7th February 1947.
Several days must have gone by. I am saying so because I see that the corn, which in the last visions was hardly a span high, after the last downpour and the lovely sunshine that followed it, is already tall and is about to give ear. Cereals, still tender in their calami, are waved by a light breeze, that plays with the new leaves of the early fruit trees, which after blossoming or while the petals flutter about and fall, have already opened their light-emerald tender shiny little leaves, as beautiful as everything that is pure and new. The vines, still bare and knotty, blossom later, but on the twisted vine-shoots, which interlace with one another from trunk to trunk, the buds have already burst the dark bark that contained them, and, although still closed in it, they display the silver-grey down that is the nest for future new vine-leaves and tendrils, and the woody twisted festoon-like branches seem to be softened by a fresh gracefulness. The sun, which is already warm, has begun its action by colouring everything and distilling vegetable essences, and while with brighter hues it paints what only a few days ago looked paler, it warms and thus extracts various types of scents from clods of earth, from flowery meadows, from fields of cereals, from vegetable gardens and orchards, from woods, from walls, from the very clothes hanging to dry, blending them harmoniously into a smell that will last throughout summer until it changes into the strong reek of must in the vats where the squashed grapes become wine. There is a loud chorus of birds singing among trees, and an eager bleating of rams among herds. And the singing of men along slopes. And the cheerful voices of children. And the smiles of women It is springtime. Nature is in love. And man gets pleasure from the love of nature, which will make him wealthier shortly, and he takes delight in his own love, which becomes livelier in such serene revival, and his wife seems more loving to him, while he appears to be a greater protector to his wife, and their children dear to both of them, as at present they are their joy and their care, and in future, when they are old, they will be the joy and protection of their declining age.
Jesus passes along the fields that rise or slope downwards following the inclination of the mountain. He is alone. He is wearing a linen garment, as He gave His last woollen one to Samuel, and a rather bright-blue mantle thrown over one shoulder, softly enveloped round His body and held by His arm across His chest. The strip covering His arm flutters gently in the light breeze and as He is bare-headed, His hair shines in the sunshine. He goes by and where there are children He bends to caress their little innocent heads and to listen to their little secrets, admiring what they hasten to show Him as if they were treasures.
A little girl, who is so small that she still stumbles when running and gets entangled in the little skirt that is too long for her as she probably inherited it from a brother born before her, arrives near Jesus with a smile that makes her eyes shine and displays her tiny incisors between her pink lips. She is carrying a bunch of daisies, a big bunch held with both hands, as many as her tender tiny hands can hold, and she holds up her trophy saying: « Take it! It's Yours. To mummy later. A kiss, here! » and with her little hands, now free, as Jesus has taken the little bunch thanking her with words of admiration, she touches her lips and she stands on her bare feet, with her head bent backwards, almost losing her balance, in the vain effort to stretch her tiny person up to the face of Jesus, Who laughs picking her up in His arms and taking her, nestled up there like a little bird on a tall tree, towards a group of women who are steeping new pieces of cloth in the clear water of a stream, to lay them out in the sunshine later, to bleach them.
The women, bent over the water, stand up greeting and one of them says smiling: « Tamar has been giving trouble to You... But she has been picking flowers here since dawn in the secret hope of seeing You pass by. She would not give me one as she wanted to give them to You first. »
« They are dearer to Me than the treasures of kings. Because they are as innocent as children and have been given to Me by one who is as innocent as a flower. » He kisses the little girl putting her down, and He greets her saying: « May the grace of the Lord come to you. » He greets the women and goes on His way greeting the peasants or shepherds who wave to Him from fields or meadows.
He seems to be going down to the lower part of the country, towards Jericho. But He comes back and takes another path that climbs once again towards the mountains to the north of Ephraim. The crops here are even more beautiful, as the soil is in a more favourable position and sheltered from northern winds. The path runs between two fields and in one of them there are fruit trees planted almost at regular intervals, and the buds of the early fruits are already like pearls on the branches.
A road descending from north to south crosses the path. It must be a rather important road because at the crossroads there is one of the milestones used by the Romans, with: « Neapolis » engraved on its northern side, in the large lapidary letters of the Latins, and strong like them, and under it, in much smaller letters just scratched on the stone: « Shechem »; on the western side: « Shiloh-Jerusalem »; and on the southern one: « Jericho ». There is no name on the eastern side.
But one could say that if there is no name of any town, there is the name of a human misfortune. Because on the ground, between the milestone and the ditch along the road, dug to drain rain-water, as in all the roads looked after by the Romans, there is a man, benumbed, a bundle of rags and bones, probably dead.
Jesus bends over him when He sees him among the weeds that springtime downpours have made luxuriant in the ditch and He touches him asking: « Man? What is the matter with you? »
A moan is the answer. But the tangle moves, unrolls and an emaciated face, as white as death, appears and two tired, suffering languid eyes look full of astonishment at Him Who is bent over his misery. He tries to sit up pressing his emaciated hands against the ground, but he is so weak that he would not succeed without Jesus' help.
Jesus helps him and props him with his back against the milestone. And He asks him: « What is the matter with you? Are you ill? »
« Yes. » A very faint « yes ».
« But why did you set out all alone, in this state? Have you not got anybody? » The man nods assent, but he is too weak to reply.
Jesus looks around. There is nobody in the fields. The place is really deserted. To the north, almost at the top of a hill, there is a small group of houses; to the west, among the green vegetation of the slope that rises with more hillocks where fields are replaced by meadows and woods, there are some herdsmen among a flock of restless goats. Jesus looks at the man again and asks him: « If I supported you, do you think you would be able to come to that village? »
The man shakes his head and two tears stream down his cheeks that are so withered that they seem wrinkled by age, whereas his raven beard proves that he is still young. He gathers his strength to say: « They drove me away... Fear of leprosy... I am not... And I am dying... of hunger. » He pants out of weakness. He puts a finger into his mouth and pulls out a greenish pulp, saying: « Look... I have been chewing corn... but it is still green grass. »
« I am going to that shepherd. I will bring you some warm milk. I shall not be long. » And He almost runs where the flock is, about two hundred metres above the road.
He arrives at the shepherd, He speaks to him and shows him where the man is. The shepherd turns round to look, he seems undecided whether he should comply with Jesus' request. He then makes up his mind. He detaches from his belt the wooden bowl that he carries like all shepherds, he milks a goat and gives the full bowl to Jesus, Who goes down the slope cautiously, followed by a boy who was with the shepherd.
He is now once again near the starving man. He kneels beside him, He passes one arm round his back to support him and takes the bowl, in which the milk is still covered with foam, close to his lips. He makes him take small sips. He then lays the bowl on the ground saying: « That is enough now. If you take it all at once, it will hurt you. Let your stomach recover some strength with the milk I gave you. »
The man does not protest. He closes his eyes and is silent, while the boy looks at him with much surprise.
After some time Jesus offers him the cup again for a longer drink and He goes on thus, at shorter and shorter intervals, until there is no milk left. He hands the bowl back to the boy and dismisses him.
The man recovers slowly. With gestures that are still shaky he tries to tidy himself somehow. He smiles with gratitude looking at Jesus Who has sat down on the grass beside him. He apologises saying: « I make You lose Your time. »
« Do not worry! The time spent in loving one's brothers is never lost. When you feel better we shall speak. »
« I am feeling better. My body is warming up and my eyes... I thought I was going to die here... My poor children! I had lost all hope... And up to that moment I had hoped so much!... If You had not come, I would have died... just like that... along the road... »
« It would have been very sad. That is true. But the Most High looked at His son and assisted him. Have a little rest now. »
The man obeys for some time. Then he opens his eyes again and he says: « I feel a new man. Oh! I wish I could go to Ephraim! »
« Why? Have you got anyone there waiting for you? Do you come from Ephraim? »
« No, I come from the country of Jabneel, near the Great Sea. But I went to Galilee, along the shores, as far as Caesarea. Then I went to Nazareth. Because I have a disease here (he touches his stomach). A disease that no one can cure and it does not let me work the land. And I am a widower. With five children... A man from our place, because I was born at Gaza, of a Philistine father and of a Syro-Phoenician mother, a man of our place was a follower of the Galilean Rabbi and he came to us with another man, and spoke to us of the Rabbi. I heard him, too. And when I was taken ill I said: I am a Syrian and a Philistine, loathsome to Israel. But Ermasteus used to say that the Rabbi of Galilee is as good as He is powerful. And I believe it. And I am going to Him.” And as soon as the weather improved I left the children to the mother of my wife, I took my few savings, because many had been spent for my disease, and I came looking for the Rabbi. But money does not last long when one travels. Particularly when one cannot eat all kinds of food... and one has to stop at inns when pains prevent one from travelling. At Sephoris I sold my donkey because I had no more money left for myself and to give what was due to the Rabbi. I thought that once I was cured, I would be able to eat everything on the road and thus go back home quickly. And working there in my fields and in those of other people I hoped I would make up for what I had lost... But the Rabbi is neither at Nazareth nor at Capernaum. His Mother told me. She said: “He is in Judaea. Look for Him at the house of Joseph of Sephoris at Bezetha or at Gethsemane. They will be able to tell you where He is.” I came back, on foot. I was getting worse and worse... and my money was diminishing. At Jerusalem, where I had been told to go, I found the people but not the Rabbi. They said to me: “Oh! They drove Him away a long time ago. He is cursed by the Sanhedrin. He ran away but we do not know where.” I... felt as if I were dying... just like today. Nay, more than today. I inquired of hundreds and hundreds of people in town and in the country. No one knew. Some wept with me. Many struck me. Then one day, when I began to beg outside the enclosure of the Temple, I heard two Pharisees say: “Now that we know that Jesus of Nazareth is at Ephraim…” I lost no time, and weak as I was I came here, begging for some bread, and I was more and more in rags and sick looking. And as I was not familiar with the road, I took the wrong one... Today I came from there, from that village. For two days I had sucked nothing but wild fennels, and I had chewed chicory and green corn. They thought I was a leper because of my pallor and they drove me away pelting me with stones. I was only asking for a piece of bread and to show me the road to Ephraim... I fell here... But I would like to go to Ephraim. I am so close to my goal! Is it possible that I should not reach it? I believe in the Rabbi. I am not an Israelite. But neither was Ermasteus, and He loved him just the same. Is it possible that the God of Israel may treat me with a heavy hand to revenge Himself for the sins of those who procreated me? »
« The true God is the Father of men. He is just, but good. He rewards those who have faith and does not make innocents pay for sins not committed by them. But why did you say that when you heard that the residence of the Rabbi was unknown, you felt as if you were dying more than you were today? »
« Eh! because I said: “I have lost Him even before finding Him''. »
« Ah! because of your health! »
« No. Not only for that. But because Ermasteus said certain things about Him that I thought that if I became acquainted with Him, I would no longer be corrupt. »
« So, do you believe that He is the Messiah? »
« I do believe it. I do not know exactly what the Messiah is, but I believe that the Rabbi of Nazareth is the Son of God. »
Jesus' smile is bright when He asks: « And are you sure that if He is such, He will hear you, although you are not circumcised? »
« I am certain because Ermasteus said so. He said: “He is the Saviour of all men. As far as He is concerned there are no Hebrews or idolaters. But only creatures to be saved because the Lord God has sent Him for that.” Many laughed. I believed. If I can say to Him: “Jesus, have mercy on me”, He will hear me. Oh! if You come from Ephraim, take me to Him. Perhaps You are one of His disciples... »
Jesus smiles more and more and He suggests: « Try and ask Me to cure you... »
« You are good, man. There is so much peace near You. Yes, You are as good as... the Rabbi Himself, and He has certainly granted You the power to work miracles, because to be as good as You are, You can but be one of His disciples. I have found all those, who told me they were such, to be good. But do not be offended if I say to You that You may be able to cure bodies, but not souls. And I would like also my soul to be cured, as it happened to Ermasteus. To become a just man... And only the Rabbi can do that. I am a sinner besides being diseased. I do not want to be cured in my body and then die one day also with my soul. I want to live. Ermasteus said that the Rabbi is the Life of the soul and that the soul that believes in Him lives for good in the Kingdom of God. Take me to the Rabbi. Be good! Why are You smiling? Probably because You think that I am bold in wanting to be cured without being able to give an offering? But once I am cured I shall be able to cultivate the land once again. I have beautiful fruit. Let the Rabbi come when the fruit ripens and I will pay Him with hospitality as long as He wishes. »
« Who told you that the Rabbi wants money? Ermasteus? »
« No. On the contrary he used to say that the Rabbi takes pity on the poor and He assists them first. But that is the custom with all doctors and... and with everybody, in short. »
« But not with Him. I can assure you. And I tell you that if you can urge your faith to ask for the miracle here, and to believe it possible, you will have it. »
« Is what You say true?... Are You sure? Of course, if You are one of His disciples you cannot lie or be wrong. And although I am sorry not to see the Rabbi..., I want to obey You... Perhaps, persecuted as He is... He does not want to be seen... He trusts no one any longer. You are right. But we shall not be the ones who will ruin Him. It will be the true Hebrews... But, well. I say here (he kneels down with difficulty): “Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me!” »
« And let it be done to you as your faith deserves » says Jesus making His gesture of authority over diseases.
The man seems to be dazzled as if he were struck by a sudden light. The man realises – I do not know whether through a flash of his intellect or through a physical sensation or through both at the same time – who is the Man Who is before him, and he utters such a shrill cry that the herdsman, who had come down towards the road probably to see, quickens his pace.
The man is on the ground with his face in the grass. And the herdsman pointing at him with his crook asks: « Is he dead? More than milk is required when a man is done for! » and he shakes his head.
The man hears and stands up, strong and healthy. He shouts: « Dead? I am cured! I am a new man. He has done this to me. I am no longer languishing with hunger or suffering from any disease. I feel as I did the day I got married! Oh! blessed Jesus! How did I not recognise You before?! Your pity should have told me Your name! The peace I experienced near You! It was silly of me. Forgive Your poor servant! » And he throws himself on the ground once again, worshipping.
The herdsman leaves his goats and goes towards the little village running and jumping.
Jesus sits down near the cured man and says: « You were speaking to Me of Ermasteus, as if he were dead. So you know how he died. I want only one thing of you. That you come to Ephraim with Me and mention how he died to a man who is with Me. Then I will send you to Jericho, to a woman disciple of Mine, so that she may help you on your return trip. »
« If You wish so, I will go. But, now that I am healthy, I am no longer afraid of dying on the road. Even grass can nourish me and it is not shameful to beg because I did not spend everything I had on orgies, but for an honest purpose. »
« That is what I want. You will tell her that you have seen Me and that I am waiting for her here. She can come now. No one will annoy her. Will you be able to tell her that? »
« Yes, I will. Ah! Why do they hate You, when You are so good? »
« Because many men are possessed by demons. Let us go. »
Jesus sets out towards Ephraim and the man follows Him without faltering. Only his remarkable leanness is the sign of his past disease and privations.
In the meantime many people are coming down from the little village shouting and gesticulating. They call Jesus. They tell Him to stop. Jesus does not listen to them, on the contrary He quickens His pace. And they follow Him...
There He is once again near Ephraim. The peasants who are getting ready to go home, as the sun is beginning to set, greet Him and look at the man who is with Him.
Judas of Kerioth appears suddenly from a lane. He starts with surprise seeing the Master. But Jesus does not show any surprise. He only addresses the man saying: « This is one of My disciples. Tell him about Ermasteus. »
« Eh! it is soon said. He was untiring in preaching the Christ, also after he decided to part from his companion to stay with us. He said that we are in greater need than anybody else to know You, Rabbi, and that he wanted to make You known to his fatherland, and that he would go back to You after he had announced Your name publicly in all the smallest villages. He lived like a penitent. If some pitiful people gave him some bread he blessed them in Your name. If they threw stones at him, he would withdraw blessing them just the same, and he fed on wild fruit or on sea mollusks that he picked off reefs or he dug in the sand. Many said that he was “mad”. But nobody really hated him. At most they drove him away as if he were a man of ill omen. One day they found him dead along a road, not far from my place, on the road that takes one into Judaea, almost at the border. It has never been found out of what he died. But the rumour is that he was killed by somebody who did not want the Messiah to be preached. He had a large wound on his head. They said that he had been trampled by a horse. But I do not believe that. He still smiled stretched out on the dust of the road. Yes. He really seemed to be smiling at the last stars of the clearest night in the month of Elul and at the rising sun in the morning. Some market-gardeners found him at daybreak, while they were going to town with their vegetables, and they told me when they came to collect my cucumbers. I rushed there to see him. He was resting in great peace. »
« Have you heard? » Jesus asks Judas.
« Yes, I have. But did You not tell him that he would serve You and have a long life? »
« I did not say exactly that. The time that has gone by has obscured your mind. Has he not served Me evangelizing in places of mission, and has he not got a long life? Which life is longer than that conquered by those who die in the service of God? Long and glorious. »
Judas has that sly laugh that annoys me so much, but he does not reply.
In the meantime those from the little village have joined many people from Ephraim and they are speaking to them pointing at Jesus.
Jesus says to Judas: « Take the man home and finish restoring him. He will leave after the Sabbath that is just beginning. »
Judas obeys and Jesus remains all alone and He walks slowly bending to watch some stalks of corn, on which slight indications of ears are beginning to appear.
Some men from Ephraim ask Him: « This corn is beautiful, isn't it? »
« Beautiful. But the same as that of other regions. »
« Of course, Master. It's all corn! It must be the same. »
« Do you think so? Then corn is better than men. Because if it is skillfully sown it yields the same fruit here as in Judaea or Galilee or, we can say, in the plains along the Great Sea. Men, instead, do not yield the same fruit. And also the soil is better than men. Because when a seed is entrusted to it, it is good to the seed without making any difference whether the seed is from Samaria or Judaea. »
« It is so. But why do You say that corn and soil are better than men? »
« Why?... Not long ago a man begged for a piece of bread, out of pity, at the gate of a village. And he was driven away because the people of that place thought he was a Judaean. He was expelled as people threw stones at him and crying him a “leper”, which he thought referred to his thinness, but was intended for his origin. And that man almost died of starvation along the road. Thus the people of that village, the people that sent you to question Me and would like to come to the house where I live, to see the man who was cured miraculously, are worse than corn and clods of earth. Because they were not able, although they had been well taught by Me for a long time, to bear the same fruit as was yielded by that man, who is neither a Judaean nor a Samaritan and had never seen or heard Me, but had accepted the words of one of My disciples and believed in Me without knowing Me. And because they are worse than the clods of earth, as they rejected the man because he was of a different seed. They would now like to come to satisfy their hunger for curiosity, whilst they were not able to satisfy the hunger of a languishing man. Tell them that the Master will not satisfy such vain curiosity. And you all had better learn the great law of love, without which you will never be able to be My followers. It is not your love for Me that by itself will save your souls. But it is the love for My doctrine. And My doctrine teaches brotherly love without distinction of race and census. So let those hard-hearted people who have grieved My Heart go away, and let them repent if they want Me to love them. Because, bear this in your minds, if I am good, I am also just; if I make no distinctions and I love you as I love those of Galilee and Judaea, that must not make you so stupidly proud as to think that you are the favourite people or authorise you to do wrong without being afraid of being reproached by Me. I praise and reproach, according to justice, My relatives and apostles as well as any other person, and there is love in My reproach. And I do so because I want justice in the hearts of people so that one day I may reward those who have practised it. You may go and inform the others so that the lesson may bear fruit in everybody. »
Jesus envelops himself in His mantle and strides towards Ephraim, leaving His interlocutors who go away rather dejectedly to repeat the Master's words to the people of the unmerciful village.