12th November 1946.
These winter days are cold but clear. On the top of the little mountain on which Nob is built, the wind blows almost all the time, but it is mitigated by the sun that from dawn until sunset caresses with its rays the kitchen garden verdant with winter vegetables. They are small kitchen gardens close to the houses, with small beds green with vegetables and other beds with the colour of well nourished earth, bare beds ready to be sown with legumes. When looking round, one can see the grey-green foliage of olive-trees, or the serpentine skeleton-like rows of bare vines, or small ploughed fields, already sown with cereals, ready to germinate in the first warmth of the early Palestinian springtime, blessed with warm sunshine. I would almost say that in the clear days, like the one I am admiring, there is already the warmth of spring, a germinating warmth, in fact the buds of the almond-trees close to the houses are swelling on the branches, which only a few days previously were dry. Dark gems hardly noticeable on the little dark branches, but proving that life is rising and the robust trunk is about to awake again.
In John's little orchard, at the rear of the house, there is a thin strip of cultivated land, whereas the strip along the house is shaded by a walnut-tree. In the thin strip there is a huge almond-tree, perhaps older than its master, so close to the house that for a good length of its trunk it has been compelled to branch only on three sides, because the wall of the house prevented it from putting forth branches on the fourth side. But further up its branches are ruffled in such an entanglement, that when they blossom they are bound to form a light cloud above the poor terrace, a precious tent more beautiful than a royal canopy.
In order not to be idle, Jesus and the apostles are working in the cheerful warm sunshine. With their garments tucked up, those who are familiar with joinery and locks are repairing or making new utensils or, casings. Some are hoeing the land, covering up vegetables that have been transplanted, reinforcing a hedge of dry canes and green hawthorn enclosing two sides of the little kitchen garden, or they are pruning the almond and the walnut-tree, and tying the vine branches that the winter wind has unfastened. I have noticed that where Jesus is, one is never idle. He is the first to teach the beauty of manual work, when other evangelical work is interrupted. Also today Jesus, with His cousins, is repairing a door, the lower part of which had rotted and its latch was falling off. Philip and Bartholomew instead are working with pruning shears and sickle on old fruit-trees, while the fishermen are busying themselves with ropes and old blankets, some mending them with very... masculine stitches, some fixing rings and pulleys, probably with the intent of creating over the terrace a velarium which will be useful in summer.
« You will be very comfortable here, Eliza » says Peter with a promising intention, hanging out of the low terrace wall, to speak to the old disciple who is spinning wool, sitting against the sunny wall.
« Yes. When the vine is stretched out and the almond-tree sorted, it will really be a lovely spot in summer » says Philip between his teeth, as he is holding in his mouth some reeds with which he ties the vine-shoots to their supports.
Jesus raises His head and looks, while Eliza raises hers to look at Jesus and she says: « I wonder whether we shall be here in summer... »
« Why should we not be, woman? » asks Andrew.
« Well... I don't know... I no longer rely on the future since... Since I saw that all my forecasts ended up in a sepulchre. »
« Eh! the Master would have to die to prevent us from being here! The Master has now chosen this place as His residence. Have You not, Master? » asks Thomas.
« That is true. But also what Eliza says is true... » replies Jesus working with a plane on the stile of a door He is repairing.
« But You are young. And above all healthy! »
« People do not die only of diseases » says Jesus again.
« Who is speaking of death? You, Master? For Yourself?... The ill will has really calmed down for some time. See, no one is disturbing us now. They know that we are here. They met us also yesterday when we were coming back from town with the shopping, and they did not bother us » says Bartholomew.
« Yes. It was the same with us, when we went to the nearby villages to inform people that You are here. No one ever troubled us. And yet we met Helkai and Simon, then Sadoc and Samuel, and also Nahum with Doras. They even greeted us. Didn't they, James? » says John addressing his brother.
« Yes! We must admit that Judas has done good work whilst in our hearts we were criticising him. Since we came back here we have had no trouble! His words have been confirmed by facts. We seem to have gone back to the good old days at the Clear Water. To the beginning of those days... Oh! I wish it were true! » says James of Zebedee.
« If it were really true! » says Peter with a sigh.
« It is not always a clear day when there is no rumble of thunder » says Eliza sententiously whirling her spindle.
« What do you mean? » asks Peter.
« I mean that much peace at times, in a stormy place, foreshadows a most dangerous tempest. You ought to know, as you are a fisherman. »
« Eh! woman, I know. A lake is like a huge tun full of blue oil, at times. But almost every time sails are loose and the water is smooth, a storm of the worst kind is ready. The wind of a dead calm sea is the wind of death for seamen. »
« H'm! Of course. So, if I were you, I would not trust so much peace. It's too peaceful! »
« Well! If when it is wartime one suffers because there is a war, and when it is peace-time one suffers because an even more dreadful war may break out, when can one rejoice? » asks Thomas.
« In the next life. Sorrow is always ready here. »
« Ugh! How dismal you are, woman! My time to rejoice is very remote, then! I am one of the youngest! Cheer up, Bartholomew, you are the nearest to enjoy it. You and the Zealot » says James of Zebedee jokingly.
« Dismal and shrewd, woman! Eh! elderly women! But sometimes they guess right. Also my mother when she says: “Be careful! You are about to do something silly because of this and that” always guesses right » says Thomas who is bent hoeing the ground.
« Women are malignant or more artful than foxes. We are worth nothing, as compared to them, when it is a question of understanding certain things that we would like them not to understand » says Peter sententiously.
« You ought to be quiet. You happened to marry a wife who would believe you even if you said that Lebanon had turned into butter. What you say is the law for her. She listens, believes and is silent » says Andrew to his brother.
« Yes... but her mother makes up for her and for another hundred women. What a serpent! » They all laugh, including Eliza and the old man who is helping the younger ones to hoe.
The Zealot, Matthew and Judas of Kerioth come back.
« We have done everything, Master. We are tired! What a long tour! But I will take a rest tomorrow. It's your turn tomorrow » says the Iscariot to those who are hoeing the land. And he goes towards them taking a hoe to work with it.
« If you are tired why do you want to work? » Thomas asks him.
« Because I have to plant out some little plants. This place is as bald as the head of an old man, and it's a pity » he says sententiously thrusting the hoe into the ground with strong strokes of his foot.
« It wasn't like this in the good old days! Then... Too many things have died, and it wasn't worth my while to work to remake them. I am old and more than old I was desolate » replies the old man.
« But what size of holes are you digging? They are fit for trees, not for little plants, as you said » remarks Philip who has descended after tying the vine-shoot.
« When a tree is young it is always a little plant. That is what mine are like. This is the right time. I was assured by the man who gave me them. Do You know who, Master? That relative of Helkai who is a farmer. And he is a good farmer. What an orchard! And his olive-trees! He is replanting part of the olive-grove. I said to him: “Give me some of those plants.” “For whom?” he asked. “For an old man in Nob who has given us hospitality. They will serve to make him forgive me all the scandals I bore him.” »
« No, son. Not with plants, but only through your good behaviour that can happen. And with God. I... I watch, pray and forgive. But my forgiveness... But I am grateful to you for the plants... Although... Do you think that I will live long enough to eat their fruit? »
« Why not? One must always hope. Nay one must want to triumph... And one then triumphs. »
« There is no triumph over old age! And I do not wish for it either. »
« There is no triumph either over many other things. If wishing were enough to have things! I would have my sons » says Eliza sighing.
« Master, Eliza's words remind me of a question some people asked me today along the road. As something had happened in a village, they were asking whether it is true that a miracle is always a proof of holiness. I said it is. But they said that it is not, because in that village, at the border of Samaria, he who had worked wonderful things was certainly not a just man. I silenced them saying that man always judges wrongly and that the man who they said was not just, was perhaps holier than they were. What do You think? » asks Matthew.
« I say that you were both right. Each for his own part. You by saying that a miracle is always the proof of holiness. It is generally so. And also by saying that one must not judge in order not to make mistakes. But they were also right in suspecting other sources for the wonderful things of that man. »
« Which sources? » asks the Iscariot.
« Those of darkness. There are people who are already worshippers of Satan and practise the cult of pride, and in order to impose themselves on other people, they sell themselves to the Dark One to have him as a friend » Jesus replies to him.
« How is it possible? Is it not a legend of heathen countries that man can stipulate contracts with the demon or with infernal spirits? » asks John who is utterly amazed.
« It is possible. Not as the heathen legends say. Not by means of money or material contracts. But by adhering to Evil, by choosing to give oneself up to Evil, so that one might enjoy one hour of triumph, no matter how. I solemnly tell you that those who sell themselves to the Cursed One in order to gain their end, are more numerous than one may think. »
« Are they successful? Do they achieve what they ask for? » asks Andrew.
« Not always and not everything. But they get something. »
« How can that be? Is the demon so powerful as to simulate God? »
« He is... but he would be a nonentity if man were holy. The fact is that man is often a demon himself. We fight against obvious, noisy, striking possessions. Everybody is aware of them... They are far from being pleasant for relatives and citizens, and above all they take place in material forms. Man is always impressed by what is heavy and strikes his senses. He does not notice what is immaterial and is perceptible only by what is immaterial: his reason and spirit, and even if he does notice it, he takes no care of it, particularly if it is not detrimental to him. So such hidden possessions elude our power of exorcisers! And they are the most harmful because they work in the choicest part, with the choicest part and toward other choice parts: from reason to reason, from spirit to spirit. They are like corrupting, impalpable, unnoticeable miasmata, until the person suffering from it is not warned by the fever of the disease that he is affected with it. »
« And does Satan help him? Really? Why? And why does God allow him? And will He always allow him? Even after You will be reigning? » they all ask.
« Satan helps to complete the enslavement. God allows him to act thus, because the value of the creature emerges from the struggle between High and Low, Good and Evil. Both his value and his will emerge. He will always allow him to act. Also after I have been raised. But Satan then will have to fight against a very great enemy and man will have a very powerful friend. »
« Who? »
« Grace. »
« Oh! well! So for those of our times, who are without grace, it will be easier to be enslaved, but their fall will be less grave » says the Iscariot hoeing all the time.
« No, Judas. The judgement will be the same. »
« That is unfair because, if we are less helped, we should be less condemned. »
« You are not completely wrong » says Thomas.
« He is wrong, Thomas. Because we people of Israel have been gifted with so much faith, hope, charity, and so much light of Wisdom, that we have no excuse for being ignorant. And you, in any case, who already have had Grace as your Master for almost three years, will be judged like those of the new time » says Jesus stressing His words and looking at Judas who has raised his head and is pensive looking into space.
Then Judas of Kerioth shakes his head, as if he were concluding an internal reasoning, and thrusting the hoe into the soil he asks: « And what does he become, who gives himself thus to the demon? »
« A demon. »
« A demon! So if I, for instance, in order to assert that Your contact gives one a supernatural power, should do something... that You censure, would I be a demon?... »
« Yes, you would. »
« However, I do hope that you will not do such things... » says Andrew who is almost frightened.
« Me? Ah! Ah! I am planting the little trees for our old man » and he runs to the other side of the kitchen garden, and comes back with five young plants which are certainly heavy because of the clod of earth wrapping the roots.
« Have you come from Beth-Horon with that load on your shoulders? » asks Peter.
« You should say from Gibeon! That is where some of Daniel's orchards are. Wonderful soil. Look! ... » and he crumbles with his fingers the earth around the roots. He then unfastens the lace holding the five little stems which are already the size of an arm. Only two have a few leaves on their tops. And they are olive leaves. « Here we are. This one is for Jesus and this one for Mary. They are the peace of the world. I am transplanting them first, because I am a man of peace. One here... and one there » and he places them at the ends of the strip of land. « And an apple-tree here, as young and good as that one in Eden, to remind you, John, that you also descend from Adam and that you must not be surprised... if I may be a sinner. Beware of the Serpent... And here... No, this is not the right place. This young fig-tree, over there, in the front, near the wall. How can one do without a fig-tree in the garden, when they grow here like weeds? And we will put this young almond-tree in the hole in the centre. It will learn from that age-old one the virtue of yielding fruit. There we are! Your little kitchen garden will be beautiful in future... and looking at it you will remember me. »
« I would remember you just the same, because you have been here with the Master. Everything will speak to me of this time. And looking at things I shall say: “He wanted to set my house in order again, just like a son!” But... But if I could wish for something different from what is probably already written in Heaven, I would like not to have to remember this period of time so beautiful for me, more beautiful than when these trees, now old, were young, and my wife and I were young, and my little daughter used to play here... and it was a pleasure to take care of the apple, the pomegranate and the fig trees, and of the vines, because the little hands of my daughter were eager to have the fruit, and it was lovely to see my wife, sitting in the shade of the green trees, weave and spin... Later... my daughter went away... so forgetful!... My wife was ill and died... Why and for whom should I take care of what once was beautiful? And everything is dead, except the two old trees that remember my childhood... I would like to die before having to remember, and while there is a woman here as just as Leah. I thank You for the trees, for the work, for everything. I thank everybody. But I beg my Lord to uproot my old tree from this land before this hour of peace for old John sets... »
Jesus approaches him and laying a hand on his shoulder, He says kindly and severely at the same time: « You have been able to do so many things in your long lifetime. You still lack one: to accept the hour of your death from God without asking to have it brought forward or delayed by one minute. You are resigned to so many things. And thus God loves you. Resign yourself to the most difficult one: to live when you would only wish to die. And now let us go inside. The sun is setting behind the mountains and it turns cold at once. The Sabbath is beginning. We will finish our work after it... » and He picks up saw, plane and hammer and goes back into the house, while the others finish making up into bundles the branches they have cut, watering the plants they have transplanted and putting back on its hinges the door they have repaired.