8th January 1947.
« Peace to You, Master » say Peter and James of Zebedee coming back home laden with pitchers full of water.
« Peace to you. Where are you coming from? »
« From the stream. We went to get some water, and we shall go for more, to keep the house clean. Considering that we are stopping... And it is not fair that the old woman should work for us. She is in the other room where she lit a fire to warm the water. My brother went to the wood to get some firewood. It has not rained for some time and it burns like heath » explains James of Zebedee.
« Of course. But the trouble is that, although it was hardly daybreak, they saw us both at the stream and in the wood. And I went to the stream to avoid going to the fountain... » says Peter.
« Why, Simon of Jonah? »
« Because there are always people at the fountain, and they might have recognised us and come here... »
While they are speaking, Alphaeus' two sons, Judas of Kerioth and Thomas have come into the long corridor that divides the house, and thus they can hear Peter's last words and Jesus' reply: « What might not have happened at daybreak today, would certainly have happened later, tomorrow at the latest, because we are staying here... »
« Here? But... I thought we were stopping only to rest... » many of them say.
« We are not stopping to rest. But to stay. We shall depart from here only to go back to Jerusalem for Passover. »
« Oh! I thought that when You referred to the place of wolves and butchers, You meant this region through which You wanted to pass, as You did in the past, to go to other places without taking the roads frequented by Judaeans and Pharisees... » says Philip who has just arrived, and others say: « I also thought that. »
« You have misunderstood. This is not the place of wolves and butchers, although real wolves hide in its mountains. But I am not referring to animals... »
« Oh! that was quite clear! » exclaims Judas of Kerioth somewhat ironically. « As You refer to Yourself as the Lamb, one understands that the wolves are men. We are not completely stupid. »
« No. You are not stupid but in what you do not want to understand. That is, in what concerns My nature and mission, and the grief you give Me by not working assiduously at preparing your future. It is for your own good that I speak and teach you by means of deeds and words. But you reject what upsets your human nature through presage of sorrows or what exacts efforts against your egos. Listen to Me before strangers come here. I will now divide you into two groups of five apostles and guided by the head of each group you will go across the nearby countryside, as you did when I sent you in the early days. Remember what I told you then and put it into practice. The only exception is that now you will pass through villages announcing also to Samaritans that the day of the Lord is close at hand, so that they may be ready when it comes, and it may be easier for you to convert them to the Only God. Be full of charity and wisdom and devoid of prejudice. You can see, and you will realise this even more, that we are granted here what we are denied in other places. So be kind to these people who, although innocent, are expiating the sins of their ancestors. Peter will be at the head of Judas of Alphaeus, Thomas, Philip and Matthew. James of Alphaeus will be the guide of Andrew, Bartholomew, Simon Zealot and James of Zebedee. Judas of Kerioth and John will stay with Me. That will apply as from tomorrow. Today we shall rest making the necessary preparations for future days. We shall spend the Sabbath together. So you must be here before the Sabbath, in order to leave the day after it. It will be a day of love for us, after loving our neighbour in the flock that has left the fold of the Father. Go now and attend to your tasks. »
He remains alone and withdraws to a room at the end of the corridor.
The house resounds with steps and voices, although they are all in their rooms and no one can be seen but the old woman who goes up and down the corridor several times, attending to her household duties, one of which is certainly baking bread because her hair is spread with flour and her hands are covered with dough.
After some time Jesus comes out and goes up to the terrace of the house. He walks up and down meditating up there and now and again He looks at the view around Him.
He is joined by Peter and Judas of Kerioth who do not look very cheerful. Perhaps it is painful for Peter to part from Jesus. And perhaps it is painful for the Iscariot not to be able to do so and show off in the villages. They certainly look very thoughtful when they go up to the terrace.
« Come here. Look what a beautiful view you can see from here. » And He points at the varied landscape. To north-west high woody mountains stretching like a spine from north to south. One of them behind Ephraim is a real giant overlooking the others. To northeast and south-east there are mild undulating hills. The village is in a green valley with distant flat backgrounds between the two higher and lower chains, that from the central part of the region slope down to the Jordan plain. Through a fissure in the lower mountains it is possible to see the green plain beyond which flows the blue Jordan. At the height of springtime this must be a beautiful place, all green and fertile. At present the dark shades of vineyards and orchards interrupt the green of fields of cereals, the tender stems of which sprout from the clods of earth, and the verdant pastures nourished by the rich soil.
If what lies beyond Ephraim is called a desert by John, it means that the desert of Judaea was a very mild one, at least in this area, or at least it was a desert only because it was devoid of villages, all covered with woods and pastures among cheerfully gurgling streams, quite different from the land near the Dead Sea, an arid land that can rightly be called a « desert », as it is devoid of vegetation, with the exception of the low thorny twisted shrubs that grow in deserts among scattered stones and the sand rich in salt. But this pleasant desert, which lies beyond Ephraim, is widely adorned with vineyards, olive-groves and orchards, and the almond-trees are now smiling at the sun, scattered here and there like white-pink tufts, on the slopes that will soon be covered with the festoons of the new vine-shoots.
« I almost seem to be in my own town » says Judas.
« It looks also like Juttah. The only difference it that there the torrent is down in the plain and the town up on the hill. Here instead the town seems to be in a wide valley with the river in the middle. A country rich in vines! It must be lovely and very profitable, for owners, to own such land » remarks Peter.
« It is written: “May his land be blessed by Yahweh with the fruit of the sky and with dews, with the springs gushing from the abyss, with the fruit blessed by the sun and the moon, with the fruit from the tops of the ancient mountains, with the fruit of the eternal hills and with plentiful crops of the land.” And on those words of the Pentateuch they base their proud obstinacy in considering themselves superior. It is so. Even the word of God and the gifts of God, if they descend into hearts full of pride, become the cause of ruin. Not through their own fault, but because of the pride that adulterates their good juice » says Jesus.
« Of course. And of just Joseph they have kept only the fury of a bull and the neck of a rhinoceros. I do not like to stay here. Why do You not let me go with the others? » says the Iscariot.
« Do you not like to stay with Me? » asks Jesus, Who stops looking at the landscape and turns round to look at Judas.
« I do love to be with You, but not with the people of Ephraim. »
« What a very fine excuse! And what about us then? As we shall be going through Samaria and the Decapolis – because we shall be able to go only to these places in the time prescribed between one Sabbath and the next one – are we perhaps going among saints? » says Peter, reproaching Judas who does not reply.
« What does it matter to you who is near you, if you can love everything through Me? Love Me in your neighbour, and all places will be alike as far as you are concerned » says Jesus calmly.
Judas does not reply to Him either.
« Just think of it! I have to go away... whereas I would stay here so willingly. After all... considering what I can do. At least appoint Philip or Your brother head of the group, Master. I... as long as I have to say: let us do this, let us go to that place, I can still manage. But if I have to speak!... I spoil everything. »
« Obedience will make you do everything well. What you do will please Me. »
« In that case... if it pleases You, it will please me. It is enough for me to make You happy. But there they are! I told You! Half of the town is coming... Look! The head of the synagogue... the notables... their women... the children and the people!... »
« Let us go down and meet them » says Jesus and He hastens down the staircase calling the apostles so that they may leave the house with Him.
The inhabitants of Ephraim are coming forward with signs of the deepest respect, and after the customary salutations, one of them, perhaps the head of the synagogue, speaks on behalf of everybody: « May the Most High be blessed for this day, and blessed be His Prophet Who has come to us because He loves all men in the name of the Most High God. May You be blessed, Master and Lord, as You have remembered our hearts and our words, and You have come to rest among us. We will open our hearts and homes to You, asking You to speak to us for our health. May this day be blessed, because through it he who receives Him with upright spirit will see the desert bear fruit. »
« What you said is correct, Malachi. He who knows how to receive with an upright spirit Him Who has come in the name of God, will see his desert bear fruit and the sturdy but wild plants in it become cultivated. I shall stay with you. And you will come to Me. As good friends. And My apostles will take My word to those who can accept it. »
« Will You not teach us, Master? » asks Malachi somewhat disappointed.
« I have come to collect My thoughts and pray, to prepare Myself for the great events of the future. Are you sorry that I have chosen your town for My tranquillity? »
« Oh! no. The very fact of seeing You pray will make us wise. Thank for choosing us for that purpose. We shall not disturb Your prayers and we will not allow Your enemies to disturb them. Because it is already known what happened and happens in Judaea. We shall keep good watch. And we shall be satisfied with Your word when it is not troublesome for You to give it to us. Accept in the meantime our gifts of hospitality. »
« I am Jesus and I do not reject anybody. So I will accept what you are offering Me to prove to you that I do not reject you. But if you want to love Me, from now on give to the poor people of the village or to those passing by what you would give Me. I need only peace and love. »
« We know that. We know everything. And we feel sure that we shall give You what You need, so as to make You exclaim: “The land that was to be for Me like Egypt, that is sorrow, was for Me, as for Joseph of Jacob, the land of peace and glory”. »
« If you love Me by accepting My word, I will say so. »
The citizens hand their gifts to the apostles and then withdraw, with the exception of Malachi and two more men who speak to Jesus in low voices. The children also stay, captured by the usual charm emanating from Jesus; they remain, turning deaf ears to their mothers who call them, and they only go away after Jesus has caressed and blessed them. Then, as garrulous as swallows, they run away, followed by the three men.