24th February 1947.
« Let us follow You, Master. We shall not trouble You » implore many people of Ephraim who have gathered in front of the house of Mary of Jacob, who is weeping all her tears leaning against the post of the wide-open door.
Jesus is in the middle of His twelve apostles; farther away, in a group around His Mother there are Johanna, Nike, Susanna, Eliza, Martha and Mary, Salome and Mary of Alphaeus. The men and the women are in travelling clothes, with tunics tucked up and girded to leave their feet free, with new sandals fastened not only at their ankles but also at the lower part of their legs by means of small strips of interlaced leather, as is customary when one has to take impassable roads. The men have burdened themselves also with the bags of the women disciples.
The people implore Jesus to let them follow Him, while the little ones scream, with their little faces and arms raised: « A kiss! Take me in Your arms! Come back, Jesus! Come back soon to tell us many beautiful parables! I will keep the roses of my garden for You! I will not eat any fruit to keep it for You! Come back, Jesus! My little sheep is about to lamb and I want to give You the lambskin, with its wool! You can have a tunic made like mine... If You come soon I will give You the cakes my mother makes with the early corn... » They chirrup like many little birds around their great Friend, they pull His tunic, hang on to His belt trying to climb up to His arms, lovingly despotic, so much so that Jesus is prevented from replying to the adults, because there is always a fresh face to kiss.
« Away! That's enough! Leave the Master alone! Women! Take your children! » shout the apostles who are anxious to set off in the early morning hours. And stretching out their hands they give gentle slaps to the most intrusive ones.
« No. Leave them. Their kindness is fresher to Me than this dawn. Leave them and Me alone. Allow Me to be comforted by their love, which is pure and free from interests and trouble » says Jesus defending His little friends and as he stretches out His arms, His wide mantle hangs down and receives them under its blue protecting wings. And the little ones press against one another in the warm blue dim light and become happily silent, like chicks under motherly wings.
Jesus at last can say to the adults: « You may come, if you think you can do so. »
« And who will stop us, Master? We are in our region! »
« The corn, the vines and orchards need all your work, and the sheep are to be shorn and this is their mating time, and those that mated in the past season are about to lamb, and it is time to make hay... »
« It does not matter, Master. The elderly people can see to the shearing and mating of the sheep, and the children, and women to their lambing, and also to the hay. The orchards and fields can wait. Because if the corn is already hardening in the ears, it is still early to cut it, and vineyards, olive-groves and orchards have only to let their abundant fruit ripen in the sunshine. There is nothing we can do for them until harvest-time, just like the mother of a family who can do nothing to bake the bread until the dough rises. The sun is the yeast of fruits. It's for him to act now, as the wind did previously fecundating the blossoms along the branches. In any case!... If we should lose some bunches of grapes, or some fruits, or if bearbines or darnels should suffocate some ears of corn, it would be a very small damage as compared with losing one of Your words! » says an old man whom I have always seen highly honoured in the village.
« You are right. So let us go. Mary of Jacob, I thank you and I bless you, because you have been a good mother to Me. Do not weep! Those who have accomplished a good deed must not weep. »
« Ah! I am losing You and I shall not see You again! »
« We shall certainly meet again. »
« Are You coming back here, Lord? » asks the woman smiling through her tears. « When? »
« I shall not come back, as now... »
« Then, where shall we meet again, if I, a poor old woman, cannot come along the roads of the world looking for You? »
« In Heaven, Mary. In the House of our Father. Where there is room for Judaeans and for Samaritans, where there is a place for those who will love Me in spirit and truth. You are already doing so, because you believe that I am the Son of the true God... »
« Oh! I do believe that! But there is no hope for us because You alone love us without discrimination. »
« When I have gone, these (and He points at the apostles) will come in my stead. And in memory of Me they will not ask who it is who requests to join the flock of the true and only Shepherd. »
« I am old, Lord. I shall not live so long as to see that. You are young and strong, and Your Mother will have You for a long time, and those who love You and belong to Your people will have You... Why are You weeping, o Mother of the Blessed Lord? » she asks, amazed at seeing tears drop from the Blessed Virgin's eyes.
« I have nothing but My grief... Goodbye, Mary. May God bless you for what you have done to My Son. And remember that if your sorrow is great, there is no sorrow greater than Mine, and there never will be on the Earth. Never! Remember the sorrowful Mary of Nazareth... Goodbye! » And Mary parts from the old woman weeping after kissing her on the doorstep and She sets off among the women, with John beside Her.
And John, with his usual lightly bent posture and his face raised looking at Her, says: « Do not weep thus, Mary. If many hate Your Jesus, many love Him. Comfort Your spirit, Mother, looking at these who now and in the course of ages will love Your Son with their whole selves » and he concludes in a low voice, almost whispering the words to Mary alone, Whom he guides and supports holding Her elbow so that She may not stumble against the stones of the path, blinded as She is by Her tears: « Not every mother will be able to see her child loved... There are some who will shout distressingly: “Why did I conceive him?” »
Jesus joins them, as Mary and John have remained alone, a little behind the women disciples. James of Alphaeus is with Jesus. The others are behind in a group, as pensive and sad as the women disciples, who are ahead of them all. Last, in a group, many men from Ephraim, talking in low voices to one another.
« Goodbyes are always sad, Mother. Particularly when one does not know that an end is the beginning of something more perfect. It is the sad consequence of sin. And it will remain even after forgiveness. But men will bear it with greater courage as they will have God as their friend. »
« You are right, Jesus. But there is a sorrow that God lets us relish although He is the most fatherly Friend there can be. He is such to Me. Oh! God is good! So good. I should not like James and John, or anybody else to be scandalised by My tears. God is good. He was always good to poor Mary. I have repeated that to Myself every day since I was able to think. And now... now I say so every hour... every moment. The more grief is impending the more I say so to Myself... God is good. He gave You to Me: a loving holy Son and such, even only as a creature, as to compensate every sorrow of a woman... He gave You to Me, a poor girl elevated to Mother of His incarnate Word... And the joy of being able to call You “Son”, My adored Lord, is so great that no tear should drop from My eyes, whatever the torture may be, if I were as perfect as You teach us. But I am a poor woman, Son! And You are My Creature... And... which mother can refrain from weeping when she knows that her creature is hated, and she knows?... Son, succour Your maidservant... Certainly there was still pride in Me when I thought I was strong... But then... the time was still remote... Now it is here... I perceive it... Succour Me, Jesus, My God! If God allows Me to suffer thus, it is certainly for a good purpose for Me. Because if He wanted, He could let Me suffer only for what happens... It was He Who formed You in My womb thus!... How... There is no comparison to explain how You made Yourself... But He wants Me to suffer... and may He be blessed for that... always. But help Me, Jesus. Help Me all of you... all of you... because it is so bitter the sea in which I have to quench My thirst... »
« Let us say the prayer. The four of us, who love You with all our hearts, Mother. Here; I Your Son, and John and James who love You as if You were their mother... Our Father, Who art in Heaven... » and Jesus, guiding the little chorus of the three voices that follow Him in a low tone, says all the Lord's Prayer, stressing certain sentences such as: « thy will be done »... « lead us not into temptation. » He then says: « Well. The Father will help us to do His will, even if our weakness of human beings is such that we think we are not able to do it, and He will not lead us into the temptation of thinking that He is not so good, because while we drink of the very bitter chalice, He will send His angel to wipe our embittered lips with heavenly comfort. » Jesus is holding by the hand His Mother Who has bravely struggled with Her tears restraining them in the bottom of Her heart. The two apostles are beside them: John is near Mary and James of Alphaeus is near Jesus, and they look at them deeply moved.
The women disciples have looked back now and again hearing Mary weep and the prayer of the four. But they have refrained from joining them.
In the rear, the apostles have asked one another: « But why is Mary weeping thus? » I said the apostles, but I mean all of them with the exception of Judas of Kerioth, who is proceeding all alone, and looks very pensive, almost gloomy, so much so that Thomas notices it and says to the others:
« But what is the matter with Judas that he looks like that? He looks like one sentenced to death! »
« Who knows?! He may be afraid to go back to Judaea » replies Matthew.
« I... What did the Master tell you about the money? » asks the Zealot.
« Nothing in particular. He said to me: “We are now going back to the previous situation. Judas will be the treasurer and you the bestowers of alms. The women disciples want to help us with regard to expenses.” I could not believe that it was true! I have handled so much money that I hate it. »
« And the women disciples are helping very well. These sandals are so safe... One does not feel as if one were walking on a mountain. I wonder how much they cost! » says Peter looking at his feet shod with the new sandals that protect both heels and toes and support ankles with the thin leather strips.
« Martha got them. One can see her rich provident hand. In the past we used to tie them like this as well, but the strings were a torture. We did not lose the soles, but we lost the skin of our legs... » says Andrew.
« And they hurt heels and toes... That's why he who is behind us always wore them like these! » says Peter pointing at Judas of Kerioth.
The road climbs towards the crest of the mountain. Looking back one can see Ephraim all white in the sun, and the village seems already so far below them...
Then the apostles mingle with the women disciples to help them climb up the path that is very steep on that spot, and Bartholomew, who has been left behind, says to the people from Ephraim: « You have shown us a very difficult path, my friends. »
« Yes, but beyond that wood there is a good road that will take you to Shilo in a short time. So you will be able to rest there longer than if you arrived by night along a different road » replies one.
« You are right. The harder the road, the quicker it takes you to your destination. »
« Your Master is aware of that. That is why He does not spare Himself! Ah! we shall never forget!... Above all that He has helped us these last days, although He had heard some people of our region insult Him so unfairly. He alone is good and so He helps also those who hate Him. »
« You did not hate Him. »
« No, we did not. But there are many more whom we do not hate, and yet we are hated without any reason. »
« Do what He does, without any fear, and you will see that... »
« Then, why do you not do so? It's the same thing. We are here, you are there, and a mountain between us: the one raised by common errors. Above: the common God. Then, why do neither we nor you climb the slope to meet up there, at the feet of God, close to one another? »
Bartholomew understands the just reproach, because in his undeniable virtue, he has the fixed idea of being an Israelite, and is inflexible with regard to what is not Israel. He changes the subject without giving a direct reply and says: « It is not necessary to climb. God has come down among us. It is sufficient to follow Him. »
« To follow Him, we agree. We should like to do that. But if we went to Judaea with Him, would we not damage Him? You, too, are aware of what He is accused and of what we are accused: of being Samaritans, that is, demons. »
Bartholomew sighs and parts from them saying: « They are beckoning to me to go... » and he quickens his step.
Those from Ephraim look at him go away and one whispers: « Ah! He is not like Him! How much we lose by losing Him! » and he makes a gesture of discouragement.
« Do you know, Elias, that yesterday evening He took a large sum of money to the head of the synagogue, who is to hand it to Mary of Jacob, so that she may not suffer the pangs of hunger any more? »
« No, I don't. Why did He not give it to her? »
« He did not want to be thanked by the old woman. She does not know yet. I know because the head of the synagogue told me, to ask my advice whether he ought to buy her John's property, that his brother wants to sell, or he should give her the money a little at a time. I adviced him to buy John's property. It will give her enough corn, oil and wine to live without starving. Whereas the money... That... »
« So it is really a large sum?! » says a third man.
« Yes. Our head of the synagogue received quite a lot, also for other poor people in town and in the country. That “they also may keep the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, to greet the new time” the Master said. »
« He must have said the new year. »
« No. He said: “the new time”. In fact the head of the synagogue is not going to use that money before the Feast of the Unleavened Bread. »
« Oh! and what did He mean? » ask many.
« What does it mean? I don't know. Nobody knows. Not even John, His beloved apostle, nor Simon of Jonah, who is the head of the disciples. I asked them and the former became pale, the latter became engrossed in thought like one who is trying to guess. »
« And what about Judas of Kerioth? He is important among them. Perhaps more than the other two. He knows everything, so he says. He may know also that. Let us go and ask him. He likes to say what he knows. »
They hurry to join Judas who is lonely as at the beginning, all alone, by now, on the path, because the others have gone round a bend and they seem to have been swallowed up by the green thicket on the slope.
« Judas, listen to us. The Master says that He wants a great celebration for the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, to greet the new time. What does He mean? »
« I don't know. Am I perhaps in the mind of the Master? Ask Him since He loves you so much » and he quickens his step leaving them disappointed.
« He is not the Master either. There is not one who has His pity... » they say shaking their heads.
« Well, are we following them? We are following Him! And we are doing the right thing. Let us go. Perhaps, we may learn from His lips, before He goes to Judaea, what He meant to say. »
And they quicken their paces joining the others, who are resting in a wood of age-long oak-trees, facing one of the most beautiful views in Palestine.