Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:1-10 NRSV)
“Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he…” It’s a cute ditty many of us learned as children in church. But in his day, Zacchaeus was anything but cute. He was a chief tax collector, a Jew working for the Roman government, considered by many to be a traitor to his people….more.
I imagine Zacchaeus was picked on for his short stature throughout his life. As an adult, he took the tax collector’s position either to get even or because no one else would hire him. Whatever. Zacchaeus worked his way up in the ranks, saved his money and worked hard. He was rich, and the implication is that some of his wealth was ill-begotten gains.
So why would Jesus give Zacchaeus the time of day? It is true that Jesus was often drawn to sinners and outcasts, but there was certainly no shortage of those in Jericho that day. Something about Zacchaeus attracted Jesus’ attention, and something about this story made it important to the Gospel writer.
Zacchaeus was trying to see who Jesus was and he wasn’t afraid to go “out on a limb” to succeed!
One of the most telling phrases in this passage is that Zacchaeus was “trying to see who Jesus was” – and he wasn’t afraid to go “out on a limb” to succeed! Though wealthy, Zacchaeus humbled himself, ignoring public scorn as unimportant in light of this opportunity to see Jesus. Like so many others who came to Jesus for healing, Zacchaeus earned Jesus’ attention in part due to his humility.
Another trait was eagerness. Zacchaeus ran ahead of the crowd and climbed the tree. When Jesus called, “he hurried down and was happy.” Zacchaeus wasn’t about to let this opportunity pass him by, and his eagerness helped draw Jesus’ attention.
Zacchaeus was also repentant, not with remorse, but with joy. He pledged to give half his possessions to the poor and to repay four times the amount he had defrauded from anyone. He made amends for the wrongs he had done, and showed through generosity his gratitude for the Messiah’s attention.
It is worth noting that Zacchaeus gave away half of his possessions, not all of his wealth. He had to know he could repay with interest (300%!) to those he had defrauded. Zacchaeus was likely still a rich man even after these generous gestures. He also didn’t pledge to give up his career, so he had to know that he would be able to restore his wealth.
It isn’t money that stands between us and a right relationship with God, but rather our pride, apathy, lack of gratitude and unrepentant hearts.
We read the account of the rich young ruler, where Jesus said “sell all that you own” (Luke 18:22) and think that Jesus requires poverty. The Zacchaeus account teaches us otherwise. Jesus doesn’t care if we are rich or poor. Jesus cares about our priorities. The rich young ruler said he had kept the commandments all his life. Was he proud of that? Did he appreciate how difficult that is for people growing up in other households and environments? It was time for the rich ruler to see how the other half live and show some appreciation for his blessings. Zacchaeus knew what it was like to be in want, to be rejected, to be desperate. Jesus said it is hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom (Luke 8:24), but he also said it is not impossible!
It isn’t money that stands between us and a right relationship with God, but rather our pride, apathy, lack of gratitude and unrepentant hearts. My prayer this holiday season is that we might all be more like Zacchaeus – eager to see Jesus, grateful for His attention, repentant for our mistakes and generous with our blessings.
Joel Tucker, Senior Pastor
Tropical Sands Christian Church
2726 Burns Road Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33410