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Written by Jim Jordal   
Saturday, 01 December 2007

A RICH TAX COLLECTOR FORSAKES THE DOMINATION SYSTEM

By Jim Jordal

 He [Jesus] entered and was passing through Jericho. There was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, and couldn't because of the crowd, because he was short. He ran on ahead, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and saw him, and said to him, "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house." He hurried, came down, and received him joyfully. When they saw it, they all murmured, saying, "He has gone in to lodge with a man who is a sinner." Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, "Behold, Lord, half of my goods I give to the poor. If I have wrongfully exacted anything of anyone, I restore four times as much." Jesus said to him, "Today, salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost."

Luke 19:1-10 (WEB)

How many times have you heard the account of Zacchaeus, the tax collector, a man of short stature who climbed a tree so he could see Jesus pass by? It's a staple of primary Sunday School education and the subject of many sermons on faith and its rewards. But is there more to the story?

There are many facets to this Bible story, from the personal salvation of Zacchaeus in response to his faith to the obvious chagrin of Pharisaic legalists at the threatening act of Jesus in daring to fellowship in the house of an obvious sinner. But the one that most captures my fancy is not how or why Zacchaeus became converted, but the action he took in penitence for his egregious sin, leading as Jesus said to his salvation and that of his house.

Tax collectors were a hated and feared breed in those days. Their common practice was to extort far more than Rome required, keeping the extra for themselves. Thus many became rich. The fact that Zacchaeus was a Jew made it even worse, since he was expected to stand in unity with his people against Rome, but instead was an obvious tool of the oppressive domination system.

The actions taken by Zacchaeus as restitution for his economic sins (as defined by Mosaic Law) do not constitute salvation by works. He was not saved because he gave half his goods to the poor and restored more than the law required to those he had cheated. He was saved because of his faith. But what is significant is that instead of falling into complacent traditionalism, as do many people following their conversion experience, he moved to rectify his sinful past and to prevent any return to his former oppressive actions.

What Zacchaeus did was to trade his former affluence gained through deceit for something far greater. He found joy through his personal relationship with Jesus. And he discovered release for himself and his family from the idolatry of wealth and possessions. He was finally free of the bondage of his former life.

And what did Jesus mean when He said, "Today, salvation has come to this house..." Obviously Jesus meant forgiveness and eternal life for Zacchaeus and the believers in his house, but what else did He promise? Christian conservatives usually define the term salvation in a strictly spiritual sense, meaning the salvation, or saving, of souls. This is correct, but there are other meanings and uses of the term. As used in this instance, Jesus also meant that Zacchaeus and his household had received deliverance from their physical, mental, and emotional bondage to mammon, or worship of accumulated wealth and the manipulative, unjust processes for gaining it.

So Zacchaeus received not only eternal life in the world to come, but also freedom and deliverance in this life from the strangling hold of money, possessions, power, and influence. He was delivered in the full sense of the term. He was brought into Christ's kingdom of love, light, and truth. And his deliverance was not figurative--it was real and powerful and life transforming.

Many Christians today are freed spiritually from sin and its hold, but how many of us are also free from the clutches of mammon? To gain freedom from the slavery of wealth production and accumulation we need again to surrender ourselves and our possessions to the Lord who gave us everything. Attempting to accomplish this freedom in other ways is unsatisfying and ultimately futile

Last Updated ( Saturday, 01 December 2007 )