From A to Zacchaeus
Why do few Christian parents name their sons Zacchaeus? It could be because the only Zacchaeus mentioned in the Holy Bible was a short guy, and a chief tax collector (Luke 19:2,3). Short? Don’t we want our sons to be big and tall? And Zacchaeus was a tax collector? Wasn’t that a corrupt official in the days of Jesus the Messiah? Yes. So, do we want our sons to be named after a corrupt public official? Let’s take a closer look at Zacchaeus.
One day, Zacchaeus was minding his own business, which is to say that he was overseeing the over-taxation of people in the town of Jericho and pocketing the difference, when he suddenly noticed a crowd gathering on a street entering the town. They were waiting for the arrival of some celebrity called Jesus. So Zacchaeus went there too. This tells us that basically Zacchaeus was no different from everybody else. He loved a parade and he wanted to join the crowd and have a bit of excitement in his boring life. But Luke 19:3 says, “He wanted to see who Jesus was”, so Zac must have heard about this Jesus, whom everybody was talking about, and wanted to see what this holy man was like, and perhaps meet him.
However, being short, Zac could not see through the crowd. You would think that being a government official and a wealthy man (Luke 19:2), Zac would receive some respect and be allowed to move to the front row. But no, a tax collector was a lackey of the oppressive Roman rulers and received not respect but revulsion and hatred. A chief tax collector probably collected twice the revulsion.
Poor Zac ran ahead (Luke 19:4) and climbed a sycamore-fig tree down the road. From this we know that there was nothing wrong with Zac’s brains or legs, and he did not suffer from severe backache problems. His arms must have been all right too, for him to climb the tree. It was only his morals that were not okay.
Now, a sycamore-fig tree is a fairly small tree, with a short trunk and spreading branches, and growing up to about ten metres tall. So it was much easier to climb than a date palm tree. But imagine a present day Comptroller of Income Tax climbing a tree like a monkey, right in the middle of town in full view of a large crowd! Zac was obviously not one to stand on ceremony when there was a tree branch to stand on.
What did Zac see from his vantage point? He saw a celebrity rabbi walking into town with an entourage of disciples and followed by a large number of people who wanted him to teach, heal or feed them. For Jesus had brought in a new innovation to Israel: a one-man travelling religious school cum mobile clinic cum remote-area feeding station (with just a few small fish and some small loaves of bread Jesus could feed thousands of people!). So everyone wanted to be near Jesus.
What did Jesus see? He saw this well-dressed and well-fed man standing in a tree like an ape. Jesus called out to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately.” Amazingly, Jesus knew his name. But why did he ask him to come down immediately? Was it because Zac was in danger of falling down, or the branch was about to give way? Jesus cares.
How the crowd must have gasped when Jesus then said, “I must stay in your house today” (Luke 19:5). Here, in full view of a crowd, Jesus, the one everyone wanted to see, was saying that wanted to stay with a repulsive person like Zac? What a disappointment to them! So Luke records that, “All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be a guest of a ‘sinner’.” (Luke 19:7). But Jesus willingly bore their disappointment and probably revulsion, and risked alienating a large number of people, in order to save this hated sinner Zac.
To do that, Jesus met Zac at the point of his deepest problem. What was Zac’s problem? Was it not that he was not accepted by his fellow citizens as one of them, and that he was not liked or respected despite his status and wealth? So Jesus the celebrity whom everyone wanted to meet, greeted Zac by name and publicly showed that He was accepting him and was even honouring him with a home visit. Jesus did not choose popularity by greeting the town people by name and ignoring Zac the chief tax collector. This may be a good time to pause and check whether we are seeking popularity with people, or risking our popularity to save the lost, like Jesus did.
Luke 19:8 poses some problems, for it says that after the mutterings began, “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 anyone out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount’.” Huh? Zac “stood up”? Was he sitting or squatting on his haunches along the roadside after coming down from the tree? Certainly not, for that would have been disrespectful towards Jesus. So where did Zac sit or lie down, so that he had to stand up to speak to Jesus in a respectful way? Where else but in his home?
Jesus’ reply confirms this, for he said, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.” “This house” tells us that Zac was in his own home. This is an interesting point. If Zac had spoken those words about restitution in the street, we could surmise that they were hasty words said rashly on the spur of the moment, words which he might have regretted later. But as he had spoken in his home some time later, then he must have considered the matter carefully and truly repented. Hence his astonishing public offer of substantial restitution for overtaxing the people.
Now, I wonder what Zac was doing before he rose to speak to Jesus, in front of an audience. If it was not while eating at a banquet he threw for the celebrity who gave him so much “face”, where else in his home could there have been an audience and Jesus, sitting down or reclining for a meal?
In announcing that salvation had come to Zac’s house, was Jesus speaking for the benefit of Zac alone, or was it for the benefit of a crowd as well? Jesus also said in his reply, “For the Son of Man came to seek what was lost.” Say, who would have attended at short notice a banquet laid on by a reviled chief tax collector? Would the good town people want to be seen eating with Zac? Or was it more likely that the majority, if not all, of the other guests present were tax collectors and similarly reviled persons? If so, did Jesus’ revelation about saving the lost not give great hope to them, especially after his announcement regarding the salvation of Zac and his house (or family)? Would they not have thought: “If even Zac, the Chief Crook, er, I mean Chief Tax Collector, can be saved, why not me?”
I wonder how many other sinners were saved that evening in Zacchaeus’ home after Jesus said he had come to save the lost. Jesus went among the lost, to save them. Shouldn’t we do that too?
Chapel on November 15, 2006
The speaker at chapel today was Mr Paul Yap, a member of the BGST Council. Paul took, as his inspiration, the text of Luke 10:38-41 – the altercation between Martha and Mary.
He began by drawing our attention to our excessive preoccupation with work. We take pride in our “Protestant work ethic” which has brought no small degree of affluence and material comfort. We revel in a gospel of success, and define ourselves in terms of the work we do.
Paul then went on to list other rationales we draw upon for this maniacal preoccupation with work and achievement. We attempt to build as large a “nest egg” (retirement fund) as we possibly could. We use “connectedness” (meeting friends) as an excuse to work. Work has also become the source of our pride and the basis for our “self-actualization”.
The pathos of this view of life, Paul went on to stress, is seen in the pride people have in technology. When he was in Vancouver several months ago, he observed how people were impressed with a particular crane used in a construction project across from where he lived. The “crane” was the talking point, rather than what the crane was used to build! And the disturbing truth this suggests is that we often miss the wood for the trees in the way we see life.
The truly good things in life cannot be measured or quantified. The meal a mother cooks is different from that cooked by a maid. Love existed in the one, but not necessarily in the other. A VC (Victoria Cross) may be a decoration for valour, but it cannot measure the almost mundane truth that a life had been saved because it was life, and not because somebody was brave.
Paul went on to apply this frame of mind to the pursuit of God or truth in spirituality and theological education. To Paul, a work was Christian only because it was related to God, and “anything more is selfishness”. In Paul’s mind, Martha worried too much, but only because she was too full of herself, as we are wont to be. He is concerned that, like Martha, we worry about too many things in theological education that had no bearing upon a man’s relationship to God.
He ended by paraphrasing Sir Winston Churchill. If “war was too serious a business to leave to the generals”, then he wondered if theology might be too serious to be left to academics. Food for thought? Indeed.
(Summarized by Ng Seng Chuan)
COURSES COMMENCING ...
(Interim Semester, Term 1, 2007)
INTENSIVE COURSES BY OVERSEAS LECTURERS
*Courses marked with an asterisk are not offered on audit basis. Visit our website for the course descriptions.
Ms Rebecca Ng 28/11
Rev Song Young Hak 28/11
Mr Calvin Tan 29/11
Mr Khoo See Kiang 30/11
Mr Lim Hup Seng 1/12
Mr Bernard Chaing 2/12
Ms Vivien Chen 2/12