Good News for the rich
DESMOND O’DONNELL OMI
Counsellor: You are the local tax-agent. Aren’t you ?
Client: Yes, that’s me. In fact I’m the boss of the tax-agents.
Counsellor: It’s hard to be popular, I presume?
Client: By Jove, that’s for sure. At least up until now anyway. That is why I’ve come to see you. I’m no longer sure where I am in the community but more especially inside myself. I need to talk to someone.
Counsellor: So you feel, shall I say, somewhat confused ?
Client: I have so many feelings at the same time since I changed. Or is it was changed?.
Counsellor: Could you try to name some of your feelings ?.
Client: Well, the guilt is still there because of past greed, and loneliness too because I have no real friends. Then fear lest I am killed by a Zealot, and now I am becoming very happy because of what happened to me. Or is it in me. Yes, by Jove, in me.
Counsellor: Could we try to look at these feelings one by one ?
Client: I’ll try. You see, the Romans rent out the tax collecting business and they give us protection. We pay the rent and after that we can keep whatever we can squeeze out of the people. Then of course, as the local capo, I get a slice from each agent under me. Yes, I’m a wealthy man.
Counsellor: And as you said, feeling guilty too?
Client: Up to now, not so. My parents taught me to be realistic and enterprising. So I knew that being a tax agent was a good job. But with a lot of hurting people strewn behind me, I do now feel very guilty.
Counsellor: I think I can guess why you feel unwanted and lonely.
Client: Mind you I have a lot of people I call friends among the other tax collectors. We stick together and we meet often to celebrate. Wine, women and song, you understand. Not religious songs, by Jove. ‘Wine makes your heart rejoice’ as the religious people say in the Psalm. And we pay the girls well. But of course I never go to the synagogue. So culturally, socially and religiously I’m at the edge, unwanted, even hated.
Counsellor: I think you said that you live with a lot of fear.
Client: You can imagine. The Zealots sneak around with short daggers under their dirty cloaks, not only for the backs of Roman soldiers but for us collaborators. I have to continually keep my eyes moving in all directions when I’m in the street, and I keep out of the souks. Then as can see, I’m not tall nor strong.
Counsellor: You mentioned that you were happy or that you recently became happier, even if the residue of some negative emotions remains.
Client: It was very warm day, as only Jericho can be warm. Word got around that the miracle-worker Jesus from Nazareth was approaching the town. Nearly half the people went out to get a look at him. I was curious too especially because I heard that my colleague Matthew was among his closest friends.
Counsellor: Matthew ?
Client: Yes, Matthew is a tax agent, or was one. When I saw them approaching I felt afraid. Anyway I could not get near him and I dared not go into the crowd lest I get knifed. Someone told me, too, that Simon the Zealot was one of Jesus’ close friends. So.
Counsellor: So, did you stay on the edge or go home?
Client: No, by Jove. Enterprise is my name. Something inside me was telling me that I must see this Jesus. I went back down the road and scrambled up a Sycamore tree. You know those trees with the wide leaves. I positioned myself invisibly but with a view, waiting for the crowd.
Counsellor: Why were you so willing to look foolish by climbing a tree ?
Client: I told you. It was something inside me that made me take the risk.
Counsellor: And the crowd passed by.
Client: No, and that’s the beginning of my real story. Jesus stopped the crowd and looked straight up at me. My heart started thumping. By Jove! Some of the crowd began shaking their fists up at me. But there was more to come. Jesus called me by name ‘Zacchaeus’, he said, ‘come down’…(long pause)…He called me by name…(long pause)…By Jove!
Counsellor: And you came down?
Client: No. I did not. I was too afraid. Many of my enemies were in that crowd. Then Jesus called me again and this time he said ‘Hurry down for I must stay at your house today’…(long pause)…I particularly recall the words ‘I must’. I thought of how I felt at the toll booth that I must go to see him. There was already something inside both of us, something pushing both of us to meet. There was…(long pause)
Counsellor: Can you say what it was ?
Client: It was very deep, overpowering. Maybe like I felt at my Bar Mitzvah, but this time it was much richer. Much richer. By Jove, it just took me over.
Counsellor: And is that what has made you happy ?
Client: No, not entirely. First of all it was the feeling that this good man Jesus was accepting me without reservation. He did not name all the things I did wrong or tell me what a traitor and playboy I was. He did not even ask me to straighten out my life.
Counsellor: So you felt totally accepted after being rejected for so long.
Client: Yes, with no finger pointing, no conditions and no confessions, he chose me, and to stay in my house—‘ the house of a sinner’ as the religious people said. A shared meal just for friendship is very significant in our culture. And he sat down with other tax collectors and some very questionable characters. Naturally I sat near Matthew. Of course we did not bring in the girls this time. But it was great, just great. I welcomed him joyfully and he was very happy too.
Counsellor: So being accepted was the beginning of a new experience for you.
Client: Indeed. I was so happy, that I felt free to give half of my possessions to thepoor and to fulfil the strictest law about repaying fourfold what I had taken unjustly. I used to laugh at John the Baptiser who told us tax agents, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed to you’. Now I really confessed my sins joyfully after I got the communion of friendship. Communion led me to confession and to change.
Counsellor: And that removed much of the guilt?
Client: Yes, I felt a new man, with new life, a fullness of life. Deep down I was seeking this all the time and this man of God was really seeking me but I did not know it.
Counsellor: So you are happy to be poor now.
Client: No, Jesus did not ask me to give it all away—yet, anyway. He was happy that I kept half of what I own.
Counsellor: This religious experience made you very happy ?
Client: Jesus did not mention religion as I know it. He just said that salvation had come to my house. And by Jove, it has. I’m a free man. Yes Sir! I’m a free man………. But I must give you a laugh before I go. The derivation of my name Zachaeus means ‘the innocent one’, ‘the clean one’. By Jove! And oh! Send the bill.