Jubilee

Zacchaeus

To some degree, I suppose I inherited it – my aptitude for business, that is. After all, my father was known as a shrewd businessman who always seemed to be able to come out on top regardless of the economic conditions. As far back as I can remember, I wanted to make him proud.

And make him proud I did, especially when I won the tax-farming contract. I instinctively sensed that more could be squeezed from these peasants, these workaday people who were obviously not as smart as we were. If they were, would they be living in those little huts? Listening to those high and mighty religious leaders; stupid enough to give them their money. Idiots.

Dad threw a party in my honor when I won the contract, recruited a hoard of tax collectors, revenue men, and assigned them territories. Everyone who was anybody was there.

“Ingenious,” dad called me in his toast, because the ways and means of taxing everything seemed to pop into my head spontaneously. Once I got on a roll, the ideas came in spurts day and night, even in my dreams – tax them to travel the roads – any road, all roads; tax income, tax land, tax trees, tax the carts, the donkeys, the grain for planting and the harvest when reaped; tax their houses; penalize them for not making repairs, then tax the repairs; tax goods on their way to market and goods bought at market, goods imported and exported, inherited and bequeathed; tax the clothing they made, the clothing they sold, the clothing they bought, the wool they spun, the goats they milked, and the sheep they sheered. I had them coming and going. We taxed people to protect them from the authorities, to guard their businesses, to safeguard their homes. They couldn’t breathe without being taxed by one of my guys.

And I got a cut – I won’t say what percentage, but it was sizeable – of every tax levied and collected.

If they didn’t pay? Well, let’s just say, all of a sudden, some homes and businesses would be broken into, the residents roughed-up, and their possessions stolen. Or maybe suddenly the authorities would start harassing some uppity cheapskate. Sometimes, every now and then, a person would turn up dead or a house would mysteriously burn down. The fear of God, you know. 

Pretty soon, I did nothing but collect the money. Once in while, one of my taxmen would try to cheat me and I would bribe a couple of soldiers to make them disappear.

Huge mansion – everything money can buy. But lonely. Everybody hated me. They feared me, but they despised me. Oh, sure, there were plenty of sycophants who kissed up and fawned over me, flattered me, but it was obvious it was all fake. They too hated me. Behind my back, they mocked me. Their eyes betrayed their real feelings.

The area was all abuzz. A miracle-working rabbi traveling the land – healing the sick, even raising the dead. I dismissed it all as plebian nonsense, but the reports kept piling in, even from people who normally don’t make stuff up. Then I heard he was headed this way.

Everybody, and I mean literally everybody – young, old, sick, well, women, children, men – they were all surging out to where he would reportedly be passing by.

My curiosity got the best of me. But as I headed out with the crowd, people threw me those looks, bumped into me hard when I wasn’t looking, cursed me under their breath. To be honest, I started to be afraid that the mob would kill me, trample me under foot and deny having ever seen me. 

Outside of town was one of those huge, broad-leafed sycamore trees. I’m short, so I likely couldn’t see over the crowd anyway, and, frankly, I just wanted to see him without being seen, so I scrambled up and hid in the leaves, safe, nestled in my perch.

Shit! He’s coming towards me, the crowd surging along. Did he spot me? If so, I’m a goner. He’s a rabbi. He’ll quote some Bible verses to condemn me, demand some sort of surrender, and turn me over to the mob for stone-justice.

He does see me. He’s looking right at me. My heart is beating in my throat.

He calls me by name. How did he know my name? I guess the crowd told him. I guess one of them spotted me climbing up, told him the notorious tax-farmer was treed, and sicked him on me. How am I going to get out of this one? Should have stayed in the villa behind the locked gates with the bodyguards.

Did I hear right? Am I seeing things?

He is smiling at me all friendly like. Says he wants to eat dinner at my house!

You know the custom – when a prominent rabbi visits a town, he eats dinner at a communitywide banquet in his honor with all the religious people and the important officials. If he comes home with me, he will insult them all. Not that he hasn’t already insulted them simply by not publically condemning me. They never would have shown him where I was sequestered in my tree if they had known that. 

Something snapped inside me. Maybe it is because no one – not my father, not my employees, not my siblings, not my mother (whom I barely knew before dad threw her out) – no one was ever this kind to me. He never condemned me. Never judged me. Never spoke an unkind word. Didn’t browbeat me with Bible verses. And, he really seemed to enjoy the dinner. He drank my wine with gusto, helped himself to seconds, told stores and laughed at jokes.

And those eyes – there was something in his eyes. I know it now – divine, everlasting, unconditional, nonjudgmental love and acceptance. 

I had never before known joy. I had never before felt a light heart, danced spontaneously, or felt empathy for anyone, but now I felt what they felt and longed to join them in their huts and around their fires. 

He moved on.

It was a delight, a genuine joy, to give away fully half of everything I owned. The people were suspicious. I don’t blame them. I had quite a reputation. They thought I was drunk or insane when I went to the poorest of them and gave away bags of gold. I paid for weddings, for barrels of wine and olive oil, for cemetery plots and burial expenses. I bought new clothes for the tattered. 

Then, I went through our records. I kept impeccable accounts. I deeded land to widows, contracted to have houses built for the homeless, purchased livestock for the peasants, and tried my best to figure out who I had defrauded, at least those I had most defrauded, because, God knows, I probably defrauded almost everybody. As best I could, I made restitution to those I had cheated, not by repaying them, but by quadrupling what I had taken.

And, most significantly, I quit my job and moved into a very modest little house where I set up a little business advising people on how to pay only as much tax as they had to.

I can’t describe the feeling! Freedom! Jubilee! 

About Dr. Larry Taylor

Radical Anabaptist, Jesus Freak, Red Letter Christian, sailor, thinker, spiritual director, life coach, pastor, teacher, chaplain, counselor, writer, husband, father, grandfather, dog-sitter

Posted on January 7, 2023, in Bible, Jesus, Kingdom Life, kingdom of God, parables, social justice, Spiritual Direction, Spirituality. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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