28th August 1946.
I cannot say in which part of Samaria we are. We are certainly right in the middle of the Samaritan mountains, although these ones are not the highest. The highest ones, in fact, are farther south, with their steep tops rising towards the sky, which has now cleared up.
The apostles are keeping as close as possible to Jesus while walking, but the path, a short cut, does not allow them to do so very frequently and the group forms and breaks up continuously.
Many shepherds are in the mountains with their flocks and the apostles apply to them to find out whether the path is the right one to take them to the caravan-track which from the sea goes to Pella. Although they are Samaritans, they answer the questions without any rudeness. On the contrary, one of them, at a junction of paths running in all directions and forking again in more branches, says: « I shall be going down to the valley soon. Have a little rest and then we can set out together. If you should get lost in these mountains... it would not be a good thing... » He lowers his voice and adds: « Highwaymen! » and he looks around as if he were afraid that they might be close to him and threatening him. Then, when he is reassured, he says: « They come down from the slopes of Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal and they spread about in these days of pilgrimages. And they are always active, notwithstanding that the Romans reinforce guards on roads... because there are always people who avoid busy roads to travel quicker or for other reasons. »
« You have many rascals, eh? » remarks Philip with a meaningful smile.
« You, a Galilean... do you think that they are Samaritans? » replies the shepherd resentfully.
The Iscariot intervenes as he feels that it is his duty to avoid every unpleasant incident, as he was the promoter of the change of itinerary, and he says: « No, no! It is because people know that you are hospitable and thus those who have done evil deeds elsewhere, come here seeking shelter. It is as if... the whole place were a city of refuge. Evil-doers know very well that nobody, Galileans or Judaeans, would follow them here and they take advantage of that. And nature assists them as well. All these mountains... »
« Ah! I thought that you were considering... The mountains, of course, serve their purpose. The two highest ones, particularly... Yes... but... how many come from the Adummim mountains and from the gorge of Ephraim! They belong to all races, eh!... and the Roman soldiers are shrewd... They do not go to dislodge them. Only snakes and eagles are aware of their dens and can reach them. And dreadful things are reported.
But sit down. I will give you some milk... I am a Samaritan, but I know the Pentateuch as well! And I do not offend those who do not offend me. You... you do not offend, and yet you are Galileans and Judaeans. But they say that a prophet has risen to teach us how to love one another. If I did not consider that according to the scribes and Pharisees of Israel we are cursed, so they say, I would say that the great prophets who loved us, although we are Samaritans, have come back in Him, as some people say, to love once again. But I do not believe it... Here is the milk... But I would like to meet that prophet. They say that the other prophet, the one who took refuge at our borders and whom we did not betray - those who insult us ought to remember that - said that this prophet is greater than Elijah. He called Him the Lamb of God, the Christ. And some Samaritans from Shechem spoke to Him, and they now tell great things of Him, and many people have gone to the main roads, waiting for Him, because they think that He may pass there. Nay - it is the first time that it happened - also some Judaeans, Pharisees and doctors have questioned us in every town, saying that if we see Him, we should run ahead of Him to tell them that He is arriving, because they want to give Him a great welcome. »
The apostles look at one another stealthily, but they wisely remain silent. Judas, with his bright dark eyes, full of triumphant light, seems to be saying: « Have you heard that? Are you now convinced that I was right? »
The shepherd continues to speak: « You certainly know Him. Where do you come from? »
« From Upper Galilee » replies Judas at once.
« Ah! you are... No. You are not Galilean. »
« We come from all places. We went on pilgrimage to the tombs of the doctors. »
« Ah! Perhaps you are disciples... But is this man not a rabbi? » he says pointing at Jesus.
« We are disciples. You are right. Yes, this man is a rabbi. But you know that one rabbi differs from another... »
« I know. He is certainly young and he has still much to learn from the great doctors of your Temple » and there is a touch of contempt in the possessive adjective.
But Judas, who is always ready to answer back, is wonderfully submissive. The others do not speak, Jesus looks absorbed in thought, so the pungent remark provokes no reply. Judas in fact says smiling: « He is very young indeed. But He is the wisest of us all » and to put an end to the conversation which might become dangerous, he says: « Have you to stay here much longer? Because we would like to be down in the valley by night. »
« No. I am coming. I shall gather the sheep and come. »
« All right. In the meantime we shall move on... » and he stands up with the others and takes to the path at once.
When a thicket is between him and the shepherd he laughs and laughs, saying: « How easy it is to tease people! And are you now convinced that I was not lying and I was not foolish? »
« No. You were not lying... but you lied now. »
« Lied? no. How can you say that, Philip? I knew how to speak the truth preventing it from becoming harmful. Do we not come from Upper Galilee? Do we not come from all places? Did we not go one day to venerate the tombs of doctors and were pelted with stones? And did we not go near them also in our last journey towards Giscala? Have I perhaps denied that Jesus is a rabbi? Have I perhaps said that He is not the wisest of us all?... In saying that, I was thinking, and my heart was rejoicing, that by saying “we” I was offending the rabbis, who are all inferior to the Master, although they do not think so, and I was making a fool of the shepherd... Ha! Ha! One must know how to say things... and one can say everything without sinning and without causing any harm. »
Judas of Alphaeus makes a grimace of disgust and says: « As far as I am concerned it is still a lie. »
« Of course! I did it! But did you hear him, eh? They put aside prejudices, disgust, arrogance in order to tell Samaritans to inform them of the passage of the Master, so that they might welcome Him at the borders! Ah! What a welcome! »
« Welcome! They also thought and spoke of something true, while lying... Judas of Kerioth is right » says Thomas.
Jesus turns round and says: « Yes. Their words were deceitful and hateful. But to say one thing for another, even if for a good purpose, is always blameworthy. Do you think that the Lord needs such behaviour to protect His Messiah? Do not lie any more, not even for a good purpose. The mind becomes accustomed to imagining lies, and lips to utter them. No, Judas. Avoid being insincere. »
« I will, Master. But let us be quiet now. The shepherd is running to join us... »
In fact the shepherd arrives pushing forward his sheep, which feeling the fold close at hand begin to run with their shambling gait, bleating, shoving one another, forcing their way through the apostles, whom they almost sweep away. He is followed by the young shepherd and the dog and he stops only when with the help of the boy and the dog he succeeds in holding back the sheep, gathering them together so that they may not scatter about or go to the valley by themselves.
« They are the most stupid animals on the Earth. But they are so useful! » he says wiping his perspiration and he adds with a sigh: « Eh! if Reuben were still here! But with this boy only!... » He shakes his head going down behind his sheep, which the dog and the boy, at the head of the flock, are keeping together. And talking to himself he says: « If I knew where to find that prophet, although I am a Samaritan, I would speak to Him... »
« And what would you say to Him? » asks Jesus.
« I would say: “I had a wife as good as mountain water is to a thirsty man, and the Most High took her from me. I had a daughter as good as her mother, a Roman saw her and wanted to marry her and took her away. I had my first-born son and he was everything to me... he slid down the mountain one rainy day and broke his back and is motionless and now he has been taken ill as well with an internal disease and the doctors say that he will die. I am not going to ask You why the Eternal Father punished me, but I beg You to cure my son.” »
« And do you believe that He could cure him for you? »
« I certainly believe it! But I shall never see Him... »
« Why are you sure? He is not a Samaritan. »
« He is a just man. He is the Son of God, so they say. »
« You, in your fathers, offended God. »
« That is true. But it is also said that God will forgive the Sin of man by sending the Redeemer. This promise can be read in the Pentateuch next to the condemnation of Adam and Eve. And the Book repeats it several times. If He forgives that sin, will He not have mercy on me, who am not guilty of being born a Samaritan? I think that if the Messiah heard of my grief, He would feel pity for me. »
Jesus smiles but does not say anything. Also the apostles smile meaningly, which, however, is not noticed by the shepherd.
« So is that boy not your son? » asks Jesus.
« No. He is the son of a widow who has seven sons and lives in poverty. I have taken him as an assistant... and a son... so that I shall not be left alone... when Reuben is in his grave... » and he sighs.
« But if your son should recover, what would you do with this one? »
« I would keep him. He is good and I feel sorry for him... » he lowers his voice saying: « He does not know... But his father died on the galleys. »
« What had he done to deserve that? »
« Nothing deliberately. But his cart ran over a drunk soldier and was accused of doing it deliberately... »
« How do you know that he is dead? »
« Oh! one does not survive long at the oar! But definite news was given to us by a merchant of Samaria, who had seen his dead body being removed from the shackles and thrown into the sea beyond the Pillars. »
« And you would really keep him with you? »
« I am quite prepared to swear it. He is unhappy, I am unhappy. And I am not the only one to do so. Other people have taken the sons of the widow, who is now left with her three daughters. They are still too many. But it is better to be four than twelve... But I need not swear!... Reuben will die... »
One can now see the road which is very busy with pilgrims hastening to their halting places. It will soon be dark.
« Have You a place where to sleep? » asks the shepherd.
« Not, really. »
« I would like to say to You: “Come”, but my house is too small for everybody. But the pen is large. »
« May God reward you as if you had given Me hospitality. But I will go on until the moon sets. »
« As You wish. Are You not afraid of getting lost? Of meeting wicked people?. »
« The poverty of My companions and Mine will protect Me against highwaymen. With regard to the road, I rely on the angel of pilgrims. »
« I must go to the front of the herd. The boy does not yet know... And the road is full of carts... » and he runs ahead to lead the sheep safely.
« Master, the worst is coming now. We have to cover a stretch of the road among people... » whisper the apostles.
They are now on the road, behind the sheep, which are proceeding in a line, closed between the mountain side, the shepherd's crook and the alert dog. The boy is now beside Jesus Who caresses him.
They arrive at a cross road. The shepherd has stopped the herd saying: « Here we are. This is Your road and that one is mine. But if You come towards the village, You will find a shorter one to go to the next village. Look: can You see that huge sycamore? Go as far as that and then turn to the right. You will see a little square with a fountain and after it, a house, black with smoke. It is the forge. The road is beyond it. You cannot go wrong. Goodbye. »
« Goodbye. It was very kind of you and God will comfort you. »
The shepherd goes his way and Jesus takes His. The former is surrounded by sheep, the latter by the apostles. Two shepherds in the middle of their flocks...
They are now separated, concealed by a group of houses built between the main road, followed by the shepherd, and the lane which passes through a poor part of the village, the poorest, I think, silent, solitary... The poor people are already indoors and the fireplaces in the kitchens can be seen through the half-open doors... Night is falling with the darkness of twilight.
« We shall stop just outside the village » says Judas. « I can see some houses over there in the fields. »
« No. It is better to go on. » There are different opinions.
They reach the fountain. They rush towards it to wash themselves and fill their little flasks. There is the smith. He is closing his black workshop. And there is the road towards the fields... They take it...
But a cry is heard from afar, from the village. « Rabbi! Rabbi! My son! Citizens! Come! Where is the Pilgrim? »
« They are looking for us, Master! What have You done? »
« Run. If we reach that wood no one will be able to see us any more. »
They run across a field covered with recently cut hay, they arrive at a hillock which they climb and disappear, followed by the voices, now numerous, and by people who have spread about, outside the village, calling rather than looking, because not much can be seen in the twilight. They stop at the foot of the hillock.
« It was the Rabbi Who went to Shechem, I am telling you. It could be but Him. And He cured my Reuben. And I did not recognise Him. Rabbi! Rabbi! Rabbi! Allow me to worship You! Tell me where You are hidden! »
Only the echo replies and it seems to say: « Abbi! Abbi! Abbi! » and to change the last word into « heaven ».
« But He cannot be far » says the forger. « He passed in front of me shortly before you arrived... »
« And yet He is not here. See. There is nobody on the road. He was to take this one. »
« Will He be in the wood? »
« No. He was in a hurry... » Then he seeks help from his dog. « Find them! Find them! » and for a moment the dog seems to be able to discover the hiding place, because it makes for the wood after sniffing at the meadow. Then the animal stops perplexed, with one paw lifted up, its muzzle in the air... then, disappointed by I do not know what, it starts off in the opposite direction, barking, and the people run after it...
« Oh! Blessed be the Lord! » exclaim the apostles with sighs of relief and they cannot help saying to the Master: « But what have You done, Lord! » and they almost reproach Him for doing it. « You know that it is dangerous for You to be pointed out, and yet You... »
« And was I not to reward faith? And is it not a good thing that they should think that I am on the road which from Dothan takes one to Pella? Do you perhaps no longer want them to have no clear idea about anything? »
« That is true. You are right! But if the dog found You out? »
« Oh! Simon! And do you think that He Who imposes His will, also from a distance, on diseases and elements and drives out demons, is not able to impose it on an animal? Now let us try to reach the road beyond the bend, and they will not be able to see us any more. Let us go. »
And they proceed almost gropingly through the thicket on the hill, until they get back to the road: a small road, all white in the light of the rising moon, and far from the village now completely concealed by the hill.