Zacchaeus', Come Down to Love!
By Kristi Allegretto
At such time as this, Christians cannot spiritually survive without humility! In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus encouraged blessed are the meek and in many other places, the Holy Scriptures wisely advise to walk humbly with your God, even to seek lowliness, and be clothed with humility towards others. Now our Lord was famed for His matchless strength of character, so similarily humility is not being like a doormat, nor is it about repetitive self-degradation.
True humility, an unequivocal necessity for a Christian, is demonstrated by practicing utter reliance on our Almighty! Living in a constant awareness of one's own need for His unconditional mercy! Goes without saying, what spiritual paupers we all are without the daily grace of God extended to each of us! I will divulge three secrets for remaining humble, for not being wise in one's own eyes: remembering one's very breath is sustained from above; living not by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God; and continual asking our Omniscient One for wisdom!
A Divine light of insight illuminated the account of Zacchaeus as one such exhortation about humility and the perils of pride. In Luke 19, we read...
Luke 19:1-10 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see Him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, He looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." So he came down at once and welcomed Him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a 'sinner.' " 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."
Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."
Zacchaeus the zealot for Jesus, been a common recollection. Indeed, his admirable eagerness to meet Christ be a powerful lesson in itself and should spur us to seek His face with such ardor! Really wanting to see someone is akin to saying that they well worth getting to know better! What an understatement of our Lord and how true! In preparation for a bird's eye view, Zacchaeus expending valiant energy was rewarded, as he won personal attention from the God Almighty of the universe! However, upon reflection, surmising it was more than just curiosity and even more than his small stature that drove Zacchaeus up the sycamore tree. I offer for further
consideration that possibly pride may have fueled his fire, fanning the flame of his ulterior motivation to make sure he stood out in a multitude of onlookers!
In this passage of Scripture, what we first learn of Zacchaeus is his occupation as a chief tax collector, which indicates he held a place of influence and wielded authority. With him being described as wealthy, we are also given a glimpse into his well-to-do lifestyle. And since tax collectors of that day were known to be extortionists, we can assume Zacchaeus had long lived deluded into believing that true prosperity meant getting richer and richer at the unjust expense of others and even by oppressing the poor! As was he extremely deceived to presume he could carry on in his cunning ways without any form of retribution, be it from earth or from above. He understood not that his fraudulent tenure was a premonition for his eventual deposing and of looming constraints on his own coffers!
Living on a shoestring budget may be to keep the believer humble and dependent on God, however some, not all, financial troubles are because of carnal living. Sin will lead to a thin pocketbook! Zacchaeus' seeming success and increasing luxury had enshrouded his morals, blinded him with greed, and made reverting to more honorable, but less lucrative business procedures totally un-enticing. His good judgment was dulled to the fact that candor counts much higher in God's book than Zacchaeus' fudged collection ledger could ever number. Even though character holds far more everlasting value than fleeting mammon, for some the love of money, the mountain of materialism, and the vivaciousness of vainglory override the eternal treasure of maintaining one's integrity.
Zacchaeus' riches could also have referred to an overabundance of
self-righteousness which was what erroneously railroaded him in attempting to re-establish his tarnished creditability. As dubbed in the community gathering, the people already had lowered the disdaining societal status boom upon him calling him a sinner and even he himself implied that he had cheated unsuspecting citizens.
Incidentally, the consequences of willful sinning against God and others be manifold. Two certain, swift results include a convicted, guilty conscience and a bad reputation! In dealing with both issues, one would feel very downcast, depressed, and defensive. Un-confessed sin, not to mention continual and intentional rebellion would drag one spiritually low, deflating one's self-esteem and squelching one's self-respect. Brokenness and reverent repenting obviously the wise and only right responses. Though in a futile last ditch effort, some do take the high-minded road of pride, attempting to justify themselves and prove they are indeed righteous, despite the blatantly bad fruit in their life that been witnessed.
They want to feel better about themselves, so In order to save face, they scheme to raise themselves up in the eyes, in the estimation of others
somehow, even if only by physical elevation. Exactly what Zacchaeus did! As the townspeople would have watched him shinny up and perch himself above them, he climbed atop a fig tree trying to redeem himself in their sight! Knowing that in public he had a bad name, he was more than likely weighted down by heavy burdens of personal shame and disrepute. So his being higher up in altitude than the crowd would have given him a false sense of superiority, of a superficial liberty! Striving to regain the favor of men, forced him to go to vicarious heights to do such vanity and almost prevented
him from meeting his Savior!
Same goes for those in the world and even for some believers who deem themselves to be wealthy in righteousness, while at the same time, they deflect the spotlight to the sins of neighbors and to a diversity of supposedly grandiose injustices. All to distract from taking responsibility for their actions. They claim to be Christian, yet in superficial piety they flee from cultivating a deeper personal, life-transforming relationship with Jesus and from meeting Him face-to-face in the secret place of prayer! Rather than racing to see Christ, they run in the opposite direction to avoid His
piercing eyes of conviction that compel them out of their spiritual
complacency and self-sufficiency. These carnal states of mind only cement their unwillingness to change habitual ways and entrench their obstinate refusal to come down from their self-exalted tree. They chafe at any correction, instead of responding in gratitude for being shown the truly Higher road. They balk at humbly asking for forgiveness and buck being upheld by the victory of our Lord's crucifixion on the Tree of all trees, the Cross of Calvary!
Having surely heard Jesus' standards of righteousness, am certain Zacchaeus was already feeling Divine pressure and thus viewed the tree as his scapegoat of albeit brief relief to get out from under such persistent prodding to reform. Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus, though seemingly only at a comfortable, non-confrontational distance! As our Lord Jesus taught, the Kingdom of righteousness is within the human spirit, yet Christians and non-Christians alike try to elude our Omnipresent God who can speak absolutely anywhere to their very hearts!
While probably much to Zacchaeus' surprise, he gained the indescribable blessing and privilege of fellowship with the King of kings, he actually first garnered more of a rebuke! Though at a quick glance and because of the grace in Christ's words, it may not seem like a reprimand at all! In Luke 19:5 we read: Luke 19:5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today."
This sounds more like a stern command of Jesus than a congenial invitation to supper! Am deducing His calling down Zacchaeus was urgently necessary, as pictures of gangly looking sycamore trees boast only lofty branches. The law of gravity requires no testing, guaranteeing that the higher one climbs, the harder and more life-threatening their earthy spread-eagle would be. So it is feasible to assume that Christ clearly recognized the completely
unaware Zacchaeus to be in imminent danger of physically tumbling from his self-promoted position.
Prideful people surely do raise themselves to proverbial places for which they have neither God's anointing, nor spiritual maturity, nor experiential knowledge to support themselves and their shallow roots. In their craving for the spotlight, they end up out on a shaky limb, seeing not that their folly is openly revealed. So as pride goes before a fall, would certainly seem Jesus was speedily trying to spare Zacchaeus both personal harm and unnecessary public humiliation. Had a branch broken or in his overconfidence he lost his footing, sending him in the blink of an eye to the ground, Zacchaeus could have incurred serious injury and possibly hurt those standing nearby. Plus him landing with a noisy thud in a groaning, bewildered heap, as such a
prominent Visitor passed through, would have earned him more ridicule and been further embarrassment in front of a crowd who already despised him! Hence, if a rebuke seems rather authoritative and directive, heed it at all costs! Remember that obedience to our Omniscient God is not optional! Reproofs are Providentially timed, sent to preserve your person, your peace, and your prize of Divine presence!
Maybe the intensity with which our Lord spoke to Zacchaeus was to ensure he got the seriousness of His message in that moment! Christ's word of choice "immediately" and am sure His tone of voice would have implied instant adherence or else dire consequences! Jesus had been specifically sent to minister to Zacchaeus, so now that He was right there, no time would be wasted. Zacchaeus could either obey and be brought closer to King Jesus or he could rebel and be left fending his own battles. Christ Jesus would not linger with someone unreceptive, so He gave Zacchaeus His undivided
attention to help him make the most of his appointment!
Even of more significance, our Lord would have keenly discerned that in the fig tree, highfaluting Zacchaeus was actually exalting himself in defense of his being conscience-stricken and bearing the stigma of a bad reputation. Jesus would have also known that Zacchaeus probably foolishly thought if he put himself out of reach, he could then at least temporarily escape even the Most High's Hand of discipline and the subsequent need for a complete overhaul of his ethics. Now to Zacchaeus' credit, his instant obedience, reaffirms and even overshadows his renown zeal! The Holy Scriptures forever record that...
Luke 19:6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
Practicing to joyfully obey God Most High is surely another winsome nugget to well remember from this account! Zacchaeus' quick humble submission shows his reverence that Christ was One who spoke to him with true unquestionable authority from on High! A majestic regality not to be resisted, nor challenged in the least. Fears of manipulation and ill will did not appear to cross his mind, as they would have been completely unfounded anyhow. Zacchaeus' intuition must have told him he could trust such commanding instruction from this Jesus. Obviously, insubordination to our Lord of the universe should be rightly unthinkable and this was certainly what Zacchaeus needed to learn, as do multitudes in the world and in the church today, especially in positions of leadership!
To comprehend that power and the facade of control through riches do not give them unlimited license to live above any and all laws, but rather they
should uphold them. True authority comes only as bestowed from heaven and is maintained through good stewardship and close knit Divine communion! Zacchaeus' placement was to be a trustworthy overseer, helping to prevent and punish any fraud, not to be a gloating perpetrator of extortion. So just as Zacchaeus, as a chief tax collector, was suppose to supervise and discipline those he led, he arrogantly forgot that Someone greater than he, the Sovereign Almighty, could and would dethrone his racketeering reign.
Zacchaeus' loveless rebellion would have wreaked havoc and seemingly was causing a bitter uprising that was heard in the high skyward courts! Be forewarned those at the church helm and in ministries, when God's People grieve under legalistic pastoralships, He surely tunes His ear to their pleas!
In his sycamore tree solitude Zacchaeus could have been actually taking refuge from the crowd that was probably loudly nattering against his presence. Hence, his making such a compelling descent from his lonely perch! Zacchaeus was gladly coming down to the neighborly love that Jesus had expressed towards him! Our Lord acknowledged him personally by name and demonstrated a sincere willingness to fellowship with him, which must have astonished him! Though Zacchaeus was a shady tax collector, he still had an as yet unsatiated thirst for love and more so due to his proud, insolent
induced alienation! In any case, Christ knew that Zacchaeus needed a
huge outpouring of unconditional acceptance.
All the more, to follow our Lord's selfless example in how He altruistically interacted with people. He affirmed their very person and got into eye-to-eye contact with them in their trying circumstance. He was, what I describe as confrontationally compassionate! Jesus didn't mince words, giving stern admonishments, where essential, meant to promote His ultimate abundant life that will flow profusely with wholehearted adherence to Him! Whether it be because of sin or situation, to those that were downtrodden, Christ surely showed gracious kindness and mercy, as He did to a solitary, seeking
Notice that in obeying Jesus, Zacchaeus hesitated not one iota! He didn't procrastinate, nor formulate good excuses, nor respond with a deluge of catty remarks, nor suspicious questions of his own, such as why did Jesus choose him and not someone else? or what would He of him once Zacchaeus disembarked from his tree house? Pride will make some people combative, belligerent, and resistant to love, but not Zacchaeus, his heart was too thirsty! He didn't indifferently brush off a sincere invitation to love, and nor did he pretend to ignore an unfathomable privilege of a lifetime! Zacchaeus instinctively knew that there was something radically different
about this poignant Stranger!
Instead of proud and negative retorts, with simple, yet wise submission, Zacchaeus gladly and respectfully received the King of kings, who had accepted him unconditionally. In doing so, am certain Zacchaeus had already realized that Jesus wasn't just inviting Himself for a mere supper, but was beckoning and urging him to a whole new way of truly righteous and fulfilled
living! Our Lord's love is what made Zacchaeus so willing to bow to a reformation that would do him good!
So duly recognize that putting off repentance and obedience to Divine leading will postpone the manifest jubilant Presence, favor, and freedom of our Almighty for one to readily enjoy! Untold blessings left unwrapped, undiscovered, and restored self-worth made elusive, all because of ego. How much better to put off the shackles of pride, than senselessly avoiding such bliss and liberating release, awaiting in the wings!
Was only right for the townfolk to be bitter towards Zacchaeus. He being the community criminal, who won the audience of the All Wise God! We read of these perplexed people: Luke 19:7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a 'sinner.'"
Though they had good reason to mutter, their murmuring actually indicates they were as self-righteous as Zacchaeus started out to be! The people seemingly presumed themselves to be less sinful than him and esteemed themselves more worthy to host this prestigious, miracle-performing Christ! As they were openly grumbling about Zacchaeus being such a lowly sinner, their evident envy and offense spotlighted their own sanctimony! Rather they should have rejoiced that Jesus was going to meet with him and set his crooked ways aright! Yet blinded by their own snobbery, they knew not that they were in as much desperate need of the true Savior, as Zacchaeus was!
Am certain our Lord well discerned the vaingloriousness of the crowd.
Many, like the Pharisees, would have welcomed Him into their home only for notoriety's sake with absolutely no intention of wholeheartedly following Him, nor continuing to obey His teachings after He had left. They selfishly sought a societal momentary praise of men, being oblivious to beholding the enduring glory of the Messiah in their midst! Their complacency in temporal pleasures made them dull to truly hearkening unto eternal truths and timeless treasures!
This next verse implies that Zacchaeus could hear his jealous jeerers muttering that he was without question a sinner. We read in...
Luke 19:8 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."
The word "But" seems a sharp and double-edged sword. One side cutting to the very core of the contention, Zacchaeus' fraudulent business practices of which his God-given conscience had already perceived as unethical. In my opinion, this word "But" is Zacchaeus' unspoken acknowledgment that what the communal jury said about him was indeed true. To the captive people, he didn't contest, but confessed to having lorded financial oppression over them and was identifying with the hardship he had caused them. Then on the other side of the sword, Zacchaeus boldly stood up to defend himself, as
if to say he really did know the difference between right and wrong.
This begs the question why? Since Zacchaeus had a sense of morality to begin with, why did he stray from higher ethics? Suffice it to say that maybe because of his small stature, he felt insecure within himself. In his life, he had probably been provoked a lot and mistreated by condescending people, which would have magnified his inferiority, thus spurring him into power-tripping and the limelight of the wealthy and maybe even into legalistic politics. He may have experienced much unjust rejection. So in his woundedness and to feel better about himself, even to make others think more highly of him, Zacchaeus turned to the love of money and materialism to obtain substitutes for what he was missing.
He could have been trying to fill the deep relational void in his heart with money and trying to impress his counterparts with wealthy accolades. His recourse for being mocked because of his height that he could do nothing about, may have been manipulation of the tax system. As multitudes do with
similar and many other physical fixes, vain activities, and vengeful schemes, Zacchaeus could have been attempting to get redemption for past hurts. Perhaps, his emotional need for gaining approval and vindication overcame his scruples. He erroneously assumed that power and wealth gave him opportunity to be his own judge, living by his own rules, and fulfilling his own interests.
Yet instead of finding greater self-worth and true love, the corruption of his morals ate away at his community connections and made him even more despised and an emptyhearted outcast, feeling invisible. This goes to show
that whether in Bible times or in present day, obviously, breaking the laws of the land and the Divine law of love isn't the right way to go about seeking justice, nor quenching one's thirst for social acceptance and meaningful relationships.
Again, why did Zacchaeus stray away from what he knew to be truly right? The answer I believe is because of his identity that seemed rooted in the variance of the temporal, such as on his finite self and his fickle feelings, on the vainglory of society, on his outward appearance, and on his wealth. Zacchaeus based his personal value so heavily on what others thought of him, that he would do anything, even going to unjust monetary lengths to increase his showmanship. This put him on a worrisome, stomach-turning, nonstop rollercoaster ride finding only fleeting superficial highs and disorienting lonely lows. Many others like Zacchaeus need to know that their
significance does not come from people, nor from the abundance of what one may possess, nor should it be affected by what one doesn't have. Zacchaeus didn't find acceptance, so he conformed to the elite world around him, which wasn't working either. Jesus surely appeared on the scene to enlighten all that every person is a priceless good gift despite the bad choices they may have made. One's identity comes from being made in the very image of God to carry out His loving goodness!
Each one of us is created in Christ Jesus to do good works that God has prepared in advance for us to do. People lose their self-respect and the respect of others when they don't do the good that they were foreordained to do! Zaccheaus may well have been a sincere do gooder yet still been
rejected, which may have hardened him and made him think that he could rise above the law too, even though Divine good is the highest road to stay on! His insecurity about his personal value led to his shifty moral standards. He let self and society's vain measuring stick override his God-given conscience!
Nonetheless, we find Zacchaeus defending his obvious change of heart. He could have jumped up to try and downplay, even deny his cunning tax customs. He was quick on his feet, so could have made a run for it, instead of taking responsibility for the grief others endured at his hand. Yet since meeting his loving Lord, Zacchaeus now too, was filled with the same kind mercies and was no longer controlled by his selfish ambition, nor hiding behind his hurt and vain pride! In his bid to prove his renewed benevolence and more importantly to please the present Christ, Zacchaeus was eager to
show his inward, truly indelible transformation and did even better by leaping into immediate action, repaying generous restitution to those he had swindled. Thus, redeeming and vindicating himself in front of his reproachers!
Under the mighty Hand of God, Zacchaeus had humbled himself by coming down from his self-righteous tree and because of his repentance he was lifted up, being regrafted into the True Vine of approval. The dignity that he had strived for was instantly granted to him, as Zacchaeus' obedience helped restore his reputation among these very people in his hometown. Now not just deeds brought him back into the favor of God and men, but also and more significantly, it was his kind heart that rewarmed others up to him! They and Jesus could see that Zacchaeus was motivated by neighbourly love!
Self-righteous deeds are done for the promotion of self and bear the
fruit of pride and folly, whereas Divinely applauded good deeds are done for the benefits of others and bear the fruit of wisdom and love to the glory of God! Glorifying Him is our purpose in life and is certainly redemptive!
In the last verse of this humility parable, the Scriptures exhort...
Luke 19:10 Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."
Again to his credit, Zacchaeus continued to immediately obey Jesus, drawing His personal and direct commendation, plus much needed spiritual reaffirmation. In the verse above, Christ saying "this man, too,..." strongly implies that the infamously and supposedly incorrigible Zacchaeus had been previously deemed beyond salvation by the crowd. Take this to dear heart that, generally speaking, no one is ever out of the reach of Jesus, of His love, and of His saving power! As in one moment, a malevolent Zacchaeus was
miraculously reconfigured from a dejected sinner into a son of Abraham in whom all nations would be blessed! Oh what an indescribable promotion!
Our Lord discerned He could trust a new-hearted Zacchaeus in his financial post with his true authority restored. Zacchaeus would not only conduct his business in a way that would bring bliss to the people of the land, but also he would share his faith of eternal salvation, transcending peace, and fullness of life that he had discovered in Christ! His now honest tax collecting procedures would be Divine in the sense that his integrity would promote trust within his township. As other tax collectors followed suit after their
chief and reformed their shady practices too, rippling effects of tranquility would as well be experienced in nearby areas. Certainly, our Lord Most High commands His blessing where brethren dwell together in unity!
As a chief tax collector, Zacchaeus was Providentially and specifically given a leadership position with the potential, whether positively or negatively, to influence multitudes. However, instead of doing good by upholding the laws of the land, he blatantly abused the power that had been bestowed upon him and took advantage of others, most likely including the poor. In addition, he probably corrupted his subordinate tax collectors, making money off them. In doing so, he lost a lot more than what he thought he was profiting, as without him noticing, his Divine favor was revoked for good reason. Zacchaeus' ethical compass had gone awry and long left callously unadjusted. Him being his own navigator hardened by sin, pride, and mammon.
This led to the waning and eventual evaporation of both his self-respect and public dignity. He held a place of authority to bless many people, yet he did the opposite, so he was reaping just repercussions, especially social ostracizing! To a community that had lost its comaraderie, one might say that Jesus showed up just in the nick of time to avert a town mutiny against
their chief tax collector! Christ finding Zacchaeus in the sycamore tree was no small coincidence, but was a foreordained appointment for a lost man in his miserly monopoly!
Jesus calling Himself the "Son of Man" conveys His compassionate identification with humankind when indeed they strive to regain their lost self-respect and struggle to re-establish their peer dignity, especially in their moral decline, ostentaciousness, social alienation and overall spiritual depravity. Christ sees through their pretentious smokescreens and flaky facades, understanding that they thirstily seek for unconditional love; sincere, meaningful relationships; and the truly high life found in Him! Our Lord also certainly knew what it felt like to do good yet even still to be
mocked, rejected, scourged, and forsaken!
People persecuting us with their cantankerous words is only a taste of Jesus' sufferings as He was crucified to bear our very griefs and sorrows! Look into those passionate eyes of Christ Jesus who seeks you out and allow Him to melt your pride that is well worth losing! A great exchange for being ushered more closely into His powerful presence! Whatever you have lost, be it love, liberty, lowliness and or loftiness, you will surely find at the feet of our Lord Jesus!