then by tall trees, and as the light is faint, they look like a compact continuous wall, without any interruption, impossible to penetrate, with a gap where a stream or torrent bed, completely dry, draws a white line that runs eastwards and disappears at the first curve of the tiny tributary now dried up. On the left hand side, instead, the travellers discern the glittering waters that flow down towards the Dead Sea grumbling, sighing, rustling, quiet and serene. And between the shining line of the blue indigo waters, in the night, and the dark opaque mass of grass, bushes and trees, the clear strip of the gravel bed, in places wider, in others narrower, is now and again interrupted by tiny ponds, remainders of previous floods, with still a little water, which is slowly absorbed by the soil and in which there are still some tufts of green grass, which elsewhere is dried up in the gravel bed parched in the hours of sunshine.
The apostles are compelled by those tiny ponds or by tangles of dry bulrushes, as dangerous as blades for their feet half-naked in sandals, to part now and again and then join again in a group round the Master, Who is proceeding with vigorous strides, always solemn, silent most of the time, with His eyes raised to the stars rather than bent to the ground. But the apostles are not silent. They are talking to one another, summarising the events of the day, drawing conclusions or foreseeing future developments. A few rare words of Jesus, often spoken in reply to a direct question or to correct a wrong or uncharitable opinion, punctuate the chattering of the Twelve. And the march proceeds in the night, marking the night silence with new elements for those desert banks: human voices and shuffling of feet. Nightingales are silent among the branches, surprised at the discordant harsh sounds mixing with and disturbing the usual murmur of water and whispering of breezes, the customary accompaniments of their virtuosi solos.
But a direct question, not concerning what has happened but what is to happen, breaks not only the peace of the night, but also the more intimate peace of hearts, with the violence of a rebellion in addition to the sharp tone of voices upset by scorn and anger. Philip asks whether and in how many days they will be home. A latent need of rest, an unexpressed but understood desire for family love is in the simple question of the elderly apostle, who is a husband and father besides being an apostle, and has interests to look after...
Jesus perceives all that and turns round to look at Philip, He stops waiting for him, as Philip is a little behind with Matthew and Nathanael, and when he is near, He embraces him with one arm saying: « Soon, My friend. But I ask you to be kind enough to make another small sacrifice, providing you do not wish to part from Me before... »
« Me? Part from You? Never! »
« Then... I will keep you away for some time from Bethsaida. I want to go to Caesarea on the Sea via Samaria. On our way back we will go to Nazareth and those who have no family in Galilee will remain with Me. Then, after some time, I will join you at Capernaum... And I will evangelize you there to make you even more capable. But if you think that your presence at Bethsaida is necessary... you may go, Philip. We shall meet there... »
« No, Master. It is more necessary for me to stay with You! But You know... Home is sweet... and my daughters... I do not think that I will have them very much with me in future... and I would like to enjoy a little of their modest kindness. But if I have to choose between them and You, I choose You... and for many reasons... » ends Philip with a sigh.
« And you are doing the right thing, My friend. Because I will be taken away from you before your daughters... »
« Oh! Master!... » says grievously the apostle.
« It is so, Philip » concludes Jesus kissing the temple of the apostle.
Judas Iscariot, who has been grumbling between his teeth since Jesus mentioned Caesarea, raises his voice as if the kiss given to Philip has made him lose control of his actions. And he says: « How many useless things! I don't really understand why it is necessary to go to Caesarea! » and he says so with angry impetuosity; he seems to imply: « and You Who want to go there are a fool. »
« It is not for you to judge the necessity of what we do, but for the Master » Bartholomew replies to him.
« Really, why not? As if He saw natural necessities clearly! »
« I say! Are you mad or sane? Do you realise of Whom you are speaking? » asks Peter shaking him by the arm.
« I am not mad. I am the only one with sound brains. And I know what I am saying. »
« You are saying lovely things! »
« Beg God not to take them into account! »,
« Modesty is not your strong point! »,
« One might think that you are afraid that by going to Caesarea you might be found out for what you are » say James of Zebedee, Simon Zealot, Thomas and Judas of Alphaeus respectively.
The Iscariot addresses the last one: « I have nothing to be afraid of and you have nothing to find out. But I am tired of seeing that we pass from one error to another, ruining ourselves. Conflicts with the members of the Sanhedrin, arguments with Pharisees. The Romans are the last straw... »
« What? Less than two months ago you were overjoyed, you were full of confidence, you were, you were... you were everything because Claudia was your friend! » remarks Bartholomew ironically who, being the most... uncompromising, is the one who does not rebel against contacts with the Romans only out of obedience to the Master.
Judas is speechless for a moment because the logic of the ironical remark is obvious, and unless he is prepared to appear illogical, he cannot contradict what he said previously. But he soon collects himself and says: « It is not because of the Romans that I am saying that. I mean because of the Romans as enemies. They... after all they are only four Roman ladies, four, five, six at most, they promised to help us and they will. But it is because that will increase the hatred of His enemies, and He does not realise that and... »
« Their hatred is intense, Judas. And you know that as well as I do, even better than I do » says Jesus calmly stressing the word « better ».
« Me? Me? What do You mean? Who knows things better than You do? »
« Just now you said that you are aware of necessities and how to make use of them... » retorts Jesus.
« With regard to natural things, yes. I say that You know spiritual matters better than anybody. »
« That is true. But I was just saying to you that you know better than I do, unpleasant, disgraceful, natural things, if you wish to call them so, such as the hatred of My enemies, such as their purposes... »
« I know nothing! I do not know anything. I swear to it on my soul, on my mother, on Jehovah... »
« That is enough! It is written that you must not swear » orders Jesus with such severity that even His countenance seems to become petrified in the perfection of a statue.
« Well, I shall not swear. But I must be allowed to say, since I am not a slave, that it is not necessary, that it serves no purpose, on the contrary it is dangerous to go to Caesarea, to speak to the Romans... »
« And who told you that that will happen? » asks Jesus.
« Who? Everything! You need to make sure of something. You are on the track of a... » he stops realising that wrath is making him say too much. He then resumes: « And I tell You that You ought to think also of our interests. You have deprived us of everything: home, earnings, affections, peace. We are persecuted because of You and we shall be persecuted even later. Because You, You say so in every possible way, will go away one fine day. But we are staying. We shall be ruined, but we... »
« You will not be persecuted when I am no longer among you. I, who am the Truth, tell you so. And I tell you that I have taken what you spontaneously and insistently gave Me. So you cannot say that I have taken away from you, with abuse of power, even one of the hairs that fall off when you tidy them. Why are you accusing Me? » Jesus is now less severe, His sad countenance expresses the desire to bring Judas back to reason kindly and I think that his compassion, so full and so divine, acts as a check on the others, who would not be so sympathetic towards the culprit.
Judas also perceives that and with one of the brusque changes of his soul urged by two opposed forces, he throws himself on the ground striking his head and chest and shouting: « Because I am a demon. I am a demon. Save me, Master, as You save so many demoniacs. Save me! Save me! »
« Do not let your desire to be saved be inactive. »
« It exists. You can see that. I want to be saved. »
« By Me. You expect Me to do everything. But I am God and I respect your free will. I will give you the strength so that you may get to say: “I do want.” But to want not to be a slave must come from you. »
« I do want! I do want! But do not go to Caesarea. Don't go! Listen to me as You listened to John, when You wanted to go to Achor. We have all the same rights. We all serve You in the same manner. You are obliged to satisfy us for what we do... Treat me as You treated John! I want it! What difference is there between him and me? »
« The soul is different! My brother would never have spoken as you did. My brother does not... »
« Be silent, James. I will speak. To everybody. And you stand up and behave as a man, as I treat you, not like a slave moaning at the feet of his master. Be a man, since you are so anxious to be treated as John, who, truly, is more than a man because he is chaste and full of Charity. Let us go. It is late. I want to cross the river at dawn. The fisher men will be coming back then after hauling the lobster-pots and it is easy to find a ferry-boat. The moon in her last days raises her thin crescent higher and higher. We will be able to walk faster in her increased light.
Listen. I solemnly tell you that no one must boast of doing his duty and exact for that, which is an obligation, special favours.
Judas has reminded Me that you have given Me everything. And he told Me that it is My duty to satisfy you for what you do. But just listen. Among you there are some fishermen, some landowners, some own a workshop, and the Zealot had a servant. Now then. When the boat servants, or the men who helped you like servants in the olive grove, in the vineyard, or in the fields, or apprentices in the workshop, or even the faithful servant who looked after the house and meals, finished their work, did you begin to serve them? Is it not so in every house and in every task? Which man, with a servant ploughing or minding sheep, or a workman in a workshop, would say to him when he finishes his work: “Go and have your meal immediately”? No one. But whether he comes back from the fields or he lays down his working tools, every master says: “Get my supper laid, get yourself tidy and with clean clothes wait on me while I eat and drink. You will eat and drink afterwards.” Neither can one say that that is insensibility. Because a servant must serve his master, and the master is not obliged to him, because the servant has done what the master had ordered him to do in the morning. Because, while it is true that the master must be kind to his servant, so it is the duty of the servant not to be lazy or a squanderer, but he must cooperate for the welfare of the master who feeds and clothes him. Would you bear your boat assistants, your peasants, workmen, your house servant to say to you: “Serve me because I have worked”? I do not think so.
So with you, when you consider what you have done and you do for Me - and, in future, considering what you will do to continue My work and to continue to serve your Master - you must always say, because you will see that you have always done much less than was fair to do to be on a par with what you received from God: “We are unprofitable servants because we have done but our duty.” If you reason thus, you will see that you will no longer feel pretensions and bad temper arise in you, and you will act according to justice. »
Jesus is silent. They are all pensive.
Peter nudges John, who is pondering staring with his blue eyes at the waters, which from indigo have become silver-blue in the moonlight, and says to him: « Ask Him when is it that one does more than one's duty. I would like to be able to do more than my duty, I... »
« I, too, Simon. I was just thinking of that » replies John with his beautiful smile and in a loud voice he asks: « Master, tell me: will the man who serves You never be able to do more than his duty to tell You that he thus loves You entirely? »
« Child, God has given you so much, that in all fairness, all your heroism would always be too little. But the Lord is so good that He does not measure what you give Him with His infinite measure. He measures it with the limited measure of human capability. And when He sees that you have given without parsimony, with a full measure, overflowing generously, He then says: “This servant of Mine has given Me more than it was his duty. I will therefore give him the superabundance of My rewards.” »
« Oh! How happy I am! I will give You an overflowing measure to have that superabundance! » exclaims Peter.
« Yes, you will give Me it. You will all give Me it. All those who are lovers of the Truth, of the Light, will give Me it. And they will be supernaturally happy with Me. »