28th February 1947.
They are about to enter Lebonah, a town which I do not think is very important or beautiful, but on the other hand is very busy as there are many caravans going to Jerusalem for Passover from Galilee, Ituraea, Gaulanitis, Trachonitis, Hauran and the Decapolis. I would say that Lebonah was a track for caravans, or rather a junction of such tracks coming from those regions, from the Mediterranean to the mountains on the eastern side of Palestine, and from the north of it, and that they join here on the main road that takes pilgrims to Jerusalem. People probably prefer this road because it is garrisoned by the Romans and consequently they feel safer from the danger of unpleasant meetings with highwaymen. That is what I think. But it may be preferred for other reasons, because of historical or religious memories, I do not know.
As it is the right time – judging by the sun I would say that it is about eight o'clock in the morning – the caravans are about to set off amid a great uproar of voices, shouts, brayings, harness-bells, wheels. Women call their children, men spur their animals, vendors offer their goods, Samaritans haggle over prices with those... less rigid Jews, that is, those from the Decapolis and from other regions, as they are not so intolerant, being more mingled with the heathen element, and if a wretched vendor from Samaria approaches a champion of Judaism offering his goods, he is repulsed scornfully and almost abused. They shout so much at the anathema that they seem to have been approached by the devil himself... stirring up fierce reactions from the offended Samaritans. And there would be an odd scuffle if the Roman soldiers did not keep a good watch.
Jesus proceeds through so much confusion. The apostles are around Him, the women disciples follow them, and behind, in the rear, the train of the people from Ephraim, whose number has been increased by many people from Shiloh.
A murmur precedes the Master. It spreads from those who see Him to those who are farther away and cannot as yet see Him. Another murmur, a louder one, follows Him. And many put off their departure to see what is happening.
They ask one another: « What? Is He going farther and farther away from Judaea? What? Is He preaching in Samaria now? »
A voice says in the typical singing tone of Galileans: « The holy ones have rejected Him, and He is going to those who are not holy, to sanctify them, to shame the Judaeans. »
A reply more sour than acid poison is heard: « He has found His nest and who understands His word of a demon. »
Another voice shouts: « Be quiet, you murderers of the Just One! This persecution of yours will mark you with the most ill-famed name for ages. You are three times more corrupt than us from the Decapolis. »
Another sharp voice of an old man exclaims: « He is so just that He is running away from the Temple for the Feast of Feasts. Ha! Ha! Ha! »
A man from Ephraim, red with anger, says: « It is not true. You are lying, you old snake! He is now going to His Passover. »
A bearded scribe remarks disdainfully: « Via Gerizim. »
« No. Via the Moriah. He is coming to bless us, because He is love, then He will ascend to your hatred, you cursed people! »
« Be quiet, Samaritan! »
« You be quiet, demon! »
« Those who stir up a rebellion will be imprisoned. That is Pontius Pilate's order. Bear than in mind. Disperse now » orders a Roman non-commissioned officer getting his men to separate those who are about to come to blows in one of the many regional and religious quarrels, always ready to rise in Palestine in the days of Christ.
The crowd disperses. But no one departs any more. Donkeys are taken back to stables or to the place where Jesus is going, Women and children dismount and follow husbands or fathers, or they remain in chattering groups, if their husbands' or fathers' humour so orders « that they may not hear the demon speak. » But friendly or enemy or simply curious men rush towards the place where Jesus has gone. And while running they cast evil glances at one another or they take courage from such unexpected joy, or they ask questions, according to whether they are friends with enemies, or friends with friends or with curious people.
Jesus has stopped in a square near the inevitable fountain in the shade of trees. He is there, leaning against the damp wall of the fountain that here is covered by a small porch open only on one side. Perhaps it is more a well than a fountain. It is like the well at En Rogel.
He is speaking to a woman who is showing Him the little child she is holding in her arms. I see Jesus nod assent and lay His hand on the child's head. And immediately afterwards I see the mother raise the child and shout: « Malachi, Malachi, where are you? Our boy is no longer deformed » and the woman trills her hosanna which is joined by the shouts of the crowd, while a man makes his way to prostrate himself before the Lord.
The people make their comments. The women, mostly mothers, congratulate the woman who received the grace. Those who are farther away stretch their necks and ask: « What happened? » after shouting « hosannas », to join those who are aware of what took place.
« A hunchbacked boy, so hump-backed that he could stand on his legs only with difficulty. He was that size, I tell you, just that, so bent he was. He looked like a boy three years old, but he was seven. Look at him now! He is as tall as everybody, as straight as a palm-tree and lively. See him over there how he climbs on the little wall of the fountain to be seen and to see. And how happily he laughs! »
A Galilean turns towards a man, who, judging by the large tassels on his belt I think I am right in saying is a rabbi, and asks him: « Ehi? What do you say? Is that work of the demon, too? Really, if the demon does that, removing misfortunes to make men happy and have God praised, shall we not have to say that he is God's best servant! »
« Blasphemer, be silent! »
« I am not blaspheming, rabbi. I am commenting on what I see. Why does your holiness bring us nothing but burdens, misfortunes, making us speak abuse, and mistrust the Most High, whereas the works of the Rabbi of Nazareth give us peace and the certainty that God is good? »
The rabbi does not reply, he moves aside and goes to speak in a low voice to other friends of his. And one of them leaves the group, elbows his way going in front of Jesus, Whom he asks, without greeting Him first: « What do You intend doing? »
« I intend to speak to those who ask for My word » replies Jesus staring at his eyes, without disdain, but also without fear.
« You are not allowed. The Sanhedrin forbids You. »
« That is the will of the Most High, Whose servant the Sanhedrin ought to be. »
« You have been condemned, You know. Be silent or... »
« The Word is My name. And the Word speaks. »
« To the Samaritans. If it were true that You are Who You say You are, You would not give Your word to the Samaritans. »
« I have given it and will give it to Galileans, to Judaeans, to Samaritans, because there is no difference in the eyes of Jesus. »
« Try to give it in Judaea, if You dare!… »
« I solemnly tell you that I will. Wait for Me. Are you not Eleazar ben Parta? Are you? Then you will certainly see Gamaliel before I see him. Tell him, in My name, that I will give him also, after twenty one years, the reply for which he is waiting. Have you understood? Remember this carefully: after twenty one years I will give him also the reply that he awaits. Goodbye. »
« Where? Where do You want to speak, where do You want to reply to the great Gamaliel? He has certainly already left Gamala in Judaea to go to Jerusalem. But even if he were still in Gamala You could not speak to him. »
« Where? And where do the scribes and rabbis of Israel meet? »
« In the Temple? You, in the Temple? And would You dare? But do You not know... »
« That you hate Me? I do know. It is sufficient for Me not to be hated by My Father. Before long the Temple will tremble because of My words. » And without minding His interlocutor any longer He opens His arms to impose silence on the people who are excited and divided into opposite tendencies and are shouting at disturbers.
There is soon silence and in the silence Jesus speaks:
« At Shiloh I spoke of ill advisers and of how much good or evil a piece of advice can do. I now propose this parable not only to you, people of Lebonah, but to the people of all Palestine. We shall call it: “The parable of the ill-advised”.
Listen. Once there was a very large family, so large as to form a tribe. Numerous sons had got married forming, around the first family, many more families rich in offspring, who in their turn got married and had formed more families. So that the old father had found himself, so to say, at the head of a small kingdom, of which he was the king. As it always happens in families, among the many children and children's children, there were different characters: some were good and just, some were overbearing and unjust. Some were content with their situation and some were envious, as they thought that their shares were inferior to those of brothers or relatives. And near the most wicked one there was the best one. And it was natural that this very good one should be the most tenderly loved by the father of all the large family. And, as it always happens, the wicked one and those more like him, hated the good one because he was the most loved, not considering that they could have been loved as well, if they had been as good as he was. And the good son, to whom his father confided his thoughts that he might repeat them to everybody, was followed by other good ones. So that after years and years, the large family was divided into three parts. The part of the good members of the family and that of the bad ones. And between the two there was the third part, formed by the uncertain members, who were attracted towards the good son, but were afraid of the wicked one and of those of his party. This third part was keeping in with both sides and was not able to make up its mind resolutely in favour of one or the other.
Then the old father, seeing such uncertainty, said to his beloved son: “So far you have spent your word particularly for those who love it and for those who do not love it, because the former ask you for it, so that they may love me more and more according to justice, and the latter are fools who need to be taken back to justice. But you can see that those fools not only do not accept your word, and they remain what they were, but to their first unjust attitude towards you, the messenger of my wishes, they add the unfairness of corrupting, by means of evil advice, those who are not yet firmly willing to follow the better road. So go to them and explain to them what I am, what you are, and what they must do to be with you and with me.”
The son, who was always obedient, went as his father wished, and he conquered some hearts every day. So the father was able to clearly see who were his rebellious children, and he looked at them severely but without reproaching them, because he was their father and he wanted to attract them to himself with patience, love and the example of the good sons.
But when the wicked ones realised that they were all alone they said: “It is now too obvious that we are the rebels. Previously they mistook us for those who were neither good nor bad. Look at them now over there! They are all following the beloved son. We must take action and destroy his work. Let us go, feigning that we want to mend our ways, to those who have just been converted and also to those who are the most simple souls among the best ones and let us spread the rumour that the beloved son pretends that he wants to serve his father, but in actual fact he is gathering supporters to rebel against him; or we can also say that the father wants to eliminate his son and those who follow him, because they are becoming too powerful and are outshining the glory of the father-king, and that consequently, in order to defend the beloved betrayed son, it is necessary to keep him among us, far from the paternal house where betrayal is awaiting him.”
And they went and were so shrewdly subtle in suggesting advice and spreading rumours, that many were caught in the snare, particularly the recent converts, to whom the evil advisers gave the following bad piece of advice: “Do you realise how much he loved you? He preferred to be among you rather than stay with his father, or at least with his good brothers. He has been so clever that in the sight of all the world he has raised you from your abjection of persons who did not know what they wanted and were thus ridiculed by everybody. Because of his partiality for you, it is your duty to defend him, and to keep him in your fields, even by force, if your words are not sufficient to convince him. Or rise, proclaiming him your leader and king, and march against the iniquitous father and his sons who are as iniquitous as he.” And when anyone hesitated and remarked: “But he wants, he wanted us to go with him to honour our father and he has obtained blessing and forgiveness for us”, they replied to them: “Don't believe that! Not everything he told you is true, neither did the father show you all the truth. He has behaved like that because he realises that his father is about to betray him and he wanted to test your hearts to find out where he can find protection and shelter. But may be... he is so good! perhaps he will repent of doubting his father and may want to go back to him. Do not allow him to do that.” And many promised: “We will not allow him” and they were filled with enthusiasm planning what to do to detain the beloved son, without noticing that while the evil advisers were saying: “We will help you to save the blessed man”, their eyes were shining with falsehood and cruelty, and that they were winking at one another rubbing their hands and whispering: “They are being caught in the snare! We shall win!” every time somebody gave assent to their sly words.
Then the evil advisers went away. They went away spreading the rumour in other places that the betrayal of the beloved son would soon become known, as he had left the land of his father to establish a kingdom against his father, with the help of those who hated the father or whose love was at least uncertain. In the meantime those influenced by the evil advice were conspiring to induce the beloved son to rebel against his father, a sin that would scandalise the world. Only the wisest among them, those into whom the word of the just son had penetrated more deeply and had taken root because it had fallen on soil anxious to receive it, after pondering said: “No. It is not right to do so. It is a wicked action against the father, against the son and us. We are aware of the justice and wisdom of both of them. We are aware of it although unfortunately we have not always followed it. And we must not think that the advice of those who have always been openly against the father and justice, and also against the beloved son of the father, may be more just than the advice given to us by the blessed son.” And they did not follow them. On the contrary, with love and sorrow, they let the son go where he had to go, and they only accompanied him with gestures of affection as far as the boundaries of their fields, and on taking leave of him they said to him as a promise: “Go. We shall stay. But your words are in our hearts and from now on we will do what the father wants. Go and do not worry. You have raised us for good from the state in which you found us. Now that we are on the good path we will advance on it until we arrive at the house of our father so that we may be blessed by him.” On the contrary some gave assent to the bad advice and they sinned tempting the beloved son to commit sin and gibing at him as being foolish because he was obstinate in fulfilling his duty.
I now ask you: “Why did the same piece of advice have different effects?” Are you not replying? I will tell you as I told those of Shiloh. Because advice achieves value or becomes void according to whether it is taken or not. Man is tempted in vain by evil advice. If he does not want to sin, he will not sin. And he will not be punished for having to hear the insinuations of wicked people. He will not be punished because God is just and He does not punish anyone for sins not committed. He will only be punished if, after having to hear the Evil tempting him, he puts it into practice, without using his intellect to meditate on the nature and source of the advice. Neither can he say as an excuse: “I thought it was a good piece of advice.” What is pleasant to God is good. Can God approve of and be delighted with disobedience or with what induces to disobedience? Can God bless what is in contrast with His Law, that is, with His Word? I solemnly tell you that He cannot. And I also solemnly tell you that one must prefer to die rather than infringe the divine Law.
At Shechem I will speak to you again to make you wise in wanting or not wanting to take the advice given to you. You may go now. »
The people go away making their comments.
« Did you hear that? He knows what they told us! And He exhorted us to want what is just » says a Samaritan.
« Yes. And did you notice how upset were the Judaeans and the scribes who were present? »
« Yes. They did not even wait until the end to go away. »
« Poisonous vipers! But... He says what He wants to do. He is wrong. He may cause Himself trouble. Those from Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim are really elated!... »
« I... I have never flattered myself. The Rabbi is the Rabbi. And that means everything. Is it possible for the Rabbi to sin by not going up to the Temple in Jerusalem? »
« He will be put to death. You will see!... And that will be the end!... »
« For whom? For Him? For us? Or... for the Judaeans? »
« For Him. If He dies! »
« You are foolish, man. I come from Ephraim. I know Him well. I have lived near Him for two full months, even longer. He always spoke to us. It will be sorrowful... But not the end. Neither for Him, nor for us. The Saint of all the saints cannot die, cannot end. Neither can that be the end for us. I... am ignorant, but I feel that the Kingdom will come when the Judaeans think it is all over... And it will be all over for them... »
« Do you think that the disciples will avenge the Master? A rebellion? A massacre? And the Romans?... »
« Oh! There is no need of disciples, of revenge of men, of massacres. It will be the Most High Who will defeat them. He has punished us, for ages, and for much less! Do you think that He will not punish them for their sin of tormenting His Christ? »
« To see them beaten! Ah! »
« Your heart is not as the Master would like it. He prays for His enemies... »
« I... am going to follow Him tomorrow. I want to hear what He will say at Shechem. »
« I also. »
« And I, too... »
Many people of Lebonah are of the same mind and fraternising with those from Ephraim and Shiloh they go to make preparations for their departure on the following morning.