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Part IV
Bible Study and Thoughts for

"Jesus, Guest of Many People"

This last study is about Zacchaeus the tax collector. (See Luke 19:1-10 and verse 5 of our hymn.) Zacchaeus possessed plenty of money. What he was "short on" was height, and social standing.

As a tax collector in Jesus' time, Zacchaeus was easily despised. The tax collectors were Jews who exacted money from their own people to give to the Romans, their occupiers. Moreover, the tax collectors usually charged "more" and "over" the amount that the Romans had set, keeping the extra for themselves. It's not surprising that Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector, was labeled a "sinner" in his city of Jericho.

When word spread that Jesus would be passing through Jericho, Zacchaeus wanted to see him—but he was short and there was a crowd. So, he climbed a tree to get a good view.

In another turnaround typical of Jesus, it was Jesus who saw him, up in the tree. Jesus not only sees him, but calls him down by name (it's that prophet sense again). This next part, though, isn't so typical: Jesus invites himself home with Zacchaeus!

Jesus' friendly acceptance of Zacchaeus, in front of the whole muttering crowd, makes Zacchaeus gladly declare that he's giving half his posessions to the poor, and restoring any cheated sums at four times the amount! I love to imagine his giddy joy!

Of course, the story of Zacchaeus escaping wealth's hold over him is rich on other levels as well. Jesus spoke in various ways how wealth is a hindrance to our spiritual lives. (If you don't believe it, see the references in our study for "We Call Them 'Goods.' We Call Them 'Ours.'")

Gospel writer Luke, in the chapter just before this, has presented us with a story about Jesus and a rich, young man, whose love of wealth kept him from following Jesus (Luke 18:18-27). This important story is told also in Matthew and Mark, and it's where we see the well-remembered saying of Jesus, that it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Disciple Peter asks, "Who then can be saved?" and Jesus replies that even impossible things are possible with God.

The Zacchaeus story is God making things possible.

Jesus spotted Zacchaeus up in the tree, "saw" who he was, and invited himself to Zacchaeus's house. It's interesting that Jesus says he must stay with Zacchaeus. Sounds like a plan.

(These words, with the image of Zacchaeus up in the tree, help us beautifully visualize one of Jesus' statements elsewhere that he came to call sinners. It's kind of interesting, too, that Jesus' saying about calling sinners occurred when he called another tax collector, Levi—who became his disciple Matthew! See Mark 2:13-17.)

I didn't fully appreciate how cast out tax collectors were in the society around Jesus. Notes from one study Bible* explain that the Jewish tax collectors were not allowed to serve as judges, or even witnesses. They were also kicked out of the synagogues!

I also read** that the tax collectors didn't receive a salary for their work. They actually made their living by collecting more than the amount due to the Romans, then keeping the extra. (Isn't that a bad recipe for temptation?) Since Zacchaeus was notably rich, you can see why others in Jericho wouldn't appreciate someone who had taken their money. Zacchaeus's wealth had cost him social ties.

Did he love riches that much? Or, did he sort of console himself with them? I mean, was it sort of "retail therapy"?

I do get it, about retail therapy. One of the great things about being a writer is that I can wear comfy old clothes and use a non-recent computer at home—because there aren't too many people I have to impress. But even so, I've occasionally gone shopping for emotional reasons. Sometimes when you're really down, it's nice to go to places where store clerks are courteous and helpful. Or, sometimes we try to bolster our self-image by buying something shiny new or fashionable. Stylin’ shoes? The latest video game? An addition to the house?

We want to be noticed. It seems, though, that many of the things we hope will win us attention don't deliver it. Actually, I think, people can be jealous enough so that it often works the other way. (I say this partly with a confession, having missed out for many years, through my own fault, on the friendship of a woman who did look especially stylish.)

I do want love and respect, but wealth in general can't purchase it, and material goods are uncertain. In Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus warned how moth/rust/thieves take away material goods. (Today would he have included "arranged obsolescence”?) There are always newer fashions or smaller, more powerful electronics. That's partly why shopping, at least for me, is usually connected to fear. When I feel good about myself, I know that the cuteness or currentness of my stuff doesn't much matter. Mostly, I just want to look pleasant and blend in enough so that I'm not "written off."

There is a hunger when we are not "seen." From social media posts to mass shootings, it shows how widespread that hunger is. As a Christian, I think I'm called to be better at seeing others than I have been. So, when I sometimes purposefully greet, say, grocery store cashiers with an eye-to-eye, "How are you?" they often respond with a sincere—or surprised—"Thanks for asking."

As I've been writing this study, a devotion by Jonette Blakney*** popped up in my email which was especially relevant. Read the beginning of it here, even though the Bible reference belongs to another story in Luke....

And that really leads us back, after a long detour, to the road through Jericho and our story of Zacchaeus. Jesus' acceptance of Zacchaeus changed him profoundly. Perhaps, because Jesus accepted him, he didn't need his wealth for status anymore? Perhaps, being "seen" by Jesus finally allowed him to "see" the poor around him and therefore share his resources? The glee of his giving leads me to think it was a generous response to Christ's generosity to him. Who'd have thought that Zacchaeus would become the very model of the "cheerful giver"? (II Corinthians 9:7) He gave, not because Jesus had told him to, but because he was filled with joy and he could.

I like to think that Zacchaeus, restored by Jesus into his community, not only kept sharing his wealth, but grew in "seeing" the people around him, even as Jesus had seen him. And, for this hymn and entire set of studies, that's a main point. Jesus sees us and (verse 10) comes to seek and save what was lost. Alleluia and Amen!




* Concordia Self-Study Bible, ©1986 Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO, page 1504.
** The New Bible Commentary: Revised, ed. by Motyer, Guthrie, Stibbs, and Wiseman, ©1970 Inter-Varsity Press, London, page 916.
*** God Pause for 8/22/19, by Jonette Blakney, with thanks to Luther Seminary. See

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