Dawn came with the noise and sounds of busy preparation for the next leg across the desert. This was to be a long rocky walk, the people said-rugged terrain, short stretches of sand, then more desert rock. The horses pulling the goods laden carts, the camels, donkeys and people slowly set off through a narrow pass as ghostly shaped sharp rocks leaped high into the air. They crossed a deep ravine of an old river bed now dry and sandy. Once not long before, the people said, there was rain and farming here, but not now for many years. Soon they came over a high ridge and looked out on a huge valley as far as the eye could see of desert covered with stones with all the sand blown away. In the distance they could see a large caravan coming toward them. As late evening came they met and pitched camp for the night. Everyone rushed about to find someone to talk to and hear the news of the great Roman Empire. Ayo was talking to some small children, trying out his Arabic on them, when suddenly Beida rushed up to him. He was wild with excitement. “Come quickly, you must hear this!” and he almost dragged Ayo as he ran after the trader, taking great leaps in the direction of a group of men huddled together eating from a huge bowl of food.
“They call his name Jesus,” Ayo heard someone say. “He is the one spoken of by the prophets, many say.” Ayo’s heart leaped within him. He burst into the circle and cried out, “Where is he? Have you seen him? Did Herod kill him?” The old sun-baked man smiled, extended his hand in a motion for Ayo to sit down and spoke again, “I’ll tell you all I know, the whole nation of Israelis in turmoil! Even the Roman officials are a bit concerned about it. This Jesus is like none other. There has been no prophet like him in all Israel. My brother first met the family when they were fleeing to Egypt from Herod.”
“Oh, they didn’t kill him!” exclaimed Ayo, moving even closer to the full-bearded and dusty old man. “No-he is still alive at last report, preaching and teaching in Galilee. But getting back to my story-my brother met the child, his mother, Mary, and Joseph, in the Sinai desert as they were on their way to Egypt. They were very poor and had to flee without anything. My brother let them travel with his caravan for days and was mightily impressed with the people. He gave them a place to stay and food and the father, Joseph, worked as a carpenter for my brother doing the best work of anyone. It was only after a great while that he discovered the child was the one Herod had sought to kill. His mother asked my brother not to tell anyone but he observed this Jesus as the most eager and brilliant child he had ever seen. For hours he would play with the child. The little lad would sit and talk about the law and prophets with wisdom that astounded my brother. He was crushed when the family left to return to Nazareth in Galilee. The little boy came to my brother the day they left and sat in his lap and said to him, “I love you. It is goodby for now, but we shall meet again.”
I never heard another word about all this until last year when I was in Jerusalem. The whole place was alive with debate as to whether Jesus is the Messiah or another prophet. The people say all kinds of things about him, that he raised the dead, heals leprosy, opens the eyes of the blind, and even forgives sin. I can’t confirm this as fact or not, but it is the same man my brother knew as a child and believed in, the name is the same, his parents, his hometown, the description of his looks, plus the age. Now, I’ll tell you my most authentic knowledge about it and to me the most convincing. If you know a man as a trader… you know him, right?”
“Right!” everyone said and nodded with a grin. “Well, I knew this man named Zaccheus, a short, thin, sharp crook, if ever there was one. He lived in Jericho a short distance from Jerusalem and I would often go out to a party at his fabulous home. He was rich, cheating trader… like us all,”-and the old man laughed for the first time with a deep cackle. “Now Zaccheus was as crooked and self-centered as anyone who ever walked this earth. Oh, we had some wild times… but that was before… yes, before… You see, Jesus came through Jericho, and there was a huge crowd about him, pushing and shoving to be near him to see just who this Jesus really is and many hoping to see miracles. All the city religious leaders were there also. It was quite a crowd I heard. Now Zaccheus is quite short, so the fool climbed a sycamore tree to get a look at Jesus. He wanted to see Jesus and hear him speak, and was so disappointed that he could not get near. He really wanted to meet the man. As the crowd passed by he could see Jesus in their midst. At the very foot of the tree, Jesus stopped, looked up and called him by name! ‘Zaccheus’, he said, ‘Hurry down, for today I want to visit with you in your home!’ Now I believe every word Zaccheus told me, how Jesus knew him, I can’t explain, but Zaccheus quickly climbed down and he said his heart was overflowing with joy as they went to his house. Many in the crowd, especially the religious leaders, wanted Jesus to have nothing to do with this, the most wicked man in the city. It was bad for his reputation, they said, but Jesus turned to them and Zaccheus said his words cut like a sword, ‘I have come to seek and to save those who are lost!’ Jesus spent the day with him, eating, drinking and speaking to him about the love of God. Now it’s hard to believe, but did you know, Zaccheus gave away half of all his wealth! And he returned to everyone he had cheated from four times the amount!! Unbelievable. He sold his rich art work and golden cups and gave it all to the poor. He is now an entirely new man! He is a disciple of Jesus and goes about preaching. His house is now open for all the traveling preachers of Jesus to stop and stay at any time. I arrived there about three months after this and could not believe my eyes. There in the big plaza where we once had parties, were men and women studying the Torah and singing and praying. There was love greater than anything I have ever seen and I almost decided to follow them. I never saw Jesus, but a man able to do what he did to Zaccheus must be mighty, indeed. It would take God Himself to do it! I left immediately on this trip but day and night these things have been on my mind!” The old man’s voice cracked and he got up, turned and walked into the night.