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TITLE: The Profit
By Debora Dyess
05/31/06
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I'm interested in conveying to teens that the people in the gospels were just people--just like them. They had lives before their encounters with Jeuss and lives after.
The Profit was origionally a weekly challenge, but was written with the intent of increasing it to 1200-1500 words and adding a week's worth of short devos to it. To read the origional go to weekly challenge, weekly topic 'hope'. If you do read both the weekly challenge and this version let me know if the increased word length has deminished the punch of the piece.
I'd like a sincere, hard-hitting critique on both the story and the devo ideas. Feel free to be honest and, if necessary, harsh. I want this project to be God-honoring and impactful for the kids who use it. Thank you, Deb
The last thing I wanted to do that night was smile and mingle with the town’s elite. Likely as not, unless something happened to change my mood, I’d end up at odds with one of them, or would leave early to avoid an argument. My trip from Jericho had not been pleasant and I oozed anger as I walked the short distance form my inn to the party. So I entered Matthew’s house in no mood for women and drink, which was actually a good thing this time. Matthew’s party didn’t include the usual carousing and lewd activities. And, although I didn’t know it at the moment that was the night my life began to change forever.

I studied the guests in the room and smiled. Perfect, I thought; the usual victims—wealthy businessmen and vain community leaders. Excellent! Matthew would go far, I thought. In our core, where it counted most, we were just the same. I’d trained him well. Even after he’d moved from Jericho I’d followed his career with interest. Each gain for him gave me pleasure, as if I were watching my own son grow in wealth and experience.

A group looked at me, snickering, as I entered. I glowered at them, planning my revenge for such blatant disrespect. Nobody laughed at me without immediate, harsh revenge—nobody. Everyone knew that, and yet here they were, taking pot shots at me already. I could almost hear the taunts. I’d certainly heard them often enough in the past.

Matthew rushed to me, hand extended, face excited. His genuine delight at seeing me lightened my mood. “Zacchaeus! You made it! I’m so glad you came! This is going to be such an incredible night!”

“Oh, my boy;” I shook his hand. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world!” I smiled and clapped him on the back.

“I want you to meet him, Zacchaeus! I can’t wait to see your reaction to him! You’ll be so amazed! I was!” He laughed, almost a chuckle. “I still am!”

I smiled up at Matthew, amused by his intensity, and took his arm to slow him down. I though again how we were just alike, Matthew and me; our hearts filled with thoughts of riches, our consciences unconcerned about how we achieved them. “Wait, Matthew! Wait! There’s time for that later. Let’s just talk for a minute first.”

He hesitated and glanced toward the small group gathered on the other side of the room. I could tell he was anxious, but he nodded and gave me his full attention. “Well…alright.”

I looked around, arched an eyebrow and whispered. “So…what’s the plan? Is it wonderful? You can tell me, Matthew…you know I keep secrets well. If you’ve found something more lucrative than taxation I’d like to join you little band of zealots—if the money’s right. And if you’re this excited about it I can only imagine what the money must be!”

Matthew started to speak, but stopped. He looked confused, then disappointed. He shook his head and frowned.

“What do you hope to gain from this, Matthew? Tell me. Money? Position? Not mine, surely. So many have tried…” I smiled but it was only a thin covering for the veiled warning my words contained. “Tell me! What do you hope to profit from this little adventure you’re taking?”

Matthew looked at his feet, hesitated and then stared hared into my eyes. “My soul.”

“Your soul?” I stood silent for a minute, and then burst into laughter, wiping my eyes. “You’re serious? This charlatan actually fooled you? You, Matthew?” I patted him on the back and quietened, aware that we were drawing too much attention. “I’ve seen half a dozen messiahs come and go in my time, boy. They pop up like weeds with one thing in common—they all disappear when the money stops coming in! Or when Rome decides it’s time for the game to be over. But this one…this has conned you? Oh, Matthew! I hope you didn’t give him your investments!” I laughed again. “What are you thinking? I thought I’d taught you better!”

“You taught me to lie, and steal; to take advantage of the weak and poor.”

“I taught you to be strong!” I bristled.

Matthew looked down at his hands, working knots in his sash, and then back to me. “I admired you because of what you have. Because of what you’ve taken. But Jesus teaches that we’re important not because of what we have but because of who we are to God.”

“God? Do you actually believe that our great, all-knowing god is up there somewhere, Matthew? Do you actually believe that we’re somehow chosen by the Almighty? Please! God is for the simple, the stupid. Think, man! You’re neither.”

Matthew smiled gently. I saw sadness in his eyes. “Evidently I’m both, Zacchaeus.” He lay his hand on my shoulder. “I hope you come to see what you cannot see now, my friend; that God is alive, and that Jesus can give hope and peace beyond what riches offer.” Then he walked away.

I didn’t see Matthew again for a long time. And, try as I might, I couldn’t forget that conversation. My wealth, usually a source of great comfort, left me feeling more lonely than I’d felt since my childhood. I felt empty and troubled.

Then one day I was monitoring my taxmen. As I sat, counting out my cut of an enormous take, an old man approached the tax booth. He pitched money on the table and defiantly raised his voice. “*’What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul’?”

The centurion guarding the booth stepped menacingly forward but I stopped him with a wave of my hand. “What did you say?”

The old man looked at me, his gaze sharp and direct. “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul!”

“Where did you hear that?” I felt shaken by the words, as if everything I’d been doing my whole life was being challenged, as if the center of my life was being torn form me.

“Jesus of Nazareth said it!” the old man looked from me to the centurion and back. “Take your money! I’d rather take what he offers.”

“And what is that?” I asked, spellbind.

“Life!” The man answered as he left.

I stood, staring, transfixed by the words. “What does it profit a man…if he gains the world…” I muttered under my breath, “but loses his soul? What does it profit him…”

My subordinate stared at me strangely, surely wondering if I’d lost my mind, but I didn’t care. “Is this Jesus here? Where might I find him? Tell me!”

The big Centurion grinned, surely imagining me confronting the now famous holy man. “He’s in the marketplace. He’s been there half the morning, I’m told, weaving his spell around the people. You’ll catch him if you hurry.”

Hurry I did. I couldn’t understand it; I simply knew I had to meet this man; the man that Matthew said could profit me my soul. It didn’t matter that only a few moments before I doubted the existence of my soul; the old man’s words had hit home. I suddenly understood the emptiness I felt.

I found a crowd squeezed into the small market area, all calling to Jesus. I tried to shove through the mass, to see him, to speak to him. No one would let me in. Twice people looked down at me and shoved me further back. It occurred to me that, as chief tax collector, I’d stolen from everyone in this crowd, robbing them to increase the weight of my pockets. None would let me through.

I looked around, desperate, trying to find a place to force my way into the inner throng. My eyes stopped on one particular spot and I smiled, my plan unfolding in my mind immediately. I would see Jesus whether the people around me wanted me to or not.

I ran to a sycamore tree and easily scurried up the low branches. Its vantage point was perfect. Jesus and his group would pass directly under the tree! I saw Matthew first but looked past him, to the man that had changed his life. I settled into a crook of a branch and studied Jesus’ face. Was Matthew right about this man? Was he able to offer hope and life?

Jesus stopped beneath me. I felt my heart pound in my chest and held my breath as he looked up and extended his hand. “Zacchaeus.”

As he spoke my name hope flooded my soul and I knew what Matthew had discovered already. Jesus would give me what all my schemes and plans and wealth could not. Jesus could give me life.


********************

Day 1: Read the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-9. The next section is the parable of the ten minas. Read that passage as well. Why you think Jesus followed his time with Zacchaeus with this story?

Day 2:
Reread the account of Zacchaeus. You now have a fictional version of his life before Jesus, the factual record of his encounter with the Lord and information about how his life changed. What do you think happened to Zacchaeus in the days that followed? Jesus’ trial, crucifixion and resurrection were not too far away. How do you think Zacchaeus responded to these events?

Day 3:
Profit is defined as:
1. making much more than you spend, especially in business
and
2. a benefit derived from an activity

Read Mark 8:34-38. How did Zacchaeus’ profit change from definition #1 to definition #2 after his encounter with Jesus?

Day 4:
It’s so easy to get caught up in the ‘material girl (or guy) syndrome’ in our culture. Read Proverbs 30:7-9. How have you gotten caught in the ‘stuff’ trap? If not, how have you avoided it?

Day 5: Proverbs 30:15-16 talkes about greed. Read this short passage and look at your life through that verse. Ask God to show you what you need to change and where you’re doing well. Learn to say ‘enough’.
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