17th October 1946.
And Jesus is still in the mountains, followed by a crowd of people in addition to the apostles and disciples. Some of the disciples are ex-shepherds, who have perhaps been found when passing through some of the little villages. Jesus is climbing from a valley to a mountain, along a road, the turns of which follow the side of the mountain, and is certainly a Roman road, with its unmistakable paving and well-kept maintenance, to be found only in roads built and maintained by the Romans. People are travelling along it, either going down to the valley, or up to the chain of mountains, the tops of which are crowned with towns or villages. And some of the wayfarers, seeing Jesus and those following Him, ask who He is and join the group, some watch only, some shake their heads and sneer.
A squad of Roman soldiers catches up with them with heavy steps and jingling of arms and armour. They turn round to look at Jesus, Who leaving the Roman road, is about to take a... Jewish one which climbs to the top where there is a village. It is a pebbly muddy road, because it has rained, and one's feet either slip on the stones or sink into the puddles. The soldiers, who are obviously making for the same town, after stopping for a moment, set out again and people are compelled to move to the sides of the narrow road to make way for the squad that passes by in strict formation. Some insults are hissed in the air. But discipline prevents the soldiers in route column from giving sharp answers.
They are once again near Jesus Who has moved aside to let them pass and looks at them with His mild eyes which seem to be blessing and caressing with their bright sapphire irises. And the stern faces of the soldiers brighten in a remembering smile which is not a sneering one, on the contrary it is as respectful as a greeting.
They pass by. The people resume walking behind the Rabbi Who is in front of them all.
A young man departs from the crowd and catches up with the Master greeting him respectfully. Jesus reciprocates the greeting.
« I would like to ask You something, Master. »
« Tell Me. »
« I listened to You by chance one morning after Passover near a mountain not far from the gorges of the Cherit. And since then I have been thinking that... I also could be among those whom You call. But before coming I wanted to have a very clear idea of what it is necessary to do and what must not be done. And I asked Your disciples every time I met them. And some told me one thing, some a different one. And I was uncertain, almost frightened, because they all agreed on one thing, some more some less strictly, and that was the obligation to be perfect. I... I am a poor man, Lord, and God only is perfect... I listened to You a second time... and You also said: “Be perfect”. And I lost heart. The third time, a few days ago, I heard You in the Temple. And although You were very severe, I felt that it was not impossible to become so, because... I do not know myself why, how to explain it to myself and to You. But I felt that if it was something impossible, or it was so dangerous to wish to become so, as if one wanted to become a god, since You want to save us, You would not suggest it to us. Because presumption is a sin. To want to be a god is the sin of Lucifer. But perhaps there is a way to be perfect, to become so without committing sin, and it is by following Your Doctrine, which is certainly a Doctrine of salvation. Am I right? »
« Yes, you are. So? »
« So I continued to ask this one and that one. And when I heard that You were at Ramah I came here. And since then, with my father's permission, I have been following You. And now I am more anxious to come... »
« Come, then! What are you afraid of? »
« I don't know... I don't know myself... I ask and ask... And every time, while it seems easy to me and I make up my mind to come when I hear You, afterwards, thinking it over, and what is even worse, when I ask this one and that one, it seems too difficult to me. »
« I will tell you how that happens: it is a snare of the demon to prevent you from coming. He frightens you with phantasms, he confounds you, he makes you ask those who are in need of Light as you are... Why did you not come to Me direct? »
« Because... I was... not afraid, but... Our priests and rabbis! So difficult and proud! And You... I did not dare to approach You. But yesterday at Emmaus!... I think that I understood that I must not be afraid. And now I am here, to ask You what I would like to know. One of Your apostles, a short time ago, said to me: “Go and do not be afraid. He is kind also to sinners.” And another one said: “Make Him happy by confiding in Him. Those who confide in Him find Him kinder than a mother.” And another one said: “I do not know whether I am mistaken, but I tell you that He will say to you that perfection is to love.” That is what your apostles said, at least some of them, who are kinder than the disciples. But not all of them, because among Your disciples there are some who sound like the echo of Your voice, but they are too few. And among the apostles there are some who... frighten a poor man like me. One said to me with a smile, which was not a kind one: “You want to become perfect? We, His apostles are not, and you want to be so? It's impossible.” If the others had not spoken to me, I would have run away, completely discouraged. But I am trying for the last time... and if You also tell me that it is impossible... »
« Son, and is it possible that I came to propose impossible things to men? Who do you think it was that put in your heart the desire to become perfect? Your own heart? »
« No, Lord. I think it was You with Your words. »
« You are not far from the truth. But tell Me, according to you, My words, what are they? »
« They are just. »
« All right. But I mean: words of a man or of one who is more than a man? »
« Oh! You speak like Wisdom and even more kindly and clearly. So I say that Your words are of one who is more than a man. And I do not think that I am wrong if I correctly understood what You said in the Temple. Because I got the impression that You said that You are the very Word of God, so You speak as God. »
« You understood correctly and what you say is right. So who put the desire of perfection into your heart? »
« God did, through You, His Word. »
« So it was God. Now just think: if God, Who is aware of the capabilities of men, says to them: “Come to Me. Be perfect.”, it means that He knows that man, if he wishes, can become perfect. It is an old word. It resounded the first time for Abraham as a revelation, a command, an invitation: “I am the Almighty God. Walk in My presence. Be perfect.” God revealed Himself so that the Patriarch might not be in doubt about the holiness of the command and the truthfulness of the invitation. He ordered him to walk in His presence, because he who walks in his lifetime, convinced of doing so in the eyes of God, will not accomplish evil deeds. Consequently he puts himself in condition of being able to become perfect according to God's invitation. »
« That is true! It's really true! If God said so, it means that it can be done. Oh! Master! How clear everything is when You speak! Why, then, do Your disciples, and also that apostle, give such a... frightful idea of holiness? Do they not believe that those words and Yours are true? Or can they not walk in the presence of God? »
« Do not worry about what it is. Do not judge. See, son. At times their very anxiety to be perfect and their humility make them be afraid that they can never become so. »
« So are the desire for perfection and humility obstacles to becoming perfect? »
« No, son. The desire and humility are not obstacles. On the contrary one must strive to have them in a very deep but orderly way. They are orderly when they do not imply heedless haste, unfounded dejection, doubts and lack of confidence such as believing that, because of his imperfection, man cannot become perfect.
All virtues are necessary, as well as the desire to achieve justice. »
« Yes. Also those whom I questioned told me that. They told me that is was necessary to be virtuous. But some said that one virtue was necessary, some another, and they all maintained the absolute necessity of having that one, which they said was indispensable to be saints. And that frightened me, because how can one have all the virtues in a perfect form, how can one grow them all together like a bunch of different flowers? It takes time... and life is so short! Master, tell me which is the essential virtue. »
« It is love. If you love you will be holy, because all virtues and all good deeds come from the love for the Most High and for our neighbour. »
« Do they? It is easier thus. So holiness is love. If I have love I have everything... Holiness is made of that. »
« Of that and of the other virtues. Because to be holy is not only to be humble, or only prudent, or only chaste and so forth, but to be virtuous. See, son, when a rich man wishes to offer a dinner, does he order only one dish? Also: when one wants to present somebody with a bunch of flowers, does one take only one flower? One does not. Because even if he put piles of the same dish on the table, his guests would criticise him as an incapable host concerned only with showing his means but not his refinement as a gentleman who is anxious to satisfy the different tastes of his guests and wants each of them not only to satisfy his appetite with this or that dish, but to enjoy them. The same applies to him who offers a bunch of flowers. One flower only, no matter how big it is, does not make a bunch. But many flowers do, and thus the different colours and scents gratify one's eyes and smell and make one praise the Lord. Holiness, which we must consider as a bunch of flowers offered to the Lord, is to comprise all virtues. Humility will prevail in one spirit, strength in another, continence in another, patience in another, the spirit of sacrifice or penance in another, all virtues born in the shade of the regal most scented tree of love, whose flowers will always prevail in the bunch, but all the virtues make up holiness. »
« And which is to be cultivated more carefully? »
« Love. I told you. »
« Then? »
« There is no method, son. If you love the Lord, He will grant you His gifts, that is, He will communicate with you and then the virtues which you strive to grow in strength, will grow in the sun of Grace. »
« In other words, in a loving soul it is God Who acts mostly? »
« Yes, son. It is God Who acts mostly, letting man put, as his own contribution, his free will to tend to perfection, his efforts to reject temptations in order to remain faithful to his purpose, his struggles against the flesh, the world, the demon, when they assail him. And the reason for that is that He wants His son to have merit in his holiness. »
« Ah! I see! Then it is quite right to say that man is made to be as perfect as God wants. Thank You, Master. It is now clear to me and I will act accordingly. And You, Lord, please pray for me. »
« I will keep you in My heart. Go and be assured that God will not leave you without help. »
The young man parts from Jesus looking satisfied...
They are by now near the village. Bartholomew with Stephen joins Jesus to tell Him that while He was speaking to the young man, a citizen of Beth-horon, a relative of Helkai the Pharisee, came begging them to take Him at once to his dying wife.
« Let us go. I will speak afterwards. Do you know where she is? »
« He left a servant with us. He is in the rear, with the others. »
« Make him come here and let us quicken our paces. »
The servant arrives. A strong old man looking dismayed. He greets and looks stealthily at Jesus Who smiles at him asking: « What is your mistress dying of? »
« Of... She was expecting. But the child died in her womb and her blood became infected. She is raving as if she were mad and is going to die. They opened her vains to make her temperature drop. But her blood is completely poisoned and she will die. They put her in the cistern to abate her fierce heat. It drops while she is in the ice-cold water. Then it becomes stronger than previously, and she coughs and coughs... and she will die. »
« No wonder! With such treatment! » grumbles Matthew between his teeth.
« How long has she been ill? »
The servant is about to reply when the leader of the Roman squad runs down the hill towards them and stops in front of Jesus.
« Hail! Are You the Nazarene? »
« I am. What do you want of Me? »
Jesus' followers rush there wondering who knows what...
« One day one of our horses struck a Jewish boy and You cured him to prevent the Jews from making a din against us. Now the stones of the Jews have knocked down a soldier, who is now lying with a broken leg. I cannot stop because I am on duty. No one in the village wants to take him in and he cannot walk. I cannot drag him along with a broken leg. I know that You do not despise us as all the Jews do... »
« Do you want Me to cure the soldier? »
« Yes, I do. You cured also the servant of the Centurion and Valeria's little girl. You saved Alexander from the wrath of Your fellow-citizens. These things are known both in high and in low quarters. »
« Let us go to the soldier. »
« And what about my mistress? » asks the discontented servant.
« Later. »
And Jesus follows the non-commissioned officer, who devours the way with his brawny legs free from hampering clothes. But even striding thus ahead of everybody, he manages to speak some words to Him Who is the first to follow him, that is to Jesus, and he says: « Some time ago I was with Alexander. He... used to speak of You. Chance has put You close to me just now. »
« Chance? Why not say God? The true God? »
The soldier is silent for a moment, then in a low voice so that Jesus only can hear he says: « The true God would be the Hebrew one... But He does not make Himself loved, if He is like the Hebrews. They do not take pity even on a wounded man... »
« The true God is the God of the Hebrews, as well as of the Romans, the Greeks, the Arabs, the Parthians, the Scythians, the Iberians, the Gauls, the Celts, the Lybians, the Hyperboreans. There is but one God! But many do not know Him, others have a wrong knowledge of Him. If they knew Him well, they would all be like brothers to one another, and there would be no abuse of power, no hatred, no slander, no revenge, no lust, no thefts, no homicides, no adulteries and no falsehood. I know the true God and I have come to make Him known. »
« They say... We must be all ears in order to report to the centurions who in turn have to report to the Proconsul. They say that You are God. Is that true? » The soldier is very... worried in saying so. He looks at Jesus from under the shade of his helmet, and he almost looks frightened.
« I am. »
« By Jove! So it is true that the gods descend to converse with men? After travelling all over the world following the banners, I have come here, an old man, to find a god! »
« The God. The Only One. Not a god » says Jesus correcting him.
But the soldier is stupified at the idea of preceding a god... He does not speak any more... He is pensive, until, just at the entrance to the village the find the squad standing round the wounded soldier, who is moaning on the ground.
« Here he is! » says the non-commissioned officer briefly.
Jesus makes His way through the crowd approaching him. His leg, which is badly broken, is lying with the foot turned inside, and it is already swollen and livid. The man must be suffering very much and when he sees Jesus stretch His hand out he implores: « Don't hurt me too much! »
Jesus smiles. With the tips of his fingers He lightly touches where the livid circle of the trauma shows the fracture. He then says: « Stand up! »
« But he has another fracture farther up, at his hip » explains the non-commissioned officer, certainly meaning: « Are You not going to touch that one? »
Just then a citizen from Beth-horon arrives and says: « Master, Master! You are wasting Your time with heathens, and my wife is dying! »
« Go and bring her here. »
« I cannot. She is mad! »
« Go and bring her here to Me, if you have faith in Me. »
« Master, no one can hold her. She is nude and we cannot dress her. She is mad and tears her clothes. She is dying and she cannot stand. »
« Go and bring her here if your faith is not inferior to the faith of these heathens. »
The man goes away discontentedly.
Jesus looks at the Roman lying at His feet: « And can you have faith? »
« Yes, I can. What must I do? »
« Stand up. »
« Be careful, Camillus, because... » the non-commissioned officer is saying. But the soldier is already on his feet, agile, cured.
The Israelites do not shout hosanna. The man who has been cured is not a Hebrew. On the contrary they appear to be dissatisfied or at least their faces seem to be criticising Jesus' action. But the soldiers are not discontented, and they draw their short wide daggers and raise them into the grey air after beating their shields with them to make a joyful noise. Jesus is in the middle of a circle of blades.
The non-commissioned officer looks at Him. He does not know what to say or what to do, he, a man near a god, a heathen near God... He is pensive and he realises that he must at least do for God what he would for Caesar. And he orders his men to salute the emperor (at least I think it is so because I hear a mighty « Hail! » resound while the blades shine as they are held almost horizontally by the outstretched arms). And not yet satisfied, he says in a low voice: « Go without worrying also at night. The roads... are all watched. Watched against highwaymen. You will be safe, I... » He stops. He does not know what to say.
Jesus smiles at him saying: « Thank you. Go and be good. Be human also to highwaymen. Be faithful to your service without being cruel. They are poor wretches. And they will have to give account of their deeds to God. »
« I will. Hail! I would like to meet You again... »
Jesus stares at him, then says: « We shall meet. On a different mountain. » And He repeats once again: « Be good. Goodbye. »
The soldiers start off again. Jesus enters the village. He walks a few metres and then He sees a large group come towards Him and His followers shouting comments. A man and a woman depart from the group - the man mentioned previously - and they bow before Jesus: the woman on her knees, the man stooping.
« Stand up and praise the Lord. But I must tell you, o man, that your conscience is not clear. You applied to Me out of selfishness, not out of love for Me or out of faith in Me. And you doubted My word. And you know who I am! Then you had an unkind thought because I stopped to cure a Gentile, as all the village acted unkindly by refusing to accept the wounded soldier. By an excess of mercy and in order to try and make your heart kinder I cured your wife without coming to your house. You did not deserve it. I did it to show you that I need not go to do something. It is enough for Me to want it. But I solemnly tell you all that those whom you despise are better than you are and they believe in My power more than you do. Stand up, woman. You are not guilty, because you were without the faculty of reason. Go and from now on believe out of gratitude to the Lord. »
The attitude of the inhabitants becomes cold and proud owing to Jesus' reproach. They follow Him sulkily as far as the square where He stops to speak, as the synagogue leader does not invite Him into the synagogue and no house opens to the Master.
« When God is with men, men can do everything against misfortune, whatever its name may be. When, on the contrary, God is not with men, they can do nothing against misfortune. The chronicles of this town mention such an occurrence more than once. God was with Joshua and he defeated the Canaanites and along this road God helped him to destroy the enemies of Israel “hurling huge hailstones from heaven and more died under the hailstones than at the edge of the sword” we read in Joshua's book. God was with Judas Maccabee who came upon this hill with his small army to look at the powerful army of Seron, the leader of the Syrian army, and God confirmed the words of the commander of Israel with a striking victory.
But the necessary condition to have God with us is to act for reasons of justice. “For victory in war does not depend on the size of the fighting force, but on the help that comes from Heaven” says the Book of Maccabees. All good things in life do not depend on wealth, or power, or any other cause, but on the help that comes from Heaven. And it comes because we ask for help for good things. For our lives and our laws, says the Book of Maccabees again. But when one has recourse to God for a wicked or impure purpose, it is useless to invoke His help. God will not reply or He will reply with punishments instead of blessings.
This truth is too much forgotten now in Israel. And they want God's help and they implore Him for purposes which are not good. And they do not practise virtues and the commandments are not kept with true spirit of observance, that is, only their part that can be seen and praised by men is done. But what is hidden by appearance is quite different. I have come to say: be sincere in your actions because God sees everything and sacrifices are useless and prayers vain, if they are offered out of mere ostentation of cult, while one's heart is full of sin, hatred and wicked desires.
Beth-horon, do not do of your inhabitants what Obadiah says of Edom. Edom, thinking she was safe, took the liberty of oppressing Jacob and rejoicing at his defeats. Do not behave so, o sacerdotal town. Take and meditate on the roll of Obadiah. Meditate on it and change your ways. Follow justice if you do not wish to see days of horror. You will not be saved then by being on this summit, or by being apparently out of the war routes. I see in you many who do not have God with them and who do not want God. Are you grumbling? I am telling you the truth. I came up here to tell you. That you may still be saved.
Was your name not one only? Was it not all Israel? Why then has it been divided and it has taken two names? Oh! that really reminds Me of the marriage of Hoshea with a prostitute and of the children born of her who had fornicated. But what does the prophet say? “The number of the children of Israel will be like the sand of the seashore... Then, instead of saying to them: 'You are not My people' it will be said to them: 'You are the children of the living God'. And the children of Judah and Israel will come together again and will elect only one chief and will rise from the Earth because great is the day of Jezreel.” Oh! why then do you criticise Him Who is to re-unite them all and make one people only, a great people, one, as God is one, why do you criticise Him for loving all the children of man because they are all children of God, and Who is to make children of the living God also those who at present seem dead? And can you judge My actions and their hearts and yours? From where does light come to you? Light comes from God. But if God sends Me with the task of re-uniting all men under one sceptre, how can you have a light, a truly divine light, that shows you things contrary to how God sees them? And yet you see contrary to how God sees.
Do not grumble. It is the truth. You are outside justice. And those who seduce you into injustice are even more so. And they will receive double punishment. You accuse Me of fornicating with the enemy, with the ruler. I read your hearts. But do you not fornicate with Satan by becoming followers of those who fight the Son of man, the Messenger of God? And now you hate Me. But I know the face of him who instills hatred into you. As it is said in Hosea, I came with My hands laden with gifts and My heart full of love, I tried to attract you with all the kindest manners to make you love Me. I spoke to My people as a bridegroom to his bride offering them eternal love, peace, justice and mercy. There is still one hour left to prevent the people, who reject Me, and the leaders, who stir up the people - I know them - from being left without king, prince, sacrifice and altar. But near the den, where hatred is stronger and punishment will be more severe, they are working to purchase consciences in order to lead them to crime. Oh! It is true that those who lead consciences astray will be judged seven times seven more severely than those who have been misled.
Let us go. I have come and I worked a miracle and I have told you the truth to convince you Who I am. I am now going away. And if among you there is only one man who is just, let him follow Me, because sad is the future of this place, where snakes nestle to seduce and betray. »
And Jesus turns back to take the road by which He came.
« Why, Rabbi, did You speak to them thus? They will hate You » the apostles ask Him.
« I am not trying to conquer love through negotiations or falsehood. »
« But was it not better not to come here? »
« No. It is necessary not to leave the least doubt. »
« And whom did You convince? »
« Nobody, for the time being. But soon someone will say: “We cannot curse anybody because we were warned and we did not take any action.” And if they reproach God for striking them, their reproach will be like blasphemy. »
« But to whom were You referring saying... »
« Ask Judas of Kerioth. He knows many people here and he is aware of their cunning. »
All the apostles look at Judas.
« Yes, this place is practically under Helkai's control. But... I don't think that Helkai... » the words die on the lips of Judas who, raising his eyes from his belt which he was putting in order to strike an attitude, meets Jesus' eyes. The Master's glance is so bright and piercing as to appear even magnetic. Judas lowers his head and concludes: « It is certainly a proud hateful village, worthy of him who dominates it. Everyone has what one deserves. They have Helkai. We have Jesus. And the Master did the right thing in letting them know that He knows. Very good. »
« They are certainly bad. Did you notice that? Not even a greeting after the miracle! Not even a mite! Nothing » remarks Philip.
« But I tremble when the Master unmasks them like that » says Andrew with a sigh.
« To do it or not to do it is the same thing. They hate Him just the same. I would like to go back to Galilee! » says John.
« To Galilee! Of course! » says Peter sighing and he lowers his head looking very pensive.
In the rear, those who have followed Jesus and will not leave Him, continue to make their comments with the disciples.