4th March 1947.
Enon, a handful of houses, is farther to the north. The place where the Baptist stayed is here: a grotto among the luxuriant vegetation. Not far away some spring-waters gurgle forming a stream rich in waters that flow towards the Jordan. Jesus is sitting outside the grotto, where He was when He said goodbye to His cousin. He is alone. Dawn is tinging the east with a rosy hue and the woods are reawakening again with the twittering of birds. Bleatings are heard coming from the folds in Enon. A bray rends the quiet air.
Then the trampling of feet is heard on the path and a herd of goats passes by led by an adolescent who stops for a moment, doubtfully, to look at Jesus. He then goes away. But shortly afterwards he comes back because a kid has stopped there, to look at the Man Whom she was not used to seeing there and Who stretches out His long hand to offer her a stalk of marjoram and caresses her intelligent head. The young shepherd remains disconcerted. He is undecided whether he should take the animal away or let Jesus caress her smiling, as if He were pleased that she came fearlessly to squat at His feet, resting her head on His knees. The other goats also come back grazing the grass spread with little flowers.
The young shepherd asks: « Do You want some milk? I have not yet milked two reluctant goats which butt whoever presses their udders if they are not satiated. Just like their owner who beats us if he is not sated with profit. »
« Are you a servant shepherd? »
« I am an orphan. I am alone. And I am a servant. He is a relative of mine because he is the husband of my grandmother's sister. And while Rachel was alive... But she died many months ago... And I am very unhappy... Take me with You! I am accustomed to living on nothing... I will serve You... a little bread is sufficient pay for me. Even here I do not get anything... If he paid me, I would go away. But he says: “Is this your money? But I am keeping it because I clothe and feed you.” He clothes me!... See? He feeds me!... Look at me... And these are blows... This is the bread I got yesterday... » And he shows bruises on his very thin arms and shoulders.
« What had you done? »
« Nothing. Your companions, I mean the disciples, were speaking of the Kingdom of Heaven, and I was listening to them... It was the Sabbath. Even if I was not working, I was not idle because it was the Sabbath... He gave me a good thrashing, so much so... that I do not want to stay with him any longer. Take me. Or I will run away... I came here on purpose this morning. I was afraid to speak. But You are good and I am speaking. »
« And what about the herd? You are certainly not going to run away with it... »
« ...I will take it back to the fold... Before long that man will be going to the forest to cut wood... I will take the herd back and then I will run away. Oh! take me! »
« But do you know who I am? »
« You are the Christ! The King of the Kingdom of Heaven. He who follows You will be blessed in the other life. I have never had any joy here... but, do not reject me... that I may have it there... » he says weeping at Jesus' feet near the kid.
« How come you know Me so well? Have you ever heard Me speak? »
« No. As from yesterday I know that You are here, where the Baptist was. But Your disciples used to pass here now and again coming from Enon. I heard them. Their names are Matthias, John, Simeon, and they were often here because the Baptist was their master before You. And then Isaac... In Isaac I found my father and mother. Isaac wanted to take me away from my master and he gave him some money. But he!... He took the money, but did not let me go and he sneered at Your disciple. »
« You know many things. But do you know where I am going? »
« To Jerusalem. But it is not written on my face that I come from Enon. »
« I am going farther away. I shall soon be going. I cannot take you with Me. »
« Take me for the little time You can. »
« And then? »
« And then... I shall weep, but I will go with John's disciples who were the first to tell a poor boy that the joy that men do not give on the Earth, God gives it in Heaven to those who had good will. I, in order to have it, have received so many blows and suffered so much hunger asking God to give me that peace. You can see that I have had good will... But if You reject me now... I shall not be able to hope any longer... » He weeps silently imploring Jesus more with the tears of his eyes than with his lips.
« I have no money for your ransom. Neither do I know whether your master would agree to it. »
« But my ransom has already been paid. I have witnesses. Eli, Levi and Jonah saw and reproached the man. And they are the most important people in Enon, You know? »
« If that is the case... Let us go. Stand up and come with Me. »
« Where? »
« To your master. »
« I am afraid! You go, by Yourself. He is up there, on that mountain among the trees that he is cutting. I shall wait here. »
« Be not afraid. Look, My disciples are coming here. We shall be so many against him. He will do you no harm. Stand up. We shall go to Enon to look for the three witnesses and then we shall go to your master. Give Me your hand. Afterwards I will hand you over to the disciples you know. What is your name? »
« Benjamin. »
« I have two more little friends with that name. You will be the third one. »
« Friend? Too much! I am a servant. »
« Of the Most High Lord. Of Jesus of Nazareth, you are a friend. Come. Gather the herd and let us go. »
Jesus stands up and, while the young shepherd gathers and urges the reluctant goats on the way back, Jesus beckons to the apostles, who are coming forward on the path looking towards Him, to come at once. They quicken their paces. But the herd by now is on its way, and Jesus holding the young shepherd by the hand goes towards them...
« Lord! Have You become the shepherd of kids? Samaria can really be called the goat... But You... »
« But I am the Good Shepherd and I change also kids into lambs. And boys are all lambs, and this fellow is little more than a boy. »
« Is he not by any chance the boy that that man took away yesterday in such a coarse manner? » asks Matthew looking at him.
« I think that it's him. Are you? »
« Yes, I am. »
« Oh! poor boy! Your father is certainly not fond of you! » says Peter.
« My master. I have no other father but God. »
« Yes. John's disciples taught him some doctrine and consoled his heart, and at the right moment the Father of all men made us meet. We are going to Enon to take three witnesses with us, then we are going to his master... » says Jesus.
« To ransom the boy? And where is the money? Mary has handed out the last she had... » remarks Peter.
« There is no need of money. He is not a slave and money has already been given to take him away from his master. Isaac gave it as he felt sorry for the boy. »
« And why did he not get him? »
« Because many are the mockers of God and of their neighbour. There is My Mother with the women. Go and tell them not to come any farther. »
James of Zebedee and Andrew run away as fast as gazelles. Jesus hastens towards His Mother and the women disciples, and He reaches them when they have already been informed and are watching the youth pitifully.
They go back quickly towards Enon and enter the village. Led by the boy they go to the house of Eli, who is an old man with eyes dimmed by age but still strong. When young he must have been as robust as an oak-tree of this place.
« Eli, the Rabbi of Nazareth will take me if... »
« Will take you? There is nothing better He could do. You would end up by becoming wicked if you stayed here. A heart hardens when injustice is too hard. And it is too hard. Did you find Him? So the Most High has seen your tears, even if they are of a Samaritan boy. You are happy then, as, because of your age, you are free from all chains and you can follow the Truth, without anything preventing you from doing so, not even the will of a father or a mother. So what for many years seemed to be a punishment now appears to be providential. God is good. But what do you want of me now that you have come here? My blessing? I give it to you as the Elder of the place. »
« I want your blessing, because you are good. Then I came also because you with Levi and Jonah should go, with the Rabbi, to my master, so that he may not ask for more money. »
« But where is the Rabbi? I am old and I can hardly see, and I can recognise only those I know very well. But I do not know the Rabbi. »
« He is here. In front of you. »
« Here? Eternal power! » The old man stands up and bows to Jesus saying: « Forgive the old man whose sight is darkened. I greet You because only One is just in Israel. And You are that One. Let us go. Levi is in his kitchen garden working at a tub, and Jonah is attending to his cheese. » The old man stands up once again – he is as tall as Jesus although bent with age – and he sets out, walking along the wall, avoiding the obstacles on the road with the help of his stick.
Jesus, Who has greeted him with His peace, helps him when three coarse steps make it dangerous for a half blind man to proceed. Before setting off Jesus had told the women disciples to wait for Him at that place. Benjamin in the meantime goes to his fold.
The old man says: « You are good. But Alexander is a beast. He is a wolf. I do not know whether... But I am rich enough to give You money for Benjamin, should Alexander want more. My sons do not need my money. I am almost one hundred years old and money does not serve for the other life. A kind action of humanity, yes, is of value... »
« Why did you not do it before? »
« Do not reproach me, Rabbi. I satisfied the boy's hunger and I consoled him, so that he might not become an evil-doer. Alexander is such that he could make a little dove become wild. But I could not take the boy from him, and nobody else could do it, You... You will be going far away. But we... we remain here and we are afraid of his revenge. One day a man of Enon intervened, because being drunk he was beating the boy to death, and I do not know how he did it, he succeeded in poisoning the man's flock. »
« Is that not just an evil suspicion? »
« No. He waited for months, until winter, when the sheep are in the fold, and he poisoned the water in the vat. They drank it. They swelled. They died. All of them. We are all shepherds here, and we understood... To be certain, they made a dog eat some of that meat and the dog died. And there is someone who saw Alexander steal into the fold... Oh! he is an evil-doer! We are afraid of him... He is cruel, always drunk in the evening. He was merciless towards all his relatives. Now that they are all dead, he tortures the boy. »
« Then do not come, if... »
« Oh! no. I am coming. The truth is to be told. Here we are. I can hear the hammer. That's Levi. » And he calls in a loud voice near a hedge: « Levi! Levi! »
An old man comes out, but not so old as Eli, with his tunic tucked up, with a mallet in his hand. He greets Eli and asks him: « What do you want, my friend? »
« The Rabbi of Galilee is beside me. He has come to take Benjamin. Come, because Alexander is in the wood, to witness that he has already had the money for the boy from that disciple. »
« I am coming. They always told me that the Rabbi was good. Now I believe it. Peace to You! » He puts the mallet down, he shouts to I do not whom to wait for him, and he goes away with Eli and Jesus.
They soon arrive at Jonah's fold. They call him and explain...
« I am coming. You » he says to an apprentice « carry on with the work. » He dries his hands with a piece of cloth that he then throws on a peg, and follows Jesus, after greeting Him, with Levi and Eli.
In the meantime Jesus speaks to the old man and says to him: « You are a just man. God will give you peace. »
« I hope so. Just is the Lord! It is not my fault if I was born in Samaria... »
« It is not your fault. In the other life there are no boundaries for the just. Sin only lays a barrier between Heaven and the Abyss. »
« That is true. How I would love to see You. Your voice is gentle, and soft is Your hand in leading an old blind man. Soft and strong. It feels like that of my beloved son: Eli, like me, the son of my son Joseph. If Your aspect is like Your hand, blessed are those who can see You. »
« It is better to hear Me than see Me. It makes the spirit holier. »
« That is true. I listen to those who speak of You. But they pass through only seldom... But is that not the noise of an axe striking trunks? »
« Yes, it is. »
« Then... Alexander is close at hand... Call him. »
« Yes. You stay here. If I can manage by Myself, I will not call you. Do not show yourselves, unless I call you. » He goes on and calls in a loud voice.
« Who wants me? Who are you? » says a very strong elderly man, with a very hard profile and the thorax and limbs of a wrestler. A blow from those hands must be like a stroke of a club: brutal.
« It is I. An unknown Person Who knows you. I have come to take what is Mine. »
« Yours? Ha! Ha! What is Yours in this wood of mine? »
« Nothing in the wood. In your house Benjamin is Mine. »
« Your are mad! Benjamin is my servant. »
« And your relative. And you are his galley-sergeant. And one of My messengers gave you the money you asked for, to have the boy. And you took the money and refused to give the boy. My messenger, a peaceful man, did not react. But I have come in the name of justice. »
« Your messenger must have drunk the money. I did not get any. And I am keeping Benjamin. I am fond of him. »
« No. You hate him. You are fond of the pay that you do not give him. Do not lie. God punishes liars. »
« I did not receive any money. If You have spoken to my servant, You had better know that he is an astute liar. And I will give him a good thrashing for slandering me. Goodbye! » and he turns his back on Jesus and is about to go away.
« Be careful, Alexander, because God is present. Do not defy His goodness. »
« God! Has God to defend my interests? I only have to defend them and I do so. »
« Mind you! »
« But Who are You, You miserable Galilean? How dare You reproach me? I don't know You. »
« You do know Me. I am the Rabbi of Galilee and... »
« Ah! yes! And You think You can frighten me? I fear neither God nor Beelzebub. And You expect me to be afraid of You? Of a madman? Go, away You go! Let me work. Go, I say. Don't look at me. Do You think that Your eyes can frighten me? What is it that You want to see? »
« Not your crimes, because I know them all. All of them. Also those that no one knows. But I want to see whether you do not even understand that this is the last hour of mercy that God grants you to repent. I want to see whether remorse does not rise to split your stone heart, whether... »
The man, who has an axe in his hands, hurls it towards Jesus, Who bends quickly. The axe flies over His head and strikes a young holm-oak that is cut clean and falls with a loud rustling noise of branches and whirr of frightened birds.
The three men, who were hiding not far away, jump out shouting, fearing that Jesus might have been hit, and the one who cannot see cries: « Oh! to see! If I could only see whether He has been wounded! O Eternal God, my eyesight just for that! » And turning a deaf ear to the assurances of the others he moves forward groping, because he has lost his stick and he wants to touch Jesus to feel whether any part of His body is bleeding, and he moans: « A beam of bright light, and then darkness. But to see, to see without this veil that hardly allows me to guess where obstacles are... »
« I am all right, father, touch Me » says Jesus touching him and having Himself touched. In the meantime the other two utter harsh words against the violent man and they throw sins and lies in his face, while he, deprived of his axe, pulls out a knife and hurls himself at them to strike them, cursing God, scoffing at the blind man, threatening the others, just like a raging wild beast. But he staggers, he stops, he drops the knife, he rubs his eyes, opens them, closes them, then utters a frightful cry: « I can't see any more! Help! My eyes... Darkness... Who will save me? »
Also the others shout, out of amazement. And they deride him saying: « God has listened to you. » In fact among other curses he also said: « May God blind me if I am lying and if I have sinned. And may I blind myself rather than worship a mad Nazarene! And with regard to you I will revenge myself and I will break Benjamin in two like that tree... » And they laugh at him saying also: « You can now revenge yourself... »
« Do not be like him. Do not hate » advises Jesus and He caresses the very old man who is worried only about the safety of Jesus, Who to reassure him says: « Raise your face! Look! »
And the miracle is accomplished. As over there, for the brutal man, darkness; so here, for the just man, light. And a different cry, a blissful one rises under the robust trees: « I can see! My eyes! The light! May You be blessed! » And the old man stares at Jesus with his eyes bright with a new life and he then prostrates himself to kiss His feet.
« We two will go together. You will take that wretched man back to Enon. And be merciful because God has already punished him. And God is enough. Let man be kind with every misfortune. »
« Take the boy, the sheep, the wood, the house, the money. But give me back my eyesight. I cannot remain like this. »
« I cannot. I leave you every thing through which you became a sinner. I am taking the innocent boy because he has already suffered his martyrdom. In the darkness may your soul open to the Light. »
Jesus says goodbye to Levi and Jonah and goes down quickly with the old man who seems rejuvenated and who shouts his joy as soon as he arrives at the first houses... The whole of Enon is stirred up.
Jesus makes his way through the crowd, He goes to the young shepherd who is with the apostles and says: « Come! Let us go, because they are waiting for us at Tirzah. »
« Free? Free? With You? Oh! I could not believe it! I will say goodbye to Eli. And the others? » The boy is excited...
Eli kisses and blesses him and says to him: « And forgive the poor wretch. »
« Why? I will forgive him, yes. But why poor wretch? »
« Because he cursed the Lord and light died out in his eyes. None of us will have to fear him any more. He is blind and ill. How dreadful the power of God!... » The old man seems an inspired prophet, with his arms raised, looking at the sky, meditating on what he has seen.
Jesus says goodbye to him and elbows His way through the excited little crowd; He goes away followed by the apostles and women disciples; and Benjamin goes away greeted by the women who want to give tokens to the favourite of the Lord: a fruit, a bag, some bread, a garment, what they can find there and then. And happy as he is, he greets them, thanks them and says: « You are always good to me! I will remember you. I will pray for you. Send your children to the Lord. It is lovely to be with Him. He is the Life. Goodbye! Goodbye!... »
Enon is left behind. They go down towards the Jordan, towards the plain in the Jordan valley, towards new events still unknown...
But the youth does not turn round to look back. He makes no comment. He does not think. He does not sigh. He smiles. He looks at Jesus, there, ahead of them all, the true Shepherd followed by His flock, of which he also, the poor boy, is part... and all of a sudden he begins to sing, in a loud voice...
The apostles smile saying: « The boy is happy. »
The women smile saying: « The imprisoned bird has found freedom and a nest once again. »
Jesus smiles, turning round to look at him, and His smile, as usual, seems to brighten everything and He calls the boy saying: « Come here, little lamb of God. I want to teach you a beautiful song. » And He intones, followed by the others, the psalm: « The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall lack nothing. He placed me where there are abundant pastures » and so forth. Jesus' beautiful voice spreads through the fertile country, it excels all the others, even the best ones, so powerful it is in His joy.
« Your Son is happy, Mary » says Mary of Alphaeus.
« Yes, He is happy. He still has something joyful... »
« No journey is without its fruit. He passes spreading graces and there is always someone who really meets the Saviour. Do you remember that evening at Bethlehem of Galilee? » asks Mary of Magdala.
« Yes, but I would not like to remember those lepers and this blind man... »
« You would always forgive. You are so good! But justice also is necessary » remarks Mary Salome.
« It is necessary. But luckily for us mercy is greater » says Mary Magdalene once again.
« You can say that. But Mary... » replies Johanna.
« Mary wants nothing but forgiveness, even if She is in no need of forgiveness. Is that right, Mary? » asks Susanna.
« I should like nothing but forgiveness. Yes. Only that. To be bad must be a dreadful suffering by itself... » She sighs in saying so.
« Would You forgive everybody, really everybody? But would it be fair to do so? There are people who are obstinate in wickedness and spoil all forgiveness by deriding it as weakness » says Martha.
« I should forgive. As far as I am concerned I should forgive. Not out of stupidity. But because I see every soul as a more or less good baby. As a son... A mother always forgives... even if she says: “Justice exacts a just punishment.” Oh! if a mother could die to generate a new good heart for her wicked son, do you think that she would not do that? But it is not possible. There are hearts that reject all help... And I think that pity has to forgive them as well. Because the burden on their hearts is already a very heavy one: their sins, God's severity... Oh! let us forgive guilty people... And would to God that our absolute forgiveness could be accepted to diminish their debit... »
« But why do You always weep, Mary? Even now that Your Son had an hour of joy! » says Mary of Alphaeus moaning.
« His joy was not complete because the culprit did not repent. Jesus is completely happy when He can redeem... »
I wonder why Nike, who has never spoken, suddenly says: « We shall be with Judas of Kerioth once again before long. »
The women look at one another as if the simple sentence meant something exceptional, as if the words concealed I do not know what important matter. But no one replies.
Jesus has stopped in a beautiful olive-grove. They all stop. Jesus blesses the food, divides it and hands it out.
Benjamin looks and puts in order what they gave him: garments too long or too wide, sandals not fitting his feet, almonds still in the husks, the last walnuts, some cheese, an odd wrinkled apple, a little knife, He is happy with his treasures. He wants to offer the victuals. He folds the garments saying: « I will put on the most beautiful one at Passover. »
Mary of Alphaeus promises: « At Bethany I will sort them all for you. In the meantime leave this one out. At Tirzah there will be water to wash it and farther away there will be thread to mend it. With regard to the sandals... I do not know what to do. »
« We shall give these to the first poor person we meet and whose foot will be the right size, and we will buy a new pair at Tirzah » says Mary of Magdala calmly.
« With what money, sister? » Martha asks her.
« Ah! that is true! We have not a farthing left... But Judas has some money... Benjamin cannot go far like that. And then, poor boy! His soul has had a great joy, but also his human nature must have a smile... certain things make people happy. »
Susanna, who is young and merry, laughs saying: « You are speaking as if you knew from experience that a new pair of sandals are the joy of those who never possessed such a pair! »
« That is true. But it is because I know how pleasant is a dry garment when you are wet, and a fresh one when you have but one. I remember... » And she bends her head on the Blessed Virgin's shoulder saying: « Do You remember, Mother? » and kisses Her fondly.
Jesus gives the order to set off, to be at Tirzah before night: « Those two, who are not aware of the events, will be worrying... »
« Shall we go ahead to tell them that You are about to arrive? » asks James of Alphaeus.
« Yes. All of you, except John and James and My brother Judas. Tirzah is not far now... So you may go. Look for Judas and Eliza and prepare lodgings for us in the meantime, because it is better to stop for the night since we are so late and we have the women with us... We will follow you. Wait for us at the first houses... »
The eight apostles go away quickly, and Jesus follows them slowly.