Connections 05.29.2016: What Zacchaeus Saw

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Luke 19:1-10

Thomas Berger’s 1964 novel and Arthur Penn’s 1970 film Little Big Man tell the fictional tale of Jack Crabb, who claims to be the only white survivor of Little Big Horn.

So the title doesn’t refer to Zacchaeus—but it could. He could have had the phrase printed on his business cards and painted on his office window. Zacchaeus was little in the literal sense of the word—he was short. But he was big, too. He was rich and powerful, and so he was a big man in Jericho.

Most people, if given the choice between being physically tall or financially and socially big, would go with the power. So Zacchaeus was big in the ways that most folks regard as important.

But when Jesus came through town, Zacchaeus couldn’t even see him. His big status couldn’t overcome his small stature. The commoners he looked down on formed a barrier he couldn’t see over. The people he saw as opportunities for profit blocked his opportunity to see Jesus.

Have you ever wondered why Zacchaeus was so determined to see Jesus?

I suspect it was because he had heard that Jesus was a friend of tax collectors and sinners (Lk 5:29-32; 7:34). I think he was looking for acceptance. I think he was looking for grace. I think that’s what he was looking for, even if he didn’t know that was what he was looking for.

I think that’s what everybody’s looking for, whether they know it or not.

So Zacchaeus climbed a sycamore tree.

Luke doesn’t say that Zacchaeus saw Jesus, but he does say that Jesus saw Zacchaeus. Jesus not only saw Zacchaeus; he also spoke to him. He not only spoke to him; he also told him he was going home with him.

And all the proper people freaked out. Had it happened today, Twitter would have exploded: #JesusZacchaeus #LittleBigMan #sycamoretree #friendoftaxcollectors #ZachAttack #ScandalInJericho #sinnerdinner.

That’s when Zacchaeus saw. What did he see? Well, he saw Jesus. But in seeing Jesus, he saw everything he needed to see.

He saw himself as he really was.

He saw himself as Jesus saw him.

He saw the possibilities of grace.

He saw people as people.

He saw the opportunity to make some things right.

He saw how things were.

He saw how things could be.

He saw who he could be.

He saw what he could do.

That’s what Zacchaeus saw.

Here comes Jesus. He sees you.

What do you see?

Discussion

1. Why do you think Zacchaeus was so determined to see Jesus?

2. Read the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Lk 18:9-14). Jesus said that the tax collector in the parable “went down to his home justified” (v. 14), even though he, unlike Zacchaeus, makes no commitment to change his ways or to make restitution. What do you make of the difference between the response of Zacchaeus and that of the tax collector in the parable?

3. Is the church ever like the people who complained about Jesus socializing with sinners (v. 7)? How? Why?

4. How can we continue Jesus’ ministry of seeking out and saving the lost (v.10)? How are we doing so? How can we do better?

5. Jericho was not Jesus’ destination; Jerusalem was (9:51). He was just passing through Jericho (v. 1). Yet he ended up spending the day at Zacchaeus’s house (v. 5). What lessons does that teach us about how we should approach our life and ministry?

Reference Shelf

Zacchaeus says, “Half my stuff, Lord, I give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I return it four-fold.” Start with the last statement: if he does not defraud, he makes no profit—this was what made John the Baptist’s advice to the tax col- lectors radical and not bourgeois. The tax-farming system was based on greed and fraud, and if tax collectors only collected what was actually owed to Rome, there would be no incentive to collect taxes, and things would grind to a halt … So of course Zacchaeus has defrauded people; so have all the underlings who work for him, who actually collected the taxes. If he pays each taxpayer four times more than the difference between what he collected and what they owed, then he is returning 400 percent of his profits. And if he begins his giving by disbursing half of his savings, then he is going to end up poor.

Given everything Luke has said about giving up everything as the prerequisite to following Jesus, I cannot see how we can think of Zacchaeus as a poorer but still wealthy man at the end of the story. But if that’s correct—if this story is meant to be a corrective to the earlier imperatives to sell everything—then it is still a huge challenge for us. If you cannot imagine giving everything away, try giving away half your stuff to the poor: half the value of your house, half of your retirement, half of your clothes, half of your television sets, etc. Hmm—still no takers, eh? Not me, either.

Richard B. Vinson, Luke, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2008) 592.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra and father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin). A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. You can visit and communicate with him at MichaelRuffin.com. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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