19th April 1947.
A calm sultry night. There is not a breath of wind. The stars, large and throbbing, crowd the clear sky. The lake, so calm and still, as to look like a very large basin sheltered from winds, reflects with its surface the glory of that sky that palpitates with stars. The trees along the shores form a block with no rustling. The lake is so calm that its surge on the shore is reduced to a very light lapping. Some boats off-shore, hardly visible as roaming forms, that at times place little stars at a short distance from the waves, with their tiny lights tied to the masts of the sails, to illuminate the interiors of the small hulls.
I do not know which part of the lake it is. I should say the more southern one, where the lake is about to become a river again. At the outskirts of Tarichea, I should say, not because I can see the town, which is hidden by a group of trees, that stretch on the lake forming a little hilly promontory, but because I am led to think so by the little stars of the lights of the boats, that move away northwards, when they depart from the shores of the lake. I say outskirts, because there is a little group of poor houses gathered there at the foot of the little promontory, but they are so few that they cannot even be considered a village. They are poor houses, almost on the shore, certainly of fishermen.
Some boats are beached on the little shore; others are already prepared to sail, in the water, near the shore, and they are so still as to seem fixed to the ground, instead of floating.
Peter puts his head out of a hovel. The flickering light of a fire lit in the smoky kitchen illuminates the sturdy figure of the apostle from behind, making it show up like a drawing. He looks at the sky, he looks at the lake... He comes forward, as far as the edge of the shore. Then he is wearing a short tunic and is bare-footed he paddles in the water up to half his thigh, and stretching out his brawny arm, he caresses the gunwale of a boat. Zebedee's sons join him.
« Lovely night. »
« It will soon be moonlight. »
« Fishing night. »
« But with oars. »
« There is no wind. »
« What shall we do? »
They speak slowly, with detached sentences, like men accustomed to fishing and to the manoeuvres of sails and nets, for which attention is required and so, few words.
« We ought to go. We could sell part of the catch. »
Andrew, Thomas and Bartholomew come and join them on the shore.
« What a warm night! » exclaims Bartholomew.
« Will there be a storm? Do you remember that night? » asks Thomas.
« Oh! no! Calm, fog perhaps, but no storm. I... I am going fishing. Who is coming with me? »
« We are all coming. Perhaps it will be cooler out there » says Thomas, who is perspiring, and he adds: « The woman needed that fire, but it was like being at the hot baths... »
« I am going to tell Simon. He is all alone over there » says John.
Peter is already preparing the boat with Andrew and James. « Shall we go as far as our house? A surprise for my mother... » asks James.
« No. I do not know whether I can get Marjiam to come. Before... before... Well, yes! Before going to Jerusalem we were still at Ephraim the Lord told me that He wanted to celebrate the second Passover with Marjiam. But later He has not said anything to me.
« I think He said that He would » says Andrew.
« Yes. The second Passover, yes. But I do not know whether He wants the boy to come here first. I have made so many mistakes that... Oh! are you coming, too? »
« Yes, Simon of Jonah. This fishing will remind me of many things... »
« Eh! it will remind everybody of many things... Things that will never come back again... We used to go out on the lake with the Master in this boat... And I loved it as if it were a royal palace, and I thought I could not live without it. But now that He is no longer here, well, I am in the boat and I do not enjoy it » says Peter.
« No one has the joy of past things. It no longer is the same life. And also in looking back... between the hours of the past and the present ones there is always that dreadful period of time... » says Bartholomew with a sigh.
« We are ready. Come. You at the rudder and we at the oars. We are going towards the bend of Hippos. It is a good spot. Pull-ho! Pull-ho! »
Peter sets the rate and the boat slides on the calm water, with Bartholomew at the rudder. Thomas and the Zealot act as servants ready to cast the net, which they have already spread out. The moon rises, that is, she is over the mountains of Gadara (if I am not mistaken) or Gamala, that is, the ones on the eastern shore towards the south of the lake, and the lake is illuminated by her rays that trace a road of diamonds on the still water.
« She will be with us until morning. »
« If there is no mist. »
« The fish leave the bottom attracted by the moon. »
« If we have a good catch, it will be a blessing, because we have no more money. We will buy bread and will take fish and bread to those who are up the mountain. » Words uttered slowly, with long pauses between one voice and the next one.
« You row very well, Simon. You have not lost the stroke!... » says the Zealot admiring him.
« Yes... Damn! »
« What is the matter with you? » the others ask him.
« The... The matter is that the recollection of that man haunts me everywhere. I remember that day when in two boats we competed to see who was the best oarsman, and he... »
« I instead was thinking that one of the first times that I had the vision of his abyss of wickedness, was when we met, or rather, we came into collision with the boats of the Romans. Do you remember? » says the Zealot.
« Eh! we do remember! However!... He defended him... and we... what with the defensive attitude of the Master, what with the double-dealing of... of our companion, we never clearly understood... » says Thomas.
« H'm! I more than once... But He would say: Do not judge, Simon! »
« Thaddeus always suspected him. »
« What I cannot believe is that this fellow here never knew anything about it » says James, poking his brother in the ribs.
But John, bending his head, is silent.
« Now he can speak... » says Thomas.
« I am trying to forget. That is what I have been ordered. Why do you want me to disobey? »
« You are right. Let us leave him alone » says the Zealot defending him.
« Cast the net. Slowly. Row. Row slowly. Turn to port, Bartholomew. Haul. Veer. Haul. Veer. Is the net spread? Is it? Oars up and let us wait » orders Peter.
How beautiful is the placid lake in the peace of the night, kissed by the moon! So pure that it is paradisiac. The moon from the sky is fully reflected in it and gives it the appearance of diamonds, her phosphorescence quivers on the hills, it discloses them and makes the towns on the shores as white as snow... Now and again they haul the net. A cascade of diamonds playing arpeggios on the silver of the lake. It is empty. They cast it again. They change place. No luck... Hours go by. The moon sets, while the light of dawn begins to appear, uncertain, green-blue... A heat mist steams towards the shores, particularly towards the southern end of the lake. Tiberias is veiled with it, and Tarichea is also veiled with it. A low fog, not dense, that will melt in the early sun. In order to avoid it they prefer to go along the eastern side, where it is less dense, whilst to the west, as it comes from the marsh beyond Tarichea on the right bank of the Jordan, it thickens as if the marsh were steaming. They row carefully to avoid possible dangers of the depth, familiar as they are with the lake.
« You, on the boat! Have you anything to eat? » shouts a man's voice from the shore. A voice that makes them start.
But they shrug their shoulders, replying in a loud voice: « No »; then they say to one another: « We always seem to be hearing Him!... »
« Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and you will find them. »
The right-hand side is off-shore. They cast the net, rather perplexedly. Jerks, weight that makes the boat bend on the side where the net hangs.
« But that is the Lord! » shouts John.
« The Lord, are you sure? » asks Peter.
« And do you doubt it? We thought it was His voice, but this is the proof of it. Look at the net! It is like that time! I tell you that it is He! Oh! my Jesus! Where are You? »
They all open their eyes wide to see through the veils of fog, after fastening the net safely to drag it in the wake of the boat, as it would be a dangerous manoeuvre to try to hoist it and they row to go back to shore. But Thomas has to take the oar of Peter who, after hurriedly slipping on his short tunic over his very short trousers, the only garment he had on, like that of all the others, except Bartholomew, jumps into the water and swims with vigorous strokes in the calm water, preceding the boat. He is the first to set foot on the desert little beach, where on two stones sheltered by a thorny bush, a fire of dry twigs is gaily blazing. And near the fire, there is Jesus, smiling and benign.
« Lord! Lord! » Peter is breathless because of his emotion and is unable to say anything else. Dripping wet, as he is, he dare not even touch the tunic of his Jesus, and prostrated on the sand with his tunic sticking to him, he adores.
The boat rubs on the shingly shore and stops. They are all standing, excited with joy...
« Bring some of those fish here. The fire is ready. Come and have something to eat. » orders Jesus.
Peter runs to the boat and helps the others to heave the net, and he gets hold of three big fish in the wriggling heap, he beats them on the gunwale of the boat to kill them and guts them with his knife. But his hands shake, oh! not with cold! He rinses the fish, he takes them where the fire is and puts them on it, and he watches them cooking. The others are worshipping the Lord, a little away from Him, timorous, as always, of Him Who has risen so divinely powerful.
« Here you are. Here is the bread. You have worked all night and you are tired. Now you will take some refreshment. Is it ready, Peter? »
« Yes, my Lord » says Peter in a voice that is more hoarse than usual, bent over the fire, and he wipes his eyes, which are wet with tears, as if the smoke made them weep, irritating them and his throat at the same time. But it is not the smoke that is the cause of that voice and of those tears... He takes the fish, which he has laid on a rough leaf, it looks like the leaf of a gourd, handed to him by Andrew after he had rinsed it in the lake.
Jesus offers and blesses, He breaks the bread and the fish, making eight portions which He hands out, and He tastes some as well. They eat with the respect with which they would fulfill a rite. Jesus looks at them and smiles. But He also is silent, until He asks: « Where are the others? »
« On the mountain. Where You said. And we came to fish, because we have no more money and we do not want to take advantage of the disciples. »
« You are doing the right thing. But from now on, you apostles will stay on the mountain in prayer, edifying the disciples with your example. Send them fishing. It is better for you to remain there in prayer and to listen to those who are in need of advice or may come to give you information. Keep the disciples in a very united group. I will come soon. »
« We will do that, Lord. »
« Is Marjiam not with you? »
« You did not tell me to make him come so soon. »
« Make him come. The time of his obedience is over. »
« I will make him come, Lord. »
There is silence. Then Jesus, Who had been with His head bent a little, thinking, looks up and fixes His eyes on Peter. He looks at him with the glance of the moments when He worked the greatest miracles or was most authoritative. Peter is startled, almost frightened and he withdraws a little... But Jesus, laying a hand on Peter's shoulder, holds him firmly and while holding him so, He asks him: « Simon of Jonah, do you love Me? »
« Certainly, Lord! You know that I love You » replies Peter decidedly.
« Feed My lambs... Simon of Jonah, do you love Me? »
« Yes, my Lord. And You know that I love You. » His voice is not so bold, and he is rather surprised at the repetition of the question.
« Feed My lambs... Simon of Jonah, do you love Me? »
« Lord... You know everything... You know whether I love You... » Peter's voice trembles, as he is sure of his love, but he is under the impression that Jesus is not sure.
« Feed My sheep. Your treble profession of love has cancelled your treble denial. You are completely pure, Simon of Jonah, and I say to you: put on the pontificals and take the Holiness of the Lord among My flock. Fasten your clothes at your waist and keep them fastened, until from Shepherd you also become lamb. I solemnly tell you that when you were young, you put on your own belt and you went where you liked, but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and somebody else will put a belt round you and will take you where you would rather not go. But now it is I Who say to you: Gird yourself and follow Me on My own way. Stand up and come. »
Jesus stands up and Peter stands up going towards the shore, and the others begin to put out the fire smothering it under the sand.
But John, after picking up the remains of the bread, follows Jesus. Peter hears the shuffling of steps and turns round. He sees John, and pointing him out to Jesus, he asks: « And what will happen to him? »
« If I want him to stay until I come back, what does it matter to you? You are to follow Me. »
They are on the shore. Peter would like to go on speaking, but Jesus' majesty and the words he has heard detain him. He kneels down, imitated by the others and adores. Jesus blesses them and dismisses them. They get on the boat and go away rowing. Jesus looks at them go.