21st Sunday after Pentecost | November 3, 2019
19 Jesus entered Jericho and made his way through the town. 2 There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region, and he had become very rich. 3 He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way.
5 When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.”
6 Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. 7 But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled.
8 Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!”
9 Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”
Luke 19:1-10 New Living Translation (NLT)
Today we have a familiar story (if you grew up in the church.) If you didn’t grow up in the church, that’s ok. That’s part of the reason this blog exists. As you can see by the story above, there was a tax collector named Zacchaeus. Tax collectors in First Century Judaism were no more liked by the locals than they are now. There is one notable difference. The local tax collectors were Jewish. The other Jewish people in the city, almost thought of them as traitors. The Jewish tax collectors like Zacchaeus were collecting taxes for the Roman government. The Jewish people were none to happy about giving their taxes to Rome. In addition, the Romans allowed the tax collectors a “royalty fee” of sorts, meaning they were to collect the required tax, plus they could “bill” for the service of collecting the tax. All of this made them not popular with the local crowd.
Into this story comes Zacchaeus – a Jewish tax collector for the Roman government – someone the Jews thought was a sinner. He knows that Jesus is coming to town. By this time, Jesus had quite the following. We learn that Zacchaeus was a man of short stature. In order to see Jesus, he climbs into a tree. While Jesus passes by, he calls up to Zacchaeus and invites himself to Zacchaeus’ home for dinner.
I don’t know about you but that would make me nervous – having someone of Jesus reputation in my house. To some Jesus had a good reputation to others he was a malcontent. Zacchaeus, I think, would have seen Jesus to have a good reputation and also have compassion. After all, he had probably already seen Jesus’ compassion.
Zacchaeus and Jesus go home and this causes the Pharisee much angst. Again here is Jesus – the supposed Messiah – and he’s hanging out with people of ill repute (at least in their eyes.) While this is happening, Zaccheaus has a transforming moment with Jesus. The scripture doesn’t give us all the details, but Zaccheaus is intend on righting wrongs that were done while collecting taxes. He also plans to give away half of his wealth to the poor. Zaccheaus has repented of his sins. He may still be a tax collector, but from now on, it is only the required portion.
This is a life changing encounter, because Jesus declares, “Salvation has come to this home today!”
So what can we learn from this story? The Pharisees had written offs Zacchaeus, meaning that he was a sinner and there was nothing he could do to be saved. He was hopeless and not worthy of salvation. How many people in our sphere of influence to we feel are beyond salvation? I’m not talking about just friends and family, but those who we have daily encounters with. Let’s pray for them – no one is beyond the reach of God’s grace. The scriptures tell us that God desires that no one should go to eternal death. Let’s do our part to show them and tell them about the love of Jesus!