Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON
You can at first think we have to have another Sunday about Tax Collectors. Two in a row. Isn’t that too much? But there is a big difference if you will excuse the pun.
The issue of where we find courage to be faithful to God’s love and justice in discouraging times is at the center of the gospel message found in the story of Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus’s small stature becomes a symbol of all the impediments that stand between us and God. He can’t see over the crowd. He is shut out, consistent with the way most people feel toward him, since he is a tax farmer, one who has contracted with the hated Roman occupiers to collect taxes, one who has taken more than taxes, but added on his fee, like all tax collectors in those days. He has enriched himself at his neighbors’ expense, and they probably don’t mind at all standing in his way when he wants to see Jesus. The sycamore tree provides him with a solution: and climbing the tree is an act of faith. Zacchaeus will not let anything stand between him and seeing Jesus!
Because children so love to climb trees, this story is a favorite of children, and most of us, if we grew up in the Church, remember it vividly. Note the cast of characters here, and ask people with whom they identify: the disciples walking with Jesus into Jericho? The crowd of onlookers and curiosity seekers? The important, respected people, who grumble when Jesus chooses to eat not with them, but with the despised tax collector? Zacchaeus, the marginalized, despised, shunned little man with faith and determination, who will not let any crowd stand in his way, and whose great need to see Jesus drives him to find a solution? Jesus himself, impressed not by wealth, or position, or status, but by faith and felt need? Each of us has stood in each of these places at different times in our lives. We like to think we are disciples. But sometimes, we find, we’re just onlookers, spectators, who don’t feel related to what’s going on around us, and don’t feel like “players” at all. Sometimes we are dismayed, or disgusted, or confused, when God seems to pay more attention to unsavory people than God does to us, and we are resentful! But then, at other times, we feel despised or rejected or put upon, out of it, not accepted or appreciated, or we realize in little or large ways, that we really are sinners, and there might be good reasons for our marginalization. We become, in the old way of putting it, “convicted!” But then at other times we are like Jesus in this story, impressed, even amazed, even moved to laughter and joy, at the faith of someone who will not stop until he or she connects with God! Suddenly the spotlight is on them, and we can’t wait to sit down with them and hear their story, and applaud what God is doing in and through them.
Jesus’s desire to “stay at your house today” (vs. 5) is a declaration we would like to hear. What a surprise to Zacchaeus, who probably thought he was hiding up in the tree. Sometimes we want God to notice us, but not too directly. Or we want to have a relationship with God, but on our own terms. Instead, Jesus turned his attention full on Zacchaeus, and above all others, preferred to stay with him. Jesus’s keen sense of observation told him much about the status of the man who was up the tree. Zacchaeus was so moved that Jesus wanted to stay with him, of all people, that he hurried down the tree and welcomed him. Suddenly, as is so emblematic of Jesus, the social tables were turned. Jesus had chosen to seek hospitality from the least likely person in town. This bold affirmation on the part of Jesus was enough to shake Zacchaeus to his foundations. All the sneering and cajoling and ostracism and shame that had been heaped upon him was overcome by the grace of God expressed through Jesus in that act of asking for hospitality. Nothing else had changed Zacchaeus, but the love of God in Jesus’s act of acceptance tipped the balance. Knowing Jesus was more important than any cynical power Zacchaeus may have gained from his greed. In that moment, Zacchaeus put his new faith into concrete action by declaring to set right the wrong he had done, and to more than compensate those he had defrauded or taken advantage of.
When Jesus declares “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham” (vs. 9), we have a clear statement of how Jesus understood the salvific love of God: the new perspective which comes as a result of encountering Jesus, and receiving him into one’s heart, and letting him change one’s life to from greed and fear, to generosity and justice. To live by faith is to be a child of Abraham (Genesis 15:6 – “And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness”). To let trust in the Lord overcome our fears and the machinations by which we hope to hedge ourselves around with our own self-made security, this is faith, this is salvation, this is the change of heart and action that transforms us into children of Abraham, and brings salvation to our houses.
Those who, like Zacchaeus, were willing to go literally or figuratively “up a tree” to get a glimpse of Christ and found themselves hosting him for the rest of their lives. For those whose lives were changed, who knew salvation, became children of Abraham, and acted in so gracious a way that other lives were changed, too. Every congregant on that day can be asked to remember any who had a formative influence on their own faith. It’s great to see those departed saints in our mind’s eyes and gain again that sense of connection with God we knew through them.
In this strife-filled time, when everyone is seeking solace, courage, and faith, and asking “Why?” it is important to be reminded again of God’s redeeming love for those “up a tree.” It is good to remember how transformative the love of God can be.
Luke, of course, makes Zacchaeus one of his minor heroes. Luke’s is the only gospel that tells of him and his sudden moment of glory, and the hardened old tax-collector fits in to three of Luke’s regular themes: the problem of riches and what to do about it, the identification of Jesus with ‘sinners’, and the faith which recognizes Jesus as Lord and discovers new life as a result. Luke tells this story as a kind of balance to the sad tale of the rich young ruler in the previous chapter and uses it as the final piece of framing before Jesus approaches Jerusalem. This kind of healing, this kind of new life, he seems to be saying, is what Jesus has come to bring. If only people in Jerusalem could see the point and make a similar response!
Nobody in Jericho liked Zacchaeus. They would have been horrified to think that, of all the inhabitants of the town, he would be the one known by name to millions of people two thousand years later. He was exactly the kind of man everybody despised. Not only a tax-collector but a chief tax-collector; that is, not only did he make money on the side, in addition to his legitimate collections, but he almost certainly made more money from the tax-collectors working under him. Wherever money changes hands, whether across a grubby table in a tin shack in a dusty small town or across a sparkling computer screen in a shiny office on the ninety-ninth floor of a Wall Street skyscraper, the hands all too easily get dirty. Whenever money starts to talk, it shouts louder than the claims of honesty, respect and human dignity. One can only imagine the reaction of neighbors, and even of friends and relatives, as Zacchaeus’s house became more lavishly decorated, as more slaves ran about at his bidding, as his clothes became finer and his food richer. Everyone knew that this was their money and that he had no right to it; everyone knew that there was nothing they could do about it.
Until Jesus came through the town. The moment when the eyes of the two men met is worthy of an operatic aria. Inquisitiveness had got the better of the little rich man, an unspoken question emerging from behind his hard, crafty look. Jesus saw straight through the layers of graft and greed, of callous contempt for his fellow-citizens. He had met enough tax-collectors already to know exactly what life was like for them, and how, even though they couldn’t resist the chance to make more for themselves than they should, there was a sickness at the heart for which he had the remedy.
So once again Jesus finds himself relaxing in the company of the wrong sort of people. And once again the crowd outside grumble. But this time, instead of Jesus telling a parable—Luke no doubt wants us to think of the prodigal son and the other similar stories he’s already given us—the tax-collector himself speaks to Jesus in public and gives evidence of his extravagant repentance. Repentance here isn’t just a change of heart; as in Judaism in general, repentance involves restoration, making amends. Zacchaeus is determined to do so lavishly. He doesn’t offer to sell all his property, nor does Jesus demand it. But by the time he’d given half of it away, and made fourfold restitution where necessary, we can imagine that he would find himself in seriously reduced circumstances.
He doesn’t care. He has found something more valuable. ‘Today I have to stay at your house’ becomes ‘Today salvation has come to this house’; where Jesus is, there salvation is to be found, for those who accept him as master and reorder their lives accordingly. Once more Jesus links a former outcast back into the true family of Abraham (compare 13:16). Zacchaeus isn’t going to follow Jesus on the road to Jerusalem, escaping the puzzled and probably still angry looks of the neighbors. He is going to live out his new life and re-establish himself as part of the renewed Israel right where he is.
The final comment points ahead once more, up the steep and dusty road to Jerusalem. We are almost there. The prophets have spoken of the fate that awaits the son of man; but his mission is not just to suffer and die, but rather, through that fate, to search out and rescue the lost sheep. ‘He has gone in to spend time with a sinner’ will soon change to ‘He has gone out to die with the brigands’; and the same reason will underlie both. The son of man has come to seek and save the lost. (Wright, T. Luke for Everyone [2004, London] pp. 222–224)
Jordan was one of the oldest biblical cities in Palestine, dating back to 3000 B.C.E. It was the city of palm trees (Deut. 34:3). Zacchaeus enjoyed a profitable franchise, as Jericho was on a primary trade route. It was a popular vacation spot in the first century because the Herods had built a winter palace with a theater, hippodrome, and beautiful gardens. A natural spring still active today makes it an oasis in the Judean wilderness. Under Palestinian governance, it remains a favorite tourist point today. Sycamore trees can still be found there. The sycamore tree has low, spreading branches which make it an ideal perch from which to watch a parade. A short man could climb into a sycamore tree with little strain.
The rich do not fare well in the Gospel of Luke, but here Luke tells us that there is room for the wealthy among the followers of Christ. This is an interesting twist to the story of this last encounter between Jesus and an outsider before he enters Jerusalem. Luke’s placement of this story after the story of the rich ruler and Jesus’ dialogue with the disciples about the liability of riches intensifies its impact. The contrast between the response of the “ruler” in chapter 18, who turned away when Jesus told him that the peace, he sought required surrendering his wealth, and Zacchaeus, who submits his riches without being asked, is emphasized by this juxtaposition.
Zacchaeus sought Jesus, as had the ruler and the blind man. As in the case of the blind man, the tax collector is hindered by the crowd. People are still sometimes shielded from Jesus by crowds, well-meaning or otherwise. The disciples had tried to protect Jesus from the children, the multitude did not want the blind beggar to interrupt their parade, and the crowd wanted nothing to do with Zacchaeus and wanted the best places near Jesus (see 14:7–14).
The route of Jesus was probably not difficult to determine, being the main route through Jericho to Jerusalem. The little man ran ahead and found a viewing place in a tree. He must have been shocked when the teacher he had come to see and hear stopped, looked at him, and addressed him by name. Luke makes no comment to suggest that Jesus knew Zacchaeus’s name through supernatural power. He may have seen the little man scramble up the tree and asked who he was. Those hostile to the publican may have warned the religious teacher to keep clear of this publican and told Jesus who he was. The meaning of the study may actually be enhanced if Jesus had to go to some trouble to find out who this little man shunned by the crowd was. On the journey to Jerusalem, Jesus may have physically sought the lost (v. 10).
Jesus does not rebuke this sinner but invites himself to dinner at his home. Here is another addition to the list of homes Jesus visited. Jesus included sinners, publicans, males, females, Pharisees, the rich and the poor in the hospitality of grace. The house of the local rabbi or president of the synagogue would have been the logical choice for a place to dine and have conversation on religious matters.
Zacchaeus’s response should be compared to that of the ruler in chapter 18. There is no hesitation, no questions; nothing is held back. He hurried down the tree and “joyfully” joined Jesus. The African American tradition more than most others has maintained a spirit of celebration of the hope embodied in Jesus even during periods of oppression. Some traditions have presented the gospel as a burden, bad news rather than good news. Preaching from Luke requires an emphasis on joy. Would thoughts of Jesus coming to one’s home put one in a party spirit, or in a spirit of dread? If anyone had reason to dread the presence of a religious teacher who could be expected to roundly censure his profession and life, it was Zacchaeus, but something about Jesus set him at ease.
The reaction of the crowd was not unlike the reaction that some sinners could expect if they showed up at a Christian gathering. The mob is not offended by Zacchaeus’s behavior as much as they are by Jesus’. They were shocked that Jesus would even speak to this Roman collaborator (who was probably hated all the more because his service to the Romans had made him rich), let alone walk with him through the town and be a guest in his house. They were appalled that Jesus was to be “guest of a man who is a sinner.” The important thing about this statement is not what it says about Jesus or Zacchaeus, but what it says about those who uttered it. These words echo the attitude of the Pharisee in the parable in last Sunday’s Gospel lesson. These people do not consider themselves sinners, and such people cannot understand Jesus, the man or his message. There are few Christians today who would assert that they are not sinners, but there are many whose attitudes toward others indicate that they think they are not sinners, or at least not as bad as most.
The fact that this holy man had honored him by entering his house was not lost on Zacchaeus. He was transformed by Jesus’ acceptance. Without prompting he pledges half of his wealth to the poor. Immediately Zacchaeus demonstrates a changed lifestyle. He seemed to understand the claim of grace. The joy he experienced in being accepted spilled over to put joy into the lives of others. “Repentance” is a word rarely heard in some religious quarters. Fear of legalism and works theology results in a failure to emphasize the transforming power of the grace of Christ. The word of grace and acceptance came first, invoking repentance. The tax collector meets the financial ethics of John the Baptist in the portion of his pledge; the one with two coats was to give one to a person with none (3:11–14). Zacchaeus repented of his former lifestyle and turned away from a history that may have included extortion and exploitation. In addition to his gifts of charity, he volunteered to repay fourfold any he had cheated. His voluntary declaration commits him to the highest requirements of Old Testament restitution (Lev. 6:5; Exod. 22:1, 4; 2 Sam. 12:6). It is assumed that all the publicans were dishonest; therefore, much of Zacchaeus’s wealth was ill gotten. It should be noted, however, that he said, “if I have defrauded any one of anything.” The “if” suggests that he may not have knowingly defrauded anyone. He is open to instruction. The laws and standards by which he had been operating were different from the rules of the Pharisees, but the standards of Jesus were superior to those of the Pharisees. There is a danger in stereotyping individuals. Many wealthy people amass fortunes without doing anything illegal, but also without awareness of the transcendent ethics of Jesus. There were undoubtedly in the crowd people who had strictly adhered to the law but who had neglected the poor. The example here should not be limited to rich crooks or even to those of great wealth.
What did Jesus mean when he said, “Today salvation has come to your house?” The mercy and acceptance of Jesus delivered Zacchaeus immediately from estrangement from God. He was alienated from the family of Abraham but now was restored. “Today” there was a change in his spiritual status. There would still be those who would condemn him, and perhaps their number would grow because of his association with Jesus, but he had been set free from a personal sense of condemnation and delivered from a lifestyle that would lead to self-destruction. Jesus had set Zacchaeus on a new course, but there was still much to learn and do. The first encounter with Jesus may lead to conversion, but that conversion becomes an ongoing process.
The climax of this story focuses on Jesus. Jesus is the one who acts in this scene and who is the agent of salvation. Jesus sought Zacchaeus as much as Zacchaeus curiously sought Jesus. Zacchaeus may have sought Jesus only out of curiosity, but Jesus had a purpose in his seeking. Zacchaeus is the object of compassion, but he is even more the means of revelation. The grumblers were again disturbed by his attention to sinners, and he reminded them of his mission “to seek and to save the lost.” Only when a person is lost and knows it will he seek direction. Inasmuch as Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector, we might speculate as to the effect of his transformation on those under his supervision. He was apparently in a position to have influence over other outsiders. (Bailey, R. R. E. Van Harn (Ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis For Sunday’s Texts [2001, Grand Rapids, MI] Vol 3 pp. 436–9)
1. In an era of overwhelming problems, the believing community can read the story of Zacchaeus as a potent antidote to pessimism. What do you say to those who live under the burden of deadening defeat and deflated dreams? “We can’t do anything about it.” “Some people will never change.” “Nothing exciting ever happens to me.”
2. Another of the impediments to the progress of the kingdom is the enslaving prejudice that we know who people are and that they cannot change. In the wisdom of his years, a sophomore writes off a person who has disappointed him and let him down, a pastor gives up on a “dead” congregation, a coach assumes a player cannot make the team in spite of her desire to play, or an employer pigeonholes an employee on their first meeting. Over and over again, we hear the whisper of the crowd: “He’s a rich tax collector.”(Culpepper, R. A. The Gospel of Luke. In L. E. Keck (Ed.), New Interpreter’s Bible [1994–2004, Nashville] Vol. 9, pp. 359–360)
Jordan was a very wealthy and very important town. It lay in the Jordan valley and commanded both the approach to Jerusalem and the crossings of the river which gave access to the many lands’ east of the Jordan. It had a great palm forest and world-famous balsam groves which perfumed the air for miles around. Its gardens of roses were known far and wide. It was known as ‘The City of Palms’. Josephus called it ‘a divine region’, ‘the fattest in Palestine’. The Romans carried its dates and balsam to worldwide trade and fame.
All this combined to make Jericho one of the greatest taxation centers in Palestine. We have already looked at the taxes which the tax-collectors collected and the wealth they rapaciously acquired (Luke 5:27–32). Zacchaeus was a man who had reached the top of his profession; and he was the most hated man in the district. There are three stages in his story.
(1) Zacchaeus was wealthy, but he was not happy. Inevitably he was lonely, for he had chosen a way that made him an outcast. He had heard of this Jesus who welcomed tax-collectors and sinners, and he wondered if he would have any word for him. Despised and hated by all, Zacchaeus was reaching after the love of God.
(2) Zacchaeus determined to see Jesus and would let nothing stop him. For Zacchaeus to mingle with the crowd at all was a courageous thing to do, for many would take the chance to get a nudge, or kick, or push at the little tax-collector. It was an opportunity not to be missed. Zacchaeus would be black and blue with bruises that day. He could not see—the crowd took an ill delight in making sure of that. So he ran on ahead and climbed a fig-mulberry tree. A traveler describes the tree as being like ‘the English oak, and its shade is most pleasing. It is consequently a favorite wayside tree … It is very easy to climb, with its short trunk and its wide lateral branches forking out in all directions.’ Things were not easy for Zacchaeus but the little man had the courage of desperation.
(3) Zacchaeus took steps to show all the community that he was a changed man. When Jesus announced that he would stay that day at his house, and when he discovered that he had found a new and wonderful friend, immediately Zacchaeus made a decision. He decided to give half of his goods to the poor; the other half he did not intend to keep to himself but to use to make restitution for the frauds of which he had been self-confessedly guilty.
In his restitution he went far beyond what was legally necessary. Only if robbery was a deliberate and violent act of destruction was a fourfold restitution necessary (Exodus 22:1). If it had been ordinary robbery and the original goods were not restorable, double the value had to be repaid (Exodus 22:4, 7). If voluntary confession was made and voluntary restitution offered, the value of the original goods had to be paid, plus one-fifth (Leviticus 6:5; Numbers 5:7). Zacchaeus was determined to do far more than the law demanded. He showed by his deeds that he was a changed man.
The point is brought home by a terrible story. There was a meeting in progress at which several women were giving their testimony. One woman kept grimly silent. She was asked to testify but refused. She was asked why, and she answered, ‘Four of these women who have just given their testimony owe me money, and I and my family are half-starved because we cannot buy food.’
A testimony is utterly worthless unless it is backed by deeds which guarantee its sincerity. It is not a mere change of words which Jesus Christ demands, but a change of life.
(4) The story ends with the great words; the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost. We must always be careful how we take the meaning of this word lost. In the New Testament it does not mean damned or doomed. It simply means in the wrong place. A thing is lost when it has got out of its own place into the wrong place; and when we find such a thing, we return it to the place it ought to occupy. A person is lost when he or she has wandered away from God; and is found when once again that person occupies the rightful place as an obedient child in the household and the family of the Father. (Barclay, W. The Gospel of Luke [2001, Louisville, KY] pp. 277–279)
We have come so far with Luke that his stories echo in our memories previous stories. The account of Jesus and Zacchaeus in Jericho, found only in Luke, recalls the immediately preceding story of the blind beggar. Though one is very poor and the other very rich, both are blessed with salvation (18:42; 19:9, 10). The reader is also reminded of an earlier encounter between Jesus and a rich man (18:18–30), that one, however, ending sadly. Perhaps more precisely, Luke 19:1–10 recalls and almost repeats the account of Jesus and Levi (5:27–32). In both stories Jesus is dealing with a tax collector, is a guest in the publican’s home, is criticized for his association with such a person, and in conclusion offers a pronouncement.
This is not to say that Zacchaeus is without qualities on which a disciple’s life can be built. His intense desire to see Jesus, overcoming the risk of ridicule and embarrassment, is fundamental to the happy conclusion of the story. Apparently, he has heard and believes that Jesus really is “a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (7:34). Whether or not he had found the personal, social, and religious price of his wealth too high, we do not know. What we do know is that he extended hospitality to Jesus, and as a result of their meeting he goes beyond the law’s requirement for restitution. Voluntary restitution called for a return of the original amount plus 20 per cent (Lev. 6:5; Num. 5:7); compulsory restitution called for doubling the original amount and, in some cases, repaying fourfold or fivefold (Ex. 22:1, 3–4; 2 Sam. 12:6). Zacchaeus’ offer of half his possessions to the poor and a generous restitution to anyone he may have cheated can be seen as itself evidence of the radicality of grace and the power of Jesus’ good news to him. After all, Luke’s gospel of grace is joined to repentance, and repentance is not solely a transaction of the heart. Repentance bears fruit: this was made clear as early as the preaching of John the Baptist when crowds and soldiers and tax collectors came to him and asked, “What shall we do?” (3:10–14).
Luke 19:1–10 is therefore a story of the salvation of a man who was rich (all things are possible with God, 18:27) and a tax collector. His lifestyle and the resultant treatment by community and synagogue had not moved him beyond the reach of God’s seeking love. His salvation, therefore, has personal, domestic, social, and economic dimensions. In addition, we should not forget that in other stories “saved” is translated “made well,” “healed,” and “made whole.” Luke would object to confining the word to a condition of the soul. The whole of life is affected by Jesus’ ministry, a foretaste of the complete reign of God. The closing pronouncement (v. 10) makes it clear: Jesus’ visit in Zacchaeus’ house was not a delay or a detour on his journey to Jerusalem; this was and is the very purpose of the journey. “The Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.”(Craddock, F. B. Luke [1990, Louisville, KY] pp. 218–220)
Found only in Luke’s Gospel, is one of the unforgettable vignettes that make Luke’s work so well loved and remembered. He had a gift for telling a story in such a way that he implanted it in the minds and hearts of his readers. Who can forget the stories of the prodigal son, the rich man and Lazarus, or the parables of the lost coin or the rich fool? Luke, a master storyteller, helped bring the teaching of Jesus alive for his readers by his skill in narration. (For further discussion on the literary aspects of this passage, see O’Toole 1991.)
In this case, the setting is the well-known Hellenistic city of Jericho, some 17 miles northeast of Jerusalem near the Jordan River, a mile south of ancient Jericho (Marshall 1978:693) and just north of the point where the river empties into the Dead Sea. With a rich supply of water, it had been inhabited from ancient times as an oasis town blessed with an abundance of vegetation, palms, and sycamore-fig trees. Its location made it an important customs post in Jesus’ time. Into this lush setting Jesus came, making “his way through the town” (19:1). Since Jesus was by this time well-known as a preacher and healer, it was not surprising that crowds should line the streets to catch a glimpse of this remarkable person (19:3). One of those interested in Jesus was a man named Zacchaeus. His profession was that of tax collector, and he had developed a big enterprise as “the chief tax collector in the region” (19:2). Such a man was naturally despised in Palestinian society, for the Jews were under the heel of the Roman Empire and therefore had to pay taxes to hated foreigners. This made Zacchaeus’s job unacceptable to virtually all his fellow Jews and put him in a socially unacceptable position with the Jewish people. Moreover, he was in a position, as a chief tax collector in that region, to farm out tax concessions to others who would collect the taxes and enable him to rake off a vast surplus for himself. He was an entrepreneur who had profited from the system and had made himself both very wealthy and very much despised by the Jewish people he had exploited.
Into this situation came Jesus, and somehow this little man’s curiosity was piqued. “He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd” (19:3). In his eagerness, Zacchaeus ran ahead and climbed into a sycamore tree on the route Jesus would travel, and thus he was in a position to see the famous stranger pass by when Jesus finally came that way (19:4). Jesus reached out to this lonely, despised man. Jesus called him by name and invited himself as a guest to meet the man in his home that very day (19:5). While Zacchaeus was full of “great excitement and joy” at the prospect of such an unexpected encounter (19:6), the people around him in the crowds complained and voiced their evident displeasure, charging Jesus with keeping bad company as “the guest of a notorious sinner” (19:7).
At this point in the narrative, the text says, “Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, ‘I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!’ Jesus responded, ‘Salvation has come to this home today’ ” (19:8–9a). Most commentators have taken this passage to mean that Zacchaeus had a conversion experience when he met Jesus, which resulted in his salvation. However, Evans has argued against the usual interpretation of Zacchaeus’s conversion by pointing out that the Greek words in his answer are in the present tense and therefore suggest that he was claiming to be giving up half of his wealth to the poor already and was prepared to restore any illegitimate profits fourfold, even as the law required. On this reading, Evans understands 19:8 to be “the statement of Zacchaeus as an immediate protest against the muttering crowd which disapproved of Jesus’ intention to dine with him and which had referred to the tax collector as a ‘sinner’ (v.7). In other words, Zacchaeus has responded to the sting of being called a sinner for no other reason than the mere fact of his occupation. He has protested, in effect, that whereas other tax collectors may cheat and gouge their fellow citizens, he, Zacchaeus, regularly contributes to the poor and whenever he (accidentally) collects too much (not necessarily ‘cheated’), he always makes fourfold restitution” (1990:280).
Evans’s interpretation does not appear to be the most natural way of reading the passage, for Luke seems to be pointing to the life-changing nature of this encounter of Zacchaeus with Jesus. Notice particularly how Jesus declared to him, “Salvation has come to this home today” (19:9). His relationship with Jesus had changed his values, and, in genuine repentance, he had promised to both make restitution to those whom he had wronged and to be generous with his resources, giving away half of his wealth to meet the needs of the poor whom he had hitherto exploited. Zacchaeus made an ethical response that exceeded the demands of the Torah: “The Hebrew law (Exod 22:1) required a fivefold, fourfold, or double restoration in special cases … Usually it was equal restitution plus 20 per cent for damages (Lev 6:5; Num 5:6ff). Zacchaeus vows the harder, fuller penalty” (Grant 1962: 295). His contact with Jesus had made a real difference, and he was no longer the same self-centered man. By his proper response to God, he had demonstrated his genuine faith and revealed himself as “a true son of Abraham” (19:9), the father of the faithful with whom God had made a covenant (Gen 15; cf. Gen 12:1–3; 22:15–18). And so, the passage closes with the memorable words on the lips of Jesus that epitomize the message of Luke: “For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost” (19:10). (Trites, A. A., William J. Larkin. Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol 12: The Gospel Of Luke And Acts [2006, Carol Stream, IL] pp. 252–254)
The wealthy are always being criticized even in the Gospel of Luke and yet we have Zacchaeus who ended up being the good guy or if you will the hero. Wealthy man makes good is not the headlines we expect. However, sometimes wealth does not make you evil but instead helps others.
Zacchaeus is a wonderful story that often confounds our modern notions of wealth and joy. We have Zacchaeus who found joy in Jesus and used his wealth to help others. In the end Zacchaeus is a puzzle to many people. There may be one or two very wealthy people that have shown signs of being like Zacchaeus. You may know one personally or use Bill Gates story to help us understand Zacchaeus in our modern world. However, the real story as always is about how transformative Jesus is for everyone not just a few or a certain sector be it economic, social or cultural.
Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON
I recently saw Inside Bill’s Brain, the Bill Gates documentary on Netflix, and was astounded by the size of the challenges that Bill and Melinda are taking on with their foundation. Eradicating polio, inventing ultra-cheap toilets, and creating safe nuclear energy are not easy problems to solve. However, Bill and Melinda have a chance of solving them because of the immense wealth that they have accumulated since Bill founded Microsoft.
Naturally, this leads to a question surrounding the implementation of a wealth tax: Can the United States government use Bill Gates’ money as efficiently as Bill Gates? Given the amount of scientific and technological breakthroughs that the U.S. government has been responsible for historically, I cannot answer this question with a definitive “Yes” or “No.” However, it is a question we need to ask when considering how a wealth tax would affect private philanthropy. (https://ofdollarsanddata.com/are-wealth-taxes-a-good-idea/)
Software magnate Bill Gates is one of the most famous people in the world, but the public barely knows him. Gates has been a household name for decades for two reasons: he was the face of Microsoft during an era when the company’s products became ubiquitous, and, perhaps more notably, he’s very, very rich. Yet, he’s never been the kind of celebrity whose personal life and political opinions are splashed across the tabloids and social media. And unlike the late Steve Jobs — his contemporary and occasional rival — Gates is rarely discussed in terms of some ineffable mystique.
The title of Davis Guggenheim’s three-part Netflix documentary Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates (which debuts on Friday, September 20th) speaks to its subject’s opacity. What makes one of the world’s wealthiest people tick? What formed him? How did he come to dominate a fiercely competitive industry so thoroughly that the US government sued Microsoft under antitrust statutes?
Guggenheim gets into all that… sort of. Over the course of nearly three hours, Inside Bill’s Brain covers the basics of Gates’ life: his childhood, education, Microsoft stewardship, marriage to his wife Melinda, and the charitable foundation they co-manage.
At times, though, it seems like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is this doc’s real subject. Each episode of Inside Bill’s Brain focuses on one of the foundation’s major initiatives: improving sewage conditions in developing countries, eradicating polio, and developing a cleaner, safer form of nuclear power. Each of the three parts shifts rapidly between interviews, biographical material, and fly-on-the-wall footage of the Gates team’s philanthropic missions. Guggenheim eschews traditional transitions, and instead jumps from subject to subject, even when there’s no clear connection between them.
The point, apparently, is to replicate Bill Gates’ thought processes. Having spent most of his adult life (and even some of his teenage years) juggling multiple complicated projects, Gates doesn’t have the kind of mind that functions in neat, straight lines. At one point, Melinda even laughs at this series’ title, saying that her husband’s brain is as cluttered and chaotic as the cheap apartment he once shared with Paul Allen when the two were building Microsoft.
Guggenheim’s approach is frequently frustrating. The director has multiple worthwhile stories to tell here, which may explain why Inside Bill’s Brain is being released as a series rather than as a feature film. (Another reason: Netflix seems to favor the multipart format over a single movie.) But whenever one of those stories starts to build some narrative momentum, the doc skips to another, and then to another, and then back again. Inside Bill’s Brain often feels more superficial than it actually is because it switches topics so freely.
Given what the series’ title promises, viewers may also be disappointed that so much of Inside Bill’s Brain is about his charity work, not about his life, personality, or beliefs. But that really shouldn’t be surprising to anyone familiar with Guggenheim’s other documentaries. He won an Oscar for An Inconvenient Truth, his film about former Vice President Al Gore’s efforts to educate the world about climate change. He also made Waiting for “Superman” about the flaws in the American public school system, and He Named Me Malala about Malala Yousafzai, the Nobel-winning Pakistani advocate for women’s rights. Guggenheim has a history of using his work as a form of social advocacy.
He isn’t turned off by wonky details, either. Inside Bill’s Brain risks losing its audience with its first episode, which keeps the Gates biography to a minimum, and instead dedicates a lot of its run time to various designs for better public toilets that are meant to improve the water supply in poorer villages and neighborhoods. The episode demands some fascination with plumbing and a high tolerance for images of fecal matter — both in graphic video footage and in the animated illustrations Guggenheim uses throughout the series.
If Netflix subscribers only have time to watch one Inside Bill’s Brain episode, they should pick the second, which comes closest to doing some “decoding.” The scenes dealing with Gates’ philanthropy largely take a back seat to reflections on the most significant decade of his life. In the 1970s, he and his high school classmate Paul Allen began making money with their programming skills and started talking about plans to develop software for the burgeoning personal computer market. Gates dropped out of Harvard in 1975, worried that if he waited until after he graduated to launch Microsoft, he’d arrive too late.
Part two of Guggenheim’s documentary gets into Gates’ preternatural drive to succeed, which, in the early years of Microsoft, had him memorizing license plate numbers in the company’s parking lot to track who was staying late. (A veteran of those days recalls the running joke that Microsoft jobs were “part-time” because employees could choose which 12 hours of the day they wanted to work.) Gates’ obsessive work habits eventually drove a wedge between him and Allen, and the obvious regret he has about how that friendship ending provides some of Inside Bill’s Brain’s more emotional moments.
The third episode could’ve used some of that emotion. The more biographical moments in part three deal with how Bill and Melinda met and married and how Gates handled accusations that he’d turned Microsoft into a monopoly. The billionaire is much more guarded in this set of interviews. He comes to life more in the episode’s other scenes, which have to do with potentially revolutionary ways of generating cheap energy.
In the end, Guggenheim fails to reconcile his competing agendas: to take an up-close and personal look one of this era’s most important cultural figures and to tally all the ways Gates is trying to leave a lasting, positive legacy. It doesn’t help that the director puts so much of himself into the doc, making his conversations with Gates seem like two amiable acquaintances shooting the breeze, rather than like a journalist pushing hard for meaningful answers.
Inside Bill’s Brain does have some fleeting insights into who Gates is and what he’s accomplished — again, mostly in episode two. But there’s a moment in the series where Guggenheim and Gates talk about the latter’s periodic “think weeks” where he goes off the grid with a stack of books and tries to open himself up to new ideas, largely unrelated to his daily work. A more focused version of this docuseries, with the same title and intentions, might’ve started here. Left alone with his thoughts, who is Bill Gates? Maybe someday, a better documentary will answer that question. (https://www.theverge.com/2019/9/18/20872239/inside-bills-brain-decoding-bill-gates-movie-review-netflix-microsoft-documentary-series)
A short man walks into a bar. A tall guy sees him, picks him up and wears him like a hat. It's no bad joke, just a pretty normal day in the life of diminutive comedian Dai Henwood.
Being short of stature - 1.66 meters - has its up and downs, he says.
On the one hand it's good for comedy material. On the other, well, he gets picked up and twirled about rather a lot.
"Being short and ginger are the last bastions of what people believe to be acceptable to publicly mock," he says.
"It's true. You wouldn't publicly mock someone in a bar for being fat.
"But saying that, in the comedy industry, I am blessed with this point of difference. That's a good thing in this job. You don't want to be a really good-looking, average-height guy in comedy because you've got nothing to talk about. No-one wants to hear how good-looking you are."
His thick skin and ability to laugh at himself help him through the multitude of "short gags" landed on him. Henwood is a veritable punching bag for the little-man jokes.
It's a constant barrage when he's out at the pub, he says.
"People surround me in a bar and scream and laugh and publicly mock me for being short. When I'm with my wife and family, it's quite disconcerting.
"In Blenheim, a guy picked me up and tried to wear me like a hat in a bar. Last year I was walking across the Octagon in Dunedin and this guy ran out of nowhere, grabbed me and threw me in the air.
"People just yell ‘hobbit, hobbit, hobbit' at me and point. They think they're being hilarious. Because I'm a comedian, I have quite a thick skin . . . but I feel very sorry for introverts or people who don't want attention drawn to themselves."
Henwood says he doesn't think people do these things with deep malice or with the aim to hurt but they don't realize that, when this constantly happens, he feels worn down by it.
He's not convinced of the short-man syndrome. It's more of an overused cliche.
"Everyone gets a bit aggressive at times but, if a short guy gets aggressive, people say ‘Oh, short-man syndrome'," he says.
It was French psychologist Alfred Adler who coined what has become known as the Napoleon complex, which describes cases when people's short stature makes them feel inadequate, instilling an inferiority complex leading to over-aggressive behaviour to compensate for their lack of height.
This, of course, stemmed from Napoleon Bonaparte, whose conquests, both military and amorous, have been attributed to the desire to compensate for his smaller stature.
Size matters a great deal, according to some of the acres of research into short-man complex.
A recent study by Oxford University showed feeling smaller made people paranoid, distrustful and scared of others.
Researches were able to "shrink" men for their experiment, shaving about 25cm off their height. They then subjected them to interaction with other people.
The results showed the lowering of height led to more negative evaluations of the person compared with others and a greater level of paranoia, scientists wrote in the Psychiatry Research Journal.
But, over the decades, research has been conflicting.
Tall people are more successful and earn more than short people, reveals another study.
The height-salary link was found by psychologist Timothy A Judge of the University of Florida, and researcher Daniel M Cable of the University of North Carolina.
The pair analyzed data from four American and British longitudinal studies that followed about 8500 participants from adolescence to adulthood and recorded personal characteristics, salaries and occupations.
Tall people may have greater self-esteem and social confidence than shorter people. In turn, others may view tall people as more leader-like and authoritative, Judge told the American Psychological Association.
"The process of literally ‘looking down on others' may cause one to be more confident," Judge says. "Similarly, having others ‘looking up to us' may instil in tall people more self-confidence."
Much like attractiveness, tallness in men is held in high regard by society, says Kapiti Coast-based psychologist Duncan Thomson.
"Research tells us women prefer tall men, that tall men have more attractive partners and even that tall men are more likely to have more senior roles at work.
"One creative study found men get more jealous if their partners are talking to a tall man at a party rather than a short one. More anecdotally, I was discussing height with one of my colleagues whose husband is shorter than average. She told me that people actually pat him on the head like a child then wonder why he gets angry with them."
It's quite possible to be short, confident, attractive to others and successful. It's just that, generally, height helps, Thomson says.
"If someone has an underlying sense of physical vulnerability or feels ashamed of their height, they could definitely overcompensate for how they feel by acting aggressively if they feel patronized or threatened, but it is also important to remember none of this is a given and short people are quite capable of being content and at ease with their appearance."
The relationship between height and confidence in women is less clear.
Research consistently shows that men have a preference for women of average height, Thomson says.
"Conversely, there is also increasing evidence that tall women like being tall, perhaps due to positive role models in sport and the status that can go with above average height. I think the most important thing is to teach our children, through love and nurture, that their appearances do not define them."
In the brutal world of online dating, people often lie about their height to avoid rejection, says dating expert Denise Corlett.
They do not feel they are likely to attract the people they want to if they divulge what their real height is, she says.
"People often have a lifetime of having their difference being noticed by others, particularly in school years where people want to be the same as their peers, and can often feel more sensitive about this."
This can be highlighted in dating when someone may be rejected or perceive they are being rejected or may feel less attractive to a prospective partner/date.
"There could be a fundamental biological reason women look for a taller man - to protect them," she says. And in the same biological way, a man might feel they want a shorter woman they feel they can protect.
"But people can miss the personality, attributes and other endearing factors of others if they remain resolved to not consider someone fitting their impression of an acceptable height for them."
Corlett says women take many issues into account when looking for a partner - image and presentation, career prospects, financial success among them.
Dating was a bit of a challenge, says Henwood. But he wasn't always the short guy. At 14, he was the same height he is now, and playing center in rugby in Wellington.
"I was a big guy. And then I stayed the same height and a lot of the Polynesian guys playing rugby around me grew to about twice my size. I gave up playing rugby.
"Towards the end of school I realized I was going to stay quite short. But I've always been gifted with the comedy gene and I have been very confident in myself."
Henwood, who is married to Joanna Kelly and dad to 20-month-old Charlie, says that, when he was a young man, it was hard to even get a look in with taller girls.
"When I was younger, I realized that women didn't take a second look at you if you are short. A woman had to be shorter than you.
"You could tell in that first look that taller women would immediately discount you. I just felt a bit bummed out that I was five years too late for the ‘Prince high heel' thing."
Actor and director Oliver Driver is pretty lofty at 2.1m.
Height becomes the memorable thing about you. You're always the "tall guy", he says.
"The usual opening line to me is ‘Gosh, you are tall. How tall are you?' It gets a bit boring. When I was on the telly, people would comment on my height and I'd usually say ‘you need a longer television then' just so we could move on from the height talk.
"People do not think that comments about your height are insulting but you'd never comment on someone's weight. It is still a bit of an abusing stick."
There is a perception, he says, that there's a great advantage to being tall but when you get past a certain height, it veers around and becomes a disadvantage.
"Conversations tend to happen at chest height and you feel you can zone out a bit. Contrary to what people might think, it's not great being tall at concerts because you end up being relegated to the back. You'd feel a bit of a dick if you were at the front because no-one three rows back can see. At the theatre I slouch a lot out of courtesy."
As a teenager, he got used to the comments about his stature and developed a thick skin, like Henwood, turning his height into material for comedy and creativity.
These days he's comfortable in his height.
"I like being tall. It might be tricky buying jeans but it's good for watching fireworks. I'm easy to spot in a crowd. When I'm meeting my friends at a party they all say ‘let's meet at Oliver', like I am some easy-to-see landmark."
Driver's girlfriend Ella Mizrahi, is a great deal shorter than him at 1.6m. He has never been attracted to tall girls. It's the fear that their offspring would be giants, he says.
"Besides, you'd draw even more attention to yourself as a great big giant couple."
When he is acting, his height could be a disadvantage because almost everybody else is shorter than, he says.
"It's hard to fit me in a shot with another person. In Shortland Street I did a lot of leaning and sitting.
"If you are tall or short you often get quirky or wacky roles because height gives you a certain characteristic before you even open your mouth to say anything. I think I got the roles I got in spite of my height, not because of it."
Megan Craig had to leave the country to fully embrace her height. Craig, 21, is more than 2m tall. At the age of 12, she was 1.8m.
She has put that glorious height to good use in sports over the years, playing netball and basketball. It has taken her all the way to the United States where she played college basketball for the University of Albany in New York while she studied communications and business administration. She now plays professional basketball for the Washington Wizards.
Craig, a former junior Tall Fern, grew up in Wellington and Whangarei. "In New Zealand, I was so obviously tall because there are much fewer tall people there. When I came to the States, I found I was surrounded by taller people.
"My coach also taught me to embrace my height because really, there's nothing I can do about it, so I may as well celebrate it."
There are still moments she feels conscious of her height. Some people can't help themselves and just stare at her, mouth gaping, she says.
"Some think I am scary or menacing because of it. But I am a really lovable, social person. I just wish people would not judge a book by its cover. I wish people would not presume anything about me and just treat me as human being."
Growing up she tried to reduce her height by hunching her shoulders, despite the pain it caused her back, shoulders and neck. She preferred that to the constant staring.
These days she gets a lot of compliments about her height, she says.
"Some women come up to me and say it's a beautiful thing to be tall, that I should ‘work it' and have fun with it. And I do. I love being tall. My height has allowed me to excel at sports and have opportunities I would never have had if I wasn't tall."
Craig says men in New Zealand always seemed to want someone shorter than them but her experience is different in the US.
"They like tall girls," she says.
"I don't have a required height for a boyfriend. It's all about personality and respect. That's how I was raised." (http://www.stuff.co.nz/good-reads/10576317/Life-as-a-short-man-The-psychology-of-height)
Thus the stereotype is that the smaller male with short man syndrome would be aggressive, likely to shout and talk loudly and seek attention and eager to prove themselves. Many people compare the typical short man complex to that of a smaller dog – which many note are often noisier and more aggressive than larger more docile dogs. Other personality traits have also been linked to Napoleon syndrome – for instance risk taking behavior and jealousy.
The term ‘Napoleon complex’ is used in reference to Napoleon Bonaparte who many believed conducted his tyranny and invasions as a form of overcompensation for his short stature.
Note: Interestingly however the term ‘Napoleon complex’ may well be a misnomer. While Napoleon is widely believed to have been very short, in fact historians have calculated his height to be around 5’6′ which was average for the time period. It is believed that the confusion stems from miscalculations caused by the difference in English and French measuring units, and from the fact that Napoleon was often portrayed alongside his guards – who were all taller than average.
Of course the primary cause of short man syndrome is the aforementioned overcompensation. This is one of the ego defense mechanisms as described by Freud, the idea being that the individual could this way protect themselves from the belief that they were smaller in size. At the same time the lack of confidence regarding their height might cause them to try and distract from it by proving themselves able to ‘mix with the big boys’.
Short man complex has also been linked to evolutionary psychology – which looks at our psychology as a race and how it could have developed through evolution due to the survival value of particular behavioral traits. In the case of short man syndrome it may be that in the wild smaller individuals needed to make more noise and act more aggressively in order to compete for food and mates. Indeed studies have demonstrated that in the wild, smaller creatures often do attack first.
Another interesting theory turns this evolutionary idea on its head however. This is the theory postulated by research from Ohio University in which psychologists suggest that larger combatants delay actual combat as much as possible in the hope that the smaller party will recognize the odds are stacked against them and back down. Meanwhile while the smaller individual might stand to gain from the confrontation, the larger half is likely already in a strong position (the ‘desperado effect’). Smaller individuals also require fewer resources and are less hindered by injury (due to their smaller body weight). Thus it might not be that smaller males are more prone to attack first or act noisily – but rather a case of ‘gentle giant syndrome’ where the larger individuals are more reluctant to engage in confrontation and the smaller individuals look more aggressive as a result.
There are other possible explanations for short man syndrome however. For instance the mere fact that someone who is shorter may have more difficulty getting attention in general. They then may have developed louder behavior as a necessity and as a way to get others to take notice. If this brought positive reward, that would then be a form of positive reinforcement that could condition them to behave this way. The very stereotype of short man syndrome meanwhile might lead their behaviors to be perceived as stemming from their insecurity.
Some studies have failed to prove that shorter individuals are more likely to act aggressively however and more likely to initiate aggression. In one study students were made to fight using wooden sticks. A cohort in the experiment would constantly rap the participants on the knuckles, and the elevation of the participants’ heart rates were then measured. This found that those who were shorter were actually calmer and more likely to maintain a steady heart rate.
However what this study neglects to take into account is that short man syndrome is used to describe a specific and unusual level of overcompensation. In other words there wouldn’t necessary be a correlation between height and aggression in all cases, rather just one or two outliers who have the ‘condition’.
WHAT TO DO?
If you or someone you know has short man syndrome then how would you go about addressing this? There are several ways that you can go about dealing with short man syndrome and reduce its effects.
One method would be to simply change the way you think. To recognize that first of all most people aren’t going to view you drastically differently as a result of your stature. Often your perceived shortcomings are just that – perceived – and if you get rid of cognitive biases then you can see that people aren’t actually viewing you any differently. The best way to achieve this is to use something called ‘cognitive behavioral therapy’. This is a form of therapy in which you are taught to better recognize and understand the contents of your own thoughts and from there to then be able to control and change their content. Seeing a cognitive behavioral therapist will teach you to use ‘mindfulness’ in order to reflect on your potentially negative thought processes and positive affirmations etc in order to replace these for more positive ruminations.
Looking at some of the positive benefits of being shorter can help you to overcome your short man complex too. For instance, note that shorter people tend to be able to more easily gain muscle and thus often appear stockier and so more imposing as a result despite what they lack in height. Meanwhile as someone smaller you will have a lower center of gravity and you will be better able to keep under the radar as a dark horse. Shorter individuals are also often more agile and have better reflexes and some women prefer shorter men as they are less intimidating or ‘cuter’.
If you are very unhappy with your height then there are ways to compensate physically that might help you. For instance it is possible to wear ‘height insoles’ that fit into your shoes and then elevate your heel thus making you taller and so more imposing again. No one needs to know you’re wearing them, but they will add a good 2-3 inches to your height taking you from short to average or average to tall and you can this way feel more confident in social situations.(https://www.healthguidance.org/entry/15851/1/short-man-syndrome-explained.html)
In Twelve Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, one of the steps is “making amends,” which involves making a list of everyone you have offended and seeking to make restitution in very tangible ways. Members are cautioned to remember that the other person’s reaction is their own business, and that the other person is free to reject the offer; we cannot control other people. But often this effort results in wonderfully redeemed relationships, rebuilds lives, and redeems what otherwise might have been frozen in time by regret.
The Presbyterian Church encourages the use of Covenant Partners for youth preparing for confirmation. The youth are asked to name two or three adults they respect, to walk with them for a while in their life of faith. Usually these are people who live generous, welcoming lives, like Zacchaeus; people whose lives have been changed, and who are still growing. People who have been “up a tree,” and were surprised to have Jesus seek them out, and whose lives were turned around because they welcomed him. These mentors are a vital part of the confirmation process, because they form a friendship that shapes the growing understanding of faith in both lives.
Dogs and horses are being rehabilitated and trained in prisons all over the United States. These prison training programs are a marvelous interaction between needy animals and men whose lives would be wasted otherwise. Rather than being simply warehoused in America’s vast prison system, these inmates have a chance to care for living creatures who need their attention and discipline. The animals are trained to work with the disabled in therapeutic riding centers, to providing assistance to wheelchair-bound persons, to becoming search and rescue dogs. Inmates who were predators have their lives turned around, and they find they are enhancing the lives both of the dogs and horses, and the individuals who will receive assistance and life help from them. Everyone wins!
In the early 1970’s, Charles Colson was President Richard Nixon’s “hatchet man,” the special counsel to the President who wielded power to hire and fire and control other members of the Presidential staff and undermine the opposition. It was Colson who did personnel dirty work for the administration. When the Watergate scandal broke, Colson went down with the rest of the administration. He was indicted in March of 1974, and sentenced to prison. This fall from grace had a different effect on Colson compared to his associates. Colson became a Christian, but it was not just a typical prison conversion. Charles Colson founded Prison Fellowship, a ministry in which he has continued to this day, and which now involves more than 40,000 volunteers in all fifty states.
Colson emerged from prison with a new mission: mobilizing the Christian Church to minister to prisoners. He founded Prison Fellowship in 1976, which has become the nation’s largest Christian nonprofit serving prisoners, former prisoners, and their families, and a leading advocate for criminal justice reform. In recognition of his work among prisoners, Colson received the prestigious Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion in 1993.
On April 21, 2012, Chuck Colson passed away. His legacy continues, however, in the work of Prison Fellowship, and in the lives of the many people his ministry has touched. (https://www.prisonfellowship.org/about/chuckcolson/)
In my first parish in a small, conservative, Midwestern town, one of the teenage girls of the church had a baby out of wedlock. The church was scandalized by this event, and even more scandalized when I came to the Church Council to say she had asked if we would baptize the baby. They were pretty unanimous in thinking this was totally inappropriate. How could we honor the result of such a sinful activity? Yet Jesus reached out to Zacchaeus, pretty universally seen as a sinner in his community, going so far as to invite himself to dinner at the home of the corrupt tax collector. Certainly that community was scandalized by Jesus’ act. Yet in the act of reaching out to the sinner to include him in the community, Jesus knew Zaccheus’ life would change, just in the act of reaching out rather than excluding. That baby was baptized, and I think the congregation found itself converted as much as the mother of the child.
Zacchaeus may have felt left out and alone because he was short. A fellow in the Ukraine, however, feels left out and alone for the exact opposite reason. According to Reuters (5/12/04), Leonid Stadnyk is 33 years old and measures eight feet four inches tall. The Guinness Book of World Records lists his as the tallest man on earth. Although Stadnyk has become a minor celebrity, with various reporters seeking to interview him, on the whole he is not happy with his status. He said, “For my entire life I wanted to be shorter. I was bowing down, stooping. I have always wanted to be in the shadows. I tried not to stand out, but now....” In his younger days, Stadnyk was approximately the same height as the rest of his classmates, in some cases even shorter than some of the other students. But around the age of 14 he started to grow extremely rapidly. Among the problems he began to encounter were that it became virtually impossible for him to find shoes and clothes that would fit him. In the Ukraine, ordering special-sized clothing is no simple endeavor. He had been working as a veterinarian, but he had to quit because of his health. He found it nearly impossible to travel the four miles to his place of employment because his legs became weak, due to the fact that he weighed about 440 pounds. He now spends almost all of his time at home with his mother, laboring in their vegetable garden. Stadnyk complains the he is very lonely, with most of the other young people his age having moved to larger cities to work in factories. He says he has no interest in going into show business and capitalizing on his extreme size.
Leonid Stadnyk, who held the record of world’s tallest man, has died aged 44.
The peasant farmer from the north-western Ukrainian village of Podoliantsy died on Sunday from a cerebral hemorrhage, linked to health problems caused by his height, the Mirror reported.
Before he died, Stadnyk had grown to almost 8 feet, 5 inches (2.6 metres).
His height became abnormal when he was aged 14, and a benign tumor in his brain caused a gland to continually secrete growth hormones - meaning he never stopped growing. At its worst his condition, known as gigantisms, caused him to grow at the rate of roughly one foot every three years. In 2007, he was briefly named the world’s tallest man by the Guinness World Records, but refused to be measured by the organization. The title was instead given to China's Bao Xishun, who stands at 2.36m tall. In comparison, the height of the average British man is thought to be 5ft 9in. (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/former-worlds-tallest-man-leonid-stadnyk-dies-aged-44-9692069.html)
The story in Luke illustrates the way that every person, no matter how seemingly useless they might be to God, has a place in Jesus’ kingdom. In If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat, John Ortberg notes that three of the most dreaded words at Christmastime are “Some assembly required.” No matter what needs to be put together, it always seems that when the project is finished, there are some pieces that are leftover, with no apparently place for them to fit. Ortberg wonders if people at the factory intentionally put useless parts into the boxes—spare parts. However, that is not the way that God works. God wants us to know that no matter what we may think of ourselves, we are not spare parts.
Usually it is proper etiquette for the owner of a house to issue invitations for guests to come. In this narrative, though, it is Jesus who invites himself to the tax collector’s residence. In Sermons: Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living, Peter Gomes refers to an ancient tradition in England that says that if a monarch comes to your house, for the time that the king or queen is there, the house is no longer yours but theirs. They, in essence, become your hosts under your roof.
As soon as Zacchaeus accepted the invitation to follow Jesus, he recognized that he needed to do something about the sin that was in his life. Many people today, though, are more hesitant to admit that sin is an issue in their lives. In Blessed Are The Cynical: How Original Sin Can Make America a Better Place, Mark Ellingsen cites a poll that the New York Times did in 2000 that found that 73% of those interviewed believe that people are born good, and 85% think they can be pretty much anything they want to be.
That tax collector in the sycamore tree discovered that redemption often comes in ways that we do not expect. In The Jesus I Never Knew, Philip Yancey refers to an ancient Jewish tradition that said that the day of redemption would come if one of two things happened: if all Israel repented for an entire day or if Israel kept two Sabbaths perfectly. If those criteria were met, the tradition said, then the Messiah would soon come.
When Zacchaeus first became a disciple, he immediately knew that, for him, he needed to get his financial house in order. Accordingly, he offered to make amends to anyone he had defrauded in the exercise of his job as tax collector. In contrast, though, many churches are hesitant to speak about the implications that our faith should have on our money. In The Word before the Powers: An Ethic of Preaching, Charles Campbell asserts that in most churches “secrecy reigns supreme around economic matters. Each church member is ensured privacy regarding income, investments, and giving....When secrecy reigns and truth telling is forbidden, the principalities and powers are often at work to keep people captive to the ways of death.”
Prior to any judgment that Jesus imposed upon Zacchaeus, Jesus first sought to establish a relationship with him. In Exclusion & Embrace, Miroslav Volf argues that by focusing on obedience to moral rules above all else, we are too quick to sever our bonds with those around us. He suggests, “Relationship is prior to moral rules; moral performance may do something to the relationship, but relationship is not grounded in moral performance.”
A non-profit organization has been founded in recent years that is called the Zacchaeus Society. The group’s purpose is to foster conversation in the church as to what it means to follow Jesus with our wealth. Toward that end, the organization sponsors conferences and other events where Christians are challenged to think about how their finances make a statement about their discipleship.
Although the story of Zacchaeus seems to suggest that he was instantly willing to shed his sin, many people experience a lingering effect that sin has on their lives even after they begin to follow Jesus. That is what Corrie ten Boom attempted to teach a young Flemish girl. In Tramp for the Lord, Corrie ten Boom tells about a young woman in Belgium who had seriously repented of the lust and impurity that had been a part of her life. One day, however, the girl complained to ten Boom, “Even though I have been delivered, at night I still keep dreaming of my old way of life. I am afraid I will slip back into Satan’s grasp.” Corrie ten Boom responded by calling the young woman’s attention to the bell in the nearby church tower. She noted that the bell is rung by pulling on a rope. But even after the sexton lets go of the rope, the bell continues to ring. For quite a while it continues to chime until eventually the ringing becomes slower and slower and stops. Ten Boom said, “I believe the same thing is true of deliverance. When the demons are cast out in the name of he Lord Jesus Christ, or when sin is confessed and renounced, then Satan’s hand is removed from the rope.” However, ten Boom said, if we continue to worry about the bondage that Satan formerly held us in, Satan uses that opportunity to keep the echoes ringing in our minds. When the young woman heard that, she smiled and said, “You mean even though I sometimes have temptations, I am still free, that Satan is no longer pulling the rope that controls my life?” She understood what Corrie ten Boom was saying to her.
Although we often focus on the fact that Zacchaeus was short, as noted by the children’s song “Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he,” we sometimes miss that Zaccheaus was also transformed. He climbs a tree to see Jesus on two levels--to physically catch sight of him as he comes by, as well as the opportunity to be changed by this Son of God. When Jesus calls his name, Zacchaeus responds immediately with repentance and a promise of discipleship. He will give half of what he owns to the poor, and if he has cheated someone, he will repay them fourfold, as is Old Testament law. Of course, there is immediate grumbling from the crowds, because they had already pegged Zacchaeus as a dishonest, crafty man beyond any hope of change or forgiveness. But Jesus sees it differently.
The interesting thing is, if we were asked to put ourselves in the story, most often we would probably put ourselves in the role of someone in the crowd. We can all think of people whom we’re convinced are beyond salvation and transformation. We can all think of people who “don’t deserve” God’s grace. But have we ever considered putting ourselves in the role of Zacchaeus? As the person who has sinned and is in great need of healing?
If we knew someone had plans to come to our house, how would we prepare? In a sense, it depends on who is coming. If it is a family member or friend who has seen our house clean, dirty, and everything in between, we probably won’t make too much of an effort. If we were planning a party or having overnight guests, we would probably be sure that everything is clean and tidy, emptying the garbage cans and making sure that the stain on the couch is either removed or at least covered with a slipcover.
What if Jesus were coming to our house? Would we try to put on a show for him, hoping he wouldn’t notice the stains on our souls that we so desperately try to hide? Would we scrub and scrub and hope that he was so impressed with what was on the outside that he wouldn’t look further? Would we offer him insight into our very lives and souls? Zacchaeus wasn’t just planning to have Jesus over to his physical residence. He was saying to Jesus, and to everyone present, that he wanted to offer Jesus everything he had. He wanted to become a more faithful disciple.
Before the Roman Colosseum was built, there was something even more ominous where it now stands: an artificial lake, part of the enormous palace of Emperor Nero, whose memory his successors were trying to obliterate. Only very recently have rooms in the vast Domus Aurea been opened to the public. This great palace represented the evil of Nero, and those who followed him wanted to erase his memory, so they reclaimed the lake and built a free playground for the people. They tried to turn bad to good. Too bad it, too, became a spectacle of horror with the fights of the gladiators, and later the execution of Christians.
Sr. Helen Prejean is a good stand-in for Christ in Dead Man Walking, even as death row inmate Matthew Poncelet is an extreme form of Zacchaeus. Sentenced to death for rape and murder, Poncelet is regarded by press and public as the scum of the earth, an animal beyond redemption. Sister Helen agrees to go and meet him, and then to be his spiritual advisor. If the neighbors of the hated Zacchaeus “grumbled,” Sr. Helen’s friends and family are even more appalled. The people of the parish she has been serving accuse her of neglecting them for someone not worthy of her concern; her family try to talk her out of her task; and the parents of the victims are so upset when she visits them that they order her to leave their house. Now, as then, when Christian love leads us to befriend an outcast, we take on some of the in-group’s odium of the rejected. However, had she not been willing to do so, Matthew Poncelet would have died unrepentant, devoid of the comfort that faith and the knowledge that he was “a son of God” brought him at the end of his life.
“We are saved by someone doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves.” (Donald Lester) .
“The love of God is no mere sentimental feeling; it is redemptive power.” (Charles Clayton Morrison) .
“The holiness of God excuses no sin; but the love of God forgives all sin through Christ.” (Anonymous) .
“Love is more than a characteristic of God: it is His character.” (Anonymous) .
“Redemption is the only service that power cannot command and money cannot buy.” .
“Love is the medicine of all moral evil. By it the world is to be cured of sin.” (Henry Ward Beecher) .
“What we love we shall grow to resemble.” (St. Bernard of Clairvaux) .
“The true measure of loving God is to love Him without measure.” (St. Bernard of Clairvaux) .
“When Jesus Christ shed his blood on the cross, it was not the blood of a martyr, or the blood of one man for another; it was the life of God poured out to redeem the world.” (Oswald Chambers)
Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)
(based on Psalm 119)
Leader: You are righteous, O Lord, and your judgments are right.
People: You have appointed your decrees in righteousness and in all faithfulness.
Leader: Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and your law is the truth.
People: Your decrees are righteous forever; give me understanding that I may live.
Righteous God, when we declare that you are our Lord and Savior, we know that you are righteous and just and faithful. But we stray away and begin to seek our own paths and our own sense of righteousness. Forgive us for turning from you and grant us your Holy Spirit that we may learn your ways and travel the right paths. In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.
Everlasting God, we come before you today bowing our hearts before you. We humbly present you with our tithes and offerings, and we pray that you will guide us to use them to your glory. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Giver of Life and Eternal Life, thank you for bringing us together this morning to worship you. We are confident that you hear us when we pray to you, so we boldly come before you to pray for all of creation.
We pray for our world, for those countries at peace and those at war. We pray for soldiers around the globe, for their families and for their safety. We ask your special blessing upon those areas of the world where gunfire, bombs, and fear have become the norm.
We pray for our nation. We pray for churches around our nation as they gather together this morning to praise your name. Bless them, and pour out your Spirit upon them. We pray for those who are suffering in mind, body, or spirit—from addiction, from poverty, from loneliness, from grief, from mental illness, from anything that causes heartache. Help us help our neighbors in need.
We pray for our community and our church. We pray for our children and youth as some of them may be celebrating this afternoon and evening with Halloween parties and trick-or-treating. Keep them safe from harm, and help us all to watch over our children. We pray for our congregation gathered here today. Thank you for the many blessings you have given us. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.