22nd January 1947.
The news that Jesus is in Ephraim, either because the citizens themselves have boasted about it, or for some other reason unknown to me, must have spread because many people come now looking for Jesus: mostly sick people, some distressed people and also some who wish to see Him. I realise that because I hear the Iscariot say to a group of pilgrims who have come from the Decapolis: « The Master is not here. But John and I are here and it is the same thing. So tell us what you want and we will please you. »
« But you will never be able to teach what He teaches » says one protesting.
« We are His representatives and are just like Him, man. Always bear that in mind. But if you really want to hear the Master come back before the Sabbath and go away after it. The Master now is a true Master. He no longer speaks in all the streets, in woods or rocky mountains like a stray, and at all hours like a servant. He speaks on the Sabbath here, as befits Him. And He is right, considering what He gained by wearing Himself out with fatigue and love! »
« But it is not our fault if the Judaeans... »
« Everybody! Everybody! Both Judaeans and non Judaeans! You are all alike and will always be so. He has given you everything. You have given Him nothing. He gives. You do not give; not even the mite that one gives a beggar. »
« But we have an offering for Him. Here it is, if you do not believe us. »
John who has been silent all the time, but with evident embarrassment, looking at Judas with eyes that implore and reproach, or rather admonish him, can no longer be silent. And when Judas is already stretching out his hand to take the offering, he lays his hand on his companion's arm to hold him back and says to him: « No, Judas. Don't. You know the Master's order » and he addresses the pilgrims saying: « Judas has explained himself badly and you have misunderstood him. That is not what my companion meant. It is only an offering of sincere faith, of loyal love that we, I, my companions, you, everybody must give for what the Master gives us. When we travelled around Palestine, He accepted your offerings because they were necessary for our journeys and because we met with many beggars, or we became acquainted with concealed miseries. Now, here, we need nothing – may Providence be praised for that - and we do not meet with beggars. Keep your offering and give it to distressed people in Jesus' name. That is the desire of our Lord and Master, and the order He gives to those among us who go evangelizing through the various towns. If you have sick people with you or anyone really needs to speak to the Master, tell us. And I will look for Him where He withdraws to pray, as His spirit is eager to collect its thoughts in the Lord. »
Judas grumbles something between his teeth but he does not contradict openly. He sits beside the fireplace in which the fire has been lit, as if he wished to take no further interest in the matter.
« Actually... we are not in need of anything special. But We heard that He was here and we crossed the river to come and see Him. But if we have done wrong... »
« No, brothers. It is not wrong to love Him and look for Him also by going to a lot of trouble and fatigue. And your good will will be rewarded. I will go and tell the Lord that you are here and He will certainly come. And if He should not come I will bring you His blessing. » And John goes out into the kitchen garden to go and look for the Master.
« Never mind! I will go » says Judas imperiously and he stands up and runs out.
John looks at him go away and does not make any objection. He goes back into the kitchen where the pilgrims are thronged. But almost at once he suggests: « Shall we go and meet the Master? »
« But if He did not want... »
« Oh! Please do not attach importance to a misunderstanding. You are certainly aware of the reasons why we are here. It is other people who compel the Master to take these measures of restraint, it is not according to His will or His heart. He is always as fond of you all as ever. »
« We know that. On the first days after the ban was announced publicly everybody was looking for Him beyond the Jordan and wherever they thought He might be. At Bethabara, at Bethany, at Pella and at Ramoth-Gilead and also farther away. And we know that the same happened in Judaea and in Galilee. The houses of His friends were closely watched because... if many are His friends and disciples, many are also those who are not such, and who think they serve the Most High by persecuting the Master. Then searches suddenly stopped and the rumor spread that He was here. »
« But who told you? »
« His disciples. »
« My companions? Where? »
« No. None of them. They were different, new ones, because we never saw them with the Master or with the old disciples. In fact we were surprised that He should send people unknown to us to tell us where He was, then we thought that He might have done it because the new people were not known to the Judaeans as His disciples. »
« I do not know what the Master will say to you. But I think that as from now on you should listen only to the familiar disciples. Be prudent. Everybody in this country knows what happened to the Baptist... »
« Do you think that... »
« If John, who was hated only by one woman, was captured and killed, what will happen to Jesus, Who is hated both by the Royal Palace and the Temple, as well as by Pharisees, scribes, priests and Herodians? So be on the alert, so that later you may not have to repent... But here He comes. Let us go and meet Him... »
It is the dead of night. A moonless but starry night. I could not say what time it is as I cannot see the position or the phase of the moon. I can only see that it is a clear night. The whole of Ephraim has disappeared in the black veil of the night. The torrent also is only a noise, nothing else. Its foaming and sparkling have completely disappeared under the green vault of the trees on its banks as they hinder the faint light of the stars.
A night bird is moaning somewhere. Then it becomes silent because of the rustling noise of broken branches and reeds, a noise that comes nearer and nearer the house following the torrent and coming from the mountain side. Then a tall strong figure comes up from the bank on to the path that climbs towards the house. It stops for a moment as if it wanted to find its bearings. It grazes the wall groping with its hands. It finds the door. It touches it lightly and goes on. Still groping it turns the corner of the house, and proceeds as far as the little gate of the kitchen garden. It feels it, opens it, pushes it and goes in. It now skims the walls along the kitchen garden. It is perplexed at the kitchen door. It then proceeds as far as the outside staircase, it climbs it gropingly and sits on the last step, a dark shade in the shadow. But over there, to the east, the colour of the night sky – a dark velarium that is recognised for what it is only through the stars studding it – is beginning to change its shade, that is, it takes a hue that the eye can perceive as such: a slate-grey that looks like thick smoky fog and is nothing but the first light of dawn coming forth. And it is the new daily miracle of light slowly coming back.
The person that was crouched on the step, a heap covered with a dark mantle, moves, stretches its arms, raises its head drawing its mantle behind it. It is Manaen. Dressed like an ordinary man in a heavy brown tunic and mantle of the same colour. A rough cloth, as workers or pilgrims wear, without ornaments, buckles or belts. An interlaced woollen cord tightens the garment at his waist. He stands up and stretches himself. He looks at the sky, where the advancing light enables the surroundings to be seen.
A door downstairs opens squeaking. Manaen leans out without making any noise to see who is coming out of the house. It is Jesus, Who cautiously closes the door again and moves towards the staircase. Manaen withdraws a little and clears his throat to attract the attention of Jesus, Who looks up, stopping half-way up the staircase.
« It is I, Master, Manaen. Come quickly because I must speak to You. I have been waiting for You... » whispers Manaen and he bows to greet Jesus.
Jesus climbs the last steps: « Peace to you. When did you come? How? Why? » He asks.
« I think I set foot here immediately after the cock's crowing. But I was in the bushes, down there at the bottom, at the second watch. »
« All night in the open air! »
« It could not be done any other way. I had to speak to You by myself. I had to know which way to come, which was the house, without being seen. So I came by day and I hid in the wood up there. I saw life calm down in town. I saw Judas and John go into the house. Nay, John passed very close to me with his load of firewood, but he did not see me because I was well concealed in the thick of the wood. While there was sufficient light to see, I saw an old woman go in and come out of the house, and the fire blaze in the kitchen, and I saw You descend from here in the deepening twilight. Then the house was closed. Then I came here in the light of the new moon and I studied the road. I also entered the kitchen garden. The little gate is more useless than no gate at all. I heard your voices. But I had to speak to You alone. I went away to come back here at the third watch and be here. I know that You usually get up before daybreak to pray. And I was hoping that You would do the same today. I praise the Most High that it is so. »
« But why had you to see Me with so much trouble? »
« Master, Joseph and Nicodemus want to speak to You and they are thinking of doing it in such a way as to elude everybody's surveillance. They made other attempts, but Beelzebub must be helping Your enemies very much. In each occasion they had to give up coming, because their houses and that of Nike were continuously watched. Actually the woman was to come before me. She is a strong woman and she had set out by herself towards mount Adummim. But they followed her and stopped her at the Bloody slope (1), and in order not to reveal Your abode and to justify the foodstuffs she had on her mount, she said: “I am going up to one of my brothers who is in a grotto in the mountains. If you wish to come, as you teach the doctrine of God, you will accomplish a holy deed, because he is ill and in need of God.” And with her daring she convinced them to go away. But she did not dare to come here any more and she really went to see one who she says lives in a grotto and was entrusted to her by You. »
(1) A spot on Mount Adummim was called « Bloody slope » because of the crimes committed there by highwaymen.
« That is true. But then, how was Nike able to let the others know? »
« By going to Bethany. Lazarus is not there. But his sisters are. Mary is there. And is Mary a woman to be frightened of anything? She dressed herself perhaps more sumptuously than Judith did to go to the king, and she went to the Temple publicly with Sarah and Naomi and then to her mansion in Zion. And from there she sent Naomi to Joseph with the necessary information. And while... the Jews cunningly went or sent people to her house to... honour her, and everybody could see her, the mistress of the house, old Naomi wearing modest clothes went to Bezetha to inform the Elder. It was then agreed that I should come, as I am the nomad who does not rouse suspicion if I am seen riding at full gallop from one of Herod's dwelling places to another, to tell You that on Friday night Joseph and Nicodemus, the former coming from Arimathea, the latter from Ramah, will meet before sunset at Gofenŕ and will wait for You there. I know the place and the road and I will come here in the evening to take You there. You can trust me. But trust me only, Master. Joseph begs You not to let anybody know that we are meeting. In everybody's interest. »
« Yours also, Manaen? »
« Lord... I am I. But I have no wealth or family interests to protect as Joseph has. »
« And that confirms My statement that material riches are always a burden... But you can tell Joseph that no one will be informed of our meeting. »
« I can go, then, Master. The sun has risen and Your disciples may get up. »
« You may go, and God be with you. I will come with you to show you the spot where we shall meet on Friday night... »
They go downstairs without making any noise and they go out of the kitchen garden and descend at once to the banks of the torrent.