18th January 1947.
Jesus is all alone in the little island in the middle of the stream. The three children are playing on the bank on the other side of the stream and they are whispering in low voices in order not to disturb Jesus' meditation. Now and again the youngest one utters a cry of joy when he finds a beautifully coloured pebble or a fresh little flower, and the others tell him to be quiet saying: « Be quiet! Jesus is praying... » and their whispering is resumed when their little swarthy hands build sand blocks and cones that in their childish imagination are supposed to be houses and mountains.
The sun is shining high in the sky causing gems to swell on trees and buds to open in meadows. The green-grey leaves of the poplar tree are quivering in the breeze, and the birds up there, on the top, are engaged in love or rivarly skirmishes that at times end in a song, at times in a screech of pain.
Jesus is praying. Sitting on the grass, with a tuft of bog grass separating Him from the path along the bank, He is absorbed in His mental meditation. At times He looks up to watch the little ones playing over there on the grass. He then lowers His eyes again and becomes engrossed in His thoughts.
The shuffling of feet among the plants on the bank and the sudden arrival of John on the little island put to flight the birds that fly away from the top of the poplar putting an end to their carousel with screeches of fear.
John does not see Jesus at once, as He is concealed by the bog grass and he shouts rather perplexedly: « Where are You, Master? »
Jesus stands up while the three children shout from the other bank: « He is there! Behind the tall grass. »
But John has already seen Jesus and goes to Him saying: « Master, the relatives have come. The children's relatives. And many people from Shechem are with them. They went to Malachi, and Malachi brought them to our house. I have come looking for You. »
« And where is Judas? »
« I do not know. He went out immediately after You came here, and he has not come back yet. He must be in town. Shall I look for him? »
« No, it is not necessary. Stay here with the children. I want to speak to the relatives first. »
« As You wish, Master. »
Jesus goes away, and John joins the children and begins to help them in the enterprise of building a bridge across an imaginary river made of long reed leaves placed on the sand to simulate water...
Jesus enters the house of Mary of Jacob, who is at the door waiting for Him and says to Him: « They have gone up to the terrace. I took them there to let them rest. But here is Judas coming from the village. I will wait for him and then I will prepare some food for the pilgrims who are very tired. »
Jesus also waits for Judas in the vestibule, which is rather dark compared to the light outside. Judas does not see Jesus at once and while going in he says to the woman arrogantly: « Where are those from Shechem? Have they already left? And the Master? Is no one calling Him? John... » He sees Jesus and changes tone saying: « Master! I ran here when I was told, just by sheer chance... Were You already at home? »
« John was here and he came looking for Me. »
« I... I should have been here as well. But at the fountain they asked me to explain certain things to them... »
Jesus does not reply. He speaks only to greet those who are waiting for Him, sitting some on the low walls of the terrace, some in the room that opens on to it, and they all stand up to pay their respects to Him as soon as they see Him.
After greeting the group collectively, Jesus greets some of them calling them by their names, and they are so pleasantly surprised that they say: « Do You still remember our names? » They must be the people from Shechem.
And Jesus replies: « Your names, your faces and your souls. Did you come with the children's relatives? Are they the ones? »
« Yes, they are. They have come to take them and we joined them to thank You for Your pity for the little children of a woman from Samaria. You alone can do such things!... You are always the Holy One Who does nothing but holy things. We have always remembered You, too. And we came, because we heard that You were here. To see You and tell You that we are grateful to You for choosing us as Your shelter place and for loving us in the children of our blood. But listen to the relatives. »
Jesus, followed by Judas, turns His steps towards them greeting them once again and inviting them to speak.
« We, I do not know whether You know, are the brothers of the children's mother. And we were very angry at her, because she foolishly and against our advice wanted this unhappy marriage. Our father was weak with the only daughter of his numerous offspring, so much so that we got angry with him as well, and for several years we did not speak to him or see him. Later, knowing that the hand of God lay heavy on the woman and there was poverty in her house, because an impure marriage is not defended by divine blessings, we took our old father in our house again, so that his only grief might be the poverty in which the woman languished. Then she died and we were told. You had passed by recently and people spoke of You... And overcoming our indignation, we suggested to her husband, through these two men from Shechem, that we would take the children. They were, by half, of our blood. He said that he would rather see them all die a bad death than live on our bread. He would not give us the children and not even the corpse of our sister, that it might be buried according to our rites! So we swore hatred to him and to his seed. And hatred struck him like a curse, so that from a free man it made him a servant and from a servant... a dead body like a jackal in a stinking den. We would never had known, because for a long time everything had come to an end between us. And we had a terrible fright, only that, when a week ago we saw those highwaymen appear on our threshing-floor. Then, when we heard why they had come, disdain, not grief, tormented us like poison, and we sent them away hurriedly offering them a good reward to make them friendly, and we were surprised to hear them say that they had already made their profit and did not want anything else. »
Judas suddenly breaks the dead silence of everybody with an ironical laugh and he shouts: « Their conversion! Complete! Really! »
Jesus looks at him severely, the others look at him seized with astonishment, and the man who was speaking, continues: « And what else could you expect from them? Is it not quite a lot that they came leading the young shepherd and daring danger, without accepting any reward? A miserable custom befits a miserable life. The prey taken from the foolish man who died like a tramp, was not a rich one! It wasn't rich at all! Hardly sufficient for those who had to stop plundering for at least ten days. And we were so astonished at their honesty, that we asked them which voice had spoken to them instilling so much pity into their hearts. So we learned that a rabbi had spoken to them... A rabbi! You only. Because no other rabbi in Israel could do what You did. And after they left we questioned the frightened shepherd boy in detail and we obtained a more accurate account of the events. At first we only knew that our sister's husband was dead and that the children were at Ephraim with a just man, and then that the just man, who was a rabbi, had spoken to them and we at once thought that it was You. And when we arrived at Shechem at dawn, we consulted with these people, because we had not yet made up our minds whether we should accept the children. But these people said to us: “What? Has the Rabbi of Nazareth loved the children in vain? Is that what you want? Because it is certainly Him, have no doubt. Nay, let us all go to Him, because the kindness of His heart towards the children of Samaria is great.” And after settling our business, we came here. Where are the children? »
« Near the stream. Judas, go and tell them to come. »
Judas goes away.
« Master, it is a difficult meeting for us. They remind us of all our troubles, and we are still undecided whether we should accept them. They are the sons of the worst enemy we ever had... »
« They are the children of God. They are innocent. Death cancels the past and expiation obtains forgiveness, also from God. Do you want to be more severe than God? And more cruel than the highwaymen? And more obstinate than they? The highwaymen wanted to kill the young shepherd and keep the children: the former as a prudent measure of defence, the latter out of human pity for defenceless children. The Rabbi spoke to them, and they did not kill and they have agreed, to the extent of bringing the young shepherd to you. Shall I have to admit defeat in righteous hearts, when I defeated crime?... »
« The matter is... We are four brothers, and there are already thirty-seven children in our house... »
« And where thirty-seven little sparrows find food, because the Father in Heaven makes them find grains, will forty not find any? Will the power of the Father not be able to provide food for three, nay, four more children of His? Is there a limit to His divine Providence? Will the Infinite God be frightened to fecundate your seeds, your plants and your sheep more than at present, so that bread and oil and wine and wool and meat be sufficient for your children and for four more poor boys who are now all alone? »
« They are three, Master! »
« They are four. The young shepherd is an orphan as well. If God should appear to you here, would you be able to maintain that your bread is so measured that you cannot feed an orphan? Pity for an orphan is prescribed by the Pentateuch... »
« No, we would not, Lord. That is true. We shall not be inferior to the highwaymen. We will give bread, clothes and lodging also to the young shepherd. And out of love for You. »
« Out of love. Out of all the love. For God, for His Messiah, for your sister, for your neighbour. That is the homage and the forgiveness to be paid to your blood! Not a cold sepulchre for her dust. Forgiveness is peace. Peace for the spirit of man, who sinned. But it would only be false and entirely exterior forgiveness, and no peace for the spirit of the dead woman, who is your sister and the children's mother, if to the just expiation of God you add to torment her, the knowledge that her sons, although innocent, are expiating her sin. God's mercy is infinite. But add your own to give peace to the dead woman. »
« Oh! We will do that! We will! Our hearts would not have submitted to anybody, but they yield to You, o Rabbi, as You passed one day among us, sowing a seed that did not and will not die. »
« Amen! Here are the children... » and Jesus points at them on the bank of the stream, coming towards the house, and He calls them.
And they leave the hands of the apostles and run shouting: « Jesus! Jesus! » They go in, they climb the steps, they are on the terrace and they stop frightened by the presence of so many strangers looking at them.
« Come, Ruben, and you, Elisha, and you, Isaac. These men are the brothers of your mother and they have come to get you and join you to their sons. See how good the Lord is? Just like Mary of Jacob's pigeon, that we saw the day before yesterday feed a young one that was not its own, but of its dead brother. He has gathered you and gives you to these people so that they may take care of you and you will thus be no longer orphans. Come on! Greet your relatives. »
« The Lord be with you, gentlemen » says the oldest one shyly, looking at the ground, and the two younger ones repeat his words.
« This one is very much like his mother, and this one also, but this other one (the oldest) is his father's double » remarks one of the relatives.
« My friend, I do not think that you are so unfair as to love differently because of a resemblance of faces » says Jesus.
« Oh! no. Certainly not. I was watching him... and thinking... I would not like him to have the same heart as his father. »
« He is still a tender child, and his simple words disclose that his love for his mother is by far deeper than any other love. »
« She kept them much better than we expected. Their clothes and shoes are decent. Perhaps she made her fortune... »
« My brothers and I have new garments because Jesus clothed us. We had neither shoes nor mantle, we were exactly like the shepherd » says the second-born who is not so timid as the first-born.
« We will compensate You for everything, Master » replies one of the relatives and he adds: « Joachim of Shechem had the offerings of the town, but we will add some more money... »
« No, I do not want any money. I want a promise: that you will love these children whom I snatched from the highwaymen. The offerings... Malachi, take them for the poor who are known to you and give some to Mary of Jacob, because her house is really poor. »
« As you wish. If they are good we will love them. »
« We will be good, lord. We know that we must be so to find our mother and go up the river, as far as the bosom of Abraham, and that we must not take away the ropes of our boats from the hands of God in order not to be carried away by the current of the demon » says Ruben all in one breath.
« But what is the boy saying? »
« A parable I told them. I told it to comfort their hearts and to guide their spirits. And the children have understood it and they apply it to each of their actions. Familiarise with them while I speak to these people from Shechem... »
« Master, one more word. What amazed us in the highwaymen was their request to tell the Rabbi, Who had the children, to forgive them, if it had taken them a long time to come, considering that not every road is open to them and that the presence of a boy among them prevented them from marching long distances through wild gorges. »
« Did you hear that, Judas? » says Jesus to Judas who does not reply.
Then Jesus moves to one side with the people from Shechem, who wring the promise from Him of a visit, even a short one, before the summer heat. And in the meantime they inform Jesus of events of the town, and they tell Him that those who were cured by Him, in their bodies or souls, do remember Him.
Judas and John in the meantime are busy getting the children to fraternise with their relatives...