I entered Matthew’s house in no mood for women and drink, which was good, because Matthew’s party didn’t include the normal carousing. And, although I didn’t know it then, that was the night my life began to change.
I studied the guests and smiled. Perfect, I thought; the usual victims—wealthy businessmen and community leaders. Matthew would go far, I thought. I’d trained him well.
A group looked at me, snickering, as I entered. I glowered at them, planning my revenge for such blatant insolence. Nobody laughed at me without immediate, harsh retribution.
Matthew rushed to me, hand extended, face excited. “Zacchaeus! I’m glad you came!”
“I wouldn’t miss this for the world,” I answered,
“I want you to meet him, Zacchaeus! You’ll be amazed!”
I smiled up at Matthew, took his arm to slow him. We were just alike; our hearts filled with thoughts of riches, our consciences unconcerned about how we achieved them. “Wait, Matthew. Let’s talk first.”
He hesitated, but agreed. “Alright.”
I looked around, arched an eyebrow and whispered. “You can tell me, Matthew…I keep secrets well. If you’ve found something more lucrative than taxation I’d like to join—if the money’s right.”
Matthew started to speak, but stopped.
“What do you hope to gain from this, Matthew? Tell me. Money? Position? Not mine, surely.”
“Your soul?” I burst into laughter. “This charlatan actually fooled you? I’ve seen messiahs come and go in my time. They all disappear when the money stops coming in! But this one has conned you? I hope you didn’t give him your investments!” I laughed again. “I thought I’d taught you better!”
“You taught me to lie, and steal; to take advantage of the weak. I admired you because of what you have. But Jesus teaches that we’re important because of who we are to God.”
“God? Do you believe our great god is there somewhere, Matthew? God is for the simple, the stupid. You’re neither.”
Matthew smiled gently. “Evidently I’m both.” He lay his hand on my shoulder. “I hope you come to see what you cannot see now, Zacchaeus; that God is alive, and that Jesus can give hope and peace beyond what riches offer.” Then he walked away.
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 childhood. I felt empty and troubled.
Then one day I was monitoring my taxmen. An old man entered the tax building. 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’?”
“Where did you hear that,” I ordered, shaken by the words.
“Jesus of Nazareth! Take your money! I’d rather take what he offers.”
“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?”
My subordinate stared at me strangely but I didn’t care. “Is this Jesus here? Where might I find him?”
The man grinned, imagining me confronting the now famous holy man. “He’s in the marketplace. 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 could profit me my soul.
I found a crowd squeezed into the small market area, all calling to Jesus. I tried to shove through, to see him, to speak to him. No one would let me in. 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 knew.
I looked around, trying to find a place to press through and smiled. I would see Jesus no matter what the people around me wanted.
I ran to a sycamore tree and scurried up. Jesus and his group were coming! I saw Matthew first but looked past him, to the man that changed his life. I settled into a crook of a branch and studied his 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 as he looked up and extended his hand. “Zacchaeus.”
As he spoke my name hope flooded my soul.
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