Zacchaeus is one of the more interesting people we encounter in the Scriptures. As we wrote previously about tax collectors, they were known for committing fraud and extortion. The Romans didn’t mind – farming out the job of tax collector to private citizens meant they could reduce overhead expenses while always being able to expect a fixed sum of taxes.
The Greek term (architelones) for “chief tax collector” indicated that Zacchaeus was in a position of authority.
The descriptive item we remember most about Zaccheus (from our memories of singing the “wee little man” song as children in Sunday School) is his diminutive stature, having to climb a tree to see Jesus. Perhaps he also wished to remain unseen.
It was surely his experience to know social ostracism, isolation, and contempt. And just as surely he had heard that Jesus received sinners and tax collectors (5:27-32; 15:1-2). We may certainly speculate that he had heard about Jesus somehow, wished to see him and to ponder if perhaps this man could provide some answers for the deficits he felt within his own soul.
Jesus spots him and says that He “must” stay at his home. The “must” is explained in the conclusion in verse 10 – that seeking the lost is all part of God’s mission.
But this means that Jesus now joins Zacchaeus in being a social outcast. The crowds react against Jesus’ desire to go the Zacchaeus’ home, because he is a “sinner.” It is likely that they have been the victims of this tax collector’s corruption.
In today’s world, it might be like Tim Tebow coming to Hagerstown, and in front of a downtown crowd and the Herald-Mail reporter and the NBC 25 camera crew, going to lunch at the Broad Axe with the director of the abortion clinic and a porn shop owner.
Zacchaeus responds with a statement of complete repentance, illustrated by a fourfold restitution. Jesus responds by saying that “salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham” … not because of physical birth, but because of spiritual relationship, trusting God in faith.
This incident and the stories preceding are the exclamation point to Christ’s messianic mission in Luke’s gospel. Those who we expect to be present in God’s kingdom (the rich young ruler) are absent, and those we expect to be absent (tax collectors and sinners) are present. This would have meant a great deal to Luke and Theophilus, Gentiles who were formerly far off but had been brought near by the blood of Jesus.
How do these stories make you feel? How do you relate to them?
I suspect there is a twofold response…
Positively – there is abundant encouragement to know that such a vile person as Zacchaeus could be targeted by God for grace in spite of the magnitude of his sin. That means there is every reason for every one of us to have hope for salvation first, and beyond that a hope for a vital relationship with God in spite of our ongoing sinful condition.
But negatively – there is reason for us to have introspective concern, isn’t there? If not for salvation itself – if you have never really come to trust in Christ – but likely also for our ongoing life of faith and trust. Could we do without things we possess? Could we lose it all and be sufficiently content in Christ alone?
“Prosperity knits a man to the world. He feels that he is ‘finding his place in it’ while really it is finding its place in him.” < C. S. Lewis (1898-1963), The Screwtape Letters, 1946 >
It has often been said that a misplaced focus upon owning things and valuing them excessively means that they ultimately own you!
Technology, clothing, cars … The list goes on and on. Every year we hear stories of mobs at stores during the holidays looking for the newest toys for their kids. But the truth is that, in many cases, we are often looking for hot new toys for ourselves. Objects keep changing, getting updated and modified all the time, and the masses run to the stores looking for the next big thing.
Everybody is looking for something more clever, more fast, more unique, more difficult to find, more desirable. The old things just aren’t looking as good anymore. They no longer have the same shine.
Even more dangerously, sometimes the “finding the next best thing” game spills over outside of the commercial realm, and people become the object we are looking to upgrade. Friends and romantic endeavors get used and passed on, while on a search for the next best thing.
The root problem with this “finding the next big thing” phenomena is that we are confusing want and need. Just because we want something doesn’t mean we need it. And just because we want it, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to get it. We really have very few needs to survive and these needs can quite honestly be obtained living a very simple life.
“There are two ways to get enough: one is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.” < G.K. Chesterton >
There really is but one need, and that is Christ. As in the earlier story in Luke’s Gospel, Mary is applauded over the sister Martha because Mary had chosen the better thing – she had chosen Christ as the priority.
Luke 19:1 – Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”