Giovanni Senza Paura (John Without Fear)
by Michael D. Bianco as told by his father

This is a story that my father repeated many times. He loved to tell them and we loved to listen.

Once upon a time as all stories start out, there was a farmer in a small town in Italy who kept a small but very bountiful garden. Along with his sheep, goats and pigs he kept his family very well. His name was John and as the story goes he was in his garden one day when Jesus Christ accompanied by St. Peter were traveling from town to town working miracles and preaching to the people. It just so happened that at that particular time Jesus was tired and hungry so he found himself at the edge of John’s garden and sitting on John’s favorite stool.
He said to Peter, “This is a beautiful garden that John has. I wonder if he would share some fruits with us?”
St. Peter being rather aggressive was more than willing to ask and he did. John’s answer of course was yes. He said, “Eat all you wish and rest yourselves. You are more than welcome here.” St. Peter thought very well of John’s generosity. Praising him, St. Peter said that it would be a good time to beseech The Lord and him to save his everlasting soul.

John went humbly to the Lord and asked if he could be granted a favor and the Lord blessed him and asked what special favor he could grant to John to repay his kindness. John said there was a favor if he would be so kind. St. Peter, listening, was very pleased and was anticipating John asking for the saving of his eternal soul.

Instead, John’s words were, “Lord, if you will, the bench you sit on is my favorite. Please will it so that should I wish anyone to be stuck there that he will be bound until I release him.”

So pleased was The Lord that he granted John the favor. St. Peter was outraged that John would squander such this gift on a mere stool and rebuked him and they departed from the area.

As it so happened, Jesus and St. Peter found themselves in the same area some time later and The Lord said to St. Peter, “Is this the same garden we visited before where we were welcomed and fed so well by our friend John?”

St. Peter was quick to answer yes. He remembered being outraged at what he thought was John’s stupidity. The Lord said, “Peter, will you ask once more for John’s kindness and we can rest and refresh ourselves.”

St. Peter saw this as a second chance and did so. John was glad to be able to grant them what they needed and in the same fashion, St. Peter told him again to ask The Lord to save his eternal soul, that He would probably would do so.

When they had rested and were refreshed John, at the urging of St. Peter, went to The Lord and asked for a second favor. He asked that should a person climb his fig tree to pick figs and if John willed it, the person would be unable to climb down until John allowed him. The Lord obliged him again and as before, St. Peter rebuked him strongly and told him that he had missed a wonderful opportunity for the second time in his life. They went off again to preach to others and witness the miracles of The Lord. John went on as usual with his life.

Some time went by. We were never told how much, but The Lord and St. Peter happened to find themselves in the same area again, tired and hungry and in need of food and water and rest. The Lord knew the exact spot he wished to visit. He knew he would be welcome. Once again they ate, drank and rested in the shade of John’s trees and on his most comfortable and favorite bench. St. Peter told John that this time he must ask The Lord for His blessing and the salvation of his eternal soul, that all other things were unnecessary. Eternal life was all that mattered.

When The Lord was well rested and John did, indeed, ask for another favor. “Lord, I have this shoulder bag that I carry. It holds all things of value to me. If you would grant me a favor I wish it to be that on my command, I can wish any one or any thing to be captive in my bag.”

This was simple enough for The Lord to do so he granted John’s wish. St. Peter this time, totally disgusted with John, told him that if he were damned for eternity, the fault would be his and his alone. He and The Lord wished John well and parted his area and probably would never pass that way again. It was said that The Lord wore a smile, St. Peter wore a frown and John was a happy man.

Many years had passed. The Lord met his date with the cross. St. Peter gave all he had and by and by John was an old man. The shadows were getting longer and he needed more time to rest on his favorite stool under his favorite trees with his purse on his shoulder at all times.

One gray day, Death came to his door and called to him. “John, you know me. I am here to take you away. Your time on Earth is over.”

“I understand”, Sir John said. “I will gather my things. You must be tired. Why don’t you rest on my favorite stool. It has served me well”

John went about getting ready and when it came time to go, Death found himself stuck on the stool. He couldn’t get up to leave. John said, “I can help you but you must grant me 10 more years of life on Earth.” Death, needing to follow a hectic schedule, was red-faced but had no choice but to grant his wish.

As time went on, the Devil saw what he thought would be an easy prey and went to visit John. He planned to promise John many things in trade for his soul. John was not tempted and because of The Lord's promise to him he was able to wish the Devil into his shoulder bag and hold him captive. He took the bag to the blacksmith and asked him to hammer on it for some time and not be too gentle about it. When he had finished, John released the Devil and, without hesitation, the Devil put as much space between himself and John as possible. He would not soon forget the beating, and that is what John wanted.

Years had passed quickly and it was time again for death to appear again at John’s door. “John, it is time again. This time we must go. Your fate awaits you.”

John said, “Yes, I know. Do we travel far?”

“Yes we do,” replied Death, “and we’ll need time to get there.”

“I’ll gather my things. My figs are ripe and plump. If you pick some we can eat them as we go.”

Death did not wish to get stuck again so instead of using John’s favorite stool he climbed the tree to pick the fruit. This was clearly a mistake for he found himself stuck again and having to grant John more time on Earth for his own release.

Oh, the years they fly and John was really old and out of tricks. He had used his wishes and gained the time he wanted and it came time for Death to quietly steal into John’s garden, bypass the bench and not even look at the fig tree. He placed John’s bag on his shoulder and took him by the hand. He would not be denied this time. It didn’t matter to John any more. He had lived his years, the stool was worn from use and the figs were out of season.

They traveled for a long time without much conversation and it seemed like a walk in reverse, through light and darkness until they came to the golden gates of heaven. There was an old man standing at the gates and it seemed he knew everyone and all about them without even speaking. As John waited and drew closer the old man spoke.

“John, you remember me. When I asked you three times to ask The Lord for your eternal soul, and all you would ask for were simple things of no value. I have no choice but to send you to the devil and let him deal with you as he will.

John was sad as he left and he was escorted to the hot place to be in the grasp of the fallen angel, the Devil himself. When he reached the doors of Hell, the Devil looked at him and remembered the beating he had received in his attempt to win John over and promptly shut the doors. His voice could be heard through the crack saying, “There is no room for you here. Go back where you came from and never return here again.”

John had no choice now but to return to St. Peter and ask for entrance. St. Peter would not hear of it. He was still not feeling forgiving and kept the doors closed to John. He was probably angry at being tricked; he too, was once a man. All John could say was that he was sorry and that since he had no place on earth and the Devil had also refused him, he could only wait at the gates of Heaven.

“I can understand you being angry with me, St. Peter, and you don’t want to allow me in, but would you please allow my shoulder bag to be hung on a limb of a tree?”

St. Peter thought he could do this and no one would be hurt. It was only a shoulder bag. Once done, John’s words came out quickly, “In the name of God, I wish myself in the bag.”

It was said that John found his way into heaven. He used his wishes well and to his advantage. He managed to keep the devil from possessing him, and if there were more to the story, he probably met Jesus and became his friend.

Do you think Jesus knew what John was up to? I think he let the story play out and knew what would happen in the end.

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