Contrary to what many people think, Jesus was not against riches, especially when they were put to good use. Now, whenever the subject of wealth and affluence is mentioned in the Bible, many people almost automatically remember the sad story of the rich young ruler who went away sorrowfully after having rejected Jesus' admonition that he share his riches with the poor. (Luke 18:18-25) But have you ever heard about Jesus' encounter with a certain wealthy public servant of Jericho?
Zacchaeus, the man in our story, was quite an infamous character, especially when contrasted with the many devoutly religious figures who walked the streets of Jericho, "the city of priests".
He was the wealthy head of a large office of government tax collectors, and to the Jews, tax collectors or publicans, as they were called, were the absolute LOWEST of the low, only to be compared with common prostitutes. Well known for being cheaters, extortionists, and robbers of the poor, these men were also considered as traitors to their brethren, since, though they themselves were Jews, they worked for the much-hated government of Rome.
Here was a man with governmental authority to bleed from the people as much tribute as possible, and anything he could gouge from them above that went straight into his own pocket.
But one day something happened that completely changed all this for Zacchaeus. He had already heard all about Jesus and the many miracles which He'd performed, yet even more fascinating was the fact that, like himself, Jesus ALSO had a bad reputation, and was known to be a friend of publicans and sinners. In fact, one of Jesus' Own disciples, Matthew, had one time been a tax collector in Nazareth! (Matthew 9:9-13)
For some time Zacchaeus had wanted to meet the "Carpenter-turned-Prophet". Often he wondered, "How can a man supposedly so religious be a friend of people like myself, when the priests and even many people of my city practically spit at the mention of my name? Would Jesus be MY friend TOO?", he wondered. He had no real friends outside of his immediate family, and more recently he'd begun to feel quite dissatisfied. He'd begun to realise that it took much more than wealth to bring true warmth and satisfaction. After all, he had practically everything money could buy, a fine home and a stable position, but something was missing.--Exactly what, he wasn't sure.
Then one day Jesus passed through Jericho. When Zacchaeus heard that He was in town, he dropped everything, closed up his office, and hurried off to see for himself. A large crowd with Jesus in their midst, was already moving slowly down the road, but poor Zacchaeus was so short he couldn't see a thing. Quickly he spotted a large sycamore tree up ahead of the crowd. As Jesus passed by, maybe he could see him from that tree. Completely forgetting about what people would think of him, Zacchaeus ran past the crowd and scurried up into the tree.
When Jesus finally reached the tree where Zacchaeus was, all of a sudden He turned & looked up searchingly. Drawing near and looking straight up at Zacchaeus, Jesus called, "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down. I must stay at your house today!"
"Wha...what did He say?" Zacchaeus was shocked! "He called me by my name! He wants to stay at MY house?" As Zacchaeus slid down from the tree, it was hard to believe that there hadn't been some sort of mistake. How could Jesus have known his name? But as soon as he realised that Jesus was serious, he answered, "Why, this is an HONOR! Please DO come to my house! You're so very welcome!" And Zacchaeus joyfully escorted Jesus to his home.
By the time they arrived, the crowd that followed stood outside murmuring indignantly, saying, "How can this be! Jesus has gone to stay with a man who is a SINNER and a PUBLICAN!" They were ashamed to the point of disgust, thinking, "How could He, Jesus, come to our fair city, a center for religious training, and yet choose to lodge with such a scoundrel as that?" But Jesus knew exactly what He was doing. He had looked beyond Zacchaeus' outward appearance to see the desperate hunger and emptiness for love and fulfilment within his heart.
In that one moving meeting with Jesus, Zacchaeus had found the answer! NOW wealth and possessions were not important except to give them to others. Excitedly, Zacchaeus declared, "Jesus, right here and now I want You to know that I've made up my mind! I am going to give to the poor one half of all that I own! And to make amends for those whom I have cheated or taken advantage of, I promise to restore unto them four times more than I took from them!" What an amazing commitment, considering that that sum must have been very large!
Here was a man who'd lived luxuriously and selfishly all of his life, but who, after meeting Jesus and hearing the Words He shared, had experienced a dramatic change! Suddenly, for the first time in his entire life, he felt that he understood the true meaning of love and giving.
Then Jesus exclaimed, within earshot of the grumbling crowd outside, "Today salvation has come to this house! For truly the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost!" It didn't matter how bad Zacchaeus had been BEFORE, the Lord's Love was MORE than enough to FORGIVE. In fact, there was no mention recorded of Jesus' having to bring up all of Zacchaeus' sins, because Zacchaeus had already shown the tangible fruit of repentance by putting his love into action. He had accepted Jesus into his heart and life and home and had become a follower of Jesus' example and teaching. He had become a new-born child of the Kingdom of God!
This was the beginning of an entirely new life for Zacchaeus! No longer would he be indifferent to the people and the World around him. Now, instead of treating others as mere opportunities for gain, he was going to take a personal interest in using his wealth as a means of helping the needy. And because he "received the Lord joyfully", his good testimony has echoed down through the ages as an example of what God can do with a man who surrenders his will to Him! He had found that giving, instead of being painful, brought happiness and satisfaction! He was learning the truth of Jesus' Words: "Give and it shall be given you, heaped up, shaken together and running over!" (Luke 6:38)
You can never be too BAD for Jesus, only too GOOD! Jesus got along much better with people who KNEW they were SINNERS than He did with the self-righteous and ultra high-minded, religious folks who thought they were so GOOD! "And Jesus said to the priests in the Temple, 'I tell you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will go into the Kingdom of God before you! For John (the Baptist) showed you the true way of righteousness, and YOU did not repent and believe, but the tax collectors and prostitutes did!'" (Matthew 21:31,32)
Jesus had quite a few rich friends who were supporters & members of the Kingdom of God. Take, for example, Joseph of Arimethea and Nicodemus, both well-to-do members of the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the Jewish church; The Centurion of Capernaum, a top officer in the Roman government, whose servant Jesus healed. Then there was Joanna, who went about with Jesus & who was the wife of King Herod's steward & lived in the royal palace. And what about Martha, Mary & Lazarus who were among the wealthy families around Jerusalem! (See John 12:1-8.) Although some of Jesus' disciples were from humbler classes, Peter, James, John, Andrew, & Matthew had been established businessmen. But one thing is for sure, they placed not only their money, but their very LIVES in service to the Lord & His urgent cause of winning the World for Love!
If YOU can't be a disciple, then you can SUPPORT the ones who ARE! "And you shall receive your REWARD!" (Matthew 10:40-42) Although Jesus didn't TELL Zacchaeus to abandon his home & money, it is obvious that through his conversion to Love, instead of "laying up treasures on Earth", he began to put his resources to good use by helping those in need.