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Great Interviews of Jesus (4 of 15)
With a Tree-Climbing Politician
Clarence E. Macartney
In the days when the tax collectors were robbing the
people in France, a party of Parisians were amusing
themselves by telling stories of great robbers. One of
the company was Voltaire. After listening quietly to
some of the tales of notorious thieves, Voltaire said,
"I can tell a robber story better than any of yours."
The whole company was instantly quiet, waiting for the
words which were to fall from the lips of the chief
figure of the literary world at that time. Clearing
his throat, Voltaire began as follows: "Once upon a
time there was a tax collector, a former general."
Then he was silent. The others present at once called
for him to continue. "Why do you stop? Go on! Let us
hear the story of your greatest robber." Whereupon
Voltaire said, "I have told you the story. Do you not
see that my statement about a tax collector implies
the greatest robber story in history?"
If in Jerusalem or Jericho or Samaria or Capernaum a
man had aroused the curiosity of his friends by
announcing to them that he was going to tell them the
story of the greatest robber and then had commenced,
"Once upon a time there was a chief publican," he
would have had to proceed no further, for everybody
would have understood what he meant. The great robbers
of Christ's day were not those who infested the
highways, like the thieves in the story of the good
Samaritan, but the tax collectors, known as publicans.
The Roman government required a certain per capita tax
from all the people. It farmed out the business of
collecting taxes to chief publicans, who in turn
farmed it out to the publicans. The chief publican had
to pay the Roman government the required per capita
tax, and he could keep for himself as much more as he
could squeeze out of the people. The Jews looked with
great abhorrence upon the business of the publi ...
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