Gracefully Truthful


Read His Words Before Ours!

Proverbs 11:1-4
Matthew 9:9-13
Proverbs 10:2
Deuteronomy 10:12-22
James 1:22-27

The steady staccato of clinking coins helped block the endless taunts of my “fellow” Jews waiting to be taxed as they passed my booth. If I focus on tallying denarii and calculating my ever-growing stash, my gluttonous glee distracts me from seeing their eyes.

Eyes of hatred and disgust; looks meant to shred me with guilt. I had long inoculated myself from their name calling and jeers. “Just count the coins, Levi, count the coins”, I told myself.

“Next!”, I called with obvious annoyance lacing my brusque voice, shooing my previous customer and his woes away. Despite my overflowing purse, I couldn’t afford compassion.

“Hoshea”, the man quietly stated and I scanned my scroll for his name and amount due, plus, of course, fees for my… “services”. Something nagged me as he waited, the numbers suddenly not coming easily.

“For He has torn and He will heal.”
(Hosea 6:1)

The words came from nowhere. Sharp as a knife, yet winsome as an embrace. Annoyed at  my sudden weakness, I snarled a number that was excessively unfair, even for me. Hoshea began pleading, but my ears heard only that voice,

He has wounded, and He will bind up our wounds.” (Hosea 6:1)

Angrily, I signaled to the Roman guard to forcefully remove Hoshea, and the man fell to his knees groveling.

What am I going to do with you, Ephraim?”, (Hosea 6:4) the words split me like lightning and I shoved Hoshea to the ground; he must understand I had no mercy for him.

I desire mercy not sacrifice.” (Hosea 6:6)

The formidable words carried an uncanny kindness I couldn’t comprehend. Chilled to the bone despite the sweat on my forehead, I spun on my heel and cursed the Jews still waiting to pay their overpriced dues.

Having removed Hoshea, I whistled to Elykim, another Jewish publican who collected with me. Together, we commiserated during the day then drank away our pain at night. Food and wine were something us tax collectors did well. “I’ll be back; cover me.”

I needed out. Away. Maybe it was the overly hot Judean sun, but as I grabbed my flask of wine, I knew exactly from where those words had come.
It had been years, perhaps even decades…
I wasn’t allowed in the temple anymore, and could no longer read the holy scrolls, having chosen a dishonorable trade.

It must have been that man’s name… My eyes scanned the table in the distance to ensure Hoshea was gone, wishing the words could leave as easily. Long ago, I had memorized the lines as a boy studying the prophets, among them, Hoshea.

I opened the flask and gulped, working to free myself of those rhythmic Hebraic words tattooed on my soul. Looking around for someone to mock so I could soothe myself, another string of words plied for my attention,

“Ill-gotten gains do not profit anyone.”

The voice held no contempt, just truth. Of its own accord, my tongue ruthlessly finished Solomon’s proverb, “but righteousness rescues from death.” (Proverbs 10:2)

It was as if I had unwittingly opened a floodgate as the words I’d long forgotten spoke,

Dishonest scales are detestable to the Lord.” (Proverbs 11:1)
“Wealth is not profitable on a day of wrath.” (Proverbs 11:4)

I looked around, contemplating an escape plan, but wondered from whom I was fleeing. Before me, the string of Jewish faces lined up to unjustly pay for my imbibed merriment. The stream of righteous Jews was pocked by tax collecting friends of mine, the unrighteous Jews.

Friends who drank with me and
enemies whose crimes were merely being Jewish and following the Torah.
Unlike myself.

Hoshea’s prophecy to rebellious Israel filled my ears,
“What am I going to do with you, Ephraim? […]
Your love is like the morning mist
and like the early dew that vanishes.”
(Hosea 6:4)

Guilt gripped me in ways I usually silenced with imported cheese and loud parties, but all I could see were the eyes of those I had cheated.

Was there an escape for sin?
Could I possibly repay Yahweh for all the ways I’d cheated Him?

I shook my head and cursed the tears gathering in my eyes.
There was no escape.
I had made myself detestable to the Lord. As if I needed confirmation, the familiar words fell from my lips, “For everyone who […] acts unfairly is detestable to the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 25:16)

Elykim’s hand gestures caught my attention; I’d been gone too long. I moved back into the fray, willing the cacophony of injustice to silence Yahweh’s words. Taking my seat, a shadow fell upon my face and I did what years of training had disciplined me not to do, I looked into a pair of eyes.

Follow me.” (Matthew 9:9)

Salty tears flowed uncontrollably, but I no longer cared. Leaving my table, my coins, my everything, I followed. Nothing else mattered.

Turns out, the pair of eyes belonged to Jesus of Nazareth, a rabbi unlike any other. I found myself with a ragtag band of a few other “detestable” men who had been invited to follow; they’d said yes with full abandon of everything else.

I can’t put my finger on it yet, how life and freedom, truth and grace, envelope Him, seemingly are Him. But, it doesn’t matter, I’m convinced of this, I will not stop following.

Later that night, I threw another party, a different one. My excitement overflowed as I brought everyone inside to meet this Jesus. The Pharisees, whose derision has been my shadow all these years of cheating, filled my door on seeing Jesus. They threw a stinging remark along with their spittle,

Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and…sinners?”.

Their disgust cloaked me with shame.

But before lips could shape replies, Jesus stood in the gap with words that now bring me ceaseless joy where hours before they had wrecked my soul,
“Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
(Matthew 9:13, emphasis mine)

He. Came. For. Me.

Lacking to Loved
a cardboard testimony from the author

Levi’s story leaves me with tears for I’ve also felt hopeless lack. Not enough for acceptance. Not enough for a voice at the table. Not enough to be valued or seen.

We all bring some form of wreckage to the table. Levi brought gluttony and self-satisfaction. I brought despair, shame, and gross pride that protected myself at all cost. But Jesus’ eyes caught mine and lifted me from lack to love. I don’t have it all figured out, but, like Levi, I too, simply cannot unfollow this Jesus who loves me!
He came for me!

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