Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Appius Cato

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. "Lord," he said, "my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering."
Jesus said to him, "I will go and heal him."
The centurion replied, "Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and that one, 'Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it."
When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, "I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
Then Jesus said to the centurion, "Go! It will be done just as you believed it would." And his servant was healed at that very hour.

[I enter the stadium through the guards passage way. Above me, Roman feet stomp and the sound of their voices is almost deafening.

My roman guide, Peregus, points out a leathered, muscular centurion. I walk toward him.]

Appius Cato?


I’m Josephus, the historian. You received my letter?

Yeah, I’m busy.

I’m only in Rome today. It will only take a few minutes.

I have a job to do here. Did you hear me, I’m busy.

My report is for the Caesar. I believe I mentioned in the letter I have his full authority to question his subjects.

Yeah. Alright. Follow me. We'll go somewhere with a breeze, at least.

[He leads me down one of the passageways to the stadium. We pass by a group of tattered Christians, guarded by three centurions. Guards are dragging torn bodies from the sand while lion handlers herd the creatures back into the gates].

What’s this report about? What does Caesar care for a Jew?

I’m not sure, I would assume it has to do with them.

[I nod toward the Christians.]

I think he wants to know what they are dying for.

Weaklings dying for a weakling god.

It was your servant that was healed, yes?

Yeah, yeah. Cassius was healed.

Can you tell me the story, exactly as you remember it.

It was a long time ago.

I have plenty of time.

Fine, but look, I’m not a Christian, okay? I follow Caesar, I follow Zeus.

I understand completely.

I had been working in Capernaum for about ten years. The place wasn’t bad, I had been in Gual before that, terrible people, the Gauls. Scum of the earth. So Capernaum was nice. We had a few servants in our house, mostly jews and then Cassius.

Cassius was the servant Jesus healed?

Yeah. I had known Cassius my whole life. He worked in my fathers house, and when I married my father gave him to me as a gift. It wasn’t much of a gift, I’ll tell you now. Cassius was old, maybe fifty. He wasn’t good for much, but…

[Appius begins pacing. ]

But, look, I didn’t want to see him thrown into the streets. He had never married, didn’t have any children. And he was always good to me, growing up. You know servants, they sulk around, always stealing, gossiping. Cassius was different. He loved my family. And look, Gracia liked him. So we had him around the house. He fixed things, he told the same jokes he had been telling for the past thirty years, he helped with the children. And he told us when one of the servants was cheating, helped us hire only the best. It makes a difference, you know, the type of people you have in your home.

But he got sick, real sick. There was this lump in his neck, I swear to Zeus it was the size of a shot put. He couldn’t eat, couldn’t bathe himself. And he hated every second of it. This man who had lived his entire life in service, was reduced to an invalid. The other servants had to do everything for him. I even caught my own daughter feeding him! I should have beaten her for it, but…

You know, it killed me. I couldn’t stand seeing him like that. The night before he asked me…he asked me to kill him. Said he couldn’t stand being a burden, being useless.

And you know what? I had been thinking about that. What good is a servant that can’t serve? But the minute he asked me to do it, I remembered all those stupid jokes. And when he would sneak me food, or when I broke something he would take the blame. And I couldn’t. I should have! But I couldn’t. And then I had heard about that rabbi.

You have to understand, I’ve never seen a god before. We light candles, we offer tithes, I’ve visited Aphrodites temple priestesses. That’s a good time, I’ll tell you now.

But I had never seen the gods heal, I had seen them kill, yeah. But not heal.

I remember coming to work a few days before. There was this beggar, Malachi, a pathetic pain in the ass. He had a mat right by the city gates. Always crying and screaming. His legs were all twisted, discolored. He smelled like a stable, always had flies around him. And the Pharisee boys would throw rocks at him, call him unclean, all of that. I had walked by this guy everyday for seven years. I even gave him a few coins every now and then. His parents must have brought him food, I don’t know how he lived so long. I guess he was twenty or so.

One morning I went in, and he was gone. Just gone. I figured he’d died.

And that afternoon, I saw him walk. He walked right by me! Still smelled foul, but walking. By the gods, I thought I was seeing things. His legs were perfect. What a scene! Women were crying, lepers were going to the priests to be approved, or something. Men I had seen on their mats, begging for coins, with lumps and broken bones, skin infections, were walking around. They were all screaming in their language, something about a god.

Gods, everyone was going crazy! The Pharisees were trying to control the people. They were trying to say that it was the devil, your god of death. The devil giving a man back his legs! Whoever heard such horse shit? I don’t think we’ll ever catch Hades giving a blind man back his eyes, or raising a little girl from the dead. Did you hear about the little girl? One of my guards knew her father, I didn’t believe him when he told me. But I have eyes, I’m not blind, and look, I saw these people. I saw them.

[Appius continues pacing, obviously agitated.]

And so I thought, look, if he was healing these beggars, these dumb shits, then, you know, what about Cassius? Cassius was a good man, he deserved to live, and he had something to live for, you know? I needed- my wife needed him. My kids loved him.

So, I just… I don’t know what came over me. Something…I felt something heavy in my chest. So I followed the crowd to the rabbi. And look, he was nothing to shake a stick at. He was pretty dirty, a scrawny guy, even compared to the other Jews. And he was doing it, he was healing people right then and there.

Gods, the screaming! The air was filled with something! And he was surrounded by these teenage boys, these little runts that looked terrified. So I pushed my way through the crowd, pushed them right out of the way.

Everyone got quiet. I think maybe they thought I was going to arrest him, I don’t know.

So look, I just went up to him. It was real quiet. And I said, Rabbi, my servant is dying. He’s in awful pain and I don’t know what to do for him.

He looked so exhausted. I can’t tell you, I’ve never seen a man look like him. I thought he was going to fall over right then and there. But this guy…he looked at me, and just smiled. And he said he would come to my house now.

Can you imagine that? I live several miles from town, this god didn’t look like he would make it a half mile. And you know, there are a lot sick in Capernaum. So it made sense, he didn’t have to come to my house, he could heal him from wherever.

So I said to him, look, if you tell me he’s healed, he’ll be healed. I take my orders, and I give them. If I tell someone to do something, it’s done. If you tell me that my servant is healed, I know he is. You don’t need to waste the time in coming to my house.

Or, it was something like that.

He just kept smiling. And then he said something about my faith, about how faithful I was.

[Appius stops speaking. He turns his back to me.]

I don’t remember what he said. But it was horse shit. I have faith in the gods. And I went home. And Cassius was helping Alexandria with her letters. The next day we went into town to hear him speak.

[Appius turns back around.]

But I’m not a Christian. Look, Zeus killed that god for claiming to be the only one. Who would follow a god that lets himself be crucified? A horse shit god that can only heal, can’t kill or raise an army. You won’t find Zeus on a cross, that’s for sure.

Is it difficult for you, to be in charge of the Christians now?

[Appius sits down on a rock next to me and puts his head in his hands.]

I was here the first time Caesar announced the Christians would be in the games. We had been feeding Arabs to the lions, and celts and robbers all that. But the first day I knew Christians were going to be killed, I thought…I thought maybe….

What did you think?

I thought maybe the god would come back, for that. I knew he was a weak god, getting killed and all. Even though I heard- I heard around that was all his plan or something. But I thought that maybe a god that heals would come back to save his people from the lions. Even if he was supposed to die for something, they didn’t have to, right?

So I kissed my wife, and my children. I went to work that day and I thought that we all might die. My men were scared shitless. They had heard the story from me. Everyone was wondering what this god would do. Look, I’ll tell you the truth, I sent home the men with a family.

And the Christians, they walked right out. The celts face death pretty well, prideful people. But most have to be dragged out, knocked around, and then we run our asses back before the lions come out.

Not the Christians, that first group. It was a family that wouldn’t call Ceasar a god. Idiots, they were stupid peasants. Parents, three children. The youngest was crying, the parents looked…they looked okay. Not scared or anything.

And they were looking up. They were waiting to be saved, I know they were. And by the gods, we were all looking up too. Even when the lions came out, we were all still looking up, for their weakling shit god that never came back.

Zeus killed him for good reason. That god did more harm than he ever did good. Look at them.

[Appius motions toward the Christians. The guards lead them to the center of the arena. They stand quietly. As we watch, one of children begins singing. They all join in, we can barely hear it over the spectators.]

They sing now, they sing all night long. I wish they would shut up.

So, look. That god didn’t come back. And I went home that night. And I’ve seen thousands killed, they still look up. Even though they know he’s not coming, they all think he is.

So look, that’s it. That’s the story. We done?

[I nod.]

Just one more question. Is Cassius still alive? Can I speak with him?

[Appius stares at me for a long moment.]

He’s dead.

How did he die?

[Appius looked at the stadium.]

A lion.

[Appius disappears into the passageway.]


  1. I like this idea. The idea of using a historical figure like Josephus to tell the story of Jesus through the minor characters.

    I love the description of the Jesus' healing and the chaos that must have surrounded him.

    I like the ending where we realize that the centurion wasn't saved, but the servant was. Very good.

    You do have some grammatical errors. May need to go back and revise.

  2. Okay okay okay, you've inspired me. I'll do one. I need to think about it before I choose my character. New Testament, right?

    The dialogue in this one was a little harder to follow without the narrative descriptions interpersed. I like that Appius wasn't instantly "converted" upon seeing Christ's healings. It shows the pressure and opposition of the time, but you can still get a sense of his awe when he describes the scene. I would also love a short description of Jesus; something very literal.

    Wait, Alecia's confusing me. Cassius is the servant and was healed, but then died from the lion... right?

  3. right. thanks for the feedback, i'll go back and take another look at it

  4. I'm writing one, but I need to finish grad school essay first.