1 And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.
2 And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich.
3 And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature.
4 And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way.
5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house.
6 And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.
7 And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.
8 And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.
9 And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham.
10 For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.
Imagine that you are a citizen of Jericho on that day nearly 2000 years ago. It is a hot day and not much is going on in the dusty little town. Then a rumor begins to seep through the narrow streets. A famous rabbi and his disciples are passing through. Probably you have heard some strange things about this Galilean rabbi, about his teachings and his healings. So you go out with the crowd to catch a glimpse of him. Everyone is excited. Remember, there was no TV or radio in those days. The only events that the average person heard much about were local events. Thus, any local event was a big event. With the rumors that had been circulating about Jesus, certainly he would have been a big event. They said he could do miracles.
Imagine that you are in the crowd, and there he is, the wonder-working rabbi, walking along at the head of his disciples. Many people are talking about him. Some say that he is the Messiah, some say not.
There were those in Jericho who were not welcome in the crowd. They were the outcasts of Jewish society, the tax collectors. Palestine was occupied by a Roman army. The tax collectors, or publicans, collected taxes for the Romans. They were looked upon as Roman lackeys, as collaborators with the conquerors. They were social lepers.
One of the tax-collectors in Jericho was named Zacchaeus. In Hebrew the name means “just” or “pure.” The name was a mockery. Zacchaeus was neither just nor pure.
The Romans had a bad system of taxation.. They would hire a person, usually a local person, to collect a certain amount, and anything he collected over that amount was his wages. Thus, the tax collector had free rein to extort whatever he could from the people, and most tax collectors became wealthy by squeezing the peasants for every penny. That is why the people despised tax collectors like Zacchaeus as blood-sucking parasites.
Why did Zacchaeus want to see Jesus that day? Maybe he was troubled spiritually. Maybe he felt some guilt about the way he made a living. Maybe he was just curious.
Actually, I suspect it was more than curiosity. Zacchaeus went to great lengths just to see Jesus. He even forgot all dignity and climbed a tree. This is not just idle curiosity. This is a troubled man in need of help. He went up to the edge of the crowd. Perhaps he had the feeling that if he could just catch a glimpse of Jesus that would help.
Zacchaeus did not dare push through the crowd. There were people there who hated him and would not hesitate to put a knife between his ribs. But he was a short man. I know that you all remember the children’s Sunday School song that says, “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he”--which means that if he stood upon the edge of the crowd, he could not see Jesus at all.
In our mind’s eye, we can see Zacchaeus running along the streets of Jericho, trying desperately to catch sight of the lord, but everywhere the crowds were too thick. There was no place for him to get through. He begins to despair.
Then, out at the edge of town, Zacchaeus saw a sycamore tree by the road. He ran ahead of the little parade and climbed the tree. It was not easy in his bulky robes, but he did it and then he could see the parade approaching.
Jesus came right up to the tree and stopped and looked up. Zacchaeus was startled. The last thing he wanted to do was to attract attention. He was probably more than a little afraid that Jesus would lash out at him angrily. After all, Zacchaeus knew that Jesus was from God, and he, Zacchaeus, was only a tax collector. But Jesus said, “Hurry up and come down, Zacchaeus, because I am to stay at your house today.”
Zacchaeus almost fell out of the tree in astonishment. The great rabbi had spoken to him and not in anger, not in contempt, but in kindness. And he said that he would go home with him. Zacchaeus could hardly believe his ears. He half-slid, half fell out of that tree. And if he tore his rich robes on the way down he did not even notice.
The crowd was just as shocked as Zacchaeus. We can hear their outraged tones when they say, “He has gone to stay at a sinner’s house.” He has defiled himself. If a devout Jew entered the house of an outcast like Zacchaeus he was considered to be ritually unclean. The crowd regarded Jesus as a Pharisaic rabbi. They could not believe that he would make himself spiritually dirty by associating with a man that most people in Jericho probably wanted to beat to death.
Now this incident says a lot about Jesus. It says that he was not in any sense an orthodox rabbi or a Pharisee. It also says something about his love for people. Jesus loves us no matter who we are. Jesus loves us not matter what we have done to ourselves..
Zacchaeus heard the murmuring in the crowd, and he was moved to make his testimony for Jesus. When Jesus recognized Zacchaeus and brought him down out of that tree, he brought out all of spiritual yearnings that had been buried in the heart of Zacchaeus and changed him. Zacchaeus said to Jesus loud enough for everyone to hear. “I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated any body, I will pay him back four times the amount.”
The rich grasping tax collector is suddenly an honest generous citizen. What caused the change? Jesus did obviously. But how did he do it? Jesus did something so commonplace it might almost seem trivial, and yet so radical that it immediately broke through to Zacchaeus’s heart and changed him. Jesus said, “I will eat with you.” In those words, he struck down the conventions and customs of Jewish society. Jesus was a radical revolutionary. Here is the proof, he treated Zacchaeus like a human being. We wonder how many years it had been since anyone had eaten with Zacchaeus?
The sneer, the mouth twisted in hate, the eyes clouded with anger, the shout of contempt--Zacchaeus was familiar with all of those, but kindness overwhelmed him. Love overwhelmed him and changed him.
Surely the lesson Jesus is teaching us is obvious. Love is a better way. If we hate people, they will only hate us in return. If we love people, then we reach their hearts. Jesus through love reached the heart of poor troubled Zacchaeus, and Zacchaeus gave proof that his heart had been reached. He gave away half of what he owned and he offered to make good any frauds that he had practiced.
The change Jesus wrought effected everything about Zacchaeus. He has a different attitude toward people, he has a different attitude about money.
Money is a delicate subject in the church. If the preacher preaches too often or too directly on money, people say, “You don’t want to go to that church, all they ever talk about is money.” On the other hand, money is a major part of our lives. In our society, we cannot function without it. So if we say that Jesus effects our whole life, that has got to include our money—how we use it and what we do with it.
Understand that money is not good. Money is not bad. Money in itself is just an object, a thing. It’s how we use it that makes it good or bad. We do not know how Zacchaeus had been spending his money, but we suspect that he had defrauded people to get it. He loved money. Jesus changed that. Now Zacchaeus loves people and he uses money to help people.
In the congregational meeting today, we are going to talk about money—about giving money to the church and how the church spends money. This is a part of our Christian witness, just as money was a part of Zacchaeus’ witness to the effect of Christ on his life.
I know that the economy is bad. Unemployment is at a 25 year high. We hear every day about the decline of the housing market, companies shedding jobs and going bankrupt. These are scary times, and, in times of economic decline, the church is always the first to suffer. Times get hard. People cut back on giving. But the fact is the church has no source of income but the congregation. There is not magic box of money out there on the street. The church must depend on you and you alone.
You may know that our church has a Foundation that has been used in the past to fund special projects, but that source has pretty much dried up. Because of our use of Foundation funds and the declining financial markets, the Foundation is not going to be a source of income for us in the next year or so.
So the question is, how are we going to run the church? The only answer is we have to do it. We have to give the money or it is not going to happen.
But it is important here to note the attitude that motivates our giving. Some people say something like this: “The preacher does not want to preach on it and the people don’t want to hear it, but I know that we have to give, so reluctantly, grudgingly, I will open up the pocketbook and pry out a dollar.
That is an unsaved attitude about money. That was Zacchaeus’ attitude before he met Jesus. He was a grasping person who wanted to pile up a bunch of money and hang on to it all. When Jesus changed Zacchaeus, he changed that attitude.
This reminds me of a story I heard about a small church in Virginia that needed a new roof in the worst way, but they had no money. Most of the congregation was very poor except for the local banker. He was an ornery old cuss, who could occasionally, with a grimace and a negative shake of the head, give a dollar. But one Sabbath, as the pastor prayed for God to bless their offering, a small piece of the ceiling fell down and hit the banker on the head. The startled banker immediately spluttered, "I’ll give $1,000 for the roof!" There was a long pause, then someone behind him said, "Hit him again, Lord!"
Unfortunately, some folks have to be hit on the head to get their attention, but that should not be the motive for our giving. Our giving is part of our response to God’s mercy in salvation. The whole Christian life is a response to God. God created us, loved us, saved us. We react, with joy and love, to what God has done.
We see that in the story of Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus is happy to use his money to help people. He is laughing, smiling, and using whatever he has to express the same love that he has received.
We need that same motive. “Jesus loves me, this I know.” That is what the children’s song says. And I love Jesus. How do you know I love Jesus? Because I support his cause not just with words, but with everything that I am and everything that I have.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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