19th January 1945.
The market place in Jericho. It is not morning, but evening: a very warm summer evening at sunset. Of the morning market, there are only traces: remains of vegetables, heaps of excrement, straw fallen from donkeys' baskets and rags… All is covered with flies, and ferments in the heat of the sun and stinks disgustingly. The large square is empty. There are few passersby, some quarrelsome urchins throwing stones at the birds perched on the trees. Some women go to the fountain. Nothing else.
Jesus arrives from a side street, and looks round. He does not see anybody yet. He waits patiently, leaning against the trunk of a tree, and finds the opportunity of speaking to the boys about charity, that starts with God and from the Creator descends to all creatures.
« Do not be cruel. Why do you want to annoy the birds of the air? They have their nests up there, and their little ones. They do not harm anyone. They give us their chirping and cleanliness, because they eat the rubbish left by men and the insects that are harmful to crops and fruit. Why wound them, or kill them, depriving the little ones of their fathers and mothers, or the latter of their little ones? Would you be glad if a wicked man came to your house and destroyed it, or killed your parents, or took you away from them? No, you would not be happy. Well, then, why do to these innocent creatures what you would not like done to yourselves? How will you, refrain one day from doing harm to men if, children as you are now, you harden your hearts, and hurt defenseless, kind little creatures such as these birds? Do you not know that the Law says: “Love your neighbor as yourself”? Who does not love his neighbor does not even love God. And who does not love God, how can he go to His House and pray to Him? God might say to him, and he does say it in Heaven: “Go away. I do not know you. You, My son? No, you are not. You do not love your brothers, you do not respect in them the Father Who created them, so you are not a brother and a son, but an illegitimate child: a stepson to God, a stepbrother to your brothers.” See how the Eternal Lord loves? In the cold months, He makes His little birds find the barns full of hay, so that they may nest there. In the hot months, He protects them from the sun with the foliage of trees. In winter the corn in the fields is just covered with earth and it is easy for them to find the seed and nourish themselves. In summer they quench their thirst with the juice of fruits, and they build solid, warm nests with hay and the wool left on brambles by sheep. And He is the Lord. You, little men, created by Him like the little birds, and therefore their brothers in creation, why do you want to differ from Him and think that you can be cruel to these little animals? Be merciful with everybody, not depriving anyone of what is due to one: both amongst men and animals, your servants, your friends and God… »
« Master? » calls Simon « Judas is coming. »
« … and God will be merciful with you, and will give you everything you need, as He does with these innocent creatures. Go and take the peace of God with you. » Jesus makes His way through the boys and some of the adults who had joined them, and goes towards Judas and John, who are coming from another street. Judas is jubilant. John smiles at Jesus… but does not seem very happy.
« Come, come, Master. I think I have done well. But come with me. It is not possible to speak here in the street. »
« Where, Judas? »
« To the hotel. I have already booked four rooms… oh! nothing special, don't worry. Only to rest in a bed after so much discomfort in all this heat, and to have a meal like men and not like birds perched on branches, and also to talk in peace. I sold the jewels very well, didn't I, John? »
John nods in assent but not very enthusiastically. But Judas is so pleased with his work that he does not notice either that Jesus is not very happy at the prospect of comfortable lodgings or that John is even less enthusiastic about his transactions. And he goes on: « As I had sold at a higher price than I had estimated, I said: “It is fair that I should take a small amount, one hundred coins, for our beds and meals. If we are exhausted, although we always had something to eat, Jesus must be completely worn out.” I am obliged to ensure that my Master is not taken ill! An obligation of love, because You love me, and I love You… There is room also for you and the sheep » he says to the shepherds. « I have seen to everything. »
Jesus does not say one word. He follows him with the others.
They arrive in a smaller square. Judas says: « See that house without any windows opening on the street and with such a narrow little door that it looks like a fissure? It's Diomedes, the goldbeater's house. It looks like a poor house, doesn't it? But there is enough gold in there to buy the whole of Jericho and… Ah! Ah! » Judas laughs maliciously… « amongst all that gold many jewels and plates can be found, as well as other things, belonging to the most influential people in Israel. Diomedes… oh! they all pretend they do not know him, whereas they are all acquainted with him: from the Herodians down to… to everybody. On that plain, smooth wall, one could write: “Mystery and Secret”. If those walls could speak! Then you would not be scandalized at the way I negotiated this business, John! You… you would die, choked with amazement and scruples. By the way, listen, Master. Never send me again with John on certain business. He almost ruined everything. He cannot take a hint, he cannot deny things, whereas with shrewd men like Diomedes one must be quick and outspoken. »
John grumbles: « You were saying certain things. So unforeseen and so… so… Yes, Master. Do not send me again. I am only good at being kind and loving… I… »
« It is most unlikely that we shall ever need such transactions again » answers Jesus, very seriously.
« That is the hotel over there. Come, Master. I will do the talking, because I arranged everything. »
They go in, and Judas speaks to the landlord, who has the sheep taken to a stable, while he himself takes the guests into a little room where there are two mat-beds, some chairs and a table already laid. He then withdraws.
« I will tell you what happened at once, Master, while the shepherds are settling the sheep. »
« I am listening. »
« John can say whether I am telling the truth. »
« I do not doubt it. No oath or witness is required among honest men. Tell Me. »
« We arrived in Jericho at midday. We were wet with perspiration, like pack-animals. I did not want to give Diomedes the impression that I was in urgent need. So first of all, I came here, I refreshed myself, I put on clean clothes, and I got John to do the same. Oh! He would not hear of having his hair sorted and perfumed. But I had made out my plans, on my way here!… When it was almost evening, I said: “Let's go.” By that time, we were well rested and fresh like two wealthy people on a pleasure trip. When we were about to arrive at Diomedes' abode, I said to John: “Always agree to what I say. Do not contradict me, and be quick in taking a hint.” But I should have left him outside! He did not help at all. On the contrary… Fortunately, I am as quick as two people, and I managed.
The exciseman was coming out of his house. “Very well!” I said. “If he is coming out, we will find the money and what I want to make a comparison.” Because the exciseman, being a usurer and a thief like all his kind, always has necklaces taken with threats and usury from the poor people whom he taxes more than is fair, in order to have plenty to spend in feasting and women. And he is very friendly with Diomedes, who buys and sells gold and flesh… We went in after I had made myself known. I said: we went in. Because there is a difference between going into the entrance hall, where he pretends to be doing an honest job, and going down into the underground room, where he does his real business. One must be well known to him to be introduced there. As soon as he saw me, he said: “Do you want to sell more gold? We are going through hard times, and I have little money.” His usual old story. I replied: “I have not come to sell, but to buy. Have you any jewels for a lady? But they must be beautiful, valuable, heavy, in pure gold!” Diomedes was amazed. And he asked me: “Do you want a woman?” “Never mind that” I replied to him. “They are not for me. They are for this friend of mine who is getting married and wishes to buy the jewels for his beloved bride.”
At this point, John began to behave like a child. Diomedes, who was looking at him, saw him turn purple, and being a filthy old man, he said: “Ah! the boy has only heard his bride being mentioned, and he is in heat. Is your woman very beautiful?” he asked. I kicked John to rouse him, and to make him understand not to behave foolishly. But he replied “Yes” as if he had been strangled and Diomedes became suspicious. Then I spoke: “Whether she is beautiful or not is none of your business, old man. She will never be one of the women on account of whom you will go to hell. She is an honest virgin, and will soon be an honest wife. Show us your gold. I am his best man and it is my task to help the young man… I am a Judaean citizen.” “He is a Galilean, is he not?” Your hair always gives you away. “Is he rich?” “Yes, very.”
We then went downstairs, and Diomedes opened his coffers and treasure-chests. But tell the truth, John. Did we not seem to be in Heaven with all the jewels and all the gold? Necklaces, wreaths, bracelets, ear-rings, hairnets of gold and precious stones, hairpins, buckles, rings… Ah! what magnificence! With much haughtiness, I picked a necklace more or less like Aglae's, and rings, buckles, bracelets, everything like I had in my bag, and the same quantity. Diomedes was surprised and he kept asking: “What! Some more? But who is this man? And who is the bride? A princess?” When I had everything I wanted, I said: “The price?”
Oh! What a string of preparatory moaning on the times, taxes, risks, thieves! And another string of assurances on his honesty! And then his reply: “Just because it's you, I'll tell you the truth. Without any exaggeration. But not even one penny less. I want twelve silver talents.” “Thief!” I said. And I went on: “Let's go, John. In Jerusalem we will find someone who is not such a thief as he is” and I pretended I was going out. He ran after me. “My great friend, my beloved friend, come, listen to your poor servant. I cannot accept less. It's impossible. Look. I'll make an effort at the cost of ruining myself. I'll do it because you have always honored me with your friendship, and you made me do good business. Eleven talents, there you are. That is what I would pay if I had to buy that gold from someone starving. Not a penny less. It would be like bleeding my veins.” Is that not what he said? He made me laugh and he disgusted me at the same time.
When I saw he was quite determined on the price, I pulled a fast one on him. “Dirty old rascal. Bear in mind that I do not want to buy, on the contrary, I want to sell. This is what I want to sell. Look. It is as beautiful as yours. Gold from Rome in the latest fashion. It will sell like hot cakes. You can have it for eleven talents. Exactly what you asked for yours. You fixed the price, and you pay.” You should have heard him. “This is treachery! You betrayed the esteem I held you in! You want to ruin me! I cannot pay all that!” he shouted. “You appraised its value. So pay!” “I cannot.” “Look, I'll take it to somebody else.” “No, my friend, don't”, and he stretched out his hooked hands towards Aglae's heap of gold. “Well, then, pay: I should ask for twelve talents. But I will be satisfied with the last price you asked.” “I cannot.” “Usurer! Look, I have a witness here and I can report you as a thief…” and I mentioned other virtues of his which I will not repeat on account of this boy…
At last, as I was anxious to sell and settle the matter quickly, I whispered something in his ear, something that I will not keep… What weight has a promise made to a thief? And I clenched the bargain at ten and a half. We came away while he was crying and offering his friendship and… women. And John was almost in tears. What does it matter if they think you are a depraved man! Nothing, providing you are not. Don't you know that the world is like that, and that you are a failure in the world? A young man who has not had any experience of women? Who do you think will believe you? Or if they believe you, well! I would not like them to think of me what they may think of you, if they believe you do not desire women.
Here, Master. Count them Yourself. I had a pile of coins. But I went to the exciseman and I said to him: “Take this rubbish and give me the talents Isaac gave you.” That was the last bit of information I got after closing the matter. But the last thing I said to Isaac-Diomedes was: “Remember that the Judas of the Temple exists no more. Now I am the disciple of a holy man. Pretend therefore that you never met me, if your life is dear to you.” And I was on the point of wringing his neck because he gave me a sharp answer. »
« What did he say to you? » asks Simon, coldly.
« He said: “You, the disciple of a holy man? I will never believe it, or I will soon see your holy man here, asking for a woman.” He said: “Diomedes is an old disgrace of the world. But you are a new one. And I may still change, because I became what I am when I was old. But you will not change. You were born like that.” Filthy old man! He denies Your power, see? »
« And being a good Greek, he speaks the truth. »
« What do you mean, Simon? Are you referring to me? »
« No. I am referring to everyone. He is a man who knows gold and men's hearts the same way. He is a thief, the most filthy of all the filthy trades. But one perceives in him the philosophy of the great Greeks. He knows man, the animal with seven sinful jaws, the octopus that suffocates goodness, honesty, love and many other things, both in itself and in others. »
« But he does not know God. »
« And would you like to teach him? »
« Yes, I would. Why? It's the sinners that need to know God. »
« True. But… the master must know Him to teach Him. »
« And do I not know Him? »
« Peace, My friends. The shepherds are coming. Do not let us upset their souls with our quarrels. Have you counted the money? That is enough. Fulfill all your actions as you fulfilled this one, and I repeat it once again, in future, if you can, do not tell lies, not even to accomplish a good deed. »
The shepherds come in.
« My friends. Here are ten and a half talents. The amount is short of one hundred coins which Judas has kept for the hotel expenses. Take them. »
« Are You giving them all? » asks Judas.
« Yes, every penny. I do not want a farthing of that money. We have the offerings of God and of those who honestly seek God… and we will never lack what is necessary. Believe Me. Take the money and be happy, as I am, for the Baptist. Tomorrow, you will go towards his prison. Two of you: that is John and Matthias. Simeon and Joseph will go to Elias to report to him and to be taught for the future. Elias knows. Later, Joseph will come back with Levi. The meeting place, in ten days time, is at the Fish Gate in Jerusalem, at sunrise. And now, let us eat and rest. Tomorrow, at dawn, I will leave with My disciples. I have nothing else to tell you for the time being. Later, you will hear from Me. »
And everything fades out while Jesus is breaking the bread.