While Simon, wearing only a short tunic, is washes himself and then puts his clothes on, Judas and John come out. ‘Hail, Master, are we late? ‘
‘No. It is only daybreak. But now be quick and let us go. ‘
The two get washed and put on their tunics and mantles.
Jesus, before setting off, picks some little flowers which have grown between the crevices of two stones, and puts them into a small wooden box that already contains other items; ‘I will take them to My Mother…’He explains. ‘ She will love them… Let us go. ‘
‘Where, Master? ‘
‘To Bethlehem. ‘
‘Again? I do not think the situation is a favourable one for us… ‘
‘It does not matter. Let us go. I want to show you where the Magi came and where I was. ‘
‘In that case, listen. Excuse me, will You, Master? But let me do the talking. Let us do one thing. In Bethlehem and at the hotel, let me speak and ask questions. You Galileans are not awfully liked in Judaea, and much less here than anywhere else. Nay, let us do this: your clothes show that You and John are Galileans. It’s too easy. And then… your hair! Why do you persist in wearing it so long? Simon and I will change mantles with you. Simon, give yours to John, I’ll give mine to the Master. That’s it! See? You already look a little more like Judaeans. Now take this. ‘And he takes off the cloth covering his head: a yellow, brown, red, green striped length of material, like his mantle, held in position by a yellow cord, he places it on Jesus’ head, adjusting it along His cheeks to hide His fair hair. John puts on the very dark green one of Simon. ‘Oh! That’s better now. I have a practical sense. ‘
‘Yes, Judas, you have a practical sense. That is true. Watch, however, that it does not exceed the other sense. ‘
‘Which one, Master? ‘
‘The spiritual sense. ‘
‘No! No! But in certain cases it pays to be more a politician than an ambassador. And listen… be good a little longer… it is for Your own good… Do not contradict me if I should say something… something… which is not true. ‘
‘What do you mean? Why tell lies? I am the Truth and I want no lies in Me or around Me.‘
‘Oh! I will only tell half lies. I will say that we are all coming back from remote places, from Egypt for instance, and that we are seeking news of dear friends. I will say that we are Judaeans coming back from exile. After all, there is some truth in everything, and I will be speaking, and… one lie more, one lie less… ‘
‘But Judas! Why deceive? ‘
‘Never mind, Master! The world lives on deceit. And at times deceit is a necessity. Well: to make You happy, I will only say that we are coming from far and that we are Judaeans. Which is true for three out of four of us. And you, John, please do not speak at all. You would give yourself away. ‘
‘I will be quiet. ‘
‘Then… if everything works out all right… we shall say the rest. But I do not believe it… I am shrewd, I grasp things at once. ‘
‘I see that, Judas. But I would prefer you to be simple. ‘
‘It does not help much. In Your group, I will be the one in charge of difficult missions. Let me carry on. ‘Jesus is reluctant. But He gives in.
They set out, walking first around the ruins and then along a massive windowless wall from the other side of which comes braying, mooing, neighing, bleating and the queer cry of camels. They follow an angle in the wall and emerge onto the square of Bethlehem with fountain at its centre. The shape of the fountain is still slantwise as it was on the night of the visit of the Magi but across the street where the little house that on the same night had been bathed in the silvery rays of the Star, there is now only a large gap strewn with ruins, surmounted by the little outside staircase and its landing.
Jesus looks and sighs.
The square is full of people around merchants of foodstuffs, utensils, clothes and other items, all either spread out on mats or in baskets on the ground, with the merchants crouched in the centre of their… shops or standing up, shouting and gesticulating with stingy buyers.
‘It’s market day ‘says Simon.
The main gate of the hotel where the Magi had stayed, is wide open and a line of donkeys laden with goods is coming out. Judas enters first and looks around haughtily and seizes a dirty hustler in short sleeves, with his short tunic reaching down to his knees. ‘Hustler! ‘he shouts. ‘The landlord! Quick! Be quick. I am not used to being kept waiting for people. ‘
The boy runs away, dragging a broom behind him.
‘But Judas! What manners! ‘
‘Be quiet, Master. Leave me alone. It is important that they consider us rich people coming from town. ‘
The landlord rushes in, and bows down repeatedly before Judas, who looks impressive in Jesus’ dark red mantle worn on top of his sumptuous yellow tunic full of fringes.
‘We have come from far, man. We are Judaeans of the Asiatic communities. This gentleman, born in Bethlehem and persecuted, is now looking for some dear friends. We are with Him. We have come from Jerusalem, where we worshiped the Most High in His House. Can You give us some information? ‘
‘My lord… your servant… will do everything for you. Give me your orders. ‘
‘We want some information on many… and particularly on Anne, the woman whose house was opposite your hotel. ‘
‘Oh! poor woman! You will find her only in Abraham’s bosom. And her children with her. ‘
‘Is she dead? How? ‘
‘Don’t you know of Herod’s massacre? The whole world talked about it and even Caesar called him “a pig who feeds on blood”. Oh! What have I said? Don’t report me! Are you really Judaen? ‘
‘Here is the sign of my tribe. So? Speak up. ‘
‘Anne was killed by Herod’s soldiers, with all her children, except one daughter. ‘
‘But why? She was so good? ‘
‘Did you know her? ‘
‘Yes, very well. ‘Judas lies brazen-faced.
‘She was killed because she gave hospitality to those who said they were the father and mother of the Messiah… Come here, into this room… Walls have ears and it is dangerous to talk about certain things. ‘
They go into a low dark room and sit on a low couch.
‘Now… I had a wonderful nose. I am not a hotel keeper for nothing. I was born here, the son of sons of hotel keepers. Wiles are in my blood. And I did not take them. I could have found a hole for them. But… poor, unknown Galileans as they were… Oh! no! Hezekiah will not fall into the trap! And I felt… I felt they were different… that woman… Her eyes… something… no, no… She must have had a demon inside Her and She spoke to him. And She brought him… not to me… but to town. Anne was more innocent than a little lamb, and she gave them hospitality a few days later, when She already had the Child. They said He was the Messiah… Oh! the money I made during those days! The census was nothing like it! Many people came here who had nothing to do with the census. They came even from the seaside, even from Egypt to see… and it lasted for months! What a profit I made! The last to come were three kings, three powerful people, three magicians… I would not know! What a train! An endless one!
They took all the stables and they paid in gold for so much hay that could have lasted a month, and they went away the following day, leaving it all here. And what gifts they gave to the hustlers and the women!
And to me! Oh! I can only speak well of the Messiah, whether He was a true or false one. He made me earn bags of money. And I had no disasters. None of My family died, because I had just got married. So… but the others! ‘
‘We would like to see the places of the slaughter. ‘
‘The places? But every house was a place of slaughter. There were people killed for miles round Bethlehem. Come with me. ‘
They go up a staircase into a large terraced roof from where they can see a lot of the countryside and the whole of Bethlehem spread on the hills like an open fan.
‘Can you see the ruined spots? Over there also the houses were burnt down because the fathers defended their children with their weapons. Can you see over there, that thing like a well covered with ivy? Those are the remains of the synagogue. It was burnt down with the arch synagogue who declared that it was indeed the Messiah….burnt down by the survivors, driven wild because of the slaughter of their children. We had trouble for that after… And over there, and there, there… see those sepulchres? The victims are buried there.. They look like little sheep spread all over the green, as far as the eye can see. All the innocents and their fathers and mothers… See that vat? Its water was red after the killers washed their weapons and hands in it. And the brook at the back here, did you see it? It was pink with the blood which had flowed into it from the sewers. And there, over there, in front of us. That is what is left of Anne’s house.‘
Jesus is crying.
‘Did You know her well? ‘
Judas replies: ‘She was like a sister for His Mother. Is that right, my friend? ‘
‘Yes. ‘ says Jesus, simply.
‘I understand ‘ remarks the hotel keeper who becomes pensive. Jesus bends forward to speak to Judas in a low voice.
‘My friend would like to go on those ruins ‘says Judas.
‘Let Him go! They belong to everybody! ‘
They return downstairs, say goodbye and go out leaving the host who had been hoping to earn something, disappointed.
They cross the square and climb up the little staircase left standing over the ruins of Anne’s house and onto the landing which is about two meters higher than the square. Jesus is standing against the little wall enclosing the landing, with nothing behind Him. From the square, His figure is clearly outlined against the sun shining behind Him, forming a halo around His golden hair and turning His snow white linen tunic- the only garment still on Him- a gleaming white. His mantle has slipped off His shoulders and now lies at His feet like a multi-coloured pedestal.
‘From here ‘says Jesus, ‘My Mother made Me wave My hand to the Three Wise Men and we left from here to go to Egypt. ‘
People look at the four men on the ruins and one asks: ‘Are they relatives of Anne? ‘
‘They are friends. ‘
‘Don’t do any harm to the poor dead woman…’ one woman shouts ‘…don’t you do it, as her other friends did when she was alive, and then they ran away. ‘
Jesus is standing on the landing against the little wall enclosing it with nothing behind Him but the unkempt background of what was once Anne’s kitchen garden and field now laid waste and strewn with debris. The outline of His figure is clearly cut against the sun shining behind Him: it forms a halo around His golden hair, and makes His snow white linen tunic look even whiter as it is the only garment on Him, since His mantle has slipped off His shoulders and is now lying at His feet like a multi-coloured pedestal.
Jesus stretches out His arms but when Judas sees the gesture he says: ‘Don’t speak! It isn’t wise! ‘
But Jesus’ powerful voice fills the square: ‘Men of Judah! Men of Bethlehem, listen! Women of the land sacred to Rachel, listen! Listen to One Who descends from David, and having suffered from persecutions, has become worthy of speaking, and is speaking to you to give you light and comfort. Listen. ‘
The people stop shouting, quarreling and buying and they gather together.
‘He is a rabbi! ‘
‘He certainly comes from Jerusalem. ‘
‘Who is He? ‘
‘What a handsome man! ‘
‘And what a voice! ‘
‘And His manners! ‘
‘Of course, He is of David’s House! ‘
‘He is one of ours, then! ‘
‘Let’s listen to Him! ‘
The whole crowd is now gathered near the little staircase that looks like a pulpit.
‘In Genesis it is said: “I will make you enemies of each other: you and the woman: She will crush your head and you will strike at Her heel.” It is also said: “I will multiply your pains in childbearing… and the soil shall yield you brambles and thistles.” That was the sentence against man, woman and the serpent. I have come from far to revere Rachel’s tomb, and in the evening breeze, in the dew of the night, in the plaintive morning song of the nightingale,
I heard ancient Rachel’s sobs repeated, and they were repeated by the mouths of many mothers of Bethlehem, within their tombs or within their hearts. And I heard Jacob’s sorrow roar in the pain of the widowed husbands deprived of their wives, whom sorrow had killed… I cry with you… But listen, brethren of My land. Bethlehem; the blessed land, the least of the towns in Judah, but the greatest in the eyes of God and of mankind, roused Satan’s hatred because it was the cradle of the Saviour, as Micah says, destined to be the tabernacle on which the Glory of God, the Fire of God, His Incarnate Love was to rest.
“I will make you enemies of each other: you and the woman; She will crush your head and you will strike at Her heel.” Which enmity is there greater than the one that aims at a mother’s children, the very heart of a woman? And which heel is there stronger than the Saviour’s Mother’s? The revenge of Satan defeated was therefore a natural one: he did not strike at the heel, but at the hearts of mothers, because of the Mother.
Oh! Pains were multiplied when the children were lost after having giving birth to them! Oh! great was the trouble of being a childless father after sowing and toiling for the offspring! And yet, Bethlehem, rejoice! Your pure blood, the blood of the innocents has prepared a blazing purple way for the Messiah… ‘
At the mention of the Saviour and the Mother, the crowd became increasingly turbulent and is now showing clear signs of agitation.
‘Be quiet, Master and let us go ‘says Judas.
But Jesus goes on: ‘… for the Messiah that the Grace of the God-Father saved from tyrants to preserve Him for His people and its salvation and… ‘
The shrill voice of a woman yelling hysterically cuts through’… ‘Five, five I gave birth to, and not one is now in my house. Poor me! ‘
The uproar begins.
Another woman, rolls over in the dust, she tears her dress and shows a breast maimed of its nipple, shouting: ‘Here, here on this mamma they slaughtered my first-born son! The sword cut off his face and my nipple at the same time. Oh! my Ellis! ‘
‘And what about me! What about me? There is my royal palace. Three tombs in one, watched over by the father: my husband and children together. There, there! If there is a Saviour, let Him give me back my children, my husband, let Him save me from despair, from Beelzebub He must save me. ‘
They all shout: ‘Our children, our husbands, our fathers! Let Him give them back, if He exists! ‘
Jesus waves His arms imposing silence. ‘Brethren of My land: I would like to give you back your children, in their flesh. But I tell you: be good, be resigned, forgive, hope, rejoice in hope and exult in one certainty: you will soon have your children, angels in Heaven, because the Messiah is about to open the gates of Heaven, and if you are just, death will be a new Life and a new Love… ‘
‘Ah! Are You the Messiah? In the name of God, tell us. ‘
Jesus lowers His arms in so sweet and kind a gesture as though He were embracing them all, and He says:
‘Yes, I am. ‘
‘Go away! Go away! It’s Your fault, then! ‘ There are hisses and jeers and a stone cuts through the air heading for the landing.
Judas reacting instinctively, jumps in front of Jesus, standing on the low wall of the landing, with his mantle opened wide and undaunted, he shields Jesus from the stones. The stone catches Judas in the face, drawing blood but he shouts to John and Simon: ‘Take Jesus away. Behind those trees. I’ll follow. Go, in the name of Heaven! ‘And he shouts to the crowd: ‘Mad dogs! I am of the Temple and I will report you to the Temple and to Rome. ‘
For a moment, the crowd is frightened. Then the shower of stones resumes at once but fortunately, their aim is off. And Judas, fearless, catches a stone thrown at him and throws it back on the head of an old man who is shouting like a magpie being plucked alive! Judas also replies with offensive language to the curses of the crowd.
When the crowd tries to climb up to his pedestal, he comes down from the little wall, quickly picks up an old branch from the ground, and mercilessly swings it round on backs, heads and hands. Some soldiers rush to the spot and with their lances they make their way through the crowd: ‘Who are You? Why this brawl? ‘
‘I am Judaean and I have been attacked by these plebeians. A rabbi, well known to the priests, was with me. He was speaking to these dogs. But they became wild and attacked us. ‘
‘Who are You? ‘
‘Judas of Kerioth, I was a man of the Temple. Now, I am a disciple of rabbi Jesus of Galilee and a friend of Simon the Pharisee, of Johanan the Sadducee, and of Joseph of Arimathaea, the Counsellor of the Sanhedrin, and finally, of Eleazar ben Anna, the Proconsul’s great friend, and you can check. ‘
‘I will. Where are you going? ‘
‘I am going to Kerioth with my friend, then to Jerusalem. ‘
‘Go. We will protect your back. ‘
Judas hands some coins to the soldier. It is illegal… but quite common, because the soldier takes them swiftly and cautiously, salutes and smiles. Judas jumps down from his platform and goes through the uncultivated field, skipping now and again until he reaches his companions.