Summary: Searching for the Lost in our communities Story of Zaccheaus
How many of us remember learning the story of Zacchaeus in song? I remember learning a little song in Vacation Bible Story, about Zacchaeus climbing the sycamore tree. While it is a nice song that paints a wonderful image of Jesus reaching out to someone, is there more to the story?
What do we know about Zacchaeus? We know he was a tax collector and he was small in stature. We also know he was not liked by people in his community. In fact he was pretty much despised and shunned by most people there. We can even suspect they were spreading all sorts of rumors around about him.
Tax collectors had nasty reputations for overcharging for taxes. For not only did they collect taxes for the Roman Empire, they also collected taxes for the province of Palestine, and most importantly tax collectors received a commission from their collections. So more often than not the collectors skimmed more off the top than they were supposed to take. Because of these actions all tax collectors became suspect as criminals to the Jewish people.
Today there are many people who are treated the same way that Zacchaeus must have been. People who are pushed out to the edges of society. People who because of what they do or who they are, may appear to be are shunned by all. People who become viewed as traitors to their own kind.
For example, a number of years ago the workers at the meat packing plant in Ottumwa, Iowa went on strike. The plant, in order to keep running, was forced to hire replacement workers. Some of the other workers didn’t want to strike so they crossed the picket lines as well. These replacement workers and others were friends and neighbors of the strikers. Many of them lost friendships over the strike, but for them it was a matter of feeding their families.
For years after the strike, those workers endured being shunned by their fellow workers. Why? Because, they viewed them as traitors, to the “cause”. They viewed them as cheats and thieves because they chose to work rather than standing by them.
In the Jewish community of Jesus’ time they viewed tax collectors as so low, it was believed that they couldn’t be forgiven for their sins. Basically because their work was sinful in nature this is why when Jesus told Zacchaeus he was coming his house. This was why the crowd responded in the way it did. They all complained when they saw what was happening. "He has gone to stay at a sinner’s house," they said. (Luke 19:7 NJB).
Why was this such a shock? Well for one many in their midst recognized Jesus as a rabbi. Some were probably on the fence to accepting him to be the “Holy One” or Messiah, and he yet again was testing their image as to what a messiah should be. He again was causing them to stretch their preconceived notions.
For some would have considered this another public relations disaster. How is he ever going to gain favor with the religious leaders if he continues to mingle with undesirables?
However, the religious leaders could not speak out against what he was doing. Because what he was doing is exactly what they were supposed to be doing. Remember many of the religious leaders had become so caught up in their position and had perverted their interpretation of the Law of God that they were unable to see beyond the limits they placed on themselves.