The Records Keeper

“You’re Going To Meet The Records Keeper”

Do you remember, in the movie RED, when FBI Agent in Charge Cynthia Wilkes tells an angry William Cooper, “You’re going to meet the records keeper”? Cooper had discovered that the target he’d been assigned to kill was a LOT tougher than he’d been told, and he demanded an explanation. (Bruce Willis as Frank Moses, retired CIA agent.) So with the explanation “You’re going to meet the records keeper”, Wilkes sent Cooper into the CIA’s massive vault holding its most secret records, where he meets Ernest Borgnine. (“Henry”, the records keeper.) Henry knows everything about the CIA – every agent, every foul-up, every under-the-table deal, every dirty little secret.

I have obtained a personal account by another such records keeper, with information that could blow the lid off many of the world’s governments. When he realized what he was sitting on, he turned whistleblower. For a while, he got away with it, but somewhere, somehow, he just vanished. Conspiracy theorists will claim a hostile government had him assassinated. Skeptics will declare that he just disappeared somewhere and died as he had lived, a despised old man. Because you see, in his younger years, he was hated first as the agent of an oppressive regime, and then hated as a traitor to his own people and a rebel against the same oppressive regime he had once been a collaborator with. This is his story.

You’re about to meet the records keeper.

*****

Call me Matt. It doesn’t matter if you know who I really am, just what I really was. And why I became what I am.

I have lived two lives. In the first life, the money was very good, but I was isolated from every other human being. You see, I helped a regime extort money from my own people. The regime called it “taxes”, but it was just a demand for money backed up, if necessary, by brutal force. No one dared to touch me, because if they had, they could have been sentenced to life in a very tough prison. Or they could have been “disappeared”. I did what my masters the regime wanted, so they were not a threat to me. But my people hated me. To them, I was a filthy collaborator. I focussed on my paycheck and ignored my people.

Another thing that kept me safe was that all the powerbrokers in my jurisdiction were in my power. I’d allowed them to cheat on their taxes, confronted them with it, and let them know – just a little extra to old Matt once in a while, and nothing serious against the regime, and they could carry on getting richer than they were supposed to. It worked well, although the powerbrokers hated me. I knew that if I ever gave them leverage, they’d turn me into an over-cooked stew before I knew it.

But then I heard of a man who was an espionage agent. He had a good cover, and for a while no one suspected. Oh, he angered some important people, but he didn’t involve the regime. At first. And his plan didn’t seem to make sense at first, so the powerbrokers thought he was just another lunatic who wouldn’t last long. But soon he began to anger the power brokers of my people’s puppet government.

I’d been hearing rumors of a troublemaker in the area for a long time, even saw him and heard some of his speeches. He seemed weird but harmless. He was the same religion as my people. I guess I left my religion behind a long time ago. Oh, I believed in a God, alright, but I didn’t think He’d approve of me being a legalized extortioner. So I didn’t follow up on this man. People would have instantly branded me a hypocrite, and who knows what trouble would have come from that?

But the things I was hearing, about him doing miracles, and stepping on the toes of the religious leaders of my people, kept waking me up at night. Life was pretty good, for me and for many of my people. Why shake the tree? What good did the agent think he could accomplish? Except that I really did believe in the God of my people, and I knew someday I’d die and I’d have to face Him. That was a worry that, after years of collaboration, was beginning to make me afraid. I began to be terrified every time I had an illness that I’d die, and I didn’t know what answer I’d give to God when He demanded an accounting of my life. The fear became an illness in itself.

This agent, this new troublemaker, apparently had an inside source, because a couple of the power brokers told me that it seemed he could almost read their thoughts, that he knew where they’d spent their money and their nights.

And he began letting hints drop, or even outright claims, that he was our people’s promised Savior, the Redeemer Who would “save us all from our sins”.

When I asked, “Why don’t you arrest him?” they replied that he was too slick, too smart, to break any of their laws. But I began to hear another side of it at the same time. Some of my poorer … victims, to be honest … began to warn me that this man was talking about the Kingdom of God becoming reality. Believing in God as I did, I sometimes felt like crying from fear. But what could I do? If I left my regime job, I’d have no protection. Even if I survived, I wouldn’t be able to get a job.

And then it was confirmed that the agent had outright claimed to be the Messiah, the Savior that my people were promised hundreds of years ago by our prophets.

It seemed that there was some question of this agent’s legitimacy, and since everyone knew the Messiah had to come from a certain lineage to be qualified, one of the Pharisees approached me with a demand to trace the agent’s family tree, and a warning that if I wanted to avoid trouble with the regime, I’d help them denounce the agent.

As a tax collector, I could trace anyone’s family tree. I had all the records, and a lot more than just taxes. Information is power, so I had gathered every scrap I could over the years. So I searched, but what I found was that on both sides of his family, he was traceable all the way back to Abraham. I wrote it all down carefully, so that no one could claim I was refusing to help defuse a potentially explosive political situation.

The fear of God’s terrible anger at me was getting to be the dominating force in my life, however, and it made me miserable. Out of desperation, I put out the word that whenever the agent was giving speeches in my area, I wanted to know about it.

When I listened to his speeches, I was even more frightened, because he talked about the fate of hypocrites and unrighteous people like me. But I could not stop attending every speech he made, because he also talked about being forgiven by God, even when a man had done wrong. He had a gentle and understanding personality when he wasn’t warning evil people.

I began to wonder, Is this what God Himself is like? Would God forgive me for the evil I’ve done? And then I thought, … but my own people wouldn’t forgive me. I’d still become a target. I still wouldn’t be able to make a living.

I started going to synagogue again, trying to find some peace. I thought, Maybe I can ease back into faith. Maybe there’s an easy way out of my sins. One Sabbath, the reading was from the prophet Isaiah. The Rabbi prefaced the cantor’s reading with the explanation that he believed this passage described the Messiah, but he couldn’t understand it himself. Ha. Honesty in a Rabbi, a rare thing.

When the cantor read these words, I thought my heart would explode!

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Wonder! Miracle! Could it be true? That the Lord would punish someone else for my sins? Lay on someone else my iniquities?

I realized that I was thinking, “MY sins”, “MY iniquities”. Not “our”. Mine.

I rushed out of the synagogue, nearly blinded by my own tears. I ran home as fast as I could and shut myself in my bedroom. I fell down on my face on the floor and began praying as fast as I could between the sobs. “Lord, Lord, is it true? Are You willing to forgive me? But how? Who is the one who will take my punishment?”

And I heard a voice say, “I will send him to you.”

I leaped up, scanning the room in shock. Who was that? Who was listening? I tore the door open and there was … no one.

I walked slowly back inside my room and sat on my bed, then laid down on it, my mind in violent turmoil. Gradually I began to calm down and the thought came to me, “It had to be the Lord speaking. But why would He speak to me? I have hardly attended synagogue in the last five years. I live almost like a Gentile. Would He really speak to me and not to Rabbis or scribes?

In the late afternoon I slept from sheer emotional exhaustion.

My servant awakened me the next morning as usual, and I began the normal day’s business. Things went as normal for the next three days, except that I began to stop abusing my power to extort “taxes” from people. One or two seemed almost frightened. They knew me from prior years. But other than that, life in the tax booth went along as usual.

But one morning, the agent himself came to my booth. He was too poor to owe any taxes, but as soon as he made eye contact with me, I knew this wasn’t about taxes. Again I heard that Voice, and this time it said, “This is He.”

He simply said, “Follow Me.” In a daze, full of fear and hope, I got up and walked out, following Him. I spent the day following Him, listening with fear but with hope also, to every word He said to anyone. For the first time that day, I saw one of the healings I’d been hearing about. It wasn’t dramatic. He didn’t even take credit for the healing. When the man who’d been healed tried, with tears running in rivers down his face, to stammer his thanks, this agent, Jesus (that’s His name) said, “I can’t do anything except what I see the Father doing.”

Near the time for the evening meal, we had somehow wandered into the street in front of my house. He stopped and looked at me, seeming to be waiting for something. I did a double take when I realized where we were. I’d been watching Him so closely we could have walked into Philistia and I wouldn’t have noticed. I looked back at Him and He smiled and said, “Now I will follow you for a little while.”

In that instant, I knew. The voice, the passage from Isaiah, the healings, the undeniable goodness of Jesus – He had to be the Messiah. I didn’t understand anything more at that moment. I had no idea what was going to happen in the days or years following. But in that moment my heart was set free. I knew that my sins, which were many, were forgiven. I knew that I no longer had to fear facing the Most High, the Holy One of Israel. I was filled with such a tumult of emotions it’s a wonder I didn’t fall down dead right there.

I formally invited Jesus to have the evening meal with me. We walked in, and I summoned my servants and told them to lay on a meal that would break records. I sent one of them urgently to a fellow tax collector’s house with the word that he was to dine with me tonight and bring with him every one of our acquaintances.

Word went around. I guess that one of the power brokers’ servants bumped into one of my servants buying up all the food at the market. The word went around like lightning, and in addition to a large group of us “socially undesirables” at dinner, we had the Pharisees leaning in the windows, watching us  with disapproval written large upon their faces. After all, by now Jesus had really angered them, and they were looking for a chance to lock Him up.

One of them was foolish enough to tip his hand. He beckoned to one of Jesus’ regular followers, and in a loud voice asked, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

But it didn’t even faze Jesus. On hearing that, He replied, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick do. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”

The years after that went by so fast, and ended, we thought at first, in shattering disillusion when Jesus was crucified. But three days later, the women of the group reported first that His tomb was empty and then that He had appeared to Mary and spoken to her. Even left a message with her that He had gone ahead of us to Galilee, and we were to meet Him there. It was no lie. He was there. We touched Him, we had meals with Him, for about forty days before He ascended upward out of our sight into Heaven.

Since that day I have suffered great losses. I willingly, gratefully, gave up my job and became a vagabond disciple of Jesus. My only source of food and clothes since then has been others who accepted that Jesus is the promised Redeemer, first of Israel and then of the Gentile nations. My circle of friends, true friends, has become as wide as the world, although most of us are poor and despised. Many have been exiled, have lost their family’s love, have even been crucified like Jesus was. Or fed to lions. Or tortured. I may soon go the same way, but with all the earnestness I possess, I tell you the truth, I am not lying, I would not trade it for my old job and all its privileges and power. I have peace now. My conscience is clear before God and before all men.

And I live for one reason only: to tell you that Jesus can be your peace too. If you will just believe God, the price that Jesus paid on the cross can be applied to cover your sins too. You too can have peace with God, and the promise that you will live forever in God’s Kingdom, where no pain, no grief, no death will ever again touch you.

It’s yours for the asking. That’s all there is to it. But be aware that, as it is with me and the others who made this choice, you will not likely have peace on this earth. Except in your own heart and mind. I promise you, it is worth it.