When the King Came: Stories from the Four Gospels - George Hodges

In the Streets of Jericho

The way to Jerusalem lay through Jericho. The city stood in the valley of the Jordan, between the river and the hills, in the midst of palm-trees, and was great and beautiful. It was a place of business, being a station on an important road, and had a custom-house where publicans took the toll and made merchants pay a fee for carrying their goods across the border. And chief among the publicans was a man named Zacchæus, whose office had made him rich; but the riches of Zacchæus had not made him respected. The publicans were everywhere hated by the Jews, because they were in the service of the Romans. The taxes which were paid at the custom-house were not spent, like our taxes, for roads and school-houses, but were sent to Rome to increase the wealth of Roman nobles. Accordingly, Zacchæus, while he was one of the richest citizens of Jericho, was one of the most unpopular. None of the nice people, as we say, would associate with him.

When the news came to Jericho that the Prophet of Nazareth would pass that way on his journey to Jerusalem, even Zacchæus heard it. All the people were interested in his coming, but nobody was more interested than the publican. He had heard that there was a publican among our Lord's twelve friends. There was a great crowd, however, in the streets of Jericho. The season of the Passover was every day bringing companies of pilgrims through the city on their way up the Red Road to the feast. When our Lord came, many came with him, especially from Galilee. For, in spite of the Pharisees, there were still good men in Galilee, who believed in him with all their hearts. Indeed, there were so many following him to Jerusalem that it seemed a little like an invasion. People whispered one to another—First Citizen and Second Citizen putting their heads together—that he was on his way at the head of his disciples to make himself a king, to meet the Pharisees and Sadducees who had threatened his life, and to drive them from their seats of power. All the more on that account were the men of Jericho desirous to see him. So the street which ran through the heart of the busy town was filled with a great multitude; all the windows were open, and heads were thrust out, watching for him.

But Zacchæus was little of stature. Go where he would along the main street, there was always some large, tall person between him and the middle of the road. He could not see. Any boy knows what he himself would have done in such a case; and Zacchæus, man as he was, did just that thing. He ran along before the procession and climbed up into a tree. Then they came, the Lord, and the Twelve, and the pilgrims from Galilee. It was not much of a procession, for a boy. There was not a uniform, or a flag, or an instrument of music from its beginning to its end. All that the boys saw was a line of dusty men, in the dress of farmers and fisher-folk, looking very tired after a long journey. But the publican saw more than that. In the midst walked the Master, the Prophet of Nazareth, the friend of publicans. Zacchæus looked at him with all his eyes, and with his heart also.

The Lord, too, was looking about him as he walked. He did not care for crowds, nor for applause; he was never thinking of himself; he was always watching for an opportunity to do good to somebody. And as he went, he heard men hooting and calling names, and pointing their fingers at somebody who was standing in a tree. The crowd had discovered the publican, and were making use of the occasion to tell him what they thought of him. "Who is that?" asked the Master. "Who is that whom the people hate?" And one said, "That is Zacchæus, the publican, the most unpopular man in town." So the Master came to the tree, and when he saw the publican, he spoke to him. "Zacchæus," he said, "make haste and come down; for to-day I must abide at thy house." And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. And the crowd stood in amazement. Then they went together around the corner of the street, the Prophet whom they had all come out to see, and Zacchæus. And they all murmured. They said hard words beneath their breath. They went home and told their wives, growing more angry the more they thought about it. "He was gone," they said, raising their hands in horror, "to be guest with a man that is a sinner."

Indeed, it was a strange matter: the Archbishop of Canterbury comes to town, and, leaving the procession of the mayor and the clergy and the chief citizens, takes the hand of a notorious gambler and goes with him to dinner. What blank and black looks! For nobody could dislike a gambler more than the people of Jericho disliked a publican.

So they went into the house, and Zacchæus stood and said unto the Lord, "Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold." Up to that moment Zacchæus had never given a penny to the poor; never had he restored a dollar to any man from whom he had extorted more than his due. The hatred of the church people had but hardened the publican's heart. But the courtesy of our Lord melted it in a moment. And Jesus said, "This day is salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham." The sons of the father of the faithful, and members of the household of God, are to be found in unexpected places. "For the Son of man," he added, "is come to seek and to save that which was lost." The Lord, when he looked up into the tree, saw a man who was lost, and he left everything and went and found him.

The next day, as he went out of Jericho with his disciples and a great number of people, a blind man, named Bartimæus, sat by the wayside begging. The crowd came, and the blind beggar heard the noise of their feet and the sound of their voices, and as they came he plucked the cloak of the nearest man and said, "What is it all about?" And the man said, "Jesus of Nazareth passeth by." The beggar knew who that was. He had listened to the talk of the town. The talk of the town was full of criticism of Jesus, but that did not affect the beggar. He was so poor that he could have his own opinions; he had nothing to lose. People speak of being independently rich, but Bartimæus was independently poor. When they told him that the Prophet of Nazareth had gone to dinner with a sinner, the beggar was much pleased. He was well acquainted with sinners, and knew that many of them are better than they seem.

So, when the man in the crowd said, "Jesus of Nazareth passeth by," Bartimæus began to cry out, and say, "Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me." And many charged him that he should hold his peace. They told him in good plain Hebrew to be still. But he cried the more a great deal, "Thou son of David, have mercy on me." And Jesus stood still at the sound of this loud voice, and commanded him to be called. And men, seeing that the Master would befriend the blind man, changed their manner, and spoke kindly to him, saying, "Be of good comfort, rise; he calleth thee."

Now it was early in the morning, and there was a chill in the air, for the spring was young, and the beggar had a long cloak wrapped about him. This he cast away, and came to Jesus. And Jesus said, "What wilt thou that I should do unto thee?" The blind man said unto him, "Lord, that I may receive my sight." And Jesus answered, "Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole." And immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus in the way.