He 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.”
As they were listening to this, he went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. So he said, “A nobleman went to a distant country to get royal power for himself and then return. He summoned ten of his slaves, and gave them ten pounds, and said to them, ‘Do business with these until I come back.’ But the citizens of his country hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to rule over us.’ When he returned, having received royal power, he ordered these slaves, to whom he had given the money, to be summoned so that he might find out what they had gained by trading. The first came forward and said, ‘Lord, your pound has made ten more pounds.’ He said to him, ‘Well done, good slave! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities.’ Then the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your pound has made five pounds.’ He said to him, ‘And you, rule over five cities.’ Then the other came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your pound. I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth, for I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ He said to him, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave! You knew, did you, that I was a harsh man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money into the bank? Then when I returned, I could have collected it with interest.’ He said to the bystanders, ‘Take the pound from him and give it to the one who has ten pounds.’ (And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten pounds!’) ‘I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.’”
After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
Way back when I was a student in Sunday School, I remember singing with gusto about Zacchaeus the “wee little man.” That song was one of my favorites!
But, while it’s a cute number, it unfortunately blinds us to just how bad of a man Zacchaeus was. He was a tax collector, which meant that he colluded with the Roman government who were trying to subvert Israel, its culture, and its religion. Tax collectors made money by charging far more in taxes than the government even asked for. The fact that Zacchaeus became a “chief tax collector” meant that he was very, very good at working for this occupying force, and exacting money from the people. He was a willing accomplice in the brutal work of a brutal empire.
In Jesus’ day there were people that the Israelites didn’t like, but the people who occupied the absolute bottom rung of the ladder were the tax collectors. Usually the Pharisees were the ones who grumbled at Jesus’ choice of dinner companions, but in this story it’s the people who scoff. Why would Jesus go to this man’s house?!
But, when Zacchaeus stood before Jesus he felt compelled to pay back anyone he defrauded four times – which is the Old Testament punishment for stealing. With Jesus standing in his living room, Zacchaeus makes a radical life commitment to turn away from his ways, and instead try to live according to God’s way.
It’s quite a difference from the Rich Young Man we saw last week, who walked away from Jesus when he saw that the cost of following him was too high.
In this, Zacchaeus becomes the poster-child of the vast reaches of redemption: anyone and everyone is welcome to God’s Kingdom, if they just choose it for themselves.
Maybe he wasn’t such a “wee little man,” after all.