“Zacchaeus, the Little Man With the Big Heart”
November 4, 2007
Bothwell & Clachan
Message Series: Luke’s Picture of Jesus - “Zacchaeus, the Little Man With the Big Heart”
“The ‘short’ story of Zacchaeus
“Out on a Limb”
“Up a Tree”
2. Not Zacchaeus
Jim Flaherty delivers a very un-Zacchaeus type of message
Here in Ontario we have our nation’s capital city in Ottawa where over-all national policies are made. We also have our Provincial capital in Toronto where many of those same policies are carried out.
In Jesus’ day, although final decisions were made in Rome, Jerusalem was where the local political and religious decisions were announced. But Provincial capitals like near-by Jericho was where the practical efforts were felt.
Back here in Canada last week we were treated to a very un-Zacchaeus event. In Ottawa our Canadian Federal government issued a mid-term financial update which turned into a mini-budget. This then influenced markets in Toronto. But un-like Zacchaeus, our federal Finance minister announced the lowering of taxes for everyone in society. That would not have happened every often, if ever, in Zacchaeus’ day.
3. Zacchaeus the Tax Collector
Zacchaeus was the head of tax collecting in Jericho on behalf of the ruling Roman occupiers. The Roman government had co-opted the local people to do their dirty work for them.
Jericho was a very busy important city. It was an oasis on a trade route. It also enjoyed a lower elevation and therefore its climate was very moderate. The rich and famous wintered there in palatial mansions. Known as the “City of Palms” its very air was filled with the aroma from the many rose gardens and balsam groves.
For Zacchaeus to be able to get the tax concession in Jericho was the equivalent of winning the lottery. Under the Roman system of tax-farming it was a literal licence to print money. The Roman government set an amount that they needed to raise and Zacchaeus was responsible to make sure that he met the quota. To do it he then hired underlings and typically doubled the amounts. They then attempted to make their own profits by gouging twice as much as they needed to hand over to Zacchaeus. It was the best pyramid scheme going because it had the legal weight of the Empire behind it. Corruption was not an accident, it was the rule.
To get some idea of the financial burden of the day here are a list of taxation opportunities:
· Property taxes were set at1%/yr.
· Everyone paid a “head tax” of 1 denarius/yr.
· Customs duties at every border of 2.5%
· Every major highway intersection had a tax booth.
· Fire wood & fresh produce were taxed at the city gate at 1%.
· In addition most land was either owned by the government or by large landholders. People paid as much as 40% of their average income for land rental.
· As well, each Jew owed a head tax and a tithe to God which they paid at the Temple.
· Tetrarch Archelaus also levied a separate system of taxes.
Big Crowd – Small Zacchaeus
Now little Zacchaeus may have been the “big cheese” in the tax collecting world but the common people hated him. If they had had Facebook in those days, no one would have poked him. The only pokes he would have received would have been rabbit punches to the kidneys in a tight crowd.
Then he heard the news – Jesus was in town. What could he do to see this guy?
We don’t know why he wanted to see Jesus. Was he bored? Was he just curious? Or did he have a deep empty space in side?
What could he, a short man, do to get a good view as Jesus passed by?
And then it came to him – The Sycamore Plan!
Climb a Tree
Before we actually visualize Zacchaeus up in his tree, jump with me back into the 21st century. Once a year members of the Youth Group go to the Raptors game. We sit way up near the “standees.” Sometimes I think I should bring my binoculars.
This week I heard of a man who attempted to solve any sight line problems in the Air Canada Centre. Like Zacchaeus he wanted to be right in the middle of the action. For many $$$ thousands of dollars, he purchased one of those front row court side chairs. He specifically asked that it be right beside the Raptors coach. All was fine until this year. Another row of seats were added – right in front of him. He is now suing because of the obstructed view.
I wonder if there were any comments made when Zacchaeus put his Sycamore climbing plan into action. These trees are much like our English oaks with lower wide spreading branches that were easy to climb. What a wonderful box seat. Let the parade begin.
6. Then Jesus Came
As the old Sunday School chorus goes, “And as the Saviour passed that way, he looked up into the tree.” All this time, Zacchaeus thought he was searching for Jesus. But unknown to him, it was really Jesus looking for Zacchaeus.
I’m sure the crowd held its collective breath as Jesus stopped right under the tree and looked up at Zacchaeus. I think they could hardly wait to hear Jesus ream him out. After all he had done it to the apparently saintly but self-righteous Pharisees. How badly would he scorch a sinner like Zacchaeus?
Oh, and do you remember the meaning of Zacchaeus’ name? “Righteous” or “clean.” Yeah, right!
“Zacchaeus, get done here right now!”
(Oh boy, here it comes!)
“I must eat and sleep at your place tonight.”
(What???...Not with Zacchaeus? Not Jesus? Has he sold out?)
Murmur, murmur, mumble, mumble…
7. The Crowd Gets Angry
How could Jesus do this?
And so the crowd follow Jesus and Zacchaeus as they go to the house. Back then the homes had larger open windows. Dinner parties were regarded as local entertainment. People would come and listen through the windows to the conversations. It gave up-close-and-personal new meaning.
Maybe Jesus would wait and roast him during the after dinner speeches?
8. Zacchaeus Gives Back
But they were in for the shock of their lives. Zacchaeus got right up off his couch as if to make the announcement of the ages. What a show boat!
But he sure fooled us. We shook our heads and rubbed our ears. Had we really heard that correctly? I think he just announced that first off he was giving away half of all his wealth to the poor. Why you could have heard a pin drop! There was no requirement written in any of our many laws, religious or civil that would have demanded such steep reparations. Can you hear some of the poor folks cheering: “Half to us?”
And if that was not enough, Zacchaeus then announced that he would repay 4x to anyone that he had ripped off. Why even financial cheats only had to pay a 20% penalty on top of what had been taken! (Leviticus 5:16; Numbers 5:7) A thief sometimes had to pay twice the value (Leviticus 6:1-7). But only really serious sheep rustlers might be charged the 4x rule (Exodus 22:1; 2 Samuel 12:6).
What was going on here? It made no sense. Maybe Zacchaeus had slipped and hit his head on the way down out of the tree? Who knows, maybe a rich man could go through the eye of a needle after all.
And look over at Jesus. He’s just laying there on his couch smiling and nodding his head. And then Jesus started speaking:
“Welcome back Zacchaeus. Welcome back into our society. Welcome back to the temple. Now you are a true son of Abraham.”
Like the Lost Coin, the Lost Sheep and the Lost Son, Zacchaeus had now been found. Jesus’ Amazing Grace had struck again.
9. So What is the Application for us here in Bothwell?
Who are the Zacchaeus’ who have climbed into the trees around us?
Our sermon title was: “Zacchaeus, the Little Man With the Big Heart” Do we really believe that? Do we think that it can come true today? Or like the folks of Jesus’ day do we say that this runty little tax guy will never change?
Who are these Zacchaeus’ who have climbed the trees around us to get a look at something better, to see if there is any real hope in following Jesus?
10. Jesus Was Also On The Way To His “Tree” in Jerusalem to Die for all These Zacchaeus’
This would be Jesus’ last trip through Jericho. He was literally on his way to die in Jerusalem. It was Passover time. The soon-to-be events would turn into our first Good Friday-Easter. Just as Zacchaeus had climbed a tree to see Jesus, Jesus was going to climb a “tree” on Mt. Calvary in order to die for the sins of all the Zacchaeus of the world.
11. Who Still Needs to Hear Jesus’ Call to a New Life for Sin-sick Souls?
Do we really believe that Jesus can change the Zacchaeus’ of the world?
Communion is not just for us.
Zacchaeus' story reminds us that this Communion Service that we are about to begin is not just a “warm & fuzzy” Baptist tradition. Communion is a reminder of Jesus’ continuing power to transform the Zacchaeus’ of today – to transform you and me. To transform us so that like Zacchaeus, we can truly say, “I Surrender All” as we continue to dedicate ourselves to his mission in our world. As preparation for that please turn with me to Hymn #287.