The Good Tax Collector

Back in 2010, while I was running for mayor, I was at a barbecue for all local candidates and I met Von Fraser. He saw me and waved me over to sit with him. I was surprised, because we had never met before and I didn’t even realize he knew who I was. It proved to be a fortuitous meeting.

Von almost immediately started telling me about his work. It was not at all what I expected, as he shared with me how he tried not to take people’s homes who were in arrears on their property taxes. He actually tried to help them refinance their houses and otherwise use what was available in the system to give them relief and help them stay in their homes. It was as if he was trying to impart to me his ethos of public service. Not only was he successful at doing so, but he completely upended my image of the local tax collector. I saw him as a great asset to the community.

The Bible takes a dim view of tax collectors, particularly in the New Testament. They are often lumped together with prostitutes and sinners. They were usually Jews who worked for the Roman government, which made them collaborators and traitors. One in particular, named Zacchaeus, is frequently pointed out by Sunday School teachers as one who got rich by cheating the people. The trouble with that is that the Bible no where says this about him. It has been assumed.

Poor Zacchaeus is often framed by his declaration that he would give half his money to the poor, and if he had cheated anyone, he would pay it back four-fold. This sounds less like and admission of guilt than a challenge to anyone who would make such an accusation. Besides, if he had gotten rich that way, it would have been mathematically impossible to give back four times what he stole, especially after giving half his wealth away. I am more inclined to think of him as a first century Von Fraser, trying to soften the blow upon the poor and needy.

Still, the Jews automatically despised him as one who worked for the enemy. He was guilty by association. And Jesus got grief from the people for being his friend (Luke 19:1-10).

But don’t we do this ourselves today? Are we not ready to accuse people of the worst crimes because of their political persuasion, the color of their skin, their sex, or religion? Did I miss anyone? Yet Jesus said He came to seek and to save the lost. Zacchaeus was one of those Jesus came to save, but He came for the others, also. But they didn’t seem to realize they needed to be saved.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ, like the good tax collector, has an image problem. The world thinks both are coming to charge us a fee and a penalty. But they are actually coming to alleviate the burden. And Jesus does better than the most compassionate tax collector: He has come to take our penalty upon Himself. If you put your faith in Him and believe in who He is and what He has done for you, it will upend your world and change your thinking. If it doesn’t do that, you may be one of the grumbling accusers who still thinks Zacchaeus should be shunned, and are unaware that you are lost.

Von Fraser passed away in 2014, while I was preparing to move out of Gainesville. We had never cultivated a friendship after our initial meeting, and I regret that we didn’t get to know each other better. But he was a man who deserved to be remembered.

 

My Return to Other Subjects

I’m sure that many people just thought I stopped reading the Bible every day, but that would be incorrect. I went to visit family in New York and had not taken my computer. It was too difficult to post from my phone, so I just took my Bible notes straight to Facebook instead of posting the link to this site.

I had started posting them here in this blog because I thought it would be convenient for someone who wanted use this as a reference, but there is very small demand for my opinion on the psalms or the Book of Ruth. Besides, I am doing this for ME. I need to read, analyze, and post to exercise my spirit and my mind, regardless of who is reading it.

I also did it to keep my mind free of the horrible political nastiness that we had achieved as a nation by this past August. I had no idea it would get as bad as it has since then. I also didn’t know how badly the church would be effected by it. We seem to be getting our marching orders from various activist groups instead of the Bible and the Holy Spirit.

Unfortunately, it is not enough to preach the truth and ignore the errors of our godless nation. You actually must oppose evil. As Paul told Titus, “They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach,” Titus 1:11. Stay tuned.

Our Creative Class

Save, O Lord, for the godly one is gone;
for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man.

Everyone utters lies to his neighbor;
with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.

May the Lord cut off all flattering lips,
the tongue that makes great boasts,

those who say, “With our tongue we will prevail,
our lips are with us; who is master over us?” Psalm 12:1-4.

Words are powerful. We can use them to do great harm and build up. With them we create our own worlds and write our own story. But they must get past the editor-in-chief. After all, He is the creator of the world, and His is the greater story.

When writing for publication, it is a good idea to find out what the editor wants, so that your manuscript will be accepted. It is He who cuts off the lying lips and the boastful tongue.

He Didn’t Lower the Standards

The Lord is in his holy temple;
the Lord’s throne is in heaven;
his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.

The Lord tests the righteous,
but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.

Let him rain coals on the wicked;
fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.

For the Lord is righteous;
he loves righteous deeds;
the upright shall behold his face. Psalm 11:4-7.

You may say, “there is a different covenant now,” but He is still the same God. Does He appear less holy than the Lord of Revelation? He still loves righteous deeds. He has not lowered His standards. He has raised us up.

Boot Camp Boys

Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand;
forget not the afflicted.

Why does the wicked renounce God
and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”?

But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation,
that you may take it into your hands;
to you the helpless commits himself;
you have been the helper of the fatherless.

Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer;
call his wickedness to account till you find none. Psalm 10:12-15.

If you are helpless, poor, and fatherless, and you commit yourself to the Lord, He will be your helper. But if you are poor and fatherless and grow up to be an oppressor who knows not God, you will be a statistic.

The number one thing most incarcerated felons have in common is not growing up with a father in the home. Abandoned and untrained, these men have no direction or positive role model or effective curb on their bad behavior.

When I was in the army I saw a lot of these guys in basic training. Many of them had been ordered to enlist by a judge who didn’t want them in prison. Our drill sergeants were harsh and demanding taskmasters. They fulfilled the need in many young men for the first time. It changed them before it was too late. They were challenged to be men of self-control and obedience, and it worked.