I Was a Jewish Tax Collector

I grew up in a Jewish home, and a fairly dysfunctional Jewish home at that. My parents had separated before I was born, reunited, but eventually divorced when I was 13. Some day I may share the details, but for now let’s just say there were deep emotional issues that lingered on into adulthood. I was shy, fearful and filled with insecurities. We were reform Jews, not very religious, but we participated in many Temple activities, observing Passover, Chanukah and the High Holy Days.
.
After college, I worked for the US Customs Service in the World Trade Center in NYC. My job was the appraisement and classification of imported merchandise, determining the amount of tariffs & duties that importers would pay the government. I advanced quickly through the ranks and had great friends with whom I socialized after work. On the outside, life seemed good. Inside, the questions and insecurities kept growing. As Charles Dickens said, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
.
In the summer of 1979, my 3 girlfriends and I rented a house in the Hamptons, Long Island. It was just a converted 2 room garage, but it was home to us. Despite many rainy weekends, we had a wonderful summer. We’d arrive late on Friday night, dance in the bars all night, then sleep on the beach the next day.
.
Toward the end of the summer, while at one of our favorite bars, we happened to meet the guys playing in the band. They came over to our table, and to be sociable, we commented that we liked their original song. It was titled, “Born Again to a World of Love.” (It had a good beat, you could dance to it! haha) When we said that we liked it, they got all excited, “Do you know what it means, what the song is all about?” We had no idea, so they started sharing with us that they had come to know Jesus Christ as their Savior a month ago. Their enthusiasm was contagious, and we wanted to know more. We went to their apartment behind the bar and spent the night talking about God, the Bible and Jesus. I still laugh at some of what we discussed - like story of Lazarus being raised from the dead and yet the people were concerned that he would “stinketh”!! I was amazed that the Bible could be so interesting.
.
We talked all night and went out for breakfast the next morning. When we were leaving the diner, it started raining, “Ugh, not again!” One of the guys asked us if we like tomatoes. “Huh? Yeah, sure, we like tomatoes.” “Well, the rain is good for the tomatoes.” From that point on, whenever we were disappointed about anything, we’d just say, “Well, the rain is good for the tomatoes.” We now had a new perspective on the rainy days and other disappointments.
.
Since it was raining and not a beach day, we decided we would read the Bible for ourselves. Of course, we didn’t have one, so we knocked on our landlady’s door. She wasn’t home, but we somehow conveyed our request for a Bible to her Armenian mother who spoke no English. She returned to the door with a Bible and with tears streaming down her cheeks. At the time, I didn’t understand her tears, but looking back I wonder if she had been praying for her 4 young tenants.
.
One by one, we’d randomly open the Bible, point to a verse and read it. The first 3 verses we each read were very convicting - about repentance and salvation. The room took on a heavy, serious, scary Twilight Zone quality. So when my last friend read Proverbs 26:11 “As a dog returns to its vomit . . .,” we just were speechless until we collapsed into side-splitting laughter.
.
That obviously wasn’t the best method, and so we started in the beginning. I opened to the Gospel of Matthew, and began to read. When I got to chapter 5, I read “You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. . . You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
.
At this point, I stopped reading and began ranting. “This is what I don’t get. WHY should you love those who persecute you? WHY turn the other cheek? WHY???” I looked to my 3 friends for answers (2 were Catholic, 1 was Greek Orthodox). They just looked at me blankly, and so not knowing what else to do, I picked up the Bible and started reading aloud again. And I read, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?” I stopped. I laid the Bible on my lap. Jesus Himself had just answered my question.
.
Over the years, He would answer many more questions. I would learn that the writer, Matthew, and I had the same job - we were tax collectors, although I was an honest one. I would experience more peace and joy than I ever knew was possible. I would develop an eternal perspective, instead of an earthly one. I would discover my purpose and identity in Him. I would receive healing in the deep places in my heart. I would find my worth in Him, as a single woman and later as a wife and mother. I would serve in ministry, teaching and encouraging women and children. And yes, I would learn to turn the other check, go the extra mile and love my enemy.
.
It will be 30 years in September, and I am still learning and growing into what God has called me to be. I am still Jewish, of course, but no longer a tax collector. The newest chapter of my life is one that I am just beginning to write. As I embark on a new endeavor toward publication, you are part of my journey now. I pray that my words will always be an encouragement to you to get to know Jesus better, to walk strong for Him, to be uplifting and bring you an eternal perspective amid earthly matters.

Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Eph. 3:20

Susan

7 comments:

Mari said...

What a great testimony! Isn't it amazing how God is working to bring people to him? Thanks fro sharing!

Donna Bolster said...

I love this message! It made me cry. Thank you, Susan. :-) Donna B.

Carol said...

Wow....you have done it again. Your words flow so eloquently and your story captured me. I can’t wait for your book. Thank you!
Carol

Maria said...

Susan,
That brought tears to my eyes.
I will never forget that evening talking throughout the darkness into the light in so many different ways.
When we were baptized in Hampton's Bay I felt the Holy Spirit when my head went back into the water. That was so exhilarating!
I can't believe 30 yrs have passed so quickly.
I heard Rock lobster on the radio last weekend twice on Saturday which which reminded me of Richie in the band and of course I remembered Tony and the rest of the bandand Glass Garden. I was thinking of that last week and I remember Donna saying it was 30 yrs ago. Unbelievable
Thanks for your writings on eternity cafe and friendship thiese many years.
love,
Maria

Joanne@ Blessed... said...

Susan,

Wow...this was absolutely beautiful.

Yep, you're a writer alright.

Kristen said...

That was such a great testimony!

Clare Cartagena said...

Susan,
You have such an interesting, compelling testimony. It inspires me to believe that the people around me could be captivated by Him like you were. Thanks for a good dose of joy and a smile.