Today, we venture into the story of Zacchaeus. What do we know about him?
There is something interesting going on in the story. Zacchaeus has very obviously heard about Jesus and is anxious to finally see him. He knows that he won’t be able to talk to Jesus, but just to see him – and maybe even hear him speak, if he is really lucky. That would be great.
Well, we hear how the crowd is so thick around Jesus that Zacchaeus can’t even catch a glimpse of him. I imagine that he is super frustrated with the fact that he may not even get the chance to see this amazing prophet who he has heard so much about.
For whatever reason, Zacchaeus, feels the deep need to see Jesus, and he decides that the crowd isn’t going to prevent him from what he has set out to do. So, in spite of his designer clothes and fancy shoes, he sees a sturdy tree up the road a bit – clearly in Jesus’ path – and he decides to run up to it and start climbing. From up there, he will be able to clearly see Jesus. He doesn’t even stop to think of what everyone will say about his actions. “Who cares?!” He thinks to himself. “They talk about me anyways, so what’s one more thing to add to the list?”
Now, here’s where the story gets really interesting!
Once again, we see how those who are looking for, who are seeking Jesus, actually find out that he was, in fact, seeking them all along (Stamper).
One of Jesus’ great quirks was that he always noticed those in the crowd who were in need of companionship or healing, and he extended an invitation for them to spend time together.
Why would Jesus invite himself to Zacchaeus’ house?
Why wouldn’t he? Zacchaeus’ position as a tax collector made him one of the people whom the rest of society avoided and outright shunned. Tax collectors were definitely among the “lost” whom he came to seek and save (Stamper).
Of course, Zacchaeus was shocked and filled with great joy at the prospect of spending time with Jesus and having the honor of Jesus coming to his home.
Unfortunately, he isn’t allowed to feel that joy for very long. The crowd, stunned by Jesus’ statement, doesn’t remain speechless for long. They quickly become angry and vocally judgmental.
Why? Why do they care at all who Jesus spends time with?
Does it matter whether Zacchaeus responded to Jesus’ presence and apparent unconditional acceptance of him, that he has a “change of heart” about how he had been living – or that he has always been quietly compassionate to those in his community and has been funneling half of his income anonymously to those who needed it most?
Many scholars believe that the first option is the better, cleaner translation. That Zacchaeus’ generosity was a “new-found trait” because Jesus singled him out and spent time with him. Most believe that “repentance must/should include matters of the wallet as well as the heart” (Lose).
Yet, how would it change our perspective if option 2 was the true reading of this story – that Zacchaeus had been quietly compassionate all along?
Let’s think about it a slightly different way: You have just won the PowerBall. It doesn’t matter whether you won the basic amount of $42 mil or one of the jumbo jackpots of $500+ mil. You won!
Sometimes we want others to know what we are doing with our money – who we are donating to and why. One reason for that is because our actions, generosity, and reasoning can influence others to do the same.
Sometimes we don’t’ want others to know because we are very private people and don’t like to be in the limelight. We want to truly help others, but those we help don’t need to know where it comes from. We aren’t anyone special, we aren’t better than them. We were just in the right place, right time, and lucky enough to have won and can now offer help to some who need it desperately.
Reality is – money talks. Money is news. People want to know who’s winning the big jackpots – because if it’s a hard worker like them, then there is hope that they too could get lucky and solve their own financial problems, make life easier for themselves, for some of the people they love, and even for others within their community or the world.
Yet, for many of us, money is not something that we are comfortable talking about. We’re even told that it is not something that should be talked about in “polite” company, but it is an essential part of living in today’s world.
There are over 2000 Bible verses referencing money and our use of it. That makes it the #1 topic mentioned in the Bible. Love – which we proclaim is the core message of God and Jesus – is mentioned only ~300 times.
I believe, like many, that money and our use of it is such an important topic. It is one of the few things that can cause us to forget that we are to love people, to put them first in our lives – NOT money or things. It can become the center of our focus for life – having money, getting more, and acquiring all the things we want. Because those who have money, have the power. People come to them and beg for help.
Yet, it reality, money is only important in the sense that we need it to provide for our own basic needs and the basic needs of everyone around the world. It can make our lives easier, more comfortable, and give us the “extras” we want – like extra clothes, nice house, nice car, vacations, etc.
But, we need to remember that money doesn’t buy our true security in life. Money can’t prevent us from getting sick or keep us from experiencing tragedies and loss. Nothing can.
Only God can provide us with the spiritual security that will enable us to have courage and hope even in the darkest times. For nothing is impossible – to face or overcome – with God by our side.
The apostle Paul reminds us that: the key to true happiness in life is having God in your heart, and “to be content with what you have” (Philippians 4:11). The majority of people will experience plenty and need in their lifetimes. May you always be content with what you have at all times – knowing it is more than enough for your happiness. For when you have love – love of God, love of family and friends, you are truly rich.
Lose, David, Commentary on Luke 19:1-10, published for 10/31/10 and 10/30/16. www.workingpreacher.org
Stamper, Meda, Commentary on Luke 19:1-10, published for 11/3/13. www.workingpreacher.org