by Rev. Antony W. Ball
Only in Luke’s Gospel do we find the story of Zacchaeus, whom Luke introduces as a “superintendent of taxes and very rich”.
Tax collectors were not very popular in those days – that’s probably not changed much over the years – but in New Testament times there were very definite reasons for their unpopularity: firstly because they were recruited from among their fellow-Jews by the Roman occupying power – so they were Jews working for Romans – and secondly because the Romans would tell them a total amount to be collected (based on the local population, presumably) but the rest was up to them. If they collected more than their quota, they could ‘pocket’ the rest; if anyone refused to ‘pay up’ they could call upon Roman soldiers to ‘persuade’ the defaulters to part with their money. It was a crude but effective system which was obviously open to considerable abuse – hence their unpopularity.
For some unknown reason, possibly a guilty conscience, Zacchaeus…
…was eager to see what Jesus looked like; but, being a little man, he could not see Him for the crowd.
So he ran on ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was to pass that way
For someone as important as Zacchaeus to climb a tree would have been humiliating for him – although perhaps he would be safer half way up a tree than being jostled by those who hated him – but Zacchaeus didn’t care, perhaps having lost most of his self-respect already. What really astonished him was Jesus’ reaction…
When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said,
‘Zacchaeus, be quick and come down; I must come and stay with you today.’
He climbed down as fast as he could and welcomed Him gladly.
What?! Jesus not only knew Zacchaeus’ name, He actually wanted to stay with him, perhaps have lunch or even a bed for the night. Unbelievable! Of course there were grumbles amongst the crowd, especially from those who would have much preferred Jesus to stay with them, but Jesus had chosen Zacchaeus of all people.
But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Here and now, sir, I give half my possessions to charity;
and if I have cheated anyone, I am ready to repay him four times over.’
We can’t know quite what prompted that extraordinary response – all I can think of is a guilty conscience – but whatever it was and however rich Zacchaeus was, that promise would have crippled him financially. But Jesus has not finished…
Jesus said to him, ‘Salvation has come to this house today!
For this man too is a son of Abraham, and the Son of Man has come to seek and save what is lost.’
Jesus came to earth for the sake of people like Zacchaeus – not just for ‘good’ people who do ‘good’ things but for dishonest, cheating, ‘bad’ people like Zacchaeus who realise how ‘bad’ they are and do their very best to make amends for anything they have done wrong. We should admire and even imitate people like Zacchaeus.