My name is Zevi, “Wolf”, but I never even tried to live up to that name. I’m a merchant. I buy and re-sell anything I can make a profit on. Camels, pomegranates, cloth, you name it. If there’s a profit to be made, I’m involved. But you don’t have to be a wolf to make a profit.
Here in Jericho, it seems the influence of the Most High is not felt as strongly as in Jerusalem. While most of my fellow merchants are … efficient … at extracting money from buyers, the real wolves here are the tax collectors. In Jericho, less than two days’ travel from Jerusalem, you would think it was Caesar who was Lord, and the tax collectors his priests. I never would have thought that a tax collector would tell me that our prophesied Messiah had come.
Our Messiah, I say, because I’m a Jew. I truly believe in the Most High, the Holy One of Israel, which is why I’m not a wolf when doing business. Maybe a just little wolfish, but never like the tax collector Zaccheus, he who was the prince of lawful cutthroats. He was never hesitant to use Rome’s power to take what he wanted from his fellow Jews. I say was, because something happened to him. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Jericho! It’s a fruitful land in the midst of dry country. Our water is sufficient to have turned the area into a farmer’s dream. Our marketplace is always full of fruits and vegetables. The land supports sheep as well. We have a good life here, in spite of the collaborators among us. Like Zaccheus.
We’re far enough from Jerusalem, two long days’ journey, that we aren’t bothered by the High Priest. The Zealots, those assassins, they tend to be most active in Jerusalem also. In Jericho, a careful man can live well without too much authority troubling him.
We had been hearing about a very different kind of trouble – a man called Jesus of Nazareth who was said to be working miracles so amazing that some claimed he was the Messiah, the King of Israel. This on the heels of a wild man called John Baptizer who had been telling people that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand and they should repent of their sins. Large crowds of Jews were baptized by him. We had heard of rebels now and then trying to start a revolution against Rome (all of them were crushed) but … “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”? What did that mean?
And then John Baptizer was arrested and beheaded, and this Jesus of Nazareth had begun preaching the same thing. But Jesus was said to be healing sick people, even lepers. In time we heard that Jews from all over Israel were going to him for healing. It was even said that he had raised several from the dead and cast out demons from many.
None of us in Jericho went. We were busy with our lives, and we expected Rome to put a violent end to this man.
Then one day he came to Jericho. Of course, we all turned out to see him. I didn’t see any miracles, although what little I could hear him say sounded interesting. I would have gone back to my business, but it was obvious that his presence had killed all business for the day.
I got the shock of my life when Jesus stopped and called out to a tree beside the road, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down! I have to eat at your house today!” Zaccheus came scooting down from the tree. He’s so short that to see Jesus he either had to climb a tree or elbow his way through the crowd. Not advisable if you have cheated everyone in the crowd.
Zaccheus! Of all the bandits in the city, Jesus chose the worst of them to dine with.
Something gripped the soul of Zaccheus that day. I left in disgust, to eat at home in peace, so I had to be told by another what happened. During dinner, Zaccheus shot to his feet and said to Jesus, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.”
Jesus replied, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
I went to see Zaccheus the next day – I wasn’t the only one – and reminded him of several times he had skinned me alive with Rome’s backing. I expected anything but what I found: Zaccheus handing out his money to those he had defrauded with a blazing smile on his face. I took mine and went home, wondering, “What happened to Zaccheus?”
I made sure I met Zaccheus a few days later and talked to him. I expected him to be remorseful, like a drunken man after a binge, but he was still smiling. I asked him why, and he replied happily, “Zevi, how wonderful it is to know that I have been saved! Forgiven! By the messiah Himself!”
I asked, “How can you be sure he’s the Messiah? He didn’t even do any miracles while he was here.”
But Zaccheus, even more excited, answered, “Yes he did! On his way out of town, he healed two blind men! I saw it! I know the men, and they were blind!”
I kept an eye on Zaccheus, and his new attitude persisted. Then we heard that Jesus had been crucified, and the hope that had been rising even in my heart was crushed. I went on as before, but somehow life had become darker. We heard the most fantastic rumors about Jesus being resurrected, but I couldn’t believe such foolishness. Yet it made me question everything about my faith in the Most High. The Feast of the Passover came, and I went to Jerusalem, intending to literally interrogate a priest or two.
I didn’t have to. By now you will have heard that the disciples of Jesus, who had been hiding to avoid crucifixion themselves, came out of hiding on the day of the Feast and began telling everyone in sight that the Most High had resurrected Jesus from the dead. There was this sound like a storm wind, and those who were disciples of Jesus suddenly appeared to have tongues of fire settling on each of them. These ignorant Galileans began speaking the languages of Jews from all over the world. Being in business, I speak three languages fluently myself, and I can verify that it is true. There were men of at least ten different languages present whom I was able to verify heard the disciples in their own language!
The disciple named Peter explained that this was a prophecy of the prophet Joel, which I later verified also.
I finally saw miracles too – performed by the disciples in the name of Jesus! The entire seven days I was in Jerusalem I felt as if I was on fire! The world had been turned upside down! Israel’s Messiah had come, had been rejected by the chief priests and elders, had been crucified – and the disciples told us that having no sins of His own, His death was accounted by God as the sacrifice for the sins of all who would receive Him!
I had to believe! I didn’t fully understand – no one did in those days, not even the disciples – but we believed what we understood: the Messiah had allowed Himself to be sacrificed for our sins! There was no more need for sacrificing bulls or sheep! The Law of God, that sin must be paid for by blood, had been satisfied once for all for those who received Jesus as Messiah.
I was regarded as crazy when, on returning home, I wrote on the top and sides of my door frame, “This house receives Jesus as Messiah!” But my heart rejoiced as I wrote it, and has ever since that day.