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Testimony of a Tax Collector
Chapter OneTESTIMONY of a Tax Collector
Zacchaeus rose early each morning for a full day of calling on the residents of Jericho, who all owed taxes.
He pulled out his day planner to check the names and addresses of the people he wanted to see that day.
It wasn't long before he arrived at his first scheduled appointment. He noticed that it was an unkempt, dilapidated shanty, desperately in need of some paint and major repairs. There would be no sympathy or mercy coming from Zacchaeus.
The only thing that was of any importance was the word
STAMPED BY THE PERSON'S NAME.
He knocked on the door.
As the door swung open, it creaked and groaned with the eeriness of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. On the other side stood a frail, blind man.
The blind man asked,
And the answer came, "Zacchaeus. I'm here to collect the taxes you owe the Roman government."
In a trembling voice, the blind man began to explain his inability to pay his taxes.
"I have no family," he said. "I don't receive any pension. And there's no society dedicated to helping the blind. I want to pay you, but right now I am not able to pay. But, please, I beg you, have mercy, Mr. Zacchaeus.
Give me thirty days. I don't know how or where, but somehow I'll find the money."
Zacchaeus was caught between money and mercy. He told the blind man, "That's not usually my style, but you have thirty days.
But, blind man, when I get back, if you don't show me the money, you'll not only be blind, but you'll be homeless."
Zacchaeus turned, and as he walked away he thought,
That didn't go very well. Perhaps I'll have better luck at the next house.
He came to his next appointment and pounded ferociously on the door. As the woman slowly opened the door, Zacchaeus grimaced as he immediately recognized that there was going to be a problem.
The woman's complexion was completely discolored. It was whitish-yellow, as if all the blood had been drained from her face. Her eyes seemed as if they were being sucked out of their sockets, her lips were cracked and swollen, her cheekbones were disfigured and repulsively protruded from her face, and her hair was dry, trashy, and matted. Her face was wet with tears.
Her speech was slurred as she said, "I know who you are and why you've come. But, Mr. Zacchaeus ... Oh, Mr. Zacchaeus, I don't have any way of paying my taxes.
You see, for twelve years I've had a blood disorder. In that time, my husband divorced me and I lost all my health benefits. Now I have no savings or any money to pay my bills, and I have even pawned my jewelry and sold all my furniture and everything in my checking account is spent.
But give me thirty days-just thirty days, All I need is at least thirty days."
Zacchaeus was caught between greed and grace. He said, "For some reason I feel benevolent today. You have thirty days. But when I return, I want the taxes." As he walked away he thought, Maybe I'll have better luck at the next house.
As Zacchaeus walked around the bend, he spotted the third house. A woman stood listless and almost catatonic in front of the house. She stared into space, not seeming to recognize that he was moving closer to her. When he tried to speak to her, there was no response.
Suddenly, he heard a spine-chilling scream come from behind him.
Zacchaeus turned sharply to see where the scream came from. On the hillside across the street, running nude between the stones in the graveyard, was the silhouette of what looked like a cross between a man and a beast, recklessly wounding himself.
Now the woman in front of the house broke her silence. "That man was once my husband," she said. "He was a good man. I'm still praying that one day he'll be restored and return to his family. Some have suggested that I should move on with my life, but I still love him. He's the father of my children. I'm not sure if it will ever happen, because no man can tame him and no man can bind him.
He calls himself Legion because he's possessed by many demons," she added.
Now Zacchaeus was caught between dollars and demons.
Not anxious to dialogue with demons, Zacchaeus began to retrace his steps. Before the woman said anything about the taxes, Zacchaeus said, "I'll be back in your area in thirty days. Be prepared to pay upon my return."
He hurriedly turned away, his heart still palpitating. He looked at his day planner and noted there was one last house to visit. When he arrived, there was a funeral ornament hanging on the door, suggesting that someone had died. But not even a family tragedy would stop Zacchaeus, so he knocked anyway. A grieving woman, veiled and dressed in black, answered the door.
"I know who you are and why you've come," she said. "Zacchaeus, my son died yesterday, and I'm on my way to the funeral.
I had to use the tax money to bury my only son."
"I've already given some of your neighbors thirty days," Zacchaeus said. "So I'll be back in thirty days." Now Zacchaeus was trapped between the law and love.
Excerpted from Testimony of a Tax Collector by E. K. Bailey Copyright © 2004 by E. K. Bailey. Excerpted by permission.
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