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May 9, 2021 | Chris Baselice
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“Jesus responded, ‘Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.’”—Luke 19:9–10 (NLT)
In today’s story, we meet a tax collector named Zacchaeus. Now, even today, tax collectors usually aren’t at the top of our list of favorite people. But in Jesus’ day, tax collectors were among the most reviled groups of people because they were considered traitors.
They worked for the enemy, Rome, and took money from their own people—usually taking more than they needed to in order to line their own pockets. Often, these taxes were unfair and unregulated. And here’s the thing: Zacchaeus wasn’t just any tax collector . . . according to Luke 19, he was the chief tax collector, a man who had become extremely rich off the misery and oppression of his own people.
This is who he was. This was Zacchaeus’ story when we encounter him in Luke 19, but it wasn’t the end of his story because his life was about to hit a major turning point and his story was about to change forever.
Shortly before coming into Jerusalem for the final time, Jesus passed through Jericho. Having heard this, Zacchaeus knew he needed to see Him. Certainly, he’d heard the buzz surrounding this preacher, prophet, and miracle worker—the One who many believed could be the long-awaited Messiah.
So, Zacchaeus went to go see Jesus. Sadly, though, he was too short to see over the crowds. But he wasn’t going to let that stop him. And so, he did something a little out of the ordinary: Zacchaeus climbed a tree! Now, you must understand how shocking and out of character this was, not just for Zacchaeus —a man of wealth and power—but for pretty much any Jewish man. You see, according to various biblical scholars and historians, it was considered undignified and even dishonorable for first-century Jewish men to do such an extravagant thing like this. They never ran or became overly excited. They needed to be in control at all times.
But Zacchaeus, fearing he’d miss his chance to see Jesus, knowing that he couldn’t miss out on this opportunity, “ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road” (Luke 19:4 NLT).
How did Jesus react to this? He invited Himself over to Zacchaeus’ house! Can you imagine the utter shock of the crowd? Surely they knew who Zacchaeus was and how he made his fortune. Surely he was a deeply hated man by the majority of the people. How could Jesus actually associate Himself so personally with this man? Because “people judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7 NLT). On the outside, everyone saw a selfish, greedy, traitorous pest, but Jesus saw a broken, repentant sinner seeking answers . . . seeking the face of God.
In just a brief encounter, seeing the compassion and grace of God through Jesus, Zacchaeus decides to do something radical. Luke 19:8 (NLT) says, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” What a change of heart! It seems crazy and extreme, but that’s what happens when we see Jesus for who He truly is. When we hear His loving voice and respond, our lives change, our priorities shift . . . our hearts long for the things God’s heart longs for.
Chief among the things God’s heart longs for is generosity. God is a generous God—He’s the ultimate giver. He gives new blessings every day, He gives grace to the sinner, He gives hope to the hopeless, and most importantly, He gave His Son to make a way for us to know Him personally and be saved. As we seek to be more like Him, we too get to experience the joy and blessing that comes from true whole-life generosity. Zacchaeus embraced this; the early Church in Acts embraced this (Acts 2:44, 4:32) . . . will we?
This Easter, let’s be intentional about our giving. Let’s put on the spirit of generosity, let’s respond to the love, grace, compassion, mercy, kindness, and generosity of Christ being poured into us and allow it to pour out of us into the lives of the people around us. Let us seek to give back by helping someone in need. Maybe find someone you’ve wronged, and like Zacchaeus, repay them with four times the generosity. And who knows . . . maybe your act of generosity will be a turning point in their story as it was in Zacchaeus’ story!