30th April 1946.
Caesarea has large markets where fine victuals pour in for the refined Roman tables, and near the market squares where, in a kaleidoscope of faces, colours and races, more common foodstuffs can be found, there are stores with richer delicacies, imported both from the various Roman colonies and from remote Italy, to make the separation from the Fatherland less painful. And stores selling wines and delicatessen imported from abroad are in deep porches, because the Romans do not like being burned by the sun or drenched by rain while purchasing refined foodstuffs for their banquets.
While satisfying their gluttony like Epicureans, they do not neglect the other parts of their bodies... thus cool shady porches and arches protecting from the rain lead from the Roman district - which is almost entirely grouped around the building of the Proconsul, between the coast road and the square of barracks and tollhouse - to the Roman stores near the Jewish markets.
There are many people under these porches, the end part of which near the markets is comfortable if not beautiful, There are people of all races. There are slaves and freedmen and an occasional pleasure-loving gentleman surrounded by slaves, passing listlessly from one shop to another, after leaving his litter in the street, and doing his shopping which the slaves take to his house. And when two Roman gentlemen meet, one can hear the usual idle talk: the weather, the tedium of the town which does not offer the pleasures of remote Italy, regret for great performances, plans for banquets and licentious speech.
A Roman, preceded by about a dozen slaves laden with bags and parcels, meets two friends. Reciprocal greetings: « Hail, Ennius! »
« Hail, Florus Tullius Cornelius! Hail, Marcus Heracleus Flavius! »
« When did you come back? »
« The day before yesterday, at dawn, exhausted. »
« You, exhausted? You are never in a sweat! » the young man named Florus says teasing playfully.
« Don't jeer at me, Florus Tullius Cornelius. I am drudging even now on behalf of my friends! »
« Your friends? We did not ask you to drudge » objects the elder friend, named Marcus Heracleus Flavius.
« But my love thinks of you. You cruel people who sneer at me, see this procession of slaves laden with goods? Others have gone before them with other goods. And it's all to honour you. »
« So this is your work? A banquet? »
« Why? » shout the two friends loudly.
« Sh! Noble patricians making such a terrible din! You sound like the plebeans of this country where we are wearing ourselves out in... »
« Orgies and idleness. Because we do nothing else. I am still asking myself: why are we here? What tasks have we got? »
« To be bored to death is one. »
« To teach the hired female mourners here how to live is another. »
« And... to sow Rome in the sacred pelvises of Jewish women is another one. »
« And to enjoy, here as anywhere else, our wealth and power, to which everything is allowed, is a further one. »
The three alternate as in a litany and laugh. But young Florus suddenly stops and becomes gloomy and he says: « But for some time a fog has been hanging over the merry Court of Pilate. The most beautiful women look like chaste vestals and their husbands comply with their whims. And that spoils the habitual feasts a great deal... »
« Of course! The caprice for that coarse Galilean... But it will soon be over... »
« You are wrong, Ennius. I know that Claudia also is conquered by Him and thus... good morals have strangely installed themselves in her palace. Roman republican austerity seems to be revived there... »
« Alas! What a mouldy smell! Since when? »
« Since sweet April, suitable for love affairs. You don't know... You were not here. But our ladies came back as sad as the mourners of cinerary urns and we poor men have to look elsewhere for many of our amusements. Which we are not even allowed in the presence of the modest ladies! »
« One reason more why I should help you. A great dinner this evening... and a greater orgy in my house. I was at Cyntium and I found delightful things which these stinkers consider impure: peacocks, partridges, and all kinds of moorhens, and little wild boars removed alive from their mother, which had been killed, and bred for our dinners. And wines... Ah! sweet, precious wines of the Roman hills, of my warm shores near Liternum and of your sunny coast near Aciri!... And sweet-smelling wines from Chios, of which Cintium is the pearl. And inebriating wines from Iberia, suitable to excite senses for the final enjoyment. Oh! It must be a great feast, to dispel the tedium of our exile and to convince ourselves that we are still virile!... »
« Will there be women as well? »
« Of course... And more beautiful than roses. Of every colour and... taste. I spent a treasure for all the goods, including the women... But I am generous to my friends!... I was just finishing my shopping here. What might have gone bad during the journey. After the banquet, let us have love!... »
« Did you have a good voyage? »
« Very good. Aphrodite Anadyomene was friendly to me. In any case I am dedicating tonight's rite to her... »
The three men laugh grossly anticipating the on-coming shameful pleasures...
But Florus asks: « But why this exceptional feast? What's the reason for it?... »
« Three reasons: my beloved nephew in the next few days will begin to wear his toga virilis. I must celebrate the event. Obedience to the foreboding that Caesarea was changing into a distressing abode and that it was necessary to discredit fate by means of a rite to Venus. The third reason... I will whisper it to you: I am invited to a wedding... »
« You? Liar! »
« I am invited to a wedding. It is a “wedding” every time one relishes the first sip from a sealed amphora. And I am doing that this evening. Twenty thousand sesterces, or if you prefer so, two hundred gold pieces I paid for her, because in actual fact that is what I had to give for her, including brokers and the like. But even if Venus had given birth to her at dawn in April, and had made her with foam and golden beams, I would not have found her more beautiful and pure! A bud, a closed but... Ah! And I am her master! »
« Profaner! » says Marcus Heracleus jokingly.
« Do not play the censor, for you are my equal... After Valerian left, we were bored to death here. But I am replacing him... We must take advantage of the experience of our forefathers. But I will not be so foolish to wait, as he did, for the girl, who is fairer than honey and whom I have called Galla Ciprina, to be spoiled by the sadness and the theories of emasculated philosophers who do not know how to enjoy the pleasures of life... »
« Bravo!!! But... Valerian's slave was a learned woman and... »
« ... and became mad reading philosophers... Soul!... second life!... virtue!!!... a lot of nonsense!... To live is to enjoy oneself! And we live here. Yesterday I burned every mournful scroll and I ordered the slaves, under pain of death, not to remember the miseries of philosophers and of Galileans. And the girl will know me only... »
« But where did you find her? »
« Well! Somebody was very shrewd and bought slaves after the Gallic wars and used them only as reproducers, treating them well, obliging them only to procreate, to give fresh flowers of beauty... And Galla is one of them. She is now pubescent and her master sold her... and I bought her... ah! ah! ah! »
« You lustful!... »
« If it had not been me, it would have been somebody else... So... She should not have been born a girl... »
« If He heard you... Oh! Here He is! »
« Who? »
« The Nazarene Who cast a spell on our ladies. He is behind you... »
Ennius turns round as if he had an asp behind him. He looks at Jesus Who is coming forward slowly among the people pressing round Him, the poor common people and some Roman slaves as well, and he contemptuously says: « That ragamuffin?! Women are depraved. But let us run away, lest He should cast a spell on us as well! » Then addressing his poor slaves, who have been standing all the time with their loads, like caryatids for whom there is no mercy, he orders: « Go home quickly, because you have been wasting your time so far, and those who are making preparations are waiting for spices and perfumes. Run! Quick! And remember that you will be scourged if everything is not ready by sunset. » The slaves go away at a run and the Roman follows them slowly with his two friends...
Jesus advances. He is sad, because He heard the end of Ennius' conversation and from the height of His stature He looks with infinite compassion at the slaves running under their burdens. He turns round, looking for the faces of more Roman slaves... He sees some, trembling with fear of being caught by superintendents or being driven away by the Jews, mixed among the crowds surrounding Him. He stops and asks: « Is there anyone among you belonging to that household? »
« No, Lord. But we know them » reply the slaves present.
« Matthew, give them abundant offerings. They will share them with their companions, so that they may know that there is someone who loves them. And remember, and tell the others that sorrow comes to an end with life only for those who were good and honest in their chains, and with sorrow ends also the difference between rich and poor, between free people and slaves. Afterwards there is only one just God for everybody, Who, without taking into account wealth or chains, will reward the good and punish the wicked. Bear that in mind. »
« Yes, Lord. But we, who belong to the households of Claudia and Plautina, are quite happy, like those who belong to Livia and Valeria, and we bless You because You have improved our lot » says an old man to whom everyone listens as if he were their chief.
« To show Me your gratitude be always good and you will have the true God as your eternal Friend. »
And Jesus raises His hand as if to dismiss and bless them and He then leans against a column and begins to speak in the attentive silence of the crowd. The slaves do not go away, they remain listening to the words uttered by the divine lips.
« Listen. A father of many children gave each of them, when they became adults, two coins of great value and said to them: “I no longer intend to work for each of you. You are now old enough to earn your living. So I am giving each of you the same amount of money, so that you may invest it as you please and to your own profit. I will remain here waiting, ready to advise you and also to assist you, if through misfortune you should lose all or part of the money that I am now giving you. But remember that I will be inexorable towards those who squander it mischievously, and towards sluggards who waste it or leave it as it is through idleness or vices. I have taught each of you Good and Evil. You cannot therefore say that you are facing life without knowing what life is. I have set for everyone an example of wise, just activity and of honest life. So you cannot say that I have contaminated your spirits through my evil examples. I have done my duty. It is for you now to do yours, as you are neither stupid, nor unprepared, nor illiterate. Go” and he dismissed them and remained alone, waiting, in his house.
His sons scattered through the world. They all had the same things: two valuable coins of which they could dispose freely, and a greater treasure of health, energy, knowledge and their father's examples. So they should have all been successful in the same way. But what happened? Some of the sons employed their money wisely and by means of untiring honest work and a simple honest life, in accordance with their father's teaching, they soon owned a large honest treasure; some at first made an honest fortune, but later they squandered it through idleness and orgies; some made money practising usury or dealing in contemptible business; and some did nothing because they were inactive, lazy, undecided and they finished their valuable coins before they could find any employment.
After some time the father of the family sent servants wherever he knew that his sons were and said to the servants: “You will tell my sons to meet in my house. I want them to give me an account of what they have done during this time and I wish to ascertain myself what is their situation.” And the servants went everywhere, they met the children of their master, they gave the message and each of them went back with the master's son whom they had met.
The father received them with great solemnity, as a father, but also as a judge. And all the relatives of the family were present with friends, acquaintances, servants, fellow-villagers and people from neighbouring villages. A solemn meeting. The father was on his seat of head of the family, and around him, in a semicircle there were all the relatives, friends, acquaintances, servants, fellow-villagers and people from the neighbourhood. In front of him, in a line, his sons. Even without being questioned, their different countenances expressed the truth. Those who had been active, honest, of good morals and had made a holy fortune looked prosperous, peaceful and well-off, like people who are wealthy, enjoy good health and a clear conscience. They looked at their father with a kind, grateful, humble but at the same time triumphant smile; they were shining with joy having honoured their father and family and because they had been good children, good citizens and faithful believers. Those who had squandered their assets in laziness or vices were mortified, low-spirited, haggard-faced and shabby, with the signs of orgies or starvation clearly visible. Those who had made a fortune by contemptible means had an aggressive hard countenance, with the cruel upset look of beasts which are afraid of the tamer and are prepared to react...
The father began to question these last ones: “How come you who looked so serene when you left, now look like beasts ready to tear people to pieces? Where did you get that mien?”
“Life gave it to us. And your severity in sending us away from home. You put us in touch with the world.”
“All right. And what did you do in the world?”
“What was possible for us to obey your orders to earn a living with the mere nothing you gave us.”
“All right. Stand in that corner... And now it is your turn, you emaciated, sick looking and shabby people. What did you do to come to this state? You were healthy and well dressed when you left.”
“Clothes wear out in ten years...” objected the sluggards.
“So there are no more looms in the world to make cloth for men's garments?”
“Yes... But one needs money to buy it...”
“You had it.”
“In ten years... it is more than finished. Everything which has a beginning comes to an end.”
“Yes, if you take from it and never put anything back into it. But why have you only taken from it? If you had worked, you could have added to it and taken from it and the money would not have come to an end, on the contrary you could have increased it. Have you been ill, perhaps?”
“We felt lost... We did not know what to do, what was right... We were afraid of doing the wrong thing. And not to do wrong, we did not do anything.”
“And had you no father to whom you could apply for advice? Have I ever been an uncompromising frightening father?”
“Oh! no! But we were ashamed of having to say to you: 'We are not capable of taking the initiative'. You have always been so active... We hid ourselves out of shame.”
“All right. Stand in the middle of the room. It's your turn now! What are you going to tell me? From your outward looks you seem to have suffered not only hunger but also from illness. Were you perhaps taken ill because you had worked too hard? Be frank and I will not reproach you.”
Some of the children who were questioned threw themselves on their knees striking their breasts and saying: “Forgive us, father' God has already punished us and we deserved it. But you, who are our father, forgive us!... We began well, but we did not persevere. As we had become wealthy so easily we said: 'Well, let us enjoy ourselves a little, as our friends suggest, then we will go back to work and make up for it.' And we really wanted to do so: go back to the two coins and make them yield again, as if it were a game. And twice (say two), three times (says one) we were successful. Then our good luck abandoned us... and we finished all our money.”
“But why did you not return to reason after the first time?”
“Because the bread spiced with vice corrupts the palate, and one can no longer do without it....”
“There was your father...”
“True. And we longed for you with regret and homesickness. But we offended you... We implored Heaven to inspire you to send for us, so that we might receive your reproach and your forgiveness; that is what we wanted and are now asking for, more than riches which we do not want any more because they led us astray.”
“All right. Stand in the middle of the room beside those who were questioned before you. And you who are sick and poor like those, but are silent and show no sign of grief, what are you going to say?”
“What the first ones said. That we hate you, because your unwise way of doing things has been the cause of our ruin. Since you knew us, you should not have exposed us to temptations. You hated us and we hate you. You set that trap for us to get rid of us. May you be cursed.”
“Very well. Stay with the first ones in that corner. And now it is your turn, my prosperous, serene, wealthy sons. Tell me. How did you do so well?”
“By carrying out your teaching, your examples, advice, orders, everything. We resisted temptations, out of love for you, blessed father who gave us life and wisdom.”
“Very well. Come to my right hand side and listen all of you to my judgement and to my defence. I gave each of you the same money, examples and wisdom. My sons have reacted in different manners. From a hard working, honest moderate father different children have come forth: some are like him, some are lazy, some an easy prey to temptations, and some so cruel that they hate their father, their brothers and neighbours, on whom, even if they do not say so, but I know, they have practised usury and committed crimes. And among the weak and lazy ones there are some who are penitent and some impenitent. This is my judgement. The perfect ones are already on my right hand side, equal to me in glory and in deeds; those who are repentant, like children to be educated, will come once again under my authority until they reach a degree of capability which will prove that they are adults again; the unrepentant and guilty ones will be driven out of my property and will be persecuted by the malediction of him who is no longer their father, because their hatred for me annuls our relationship of father and son. But I wish to remind you all that each son has been the author of his own fate, because I gave everybody the same things, which, however, have brought about four different situations in those who received them and I cannot be accused of desiring their evil lot.”
The parable is over and I will now explain it to you who have listened to it.
The Father in Heaven is symbolised by the father of the large family. The two coins given by the father to each of his children before sending them into the world are: time and free will, that God grants to every man to be used as he wishes, after being taught and perfected by the Law and the examples of just people. Everyone receives the same gifts. But every man makes use of them as he wishes. Some treasure up time, means, education, wealth, everything, for a good purpose and remain holy and sound, the owners of increased riches. Some begin well, then become tired and lose everything. Some do nothing as they expect other people to do it. Some accuse the Father of their mistakes; some repent and are willing to make amends; some do not repent and they accuse and curse as if their ruin has been brought about by other people. And God grants rewards to the just at once; He grants mercy to those who repent and time to expiate, so that they may achieve a reward through repentance and expiation; and He gives malediction and punishment to those who trample on love through impenitence, the consequence of their sins. He gives every man what is due to him.
So do not waste the two coins: time and free will, but make the right use of them to be on the right hand side of the Father, and if you fail, repent and have faith in Merciful Love. Go. Peace be with you! »
He blesses them and looks at them moving away in the sun flooding the square and streets. But the slaves are still there...
« Are you still here, My poor friends? Will you not be punished? »
« No, Lord, if we say that we have been listening to You. Our mistresses venerate You. Where are You going now, Lord? They have been wishing to see You for such a long time... »
« To the rope-maker near the harbour. But I am leaving this evening, and your mistresses will be at the party... »
« We shall tell them just the same. Months ago they told us to inform them every time You come here. »
« All right. Go. And make good use of your time and thoughts, which are always free, even if a man is in chains. »
The slaves bend to the ground and go away towards the Roman quarters. Jesus and His apostles go towards the harbour, along a narrow street.