Nearly 2,000 years ago, a short guy got up into a tree to see and hear Jesus teach and then did something remarkable after being called out. Here’s what Luke reports about that guy and time (Luke 19:1-8):
He [Jesus] entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way. When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly. When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.”
Luke tells us that Zacchaeus was a Chief Tax Collector. Is that important to the story? Yep! He was a Jewish man who collected taxes from his people for the Roman government. Think of it as the ancient IRS! So, you can imagine that Zacchaeus wasn’t very popular with the townspeople! Strike one! Here’s the rub: tax collectors could collect as much as they wanted as long as the Romans received a certain amount. Collectors were to keep a small portion for their trouble. Anyway, the problem was that many kept more than was reasonable. Strike two!
Why did Zaccy’s homies think he was a sinner? It’s because he likely stole from them by keeping more than he should’ve. He all but admits to the defrauding in the final verse above. But what appears to be a story about a short guy and a tree is a beautiful lesson in true repentance—a change of behavior that came about because of a new heart. Zacchaeus could’ve, like many of us, just said something like, “Well, I’m sorry!” But he didn’t stop there, volunteering to give back more than he stole.
As a result, Zaccy is likely someone who stands tall in God’s Kingdom. How can we do the same? To start, we must turn “I’m sorry” into something useful by changing our behavior and making things right, as Zacchaeus did. Then, we learn about God’s ways and do them consistently! What about next week? Well, I think we’ll test our priorities in What’s in Your Wallet?
God’s blessings and peace to you,
Dr. Ron Braley