The eye of the needle…

 

The tale of Jesus meeting Zacchaeus (a wee little man!!).   As always, Jesus was speaking to Zacchaeus directly, to all within earshot, and to us for eternity.  This takes place on Jesus’ last journey back into Jerusalem, it is recorded in Luke within the same chapter as his triumphant entrance into Jerusalem.  
 
He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich.  First thing – Zacchaeus was rich.  Not poor, not downtrodden, but rich.  We see over and over again, from the Old Testament to the New Testament, God (including Jesus himself) favoring the poor and downtrodden.  Jesus famously said some things regarding the rich – “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Mark‬ ‭10:25‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  As chief tax collector in the town of Jericho, he certainly had plenty of opportunities to line his own pockets at the expense of others.  Even if he tried to keep to the straight and narrow, even unintentional abuses would be difficult to avoid at certain times.  We can be sure of this – that as a chief tax collector, he was hated by his fellow Jews.  They would have viewed him as a traitor to his own people, selling out to the Roman Empire.  But – a guys gotta make a living, right?  And a good living he earned…
 
And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way.   He was seeking to see Jesus.  He might not have even known who Jesus was.  But Jesus had grown quite a following by now, and coming into Jericho there was probably a lot commotion around He and his disciples.  Or, maybe Zacchaeus knew exactly who Jesus was.  Maybe he had heard of this rabbi who eats with tax collectors and sinners and thought to himself “This is my kind of rabbi!!”  
Side note – what’s with that detail about Zacchaeus being small in stature?  It seems odd for that to be included.  Luke was very thorough, whoever he got this account from probably threw that in out of contempt for the little tax collector.
 
And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.”  Little Zacchaeus must have been surprised Jesus knew his name.   “…The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” ‭‭John‬ ‭10:3‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  But not only does the Good Shepherd know his name, he just invited Himself over for dinner and to spend the night!!
 
So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”  So little Zacchaeus has the joy of the Lord himself choosing him right out of the sycamore tree.  He chose Zacchaeus over over others who felt they were more deserving, and they didn’t like it!  Who is “they” anyway?  Probably a bunch of Pharisees and beautiful people, ticked off Jesus chose to stay with a sinner.  Of course, no matter who Jesus chose to stay with, He’d be staying with a sinner, right?  So, here ‘sinner” really means Zacchaeus was an outsider, that those watching this scene didn’t approve of his sin.  Zacchaeus was, in their minds, a traitor to the chosen people, worthy of contempt, and contempt they felt.

And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”   Now this is interesting.  Why do we assume Zacchaeus is simply promising to begin giving half his goods to the poor?  That is not what it says.  Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor.   It says, half my goods I give to the poor.  Not…half my goods I will give to the poor.  Has little Zacchaeus been doing his best to live a righteous life, in spite of being a tax collector, all along?  Has he been doing his best to take care of the poor among his people, as he is commanded to in his bible, all along?  Maybe it is simply our own prejudices and biases that make us think Zacchaeus really was the dirty rotten sinner his fellow Jews accused him of being.  Maybe the point if this little story is to show us that you CAN live a good and righteous life even if you work in a “dirty” profession.  Who do we look at and assume they can’t be living a “good” life because of the work they do?  Maybe you work in a job and think you are held back from God’s graces because of your profession.  Jesus is showing us here, if we have our eyes to see and ears to hear, that you can live for Him no matter your profession (maybe he even likes the beer man!!).   Just because people look at what you do and think there is no way (or you look at someone else and say “no way”), He knows if you are living righteously despite what those around you assume.   And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.  Now, this IS a promise going forward.  Zacchaeus seems fully aware of who Jesus is, and is trying to be worthy of the honor given him by the Son of God coming to his house.  Interesting again, instead of clinging to Mosaic law of restoring the defrauded amounts plus one-fifth, Zacchaeus promises to go above and follow the Roman rule of four times the amount taken.

And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”   Today, not tomorrow.  On the profession of faith, not the completion of works, is Zacchaeus saved.   Jesus throws in much for those listening around Him, stressing this little tax collector and sinner IS a son of Abraham, just like they are.  Jesus came for all of us, while many in His audience here would have limited the redeemed.  And, apparently, sometimes a camel can fit through the eye of a needle…
 

“He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.””
‭‭Luke‬ ‭19:1-10‬ ‭ESV‬‬
http://bible.com/59/luk.19.1-10.esv
 

John Lewis

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2 thoughts on “The eye of the needle…

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