Zacchaeus and Bartimaeus

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Zacchaeus sat down on the grass
Without a word. "You know, it's crass
To sit with beggars on the ground,"
The old man said. "You might be found.
Your clients might come by and think
You've lost your job. They'd sing and drink
To that, you know. You'd take some raps
For sittin' here. You care?"

How did you know that it was me?"
"You smell like money, Zach. I see
With this," he pointed to his nose.
"Everybody smells that goes
To Jericho. I mean, you tell
The kind of person by his smell
Right? Levites have a smell and priests
And prostitutes and all the beasts
That ramble by my bed. It's true.
And tax-collectors too, like you.
All have a smell. It's money Zach,
And nothing more. I smell the lack
Of everything . . . but gold — the scent
Of wealth . . . and nothing you were meant
To be."

"Your poverty, old man,
Has made you bold. Nobody can
Berate a publican like that
Who has a dime to lose. I've got
The power to dip in any pot
I please."

"And when your hand comes up
It comes up empty and you sup
Alone, and find your only friend
A beggar at the northern end
Of Jericho. It's been a long
Time, friend. Your voice is not so strong
As it was then. How come you're low?"
"For being blind, old man, you know
An awful lot. I'm low because
I'm damned, that's all. I know the laws
Of God: Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt
Not covet anything. I felt
Once, maybe twice, in all my days,
A moment free from greed. It pays,
I said, it pays when people scrape
And bow before this Roman cape.
I always wanted to be tall;
Instead I make the others fall.
If I cannot look down, you see,
Then they will all look up to me."
"And did it work, Zacchaeus, tell
Me, did it work? I'm sure they fell.
Do you feel tall?"

"I said I'm doomed,
I'm lost. The whole damned city's groomed
For hell just like before. The curse
Of Joshua still lingers worse
Above the plains of Jericho
Than when he spoke it as a foe
After the walls came tumbling down.
‘Cursed be the man who builds this town,'
He said. ‘Who rises up and lays
Foundations in this place will raise
A tombstone for his sons.' And so
It came nine centuries ago
A man named Hiel from Bethel built
The fallen Jericho and spilt
The blood of Abiram his son.
And I don't think the curse is done.
Do you, old Bartimaeus? Fears.
Blind. Poor. A beggar fifty years.
You're jinxed, old man, like me; you come
From Jericho, a hopeless bum.
Our mothers had a cursed womb,
They bore us to a living tomb:
Yours is as dark as night can be;
And mine, that all look down on me."
The beggar thought a while, then said,
"I think if you would lift your head
And look to God beyond the height
Of other men, there would be light
Beyond the tomb of your own greed,
And God would take away the need
You feel to stand above the rest,
And pardon all that you've confessed.
There is more hope, Zacchaeus, than
You know. The Son of David can
Destroy the curse of Jericho."
Zacchaeus smirked, "So God's no foe
To me? You think he'd set me free?
That I'll believe, when you can see!
Perhaps the God who heals the blind
Could make this callous miser kind."

Just then Zacchaeus heard a crowd
Approaching from the north. "It's loud,"
The beggar said. "Must be someone
Important. You had better run
And find some other company
To keep besides the likes of me.
Farewell, Zacchaeus, don't forget,
Beyond the height of men, to set
Your gaze on God. He'll take the greed,
And then with that he'll take the need
To be what you are not."

And so
Zacchaeus ran to Jericho
And waited for the crowd inside
The city gate. He sought to hide
Himself at first, but couldn't see,
And so Zacchaeus climbed a tree.
And as he hunched down on the limb
He thought, "What sort of stupid whim
Is this? A wealthy publican
With Roman power, a gentleman
With balconies where I can stand
Alone and look down on the grand
Array of garden pools! And here
I sit up in a tree! I fear
My mind is getting weak. I spend
The morning with the blind, a friend
One minute to the beggar poor,
And then perched in a sycamore,
Just like a boy on holiday
Who thinks the king is on the way."

His thought was interrupted by
The noise around the gate. But why,
He wondered, did his heart beat like
On a day of siege, and strike
The muscles of his chest, and take
Away his breath and make him shake?
Then suddenly the man stepped through
The gate. Zacchaeus gasped, leaned to
And almost lost his grip. For there
Stood Bartimaeus. Same white hair,
Same wrinkled face, same smile, but no
More cedar cane, no one to show
Him where to go. The other man
Beside him watched the beggar scan
The crowd. Then Bartimaeus spied
Him in the sycamore beside
The road. He touched the stranger's hand
And pointed, just as they had planned.
Zacchaeus saw them come and heard
The stranger say, "I have a word
Here from your friend that if he came
Along you would receive my name
And let me eat with you tonight.
My name is Jesus. Is that right?"

Zacchaeus jumped down to the road.
He felt as if an ancient load
Was lifted from his soul, the curse
Of Jericho destroyed, the purse
Of avarice turned upside down.
He ran before them through the town
Just like a happy child. He spread
Before them all his food and said,
"If Bartimaeus now can see,
I know there's power enough for me
To give my money to the poor
And rest that I can be more sure
Of love and hope than if I built
A thousand barns and bore the guilt
Of greed. And I give back four-fold
The crooked debts I owe; my gold
Henceforth, Lord Jesus, is not mine
But shall be all my days a sign
That God bent down when I was low,
And came to me in Jericho."

To which the Lord replied, "Today
I put salvation on display:
The blind can see, the cursed are free,
Now be what you were made to be."

And so let candle three exhort,
And burn its way from tall to short,
Give all the brightness that we need,
Consume the darkness of our greed
O Lord, from envy set us free
To be what you made us to be.