The Monday night Bible Study group explored the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus last night, and even though this is a familiar story, we learned a lot from each other. I want to share a few of our learnings – and invite you to join the conversation.
Luke is the only gospel writer to tell this story. It comes as Jesus is heading to Jerusalem, and traveling through Jericho – which is like a border town. It is a place for a group to gather and re-group for the final stage of the journey. And Jericho was a place that the kings of Israel would come once a year, in ordinary clothes, and then walk back up the mountain to Jerusalem – a ritual that reminded them that God is in charge of life, and we follow in God’s ways.
The story starts out as a comedy really. Jesus is passing through town. Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector and a rich man, wants to see Jesus. But the crowd is large, and he is small in stature. So Zacchaeus runs around the crowd and climbs up in a fig tree in order to see Jesus as he passes by. We talked about running – what would make an important man run through a crowd? It had to be an eagerness, an excitement, a curiosity. But we also learned that in that culture, running was considered embarrassing and shameful. Adults – and particularly important adults – simply did not run. Perhaps you can see the comedy in your mind.
Let me go back and say – in Luke’s gospel, Jesus spends a good bit of time with tax collectors. He eats with them. He spends time with them. They are marginalized folk and he seeks to restore them in community. But Zacchaeus is also a rich man. And the rich are not so well treated in Luke’s gospel. Just a chapter or so before this story, a rich man asks Jesus – what must I do to inherit eternal life. And after some conversation, Jesus says – you are right. Do this, and also give away all that you have, and come follow me. But this was too much for the rich man. Then Jesus said – It is easier for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the realm of God.
Zacchaeus does not fit into any easy category. He is marginalized as a tax collector. He is complicit in the systems of corruption. He is rich and that sets him apart. One of our participants last night suggested – Maybe Jesus chose to go to Zacchaeus house because he had the biggest house – and Jesus had a lot of people traveling with him. It is a good point.
Zacchaeus was glad to offer hospitality to Jesus. And while we don’t know what these two men talked about, we do know it was a transforming experience for Zacchaeus. He offers to pay back anyone he might have defrauded, with the designated penalties written into the law. But he says -“If I have defrauded anyone…” We talked about how sometimes we hurt others without knowing we are doing so. What do you think? Did Zacchaeus know he was defrauding or hurting others?
In the end, Jesus says – salvation has come to this house. Salvation means wholeness, being well, being healed. And Jesus calls Zacchaeus a son of Abraham – reinstalling him into the community. Salvation came to his whole household.And Jesus says – the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost. This reminds us of earlier parables of the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the lost son. And suddenly we see that at first Zacchaues was seeking Jesus, but in the end we know that Jesus has also been seeking Zacchaeus.
There is good news when we know that whatever our mistakes, our blindness, our struggle, God continues to offer us a radical grace and a healing. We all have the qualities of being disciples – even if they are not our most visible qualities. Each of us is called to let go of whatever gets in our way of living a life of love and grace, to be transformed, and to become part of the community again. Conversion has personal, domestic, social and economic dimensions.Luke never talks about it as a condition of the soul alone. Following Jesus means living differently.
What are your thoughts on this story?