“There is much,” said the young Roman.
“And so I know—but name it.”
“Well, for one thing, men torture and kill their slaves.”
“And in the law of the one God ’tis written, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’”
After a thoughtful moment Vergilius added: “And the strong prey upon the weak, seizing their property and holding it for their own.”
“And the one God commands, ‘Thou shalt not steal’; and again, ’Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor’s.’”
“But you have injustice, also, in Judea.”
“Ay, because there be evil men who obey not the law of God. But presently they shall be put to shame. Here is he that is come to prepare the way of the Lord.”
The child was now asleep, his head on his father’s knee.
“John,” said the priest, tenderly looking down.
But the little one continued to sleep, and a wonderful peace and beauty had come upon him.
“And this new king—whence shall he come and how shall we know him?” the young Roman persisted.
“Conceived of God, he is now in the womb of his mother,” said the priest. “Soon—very soon, he shall enter the gate of the world. The ground is ready and he shall be like a sower, and his seed shall be love, and peace shall be his harvest. If ye would know him, behold this face.”
He touched the brow of the child. “Son of darkness,” he continued, “look upon the son of light! The faith of Mizraim or the wisdom of Hillel could show you no more. Do you see the new light shining within this lovely veil of flesh? Look, and you shall know the fashion of his countenance, and that his hand shall make no wound.”
The priest rose, and, lifting the child in his arms, went away, saying, “His peace be with you.”
The young Roman stood looking at the sweet face that lay on the shoulder of him departing. The great hope of Judea had entered his heart—the hope of a just king to rule the nations and point the way to eternal life.
On his return he bought a statue representing a beautiful young boy. He set it up in his chamber, and, kneeling, prayed to it as the one God who forbade killing and theft and every evil practice of men. He prayed for understanding; he prayed, also, that he might see her he loved. But this new God seemed as deaf to his entreaty as had been those of the pagan temples. Groping for light, he turned to the young David. Then first he learned that God, being jealous, hated the image of everything that has the breath of life. His understanding had diminished, for, in this matter, the one God was like the many. He questioned the Jew. “Wonder not,” said his friend, “that God hates the symbol of ancient error. It has been as a cloud upon the sun.”