Zacchaeus the Tax Collector

Zacchaeus the Tax Collector . CSM Shared Word by Steve Clemens . Nov. 4, 2007

Luke 19:1-10 (New International Version)
1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a 'sinner.' "
8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount."
9 Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."

Actually this text is scheduled in the lectionary as an alternate one because it falls on the Sunday closest to All Saints Day, when we often switch texts to remember the Saints who have gone before and whose spirits are with us now. We often use the “Cloud of Witnesses” text from Hebrews and probably leave ol’ Zacchaeus out of the list of those who’ve gone before – in favor of Abraham and Sarah, Priscilla and Aquilla, Oscar Romero and Tom Fox. So, instead, I want to give Zacchaeus his “15 minutes” of fame this week.

Some of you who are my age or older who were raised in the church might recall the Sunday School ditty about this story. We had the flannel-graph figure of Zacchaeus, placed it up in the tree so he could see Jesus coming in the distance, and then he hops down and takes Jesus to his house.
(song from childhood:)
"Zacchaeus was a wee little man,
a wee little man was he.
He climbed up in a sycamore tree,
the Lord he wanted to see.
And as the Savior passed that way,
He looked up in that tree.
And He said,
"Zacchaeus, you come down!
For I'm going to your house today."

You might not know it from this cute little Sunday School song that this story should be considered by most of us as one of the infamous “Texts of Terror”. The kind of sick feeling you get in your stomach- kind of what I felt this past June when I got a letter in the mail addressed to Christine and me from the MN Dept. of Revenue informing us that “We have selected your taxpayer account for examination under the authority provided by MN Statute 270C.31. Please provide the following documentation: [and then provided a list of six things we were to send in within the next 30 days relating to our Federal 1040 Forms for 2004, 2005, and 2006. …] Additional information may be requested if necessary.” Signed by Zacchaeus-oops!, I mean by Greg Ozmun, Revenue Tax Specialist.

Is this a “Text of Terror” because of how some of us feel about the IRS? Jesus might have had something to fear about this man since the Gospel stories indicate one of the charges leveled against him at his trial was that “He refuses to pay taxes to the Emperor!” What if Zacchaeus about to “audit” Jesus’ tax return?

Humm, “no where to lay your head, eh?” Better not have taken the mortgage interest deduction.
“Feeding crowds of 5,000? Where’d you get the bling to pay for that?” Did you get a receipt for the 5 loaves and 2 fish?

“Healing. Without a license. Have you paid your dues to the AMA?

“Have you listed the pharmaceutical samples you got as income?

No, the “Text of Terror” comes about when we realize that WE are the focus of this story. WE are the Zacchaeus figure. We’ve heard about this “Jesus” character and we want to see what all the fuss is about but we don’t expect to be singled out for our own audit!

Now, Zacchaeus didn’t become “Chief Tax Collector” for the area without some serious collaboration with the Coalition Provisional Authority - I mean, the hated Roman Occupying Army and maybe the Temple political structure.

But, look at the text again. When Jesus announces that he is coming over to Zach’s house TODAY – and he’s gonna “stay with him”, ol’ Zach knows the jig is up. I’m sure he’s heard about the other previous encounters Jesus has had with “rich folk”. Luke has written several stories about these encounters before we get to the Zacchaeus story in his Gospel. I’m sure word has gotten out what Jesus said to The Rich Young Ruler. “Sell what you have, give it to the poor, and come, follow me!” He also knew that there probably weren’t too many “formerly-rich” folk in Jesus’ entourage that day. Oh, I’m sure that at their annual “Motivational Speakers banquet” a year-or-two ago, there was that talk about the strange behavior of Brother Matthew – and how he went “off the deep end”, quit his IRS job, to follow this mystic teacher and preacher. He quit his job and now just hangs around with this “gang”.

I wonder if it was a long walk from the Sycamore Tree back to Zach’s pad? What was Zach thinking as he ran back to “straighten up the place”? Whatever it was, Luke tells us he didn’t wait for Jesus to clear his throat and give him a hard stare and start confronting him about his vocation and lifestyle. No, Zacchaeus stood up, looked Jesus in the eye and said, “Not only do I have too much, but I need to look at paying reparations for how I got this rich.” Now, tax collectors in those days got their money anyway they could. There were probably a couple of “busted kneecaps” in the area where Zach did his strong-armed collecting.

Zach says, “Here and now I’m giving half of my possessions to the poor.” Zach was ready to follow. He was ready for the invitation to be offered. Chances are, he personally knew “the poor”. But what about we “rich folk”? Do we know the poor? If we were to give half of our possessions to “the poor”, who would we give it to? How insolated or isolated are we from “the poor”? IF I defrauded anyone, … 4 x restitution. Does our lifestyle “defraud” others when close to half the world’s population lives on less than what I spent on a can of Pringles? How “Deserving” are the poor? What if I give them money and they don’t “spend it correctly?

Here is what I’d like each of you to do. On the back of the piece of paper that has today’s text, I want you to write the name of 1 or 2 people or groups that you have a personal relation with who is poor (or works with the poor) that you would give part of your own money to.

Then, I want you to get into small groups of not more than 6 people each, none from the same household together, and share what you’ve written and why with that group. Each group will have $100. to “give away to the poor” BUT you will all have to be in agreement/consensus with how/where it is to go. Each of you could designate part of it to go to 5 separate individuals or, as your group meets, maybe you’ll come to consensus about pooling your money together to give it to one entity to make it go further. Think about what you are going to say to that person or organization when you give them the money. If you can’t come to consensus after 5 minutes, you’ll need to return the money to me.

We won’t take the time to have each group report back to the whole body but after worship, I’d like someone from each group to write down to whom their money is going so all of us can see it.

The amazing thing about this story is that Zacchaeus didn’t say, “Oh crap! Now I’m screwed! What shall I do?”

“Can’t I just avoid Jesus? Why’d he have to pick me out?

No, he joyfully decided to cast his lot with Brother Matthew and other followers and radically change his life.

And Jesus says, Today Salvation has come to this household. The economics of the entire household are connected with what it means for Jesus to be “saved”.

Is it a Text of Terror? Or a Text of Liberation and Salvation? We can choose how to respond to Jesus.
Where the $ went:
Group 1: $60. to Peace House on Franklin Ave. (for homeless)
$40. to Christian Peacemaker Team in Columbia.
Group 2: $100. to El Salvador student scholarship fund (Kaydee Kirk connection)
Group 3: $10. Kinship mentoring program
$10. CPT
$20. local foodshelf
$30. fund for people being deported
$20. Open Arms (meals to those with HIV/Aids)
$10. (uncertain who this went to)
Group 4: $60. Genesis House (for recovering prostitutes in Chicago)
$40. student emergency fund for Anoka Ramsey College. (Erik Weiger recommendation)
Group 5: $100. MN Health Worker Volunteer fund for Ugandans recovering from HIV/Aids to purchase cows and pigs for food and economic recovery. (Johan Cavert recommendation)
Group 6: $20. Oxfam
$20. Homefulness (housing program in St. Paul)
$20. Evan. Lutheran Church in Jordan and Palestine
$20. Twin Cities RISE!
$20. One Acre Foundation (subsistence farming in Africa- recommended by Eric Berger)
Group 7: $20. to Rojas family in Northfield (home destroyed in recent fire)
$20. for 7th grade boy in Northfield
$20. Heartside (shelter? in Grand Rapids, MI)
$20. United for a Fair Economy (Tom Witt recommendation)
$20. Mennonite Central Committee work in Cambodia.