Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: STIR (11/12/15)
- TITLE: No More Zac the Knife
By Noel Mitaxa
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And tonight in the dining room, every table was full, and everyone was talking. About Zac the Knife.
Zac the Knife was a high-class thief. Thugs in the nearby hills would rob or kill anyone stupid enough to travel the Jerusalem road alone. But Zac worked his victims over in town―without any physical harm, probably because he was so small. And he broke no laws.
While many Jews did not like being ruled by the Romans, Eliazer saw benefits. Roman roads made it easier for people to travel to his inn, and Roman garrisons kept the peace. And his reputation provided him with cheap advertising.
But Roman taxes were not cheap, and almost everything was taxed. Jericho was Judea’s winter capital city, for Jerusalem’s winters were too cold for the Romans. But even though taxes paid for roads and for projects like the library and sports stadium, nobody liked paying so much.
Jericho’s extra tax problem was Zac the Knife. As the chief tax officer, he took his own extra cut – hence the epithet - above the taxes that travellers and residents all had to pay. But no-one complained―out loud―lest he “invite” the Romans to “discuss any problem with them.” Roman tax laws were strict, but once their required amount had been collected, his extra fees were immaterial. Besides, if the Jews were at each other’s throats, they would be distracted from any insurrection.
But guests constantly complained about him when they checked in, or over meals: “That Zacchaeus! He is so small, but his greed is bigger than Goliath! Is he trying to be an emperor himself?”
But talk tonight was different. Something had happened. Zac was starting to throw money around Jericho like it was going out of style: visiting widows with bags of food and clothing; inviting bunches of beggars into his house for banquets; and refunding all his “personal service” fees―with interest!
“Does anyone know what has made Zacchaeus change?” Eliazer was asking each of his customers as they came in.
“Why don’t you ask him himself?” replied a diminutive, plainly-dressed figure who shook Eliazer’s hand with a smile―leaving a small but heavy bag as he let go.
“Zacchaeus?” gasped Eliazer, before gesturing for him to follow.
“The same!” replied the newcomer, as he tried to keep in step.
Eliazer clapped his hands to gain attention. “My friends, we need confuse each other with our opinions no longer, because Zacchaeus is here in person, and he wants to tell us what’s happened.”
A hush swept the crowd, and a beaming Zacchaeus sat atop the highest stool he could be offered.
“No more Zac the Knife for me!” They all glanced at each other―he knew his nickname?
“I am totally changed. Thanks to the Galilean rabbi called Jesus. I’d heard he was in town, but I couldn’t see him. Until it hit me to climb a tree beside the road. Good idea; but all my rings made gripping difficult, and I almost tangled my toga.
“I’d planned to just watch from a distance, but as Jesus came along he looked up and smiled. 'Hey Zacchaeus, let’s do lunch at your house!'”
“Everyone around me was stunned―and so was I. But I got down as fast as I could, and led the way. The crowd was not impressed―and they let me know―but nobody has ever known how lonely I’ve been. Money was my god, but what an empty god! I could buy the most comfortable bed, but it couldn’t buy me a good night’s sleep.
“Jesus inviting himself for a feed has made me his brother. He has released me from that empty god, and from the loneliness of trying to push people around because everybody was bigger than me. He’s also freed me from myself. I don’t need fancy clothes, and I don’t need the guilt from all my dishonesty.
“Tomorrow is clean-out day at the tax office, and you’re all welcome to come reclaim all my personal service fees and more!”
That night, leaning across to kiss his wife Miriam goodnight, Eliazer whispered with a chuckle, “So now we can call him Zac the Nice!”
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