Collecting taxes for Caesar; that was my occupation. Every day I sat in my kiosk in the market of Nazareth and took in money for the Roman government. The pay was adequate and I had job security so long as Rome occupied our land and oppressed our people.
Don't get me wrong. Roman occupation was nothing like the way my ancestors were treated during the Egyptian and Babylonian captivities, but we were no longer a free and independent nation. We lived under Roman law imposed on top of our own Mosaic law.
Every morning and every evening I prayed to God, beseeching Him to send Messiah to set us free. I did not know if it would happen in my lifetime but I hoped and believed it would happen in God's time, and sooner rather than later.
Many among my people resented, or even despised me, because of my job. A reasonable man could understand that someone would be appointed to do it and better a Jew than a foreigner. It could have been a lot worse. Someone of mean spirit, or even a crook, would have held my post. I at least was scrupulous and fair. When I had the opportunity to go easy on someone I used it. I didn't like paying taxes to Caesar any more than those who hated me for collecting them.
I was a sitting duck when at work. There I was with a bag of Caesar's money. Anyone could overpower me and run off with it but no one dared. The Romans allowed us to keep our Sanhedrin and worship the God of our Fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, pretty much without interference. But they were strict and tough minded. A thief would receive the death penalty. I was never robbed.
We had a king, technically a tetrarch subservient to Rome, but supposedly a Jew named Herod Antipas. He was the son of the Herod who ordered the massacre of male babies under the age of two years in the Bethlehem area. The real power over us was the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate who served under Emperor Tiberius Caesar. That gives something of a picture of my life at the time.
I had no manual skills. I could not do a stonemason's work, nor that of a silversmith, nor any other established trade. What I could do was keep a ledger, which is what I did. Every evening before going home I turned in the collected money and the record of the day's receipts.
I was sitting there writing in the ledger when a man walked up to my booth and said to me without preamble, "Get up from there and come follow me."
This man, though I never met him, was no stranger to me. He was strange in many ways, but not a stranger. His name was Jesus Barjoseph. His father was a carpenter in town. There were many rumors about Jesus. One contended he had turned water into wine at a wedding in nearby Cana. A prophet named John was baptizing people in the Jordan. I heard that this Jesus fellow went to him and was baptized, then wandered out into the wilderness and lived more than a month without food or water. John claimed that Jesus was the Messiah.
Herod put John in prison and ultimately beheaded him because he publicly accused Salome of adultery. These people were supposed to be Jews, following Mosaic Law. Herod granted Salome's request for John's head after she danced for him on his birthday. Incredible, isn't it ... A Jew killing a Jew to please a woman who danced for him? Power corrupts.
Back to the Jesus rumors. They include his healing all sorts of diseases; calming a storm at sea; and on and on. He had some followers ... basically fishermen from the Galilee shore. They were with him when he came up to me and ordered me to follow him. I can not explain what came over me. I got up, left everything, walked off after him.
In retrospect I think I thought he was the promised Messiah who would establish a new kingdom of Israel. It was what I, and many others, prayed for day after day. He looked like a king. His bearing and demeanor spoke of royalty. He was taller than average and easy to spot in a throng. His manner was gentle and kindly except when he addressed those he called hypocrites. If he was Messiah I wanted be in on the revolution.
Hundreds of people followed him. At times thousands turned out to hear him. From among the followers he chose twelve to become disciples. I was one of the twelve. We went about the province hearing him teach and watching him perform miracles. He taught us truth in a way that seemed to turn the scriptures upside down, while in fact he was illuminating their true meaning.
He was a scourge to the religious authorities. Pharisees and Scribes, the keepers and enforcers of "The Law" given by God to Moses, dogged his steps. When he preached they challenged him. Time and again he put them down with quotes from the prophets of old. It looked more like he wanted to overturn Judaic authority than free us from the yoke of Rome.
Gradually, it became clear to me that he meant not to establish the kingdom of Israel or Judah, but the Kingdom of God. This was the core of his teaching. On one occasion he sent the twelve of us out to preach his message to the 'lost sheep of Israel', proclaiming, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand." At the time I did not understand what he meant by 'lost sheep'. By the end of his time with us I knew he meant spiritually lost. Jacob's descendants had lost their way and drifted from the ways of the one and only true God. The Jews were mired in legalistic minutiae, not living according to the Lord's revealed desire that we practice mercy and justice. Just look at the world in your time. It is the same.
In sending us, he said, "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you."
In time this became true. It is still true in your time even though you are reading this many centuries after my body died. His body also died but he brought it back from the grave and lived again for a time to finish his teaching. I was present in an upper room with the others when, after being crucified and buried, he walked through the wall into the room.
This was the coup de grace; the proof that all he told us was true. He was indeed the Son of God and the Son of Man. I saw him rise from the earth into the clouds. I kept close in my heart his promise that a time would come when I also would be where he is. I am here now, sending this little message to you in digital form where it can pass through walls.
I saw it all and I believed. He said we were blessed who had seen him and believed, yet you who did not get to see him in person and believe, are even more blessed. If you are one who wants to know more about him, you can read the complete record I left. You'll find it in the Bible, titled Gospel of Matthew. Did you know the word gospel means 'good news'? Read the whole record. It is filled with really good news. My fellow disciple John also left a record. Read his account too if you really want to understand the deeper truth about the God-Man Jesus the Christ. Believe it and after your body dies, you can be where I am, with HIM.
Written by © Wayne Hepburn, August 2012