Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Like a tax collector


Tom and Jack are standing at the back of the crowd that had gathered to listen to their beloved master. At these events you just never know when some old lady would faint and need of a drop of water, or even the healing hands of Luke. Having a medic with them was a real blessing - and such good planning! In any case, keeping to the peripheries afforded an easy view of anything that needed attention and cut out the jostling that would otherwise be inevitable even for the simplest of things. To be honest, however, having Tom wasn’t always an asset, with his quick temper and occasional outbursts of proselytism. He was a solid guy though and his total commitment beyond question.

“Can you hear him?” an old man whisper-shouted at Tom. “Barely. Try to squeeze closer to the center, if you can. Let the man through, people - at his age you’d appreciate the kindness too!”

“If your brother does something wrong, have it out with him alone, between your two selves. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother.”1

“Classic Jesus!” whispers Jack to Tom. “I love this guy ...”

“If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you: the evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain any charge. But if he refuses to listen to these, report it to the community.”2

“And, see how he advocates due process and checks and balances. This is exactly what we need!” Jack continues to Tom.

“And if he refuses to listen to the community, treat him like a pagan or a tax collector.”3

“That’s it!” exclaims Tom. “See, justice will catch up with transgressors.” he adds, turning to Jack.

“Sure.” admits Jack flatly, with a mischievous smile only just detectable on his lips, and thinks to himself: “Teaching moment coming up.”

“Listen, Tom, can you remind me, how are we to treat ‘pagans and tax collectors’ again?” “Like scum! Why? Because they are scum! Just look at them. Pagans give offense to God and all who worship Him, and tax collectors ... Don’t get me started on tax collectors! They are what’s wrong with this country! Sowing misery wherever they go, adding to the Empire’s extortion and getting fat and lazy, heads deep in the trough. They give pigs a bad name!”

“Interesting ...” Jack pretends to ponder Tom’s words and, with the most innocent expression he can muster, turns to him with the killer question: “Remind me, Tom, how is it that our Master treats these “offenders” and “pigs,” as you put it?” “What do you mean?!” Tom snaps back, blood visibly rushing to his head.

“Let me tell you a story,” Jack says calmly, while enjoying himself just a tad too much. “Remember that fella, Zac?4 A tax collector par excellence! Fat little chap. Cheating and thieving left, right and center. And what does Jesus do? Homes in on the wretch, looking past all the good people lining his path, calls him down from a tree he climbed up - the grotesque fool, and - to freak the respectable citizenry out even more - invites himself to his place for dinner! Jesus may as well have hugged him ... That’s what “treating someone like a tax collector” looks like!” finishes Jack with a flourish.

“Well said kiddo,” adds Jesus who suddenly appears next to our lads, so deep in conversation they were oblivious to everyone else having left, “but there’s no need to be smug about it. Tom is a hothead, yet he is just as much my favorite as you are!”

1Matthew 18:15.
2Matthew 18:16-17a.
3Matthew 18:17b.
4 Cf. Luke 19:1-10.

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