He was a little man. I wonder. Is that was where it all began? The bullies at school no doubt found him an easy target. Did anyone stand up for him? Did anyone notice him?
It seems that he made his way into accounting. He was good at math. So when the occupying Roman government came calling for his skills, Zacchaeus took the job as a tax administrator. Why not? The community had always told him he wasn’t worth anything. Now at least he would have ‘net worth’. Being a tax administrator was a lucrative position. The Roman government did pay a decent wage but it was the ‘perks’ that were the most tantalizing. The Roman government expected to receive the allotted tax from each wage earner in this little country. What the tax administrators collected beyond that allotted tax was not examined with great rigour. Tax administrators, supported by a ready supply of Roman force, were known to be lining their pockets by over-collecting taxes. They were seen as traitors by their own people. They had sold their souls.
Zacchaeus, however, did his job with great energy. His bank account was healthy. He had a staff that obeyed him. When he came calling, people in the community feared him.
It happened that Zacchaeus heard about a wandering rabbi named Jesus. He was from the north-country, a carpenter’s son from Nazareth. This Jesus was teaching radical things. That Samaritans were human beings! (What was that about?) That God was like a father waiting longingly at the kitchen window for the return of a rebellious son. This Jesus was making his way to Zacchaeus’ city, just blocks away. ‘Well, it was worth a look, wasn’t it?’
On the day of Jesus’ arrival, Zacchaeus left the office building and joined the crowd on the street. But the little man could not see anything. And no one was very interested in making a place for him—they never had. So Zacchaeus did something he hadn’t done since he was a child: he climbed a tree—tearing his suit pants as he scuffled up the tree. He peered down the street for a glimpse. Then he saw Jesus, surrounded by his group of followers. As Jesus drew near, he looked up at the little man in the tree. “Zacchaeus.” he said, “Could I come to over to your house?”
What was Zacchaeus to do? This rabbi wanted to visit with him. This rabbi knew his name! ‘Well, it was worth a look, wasn’t it?’ Zacchaeus clambered down from the tree, quite unsuccessfully straightened up his suit, and invited Jesus into his house that afternoon.
What happened in the house? Did Jesus listen to Zacchaeus’ story? Did Jesus talk with Zacchaeus about the love of God, the loving Parent? What exactly happened in the house is known only to the two who sat together at that kitchen table. What happened when they came out of the house we are told: Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much” (Luke 19:8).
The Zacchaeus story is a powerful picture of generosity. Generosity is one aspect of Dr. Martin Brokenleg’s Circle of Courage model that I mentioned in my last post. Dr. Brokenleg, as you may recall, spoke of a medicine wheel model of tending to a spiritual center in people with a focus on four universal needs: belonging, generosity, mastery, and independence. Generosity is a key theme in our life as faith communities.
At times, the church has all but lost this broad meaning of generosity in the midst of falling into all too familiar ‘consumer thinking’, mired in too-shallow conversations about meeting financial needs. But in our worship, each week in our faith communities, we ‘pass the plate’. Yes, through the offering we are do ‘pay the bills’. But the offering means more than that: it recognizes our spiritual need to be generous. Like Zacchaeus, having been embraced by the gospel, we come to a realization that we have a goodness from which to share goodness, a loved-ness out of which to share love—when the plates are being passed on Sunday, and when we come out of the house and meet our neighbours in need on Monday morning.
I would invite you to take some time as people of faith, and as faith communities to consider how we have in the past and how we might in the future address this spiritual need of generosity.