On Being A Jewish Tax Collector and Meeting Jesus at the Beach


I grew up in a Jewish home, a mosh-pit of damaged emotions. My parents had separated before I was born, reunited, but eventually divorced when I was 13. 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 U.S. Customs Service in the World Trade Center in New York City. My job was the appraisement and classification of imported merchandise, determining the amount of tariffs and duties that importers would pay the government. I advanced quickly through the ranks and had 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, I rented a house in the Hamptons, Long Island, with three girlfriends. Just a converted two-room garage, it was home to us. Despite many rainy weekends, we had a blast. We’d arrive late on Friday night, drink and 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, The Cruiser Club, we met the guys in the band. They came over to our table, and to be sociable, we commented that we liked their original song titled, “Born Again to a World of Love.” With excitement they asked, “Do you know what it means, what the song is all about?” We had no idea, so they told us that they had come to know Jesus Christ as their Savior a month earlier. 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 the fact that when Lazarus was raised from the dead, the people were concerned that he would “stinketh!”

I was amazed that the Bible could be so interesting.<<Click to Tweet

.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 in her arms and 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 young tenants next door.

One by one, we’d randomly open the Bible, point to a verse, and read it.

The first three verses we each read were very convicting - about repentance and doom. The room took on a Twilight Zone quality. But when the last of my friends read, “As a dog returns to its vomit …” the tension broke, and we collapsed into side-splitting laughter.

Realizing that wasn’t the best method, 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 three friends for answers (two were Catholic, one 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 and laid the Bible on my lap. Jesus Himself had just answered my question.

Shortly after that, I invited Jesus to be my Savior, got baptized in Hampton Bays, and started life anew.

Over the years, God would answer many more questions. I learned that the Gospel writer Matthew and I had the same job - we were tax collectors. I experienced more peace and joy than I ever knew was possible. I developed an eternal perspective, instead of an earthly one. I discovered my purpose and identity in Him. I received healing in the deep places in my heart. I found my worth in God, as a single woman and later as a wife and mother. I served in ministry, teaching and encouraging women and children. And yes, I learned to turn the other check, go the extra mile, and love my enemy. 

It’s been 35 years, 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 calling as a writer and speaker, I pray that my words will always be an encouragement to get to know Jesus better, to walk strong for Him, to be uplifting, and bring an eternal perspective to 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!  Eph. 3:20-21

Susan is a Jewish Jersey girl who loves Jesus, her family, the ocean, and mangos. Her passion is to bring an eternal perspective to earthly matters seeing God in the mundane as well as the crisis. Susan shares this perspective through writing, speaking, teaching, and coffee dates. A recent empty-nester who works with her chiropractor husband, she thoroughly enjoys when her children return home, with or without all their friends. Susan is a speaker, women and children’s Bible teacher, and writer.                        

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photo credit: Kimberly Amici | Instagram

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