11th March 1947.
The white walls of the houses of Jericho and its palm-trees are already standing out against the ceramic or enamel deep blue of the sky, when, near a thicket of ruffled tamarisks, of sensitive mimosas, of hawthorn with very long thorns, of other plants mostly thorny, which seem to have been thrown there from the rough mountain behind Jericho, Jesus meets with a large group of disciples led by Manaen. They seem to be waiting. They are, in fact, and they say so after greeting the Master, stating that some more have gone along other routes to get information, as the delay of a whole night in arriving at Jericho had worried them.
« I came here with these. And I will not leave You any more until I see You safe with Lazarus » says Manaen.
« Why? Is there any danger?... » asks Judas Thaddeus.
« You are in Judaea... You are aware of the decree. And of their hatred. So we must fear everything » replies Manaen and turning towards Jesus he says: « I brought the strongest men with me because, if they had not caught You, we presumed that You would come this way. And taking into account our worth as disciples and men, we confide in impressing the wicked and having You respected. »
In fact there are with him the ex-disciples of Gamaliel, John the priest, Nicolaus of Antioch, John of Ephesus, and other strong men in the prime of life, more gentlemanly looking than common people, whom I do not know. Manaen introduces some of them quickly, while he does not introduce others. They are men from all the regions in Palestine, and among them there are two from the court of Herod Philip. Thus the names of the most ancient families in Israel resound on the road near the ruffled thicket, where the leaves of mimosas quiver in the wind and the hawthorns bend their new shoots.
« Let us go. Is there no one with the women, at Nike's? » asks Jesus.
« The shepherds. All of them, except Jonathan who is waiting for Johanna in the mansion in Jerusalem. But Your disciples have grown exceedingly. They were about five hundred waiting for You yesterday at Jericho. So much so that Herod's servants became upset and informed him. And he did not know whether he should tremble or be pitiless. But he is haunted by the memory of John and he dare no longer lift his hand against any prophet... »
« Good! That will do You no harm! » exclaims Peter and he rubs his hands gladly.
« But he is the one who is worth less. He is an idol that anyone can move as one likes, and those who have him in their hands know how to move him. »
« And who has him in his hands? Pilate perhaps? » asks Bartholomew.
« Pilate does not need Herod to take action. Herod is a servant. The mighty ones do not apply to servants » replies Manaen.
« Who, then? » asks Bartholomew.
« The Temple » replies resolutely one who is with Manaen.
« But Herod is anathema to the Temple. His sin... »
« Notwithstanding your learning and your age, you are very naive, Bartholomew! So do you not know that the Temple can overcome many, too many things to attain its objects? That is why it does not deserve to exist any longer » says Manaen with a gesture of utter contempt.
« You are an Israelite. You must not speak thus. The Temple is always the Temple for us » says Bartholomew in an admonishing tone.
« No. It is the corpse of what it was. And a corpse turns into an unclean carrion when it has been dead for a long time. That is why God sent the living Temple. That we may prostrate ourselves before the Lord without performing an unclean pantomime. »
« Be quiet! » whispers to Manaen another man who is with him, as he speaks too clearly. He is one of those who were not introduced and he is completely enveloped in his mantle.
« Why should I be silent, if my heart speaks thus? Do you think that my words may harm the Master? If so, I will be quiet. But for no other reason. Even if they should condemn me I will say: “That is what I think and punish no one but me.” »
« Manaen is right. Enough of being silent for fear. It is time for every man to declare his opinion for or against the Master and to reveal what he has in his heart. I am of your opinion, brother in Jesus. And if that should bring about our death, we shall die together still professing the truth » says Stephen with transport.
« Be wise! Be very wise! » says Bartholomew admonishing them. « The Temple is always the Temple. It may make mistakes, it is certainly not perfect, but it is... it is... But after God there is no greater person, no greater power than the High Priest and the Sanhedrin... They represent God; and we must see what they represent, not what they are. Am I wrong, Master? »
« You are not wrong. In every establishment one must see its origin, in this case the Eternal Father, Who constituted the Temple and the hierarchies, the rites and the authority of the men appointed to represent it. We must refer judgement to the Father. He knows when and how to intervene, and what action to take so that corruption, by spreading, may not contaminate all men and make them doubt God... And Manaen is right with regard to that, as he has seen the reason for My coming at the present hour. It is also necessary for you, Bartholomew, to moderate your ultra-conservatism by means of the innovating spirit of Manaen, so that the measure may be just and feelings perfect. Every excess is always harmful: to him who accomplices it, to him who suffers it, or to him who notices it being scandalised and, if he is not an honest soul, making use of it to inform against his brothers. But that is an action of Cain, and will not be accomplished by the children of the Light, as it is the work of Darkness. »
The man who is all so covered, that only his dark very lively eyes can be seen and who warned Manaen not to speak too much, kneels down and takes Jesus' hand saying: « You are good, Master. I have become acquainted with You too late, o Word of God! But still in time to love You as You deserve, if not to serve You as long as I would have liked, as I would like now. »
« It is never too late for the hour of God. It comes at the right moment. And it grants as much time to serve the Truth as one's will desires. »
« But who is he? » whisper the apostles to one another, and they ask the disciples, but in vain. No one knows who he is or, if they do, they do not wish to tell.
« Who is he, Master? » asks Peter when he succeeds in approaching Jesus Who is walking in the middle of the group, with the women behind Him, the disciples ahead of Him, His cousins beside Him and the apostles around Him.
« A soul, Simon. Nothing more than that. »
« But... can You trust him, if You do not know who he is? »
« I know who he is. And I know his heart. »
« Ah! I see! Just like the Veiled woman at the Clear Water... I will not ask further questions... » and Peter is happy because Jesus, moving away from James, draws him close to Himself.
They are now at Jericho. A crowd of people singing hosannas rush out of the gate and Jesus can proceed with difficulty to cross the town going to Nike's house, which is out of Jericho on the other side. People implore Him to speak. Children are lifted up as if to form a living impassable barrier, relying on Jesus' love for little ones. People shout: « You can speak. He has already fled to Jerusalem. » and with those words gestures are made towards Herod's beautiful palace, which is now closed.
Manaen confirms: « It is true. He went away during the night, noiselessly. He is afraid. »
But nothing stops Jesus. He proceeds saying: « Peace! Peace! Let those who are suffering or grieved come to Nike's house. Let those who wish to hear Me come to Jerusalem. I am the Pilgrim here. Just like all of you. I will speak in the house of the Father. Peace! Peace and blessings! Peace! »
It is already a little triumph, a prelude to the entrance into Jerusalem, now so close at hand.
I am astonished at Zacchaeus' absence until I see him standing at the entrance of Nike's property among his friends with the shepherds and the women disciples. They all run towards Jesus and prostrate themselves, then they escort Him while He, blessing them, proceeds through the orchard towards the hospitable house.