Second Presbyterian Church
"Zacchaeus, a Transformed Man
#58 in the Series on Luke
Jesus was almost to Jerusalem. Jericho was only 12 miles away, a day's trip by foot. Now there was this man, named Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was not only a tax collector, but he was a chief tax collector. We don't even know for sure what that means, because there is no other reference to a "chief" tax collector in the Bible, not in any other literature of that time! Perhaps Zacchaeus was in charge of a certain region and had authority over other tax collectors. We can only guess as to why Luke marked Zacchaeus as "chief" tax collector. One thing we do know is that Jericho was on a major trade route and there were balsam trees in the area, a wood that was in great demand. In other words there was much to be taxed in the region and Zacchaeus was probably in charge of it.
Luke then described Zacchaeus as rich. Uh oh. You know and I know that rich people have not fared well in the Gospel of Luke. "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God." (6: 20b). Or how about the rich man and Lazarus who begged at the rich man's gate? (16: 19-31). And just in the previous chapter, the encounter that Jesus had with the rich ruler who wished to have eternal life? (18: 18-30). You remember that one; it is when Jesus spoke about how it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Zacchaeus was rich. And we, as well as any who read Luke for the first time, anticipate that his wealth would be a problem.
But it wasn't. Zacchaeus really wanted to see Jesus. He was a small man, not very tall, so there was no way he could hustle through the crowd and be able to see Jesus. But Zacchaeus really wanted to see Jesus. He ran ahead of the procession and climbed up in a sycamore tree. He didn't care how undignified he looked. He didn't care that this was something that only children did. Zacchaeus really wanted to see Jesus. And he was able to get a real, bird's eye view.
Jesus came along; he looked up; and he called out to Zacchaeus, "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today." Now, at this point, the story develops two perspectives: one, the perspective of Zacchaeus; and two, the perspective of the crowd that was following Jesus.
The crowd grumbled. "Doesn't Jesus realize that he has gone to be the guest of a sinner?" Implied was, "He could have stayed at the house on any number of prominent and kosher leaders here in Jericho! Why did he choose some squirt of a jerk who robs the Children of Israel of their money? Surely Jesus realizes that this tax collector is more loyal to Caesar than he is to God!'
It is a forewarning: hardly a week would pass before the crowd around Jesus would be crying out for him to be crucified. (23: 18-25) Crowds can be fickle. Crowds get caught up on the emotion of the moment and end up sometimes doing things that individuals in the crowd later regret. The point here is that just because Jesus is drawing a crowd, doesn't mean that that crowd was that loyal to him.
Fortunately for us and for the salvation of humankind, Jesus did not put much stock in the reaction of the crowd. If Jesus were here in the flesh today, he would care less about the polls and surveys that people give to find out what the "crowd" is thinking. There is no doubt in my mind that if Jesus were here in the flesh today, in the same manner that he was 2000 years ago, that we would find a way to turn against him and have him executed! Why? Because Jesus was here for the purpose of redeeming sinners. He was here to offer himself as a sacrifice for our sins, an offer of divine atonement, so that we could be redeemed by his Grace. Sinful humanity usually finds this scandalous and offensive. From a human point of view Jesus died because he offended the "in group" who considered him an impostor and troublemaker.
So, we have the reaction of the crowd; they grumbled about Jesus staying in the house of a sinner. And we have the reaction of Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus really wanted to see Jesus. He actually got more than he had hoped. Not only did he see Jesus, but also Jesus called Zacchaeus by name and went to stay at his house.
What was Zacchaeus' reaction? He became a transformed man. "Lord, I will give half of my wealth and give it to the poor! On top of that, I will return any money that I have defrauded; I will return it fourfold!" The Law required that stolen money be returned with a 20% surcharge. If a man had stolen $100.00, then he was required by law to restore to the victim $120.00 Zacchaeus told Jesus that if he had stolen $100.00, then he would restore to the victim $400.00.
He became a transformed man. He changed from a rich thief - who took advantage of his authority and robbed his fellow citizens - to a man who was thrilled to have been found, called by name, and had fellowship with Jesus. He became a transformed man. He became a disciple, one who worshiped the Lord Jesus as the Messiah from God.
Jesus said as much, "Today, salvation has come to this house." Zacchaeus was a saved/redeemed man. Jesus went on to say something about his own ministry. It is a word with which we are all familiar and yet it has a bite of irony in it. Jesus said, "For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost."
The irony is this: Those who thought they were already in (the religious leaders, etc.) were actually lost; and those who were lost (sinners, prostitutes, ritually unclean, tax collectors) were the ones who responded to Jesus.
The net result is that Jesus turned the religious elite on their ears! The prodigal son is celebrated (15), but the older "faithful" son refused. The Sadducees and Many of the Pharisees became enemies of Jesus, but Jesus reached out to the outsiders and the outcasts and received them into his fold.
Again, just a few verses ago we had the rich ruler who went away sadly, because he had great wealth. Now we have Zacchaeus who gladly embraces Jesus and becomes a man whose heart was overflowing with generosity. Indeed, it might be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, but Jesus demonstrated here that He could do it; he did it with Zacchaeus! Both Zacchaeus and the blind beggar wanted to see Jesus. The blind beggar received his sight, followed Jesus and praised God. Zacchaeus wanted to see, too. He did. He received Jesus into his life and his life was transformed into a joyous man, a man who no longer worshiped the riches that he had stolen from others.
Every time I read this passage I wonder with myself, "How transformed am I?" Yet that's the wrong question. Zacchaeus did not transform himself; Jesus transformed him. So the question now comes to you and me: "How much are we allowing Jesus to transform our lives?" Amen.
The Rev. Daniel E. Hale, D. Min.
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Last Updated: August 16, 2005