The Prophet And Caesar's Wife
The Prophet in his wanderings came to Cragmacnois, and found the Bishop living in a golden palace and drinking fine wines, when all around him was bitter poverty. The Bishop spent so long feasting each day that he had grown almost too fat for his fine silk robes.
“Woe unto you!” said the Prophet, “The people of Cragmacnois are poor and hard-working, and they loathe the rich and the corrupt. Rightly do they hate you for spending the Church’s money on your own lavish lifestyle.”
“Actually,” said the Bishop, “my brother the Prince lets me use this spare palace of his and its well-stocked wine cellar. If I refused, he would just give it to someone else, or leave it empty. I’m not stealing church resources, and there’s no way to divert the resources to help the poor. And I am secure in my faith, and won’t be turned to hedonism by a glass of wine here and there. So what’s wrong with me enjoying myself a little?”
“It is said,” said the Prophet, “that Caesar’s wife must be not only pure, but above suspicion of impurity. A good reputation is worth more than any treasure. Fat as you are, nobody will believe you are untainted by the temptations of wealth. Give the golden palace back to your brother, and live in a hovel in the woods. Only then will you earn the people’s trust.”
The Prophet in his wanderings came to Belazzia, and found the Bishop living in a hovel and wearing a hair shirt. He spent so long in prayer each day that he barely ate, and seemed so dangerously thin that he might fall over at any moment.
“Woe unto you!” said the Prophet. “For the people of Belazzia are rich and sophisticated, and they mock you for your poverty and uncleanliness. Does the Church not give you enough funds to build a golden palace and wear silk robes? If you were the most resplendent citizen of this nation of splendor, would they not take you more seriously?”
“I admit I haven’t converted very many people, looking like this,” said the Bishop. “But if I lived in a golden palace, how would I know that I was doing it for the right reasons - to gain credibility and convert more people - instead of because I secretly liked the ego boost of seeming rich and important?”
“Do you even hear yourself?” asked the Prophet, fuming. “How will I know that I was…You won’t! If you value your psychological comfort more than the aims of the Church, you’ve already admitted that the ego boost is all you care about. Do you think God is fooled by your hovel and your hair shirt? You’re just as dumb as those nobles who think He cares about their golden crowns and shiny armor. Go serve Him in the actual way that works the best, and if you feel guilty, kvetch about it to your therapist or something.”
The Prophet in his wanderings came to Zhodovsk, and found the Bishop living in a hovel and wearing a hair shirt. When the Prophet complained to the Bishop that he was tired and hungry, the Bishop smiled and led him through a trap door. There beneath his hovel was a gleaming golden palace full of fine wines.
“Woe unto you!” said the Prophet, “for the people of Zhodovsk are poor and hard-working and so on. How could you waste your money on this outrageous underground palace?”
“Well,” said the Bishop, “I am very rich, and I used to live in a normal palace above ground. Then I talked to the Bishop of Cragmacnois, who said you’d told him that a lavish lifestyle alienated him from the poor people in his flock. I thought that made sense, but I didn’t want to live my whole life in a hovel, scratching in the dirt. So I made a fake hovel, excavated this palace underneath it, and ordered these fake hair shirts with fine silk on the inside. Now everyone thinks I’m a saint even though I live in luxury.”
“But excavating this completely undetectable underground palace must have cost ten times what it would take to just build a palace the normal way!”
“Oh yes,” said the Bishop. “But the Bishop of Cragmacnois said you told him a good reputation was worth more than any treasure.”
“Sure, but…” The Prophet fumed. “Whatever. Fine. You’re doing the best you can, conditional on being a bad person. When you die, God will give you the best afterlife possible, conditional on sending you to Hell.”
The Prophet in his wanderings returned to Belazzia, and found the Bishop living in a golden palace and drinking fine wines. Everyone praised his splendor and generosity, and all the top nobles had converted and started attending church regularly.
The Bishop offered to show the Prophet a secret, and led him to the sub-sub-sub-basement of his palace. There was a room full of dirt, with a little hovel in it. “This is where I actually spend my time,” said the Bishop. “And look at my silk robe”. The Prophet looked at it closely, and saw that the inside was covered with hair.
“Woe unto you!” said the Prophet. “This hovel probably cost . . . well, realistically, much less than the golden palace, but it was a totally unnecessary expense! God will count every penny you spent on it against you! And the hair shirts - it must have cost extra to have them custom-made. How dare you waste Church resources like this!”
“I just thought…” said the Bishop “I was worried that maybe I would get used to lavish living, and then later I would start spending even more on my palace or my nice robes than the situation warranted. So I thought I would make sure I didn’t enjoy any of it, in order to keep my incentives aligned. I…didn’t want to get soft.”
“Fine,” said the Prophet. “God forgives you. But He will send you to Hell anyway, because He doesn’t want to get soft.”
The Prophet in his wanderings came to Fenswamp, and found the Bishop living in a golden palace and drinking fine wines. “Woe unto you!” said the Prophet, “for you are stealing money from the people and the Church to support your lavish lifestyle.”
“Hmmm,” said the Bishop. “Actually, I heard about what you told the Bishop of Belazzia, and how well he’d been doing since he upped his swag level, and I thought maybe I could do the same.”
“Your diocese is made of bog people, you moron,” fumed the Prophet. “They’re hardly going to think less of you for drinking the wrong vintage of wine.”
“Oh well,” said the Bishop. “I guess that’s how moral hazard works. Because you told the Bishop of Belazzia that you supported him living lavishly, the rest of us thought maybe we should do the same. Perhaps you should have preached that no Bishop can live lavishly, in order to have a bright-line rule that prevents other people from getting confused or taking advantage of you. As they say, Caesar’s wife must be not only pure, but above suspicion of impurity.”
“Or perhaps I’ll do what I want, and God will send overly-clever bastards like you to Hell for trying to take advantage of the system,” said the Prophet.
The Prophet in his wanderings came to Belazzia again. There he found the former Bishop of Zhodovsk, living in the golden palace and drinking the fine wines.
“What are you doing here?” asked the Prophet.
“I got to talking with the Bishop of Belazzia,” said Zhodovsk. “It turned out that I wished I was rich, but had to be poor for the sake of my diocese. And he wished he was poor, but had to be rich for the sake of his diocese. So we switched dioceses. Now he’s happily plodding in the dirt in Zhodovsk, and I’m here living it up in Belazzia.”
"Woe unto you!” said the Prophet. “Behold, you are serving white wine, although the people of Belazzia prefer reds at their parties! And you have dancing girls for entertainment, even though the people of Belazzia prefer bullfights! The old Bishop would never have made those mistakes, because he hated wine and entertainment, and it was all the same to him what kinds he chose. But you, who love them, let your own desires bleed in to your choices! Let God send you to Hell, and we will see if you find anyone there who will trade places with you!”
The Prophet in his wanderings came to Zhodovsk again, and found the Bishop living in a hovel and wearing a hair shirt. He was hoeing at the land, trying to plant crops in the rocky soil.
“Woe unto you!” said the Prophet. “I thought I told you to stay in Belazzia!”
“Yes, but I figure the new Bishop of Belazzia has explained our deal to you,” he said. “I must admit, I find this lifestyle much more agreeable. And any day now, the people will see that I till the soil in backbreaking labor, just as they do, and appreciate me for being one of the common people.”
“How will they think you’re like them when your skin is perfectly smooth, without even a hint of tan or a callus on your hands?”
The new Bishop of Zhodovsk looked at his hands. “It’s odd, isn’t it? I’ve been working out here for six months now, and still have perfect skin. My father said his skin was the same way, and my grandfather before him. I think it’s a family trait.”
“Thus are you unsuited to preach in Zhodovsk! But since I cannot convince you, here, take this magic stone and rub it roughly over your skin and hands each morning. It will cause you to become as tanned and calloused as any peasant.”
“Isn’t that dishonest?”
“How is it dishonest? You’re working hard, you’re making them think you’re working hard, you’re communicating a true fact to them. Communicating true facts is the definition of honesty. If you care more about appearing honest than about genuinely conveying the truth, then you are a poor and selfish servant of God indeed.”
The Prophet in his wanderings came to the Great Capital, where he was approached by literal Caesar’s literal wife.
“Woe unto me!” she said, “I messed up. Many years ago, I had sex with the Grand Vizier. Just once, it’s the only time I ever did anything like that. But now his servant is blackmailing me, saying that unless I sleep with him too, he’ll tell everybody about it. What should I do?”
“I’m not one of those fundamentalist prophets,” the Prophet responded. “I don’t care what you do in the bedroom. But if it comes out that Caesar has been cuckolded, everyone will lose respect for him, the realm will descend into civil war, and thousands of people will die. Under the circumstances, it’s your responsibility to do whatever you can to prevent rumors from spreading. For God’s sake, sleep with the Grand Vizier’s servant!”
“But doesn’t everyone always talk about how Caesar’s wife must be not only pure, but above suspicion of impurity?”
“Seems like you’ve already given up on Part A. My point is that Part B is still salvageable. Lie back and think of the Empire.”
The Prophet in his wanderings came to Zhodovsk again, and found the people looking glum. He asked what troubled them, and they said that their Bishop had just died. Worse, when they searched his belongings after death, they had found a magic stone, which - they noticed - made the skin of a noble look like that of a commoner. “All this time,” they told the Prophet “We had thought he was one of us. But in fact he must have been living lavishly in secret.”
“Woe unto you!” said the Prophet. “He was a humble hermit and faithful servant of God. He only used that stone to, um, look more convincing, because he had, uh, a genetic issue that prevented his skin from ever getting tanned or callused.”
“Curse you,” said one of the peasants. “Curse you and your entire fake religion! We’re done with the Church, and with God too!” And they chased him out of Zhodovsk.
So the Prophet fled to Belazzia. There, too, the people looked glum, and he asked what troubled them.
“Our Bishop has died,” they said. “And when we searched his belongings after death, we found that underneath his golden palace was a sub-sub-sub-basement with a tiny hovel. And there we found shirts that were silken on the outside, but hair on the inside. He must have been a true saint, partying lavishly only to win our allegiance. We can’t even conceive of that level of piety. We’re raising money to erect a great cathedral in his honor. Some people are even talking about renaming the city after him.”
“But,” said the Prophet, “that was his predeces…who switched…ah, whatever. Definitely invite me to the cathedral dedication, I’d love to come, really.”
The Prophet in his wanderings returned to the Great Capital, where he was approached by Caesar, brandishing his sword menacingly.
“My wife is pregnant,” said Caesar. “And I’ve been off campaigning for the past year.”
“Fuck,” said the Prophet. “I forgot that could happen.”
“She told me everything. If it had just been rumors, I could have imprisoned anyone who repeated them. Now it’s more serious. I’m going to have to make an example of a lot of people to restore my reputation. I think I should start with you.”
“Now hold on a s-” said the Prophet, just before Caesar cut his throat.
The Prophet’s soul stood before the Judgment Seat of God.
“MY CHILD,” said God. “YOU HAVE SPENT YOUR ENTIRE LIFE TRYING TO SERVE THE CHURCH. MANY THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE CAME TO THE FAITH BECAUSE OF YOU. STILL, I HAVE CERTAIN QUESTIONS…”
“You have questions?” asked the Prophet. “Hold on a second. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why are there famines? Plagues? Wars? How come the common people have to spend their lives in backbreaking labor? How come evil prospers? Why do…”
“MY CHILD,” said God, “I REALIZE IT MAY BE HARD TO COMPREHEND, FROM YOUR MORTAL PERSPECTIVE, BUT ALL OF THIS IS FOR THE GREATER GOOD.”
“Oh, I’m sure it is,” said the Prophet. “That’s not what I’m concerned about. My point it, it’s terrible PR. You’re totally tanking Church membership numbers. I’m sure you’re omnibenevolent and all, but, as the saying goes, Caesar’s wife must be not only pure, but above suspicion of impurity, and right now you’re looking suspicious as hell. I have a couple of suggestions for how you could improve your image…”
And the chronicle does not tell us what happened next. Honestly it’s pretty impressive it told us about the conversation he had with God in Heaven at all.