29th October 1946.
They are still only eleven when they set out again. Eleven pensive shocked faces around the sad face of Jesus, Who takes leave of the sisters, and Who, after a moment's consideration, says to Simon Zealot and Bartholomew: « You will stay here. You will join Me at Tekoah, at Simon's house, or in the house of Nike near Jericho, or at Bethabara, if he should come. And... serve Charity. Have you understood? »
« Do not worry, Master. We will not be lacking in love for our neighbour in any way » says Bartholomew assuring Him.
« At whatever hour he may arrive, leave at once. »
« We will, Master. And... thanks for trusting us » says the Zealot.
They kiss one another and while a servant closes the gate and Jesus goes away, the two apostles go back to the house with the sisters.
Jesus is ahead, alone; Peter is behind Him between Matthew and James of Alphaeus; behind them there is Philip with Andrew, James and John of Zebedee. Last, as silent as the others, come Thomas and Judas Thaddeus. But I am wrong. Peter also is silent. His two companions exchange a few words, but he, who is between them, does not speak. He proceeds silently, with his head lowered. He seems to be holding a mute conversation with the stones and grass on which he is treading.
Also the last two seem to have the same attitude. The only difference is that, while Thomas seems to be engrossed in the contemplation of a tiny branch of willow, which he strips leaf by leaf, and looks at each leaf after detaching it, as if he were studying its light green shade on one side and the silvery one on the other, or the veins of its design, Judas Thaddeus is staring straight ahead. I do not know whether he is looking at the view which, after they have crossed over the ridge of a mountain, stretches across the rather indistinct splendour of a plain at dawn, or whether he is only looking at the fair hair of Jesus, Who has thrown His mantle back to enjoy the mild December sunshine on His head.
And Thomas' occupation and Judas Thaddeus' contemplation of the view, or of the Master, end at the same time. The latter lowers his eyes and turns round looking at his companion, while Thomas, who has reduced his little branch to a riding-whip, raises his eyes to look at Thaddeus. A sharp and at the same time kind sad look which meets a similar one.
« It is so, my friend! Just so! » says Thomas as if he were ending a speech.
« Yes, it is so. And deep is my grief... Also my love for a relative is involved... »
« I understand. But... You have a torture of love in your heart. But, what about me? I have a sense of remorse torturing me. And it is even worse. »
« Remorse? You have no reason for remorse. You are good and loyal. Jesus is pleased with you and we have never had from you any reason for scandal. So how can you have this feeling of remorse? »
« From a recollection. The remembrance of the day when I decided to follow the new Rabbi, Who had appeared in the Temple... Judas and I were close to each other and we admired the action and the words of the Master. And we decided to look for Him... And I was more decided than Judas and I almost dragged him. He says the opposite, but it is so. That is my remorse. That I insisted to make him come... I brought an everlasting sorrow to Jesus. But I knew that Judas was loved by... many and I thought that he would be useful. As foolish as all those who can but think of a king of Israel greater than David and Solomon, but still a king... a king as He says that He will never be, I was yearning to have him among the disciples as he might be useful!... I was hoping so. And only now I understand, and I understand so more and more, how right Jesus was in not accepting him at once, on the contrary He told me not to look for him... A cause for remorse, I tell you! Remorse! That man is not good. »
« He is not. But do not create occasions of remorse for yourself. You did not act out of malice, so you are not guilty. I tell you. »
« Are you really sure? Or are you saying so to console me? »
« I am telling you because it is the truth. Do not think of the past any more, Thomas. It does not help to eradicate it... »
« That's easily said! But just think! If because of me some misfortune should befall the Master... I am sick at heart and full of suspicion. I am a sinner because I am judging a companion, and my judgement is not merciful. And I am a sinner because I should believe the words of the Master... He excuses Judas... Do you... believe your brother? »
« In everything except that. But don't be distressed. We have all the same thought. Also Peter, who is so worried, strives to think well of that man, and Andrew, who is meeker than a little lamb, and Matthew, the only one among us who does not feel disgust for any sinner. And also the so loving and pure John, who is so lucky that he need not fear evil or vice, because he is so full of charity and purity that he has no room for anything else. And my brother has it, too. I mean Jesus. He certainly has other thoughts as well, and thus sees the necessity of keeping Judas... until every attempt to make him good becomes vain. »
« Yes. But... what will happen in the end? He has many... He has no... Briefly, you understand without me telling you. How far will he go? »
« I don't know... Perhaps he will leave us... Perhaps he will stay, waiting to see who is stronger in this struggle: Jesus or the Hebrew world... »
« Nothing else? Do you not think that he is already serving two masters? »
« That is certain. »
« And are you not afraid that he may serve the more numerous group, in order to cause complete damage to the Master? »
« No, I am not. I do not love him. But I cannot believe that he... At least not for the time being... I would certainly be afraid of that if one day the crowds stopped supporting the Master. If, instead, a public acclamation should consecrate Him king and our leader, I am sure that Judas would abandon everybody for Him. He is an exploiter... May God check him, and protect Jesus and us all!... »
The two realise that they have slackened their paces and that they have been left far behind their companions and without speaking any more they begin to walk fast to join them.
« What have you been doing? » asks Matthew.« The Master wanted you... »
Thomas and Thaddeus proceed quickly to go to Jesus.
« Of what were you speaking between yourselves? » asks Jesus staring at them.
The two look at each other. Should they tell Him? Should they not? Sincerity wins. « Of Judas » they say together.
« I knew. But I wanted to put your sincerity to the test. You would have distressed Me if you had lied... But do not speak any more about him, and particularly in that manner. There are so many good things about which you can speak. Why always debase oneself to consider what is very, nay, too material? Isaiah says: “Trust no more in man, he has but a breath in his nostrils.” I say to you: stop analysing that man and take care of his spirit. The animal that is in him, his monster, must not attract your attention and your judgement; but love his spirit with sorrowful active love. Free him from the monster that is detaining him. You do not know. »...
He turns round to call the other seven: « Come here, all of you, because what I am about to say is useful to everybody, as you all have the same thoughts in your hearts... Do you not know that you learn more through Judas of Kerioth than through any other person? You will find many Judases and very few Jesus in your apostolic ministry. The Jesus will be kind, good, pure, faithful, obedient, prudent, free from greed. They will be very few... But how many Judases of Kerioth you, your followers and your successors will find along the ways of the world! And in order to be masters and to know, you must attend this school... With his faults he shows you what man is; I show you what man should be. Two examples equally necessary. By knowing both well, you must try to change the former into the latter... And let My patience be your rule. »
« Lord, I was a big sinner, and I am certainly an example as well. But I would like Judas, who is not such a sinner as I was, to become the convert that I am. Is it pride to say this? »
« No, Matthew, it is not pride. You honour two truths by saying so. The first is that the sentence saying: “The good will of man works divine miracles” is truthful. The second is that God loved you infinitely, since the time you thought nothing about it, and He did so because He was aware of your capability for heroism. You are the fruit of two powers: your will and God's love. And I am putting your will first, because without it God's love would have been vain. Vain, inert... »
« But could God not convert us without our will? » asks James of Alphaeus.
« Certainly. But man's will would still be required to persevere in the conversion obtained miraculously. »
« So such will has not been and is not in Judas, either before knowing You, or now... » says Philip impulsively. Some laugh, some sigh.
Jesus is the only one who defends the absent apostle: « Do not say that! He had it and has it. But the evil law of the flesh overwhelms it at intervals. He is ill. A poor sick brother. In every family there is a week or a sick person, someone who is the pain, the worry, the burden of the family. And yet is a frail child not the one most loved by his mother? Is the unhappy brother not the one best served by his brothers? Is he not the one to whom his father gives the dainty, taking it from his plate, to make him happy, to make him feel that he is not a burden and thus make his illness less boring? »
« That is true. It is just like that. My twin sister was delicate in her childhood. I had taken all the sturdiness. But the love of the whole family helped so much that now she is a buxom wife and mother » says Thomas.
« Exactly. Do with your spiritual brother what you would do with a weak brother. I will not utter one word of reproach. Do not be more severe than I am. Your patient love is the sharpest rebuke against which it is not possible to react. I will leave Matthew and Philip at Tekoah to wait for Judas... Let the former remember that he was a sinner and the latter that he is a father... »
« Yes, Master. We will bear that in mind. »
« At Jericho, if Judas has not yet joined us, I will leave Andrew and John, and let them remember that the gratuitous gifts of God have not been granted in the same measure to everybody... But go to that old man who is staggering on the road over there. The town is in sight. With your alms he will be able to buy some bread. »
« Master, we cannot. Judas has gone with the purse... » says Peter. « And the sisters did not give us anything. »
« You are right, Simon. They are stunned with grief and we are as dazed as they are. It does not matter. We have some bread. We are young and strong. Let us give it to the old man, that he may not drop on the road. »
They search in their bags and put together a few morsels of bread, they give them to the old man who looks at them with an amazed countenance.
« Eat, eat! » says Jesus encouraging him. And He lets him drink out of His flask, while asking him where he is going.
« To Tekoah. There is a big market tomorrow. But I have had nothing to eat since yesterday. »
« Are you alone? »
« More than alone... My son drove me out of the house... » The senile voice is heart-rending.
« God will open the gate of His Kingdom to you if you can believe in His mercy. »
« And in that of His Messiah. But my son will have no Messiah, because he who hates Him so much as to hate his father who loves Him, cannot have the Messiah. »
« Is that why he drove you out? »
« Yes, it is. And that he might not lose the friendship of some people who persecute the Messiah. He wanted to show them that his hatred is greater than theirs, as it exceeds the call of kinship. »
« How horrible! » they all exclaim.
« It would be more horrible if I had the same thoughts as my son » says the old man impulsively.
« But who is he? If I have understood correctly, he must be one who has power and authority... » says Thomas.
« Man, it will not be a father to mention the name of his guilty son to have him despised. I must say that I am cold and hungry, although by working hard I had increased the wealth of the family to make my son happy. But not more than that. Consider than I am from Judaea, and he is from Judaea, and that we are thus of the same race but of different opinions. The rest is of no importance. »
« And since you are a just man, are you not asking anything of God? » Jesus asks kindly.
« That He may touch the heart of my son and induce him to believe what I believe. »
« But for yourself, just for yourself, are you not going to ask anything? »
« To meet Him Who, according to me, is the Son of God. To venerate Him and then die. »
« But if you die, you will not see Him any more. You will be in Limbo... »
« Only for a short time. You are a rabbi, are You not? I cannot see very well... My age... and the many tears, and also hunger... But I can see the tassels of Your belt... If You are a good rabbi, and I think You are, You must realise, too, that the time has come, I mean the time mentioned by Isaiah. And the hour is about to come when the Lamb will take upon Himself all the sins of the world and will bear all our evils and sorrows and will therefore be pierced and sacrificed that we may be restored to health and we may be at peace with the Eternal Father. Then there will be peace also for spirits... I hope so confiding in the mercy of God. »
« Have you ever seen the Master? »
« No. I only heard Him in the Temple at festivals. But I am small and age makes me even more so, and I cannot see very well, as I said. So, if I go to the middle of the crowd I cannot see because there is someone in front of me, if I stay out of the crowd I cannot see because I am too far away. Oh! I would love to see Him! At least once! »
« You will see Him, father. God will satisfy you. And have you where to go at Tekoah? »
« No. I will stay under a porch or some door. I am used to it by now. »
« Come with Me. I know a good Israelite. He will receive you in the name of Jesus, the Galilean Master. »
« But You are a Galilean, too. One can tell by Your accent. »
« Yes... Are you tired? But we are already at the first houses. You will soon be able to rest and you will have some refreshment. »
Jesus bends to say something to Peter and Peter moves aside to tell the others what Jesus said but I do not understand what he says. Then Peter quickens his steps and he enters the town with Alphaeus' sons and John. Jesus follows him with the others, adapting His step to that of the poor old man, who does not speak any more, tired as he is, and so he remains behind with Andrew and Matthew.
The town seems to be empty. It is midday and many people are at home for their meals. After a few metres they meet Peter who says: « It's done, Lord. Simon will accept him because You are taking him, and he thanks You for thinking of him. »
« Let us bless the Lord! There are still just people in Israel. This old man is one, and Simon is another. There are still some good merciful people, faithful to the Lord. And that compensates so much bitterness. And it allows one to hope that divine justice will be appeased because of these just people. »
« However... That a son should expel his father from his house in order not to lose the friendship of some powerful Pharisee...! »
« Their hatred for You can go to that extent! I am shocked! » says Philip.
« Oh! you will see much more than that! » replies Jesus.
« More? And what can there be more than a father being driven out because he does not hate You? The sin of that man is a tremendous one!... »
« More tremendous will be the sin of a people against their God... But let us wait for the old man... »
« Who will his son be? »
« A Pharisee! »
« A member of the Sanhedrin! »
« A rabbi. » There are different opinions.
« A wretch. Do not investigate. Today he struck his father. Tomorrow he will strike Me. You can see that the sin of Judas, his going away like an undisciplined son, is nothing in comparison. And yet I will pray for this ungrateful son, for this Hebrew who offends his God. That he may mend his ways. Do the same... Come, father. What is your name? »
« Elianna. I have never been happy! My father died before I was born, and my mother in giving birth to me. My mother's mother, who brought me up, named me with the two names of my father and mother joined together. »
« You really are an Eli, man, and your son is like Phinehas » says Philip who cannot set his mind at rest because of such sin.
« God forbid, man. Phinehas died a sinner, and he died when the ark was captured. That would be a misfortune for his soul and for the whole of Israel » replies the old man.
« Listen, this house is a friendly one and whatever I ask I get. It belongs to a certain Simon, a just man in the eyes of God and of men. He will receive you for My sake, if you are willing to stay here » says Jesus before knocking at the door.
« Am I to make a choice? I will invoke the blessing of Heaven on those who give me bread and the shelter of charity. But I want to work. It is not a shame to be a servant. It is shameful to commit sin... »
« We shall tell Simon » says Jesus with a smile of compassion, looking at the little old man, destroyed by privations and grief.
The door is opened: « Come in, Master, peace be with You and with those who are with You. Where is this brother whom You have brought me? That I may give him the kiss of peace and welcome » says a man about fifty years old.
« Here he is. And may the Lord reward you. »
« I am rewarded. I have You as my guest. He who has You has God. I was not expecting You, and I cannot honour You as I would like. But I hear that You will be coming back in a few days time and I will be ready to receive You as becomes You. »
They are by now in a room in which steaming basins are ready for ablutions. The old man is standing shyly against the door, but the landlord takes him by the hand, and makes him sit down, he wants to take his sandals off and serve him as if he were a king, and then put new sandals on his feet, while the old man says: « Why? Why all this? I have come to serve, and you are serving me! It is not right. »
« It is right, man. I cannot follow the Rabbi because I must help here in the house. But as the least disciple of the holy Master I strive to put His words into practice. »
« You know Him well. Really, you know Him because you are good. There are many who know Him in Israel, but how? With their eyes and their hatred. So they do not know Him. A man knows a woman when he knows everything about her and he possesses her completely. It is the same with Jesus of Nazareth, Whom I do not know with my eyes, but Whom I know better than many people because I believe that Wisdom is in Him. But you really know Him, by sight and by His doctrine »
The man looks at Jesus but does not say anything.
The old man resumes speaking: « I told this rabbi that I want to work... »
« Yes. We will find a job for you. For the time being come to the table. Master, Your disciples will be coming shortly. Can we sit at the table just the same, or do You prefer to wait for them? »
« I prefer to wait for them. But if you have work to do... »
« Oh! Master. You know that it is a joy for me to obey Your least order. »
From this moment the old man begins to suspect of the identity of the Man Who assisted him on the way and looks at Him over and over again, he then looks at His companions... diligently... walking round them... The sons of Alphaeus come in with John. Jesus calls them by their names.
« Oh! Most High God! So... it was You! » exclaims the old man and he prostrates himself venerating Him.
His amazement is not inferior to that of the others. His way of recognising the Master is so strange! Peter in fact asks him: « What is there so special in these names so common in Israel, to make you think that you are in the presence of the Messiah? »
« Because I know Judas. He always comes to my son, and... » the old man stops, as he feels embarassed having mentioned his son...
« But I have never seen you, man » says Thaddeus, standing in front of him and bending to be face to face with him.
« Neither do I know you. But one Judas, a disciple of the Christ, often comes to my son, and I heard him speak of a John, of a James, and of a Simon, a friend of Lazarus of Bethany and of so many other things... When I heard three names, known as those of the most intimate disciples of the Master! And He, so good!... I understood, I did! But where is the other Judas? »
« He is not here. But it is true. It is I. The Lord is good, father. You wished to see Me, and you have seen Me. Let us bless the mercy of God... Do not move away, Elianna. You were close to Me when I was a Wayfarer to you and nothing else. But now that I am the Destination? You do not know how much your heart has comforted Me! It is not possible for you to know. I, not you, I am the one who has received most... When three quarters of Israel, and even more, hate Me to the point of being criminals, when the weak ones move away from My way, when the thorns of ingratitude, of hatred, of slander pierce Me on every side, when I can find no relief in the thought that My Sacrifice will be salvation to Israel, to find one like you, father, is to receive compensation for My grief... You do not know... None of you are aware of the deeper and deeper sadness of the Son of man. I thirst for love... and too many hearts are dried springs which I approach in vain... But let us go... »
And holding the old man close to Himself, He goes into the room where the tables are already laid...