If your childhood, like mine, included Vacation Bible School, you might well have sung the “Zaccheus Was a Wee Little Man” song. Or maybe you learned about Zaccheus from your own perusal of the Gospels. (Luke 19:1-10) Then again, maybe you’ve never even heard this particular Bible story.
Really quick version: Zaccheus was a short rich dude who was a well-despised chief tax collector living in Jericho in the time of Jesus. Big crowd of people were gathered to see Jesus and the Z-Dude wanted to get a look and couldn’t because he was such a wee little man. So… he ran ahead and climbed up in a sycamore fig tree (whatever the heck that is) so he could see Jesus. Jesus sees him there, calls him by name and tells him to get down out of the tree because he wants to hang out with him at his house. He climbs down, Jesus goes home with him, and the crowd doesn’t like this. (Let your friends know you’re watching the Super Bowl with a couple of IRS auditors and you might get a similar reaction.)
In addition to being open and known collaborators with the occupying Roman government and therefore being generally regarded as traitors, tax collectors of that day had a reputation for charging more than required by Rome and lining their pockets with the extorted difference. Therefore the muttering about Jesus going to be the guest of a “sinner.”
“Sinner” was pretty much the Jewish expression of the day that could be roughly translated as “low life despicable scoundrel” or other terms that might be more drastic and generally regarded as bad language, so I won’t use them here. If you know, you know, but I ain’t telling you.
Zaccheus hears what they’re saying, stands up and declares, “Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
Well played, Zaccheus! Well played!
That’s pretty tangible repentance there, folks. Lot more convincing than a mumbled apology and a sad look. It’s also possible that Z-Man is challenging his accusers to step forward with evidence that he is the great cheat they all assume him to be. “Show me my wrong and I’ll make it right, four times over.”
Like I said, impressive stuff: giving up half of his wealth for the poor plus whatever else it takes for restitution. But the thing I love most about this story goes back to the very beginning of it.
I’m pretty sure seeing a grown man climbing up a tree in public wasn’t much more common two thousand years ago in Jericho than it would be today in Topeka. Much less a rich man with a prominent position in the community. Zack didn’t care; he was determined to see Jesus. When we are so committed to getting our own true view of The Carpenter that we don’t really worry about how the critics (or our friends) will respond, we are quite likely to become the sort of disciples that he wants.
Especially if we do it in the spirit of true humility and courageous contrition that Zaccheus did.