It was a little more than a week before Passover. Jesus was headed toward Jerusalem for the last time. He knew he was going to die, and He very bluntly told the disciples about it (Luke 18:31-34). His route took him through Jericho, on the edge of Jordan’s floodplain, before climbing a treacherous eighteen miles into the hill country and the city of Jerusalem.
The route was intentional. He had a few things to do along the way. He gave sight to a blind beggar outside Jericho (Luke 18:35-43, Mark 10:46-52) and, to the dismay of everyone around him, he enjoyed the hospitality of one short, criminally-wealthy tax collector.
Zacchaeus’ stature is hardly
the point of the story.
We all know the song. In fact, I wrote about it on Intentional Parenting. While it’s true that Zacchaeus was a “wee little man,” his stature is hardly the point of the story.
Zacchaeus was drawn to Jesus. You don’t risk ridicule by climbing a tree unless you’re serious about what you want to see. But I’m sure Zacchaeus never imagined Jesus would speak to him, or even notice him.
Jesus looked up at Zacchaeus, saying, “Come down immediately. I must stay at your house today” (v. 5). Luke tells us he “came down at once and welcomed him gladly” (v. 6).
If a semi-famous person walked up to me on the street and said, “I have to stay with you,” I would back away thinking he was crazy! Not Zacchaeus. He gladly welcomed Jesus into his home. No hesitation, no questions.
It’s worth noting that Zacchaeus had a big house with lots of servants and plenty of extra supplies. It didn’t “put him out” to have Jesus in his home. He probably welcomed all of Jesus’ disciples and followers too. We can assume Jesus had dinner and spent the night there before the long trek up to Jerusalem.
He had plenty of money and plenty
of reason to flout the religious
regulations, so why not party?
I imagine Zacchaeus knew how to throw a good party. He was a pariah among “good Jews”—rejected because, as a tax collector, he was an agent of the Roman occupation. Only the other outcasts and non-Jews in Jericho would spend time with him. It’s a type, really: the mostly-hated wealthy party-er who confuses hangers-on for real friends, a posse for partnership. He had plenty of money and plenty of reason to flout the religious regulations, so why not party?**
It would have looked like generosity, but his lavish lifestyle was the result of over-taxing—robbing from the poor to give to the rich. Sharing wealth with your friends after unscrupulous business practices is not generosity. It’s selfishness.
Something happened after Zacchaeus
climbed down from the tree.
But something happened after Zacchaeus climbed down from the tree. At some point in the evening’s festivities, he replaced the false generosity of his lifestyle with authentic conviction and sincere generosity that pleased God.
There’s nothing half-hearted or hesitant in Zacchaeus’ conviction. He doesn’t go to Jesus privately and bargain with Him before his big announcement.
Just imagine Zacchaeus low-balling Jesus: “Okay, I’ll give you fifteen percent. No? How about 20 percent? That won’t do? What’ll it take, Jesus?”
Yeah, that doesn’t happen. Instead…
Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” –Luke 19:8
He stood up. The phrasing makes me think he was in the middle of dinner, friends and acquaintances all around, servants at the ready. This was an announcement not a secret auction!
Fifty percent of his wealth plus reimbursements at 400% of what was unfairly taken. Zacchaeus’ time with Jesus resulted in incredible largess. All because Jesus “looked up in the tree,” as the children’s song goes, and Zacchaeus realized what real generosity looks like.
Can you imagine the difference in Jericho the next day? The lightening of hearts as they knew they wouldn’t be cheated on their taxes any longer? The relief on the faces of the poor, who wouldn’t have to worry about another night’s meal for a long, long time?
The culture of Jericho changed because one influential man met Jesus.
God is really working on a generous spirit in me this year. Zacchaeus’ story shows me how much we can change when Jesus influences us. What stands out to you in this situation? (It doesn’t have to be from my words above.) I’d love to hear what this passage means to you!
**I don’t know that Zacchaeus was a big party-er. He may have been an ancestor of Mr. Scrooge. Either way, the result of Jesus’ influence on him is the same.