“[Jesus] 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.” (Luke 19:1-3, NRSVue)
A frustrating experience for me is working on a project where I need to reach up to access whatever I’m fixing, and the height is somewhere between “tippy-toes” and the need for a ladder. Even though I can stretch high enough to touch the object needing repair, I may not have the reach with a wrench or a screwdriver to maneuver enough to fix the issue. The only way to finish the job is to fetch a ladder, which means moving everything in the garage in front of the ladder, and then replacing it when I bring the ladder back!
I’m fortunate that at 5’11”, I am usually tall enough to reach most things in our house, so it’s frustrating when I can’t. Although we don’t know exactly how tall Zacchaeus was, his height was problematic when he was trying to see Jesus through a crowd. Not to be deterred, he climbed up in a sycamore tree to access a better vantage point. As Jesus approached him, he had a perfect line of sight to see Jesus, but Jesus also had an excellent line of sight to see him! When Jesus saw Zacchaeus, he ordered him to come down and invited himself to Zacchaeus’ house for a visit. Luke says Zacchaeus was happy to oblige while,
“All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’” (Luke 19:7, NRSVue)
Jesus does what he frequently does in Luke’s gospel and gravitates toward those considered outcasts, much to the dismay of those who think themselves better than the “sinners.” Yet, on the spot, while they were still standing beneath the sycamore tree, Zacchaeus proclaimed,
“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.” (Luke 19:8, NRSVue)
Keep in mind that Zacchaeus was a “chief” tax collector and wealthy, so half of his possessions would be a substantial amount to give to the poor. Tax collectors frequently extorted people for more than their tax bill, so paying back four times what he took from his victims would also amount to a considerable sum of money. Jesus didn’t ask him to do any of this, so why would he spontaneously make such an offer?
There are various motivations for giving. We give as an expression of gratitude from a generous heart and a desire for our gifts to impact others positively. I think Zacchaeus pledged his gifts in response to the sense of justice and fairness he experienced in Jesus’ gracious call to join him at his house. Whereas others usually avoided or shunned Zacchaeus, Jesus lovingly reached out to him as a fellow human being. This kindness was a momentous shift in how even the crowd gathered that day treated Zacchaeus. I believe through his encounter with the compassionate and caring person of Jesus Christ, something inside stirred that made Zacchaeus want to be more like Jesus, and the only way he knew to do that was to denounce his ways and give to others.
Join us this Sunday as we explore more about the “Attributes of a Giver” and focus on “Faithful Accountability.” And don’t forget to bring a friend! — Rev. Dale Cohen