Transforming Love

Transforming Love


x-zacchaeus-chief-tax-collector  The story of Zacchaeus only appears in the gospel of Luke.  We have no independent confirmation of the character of the little tax collector other than Clement of Alexandria writing in about 190 A.D. that Zacchaeus’ was also named Matthias, and he was chosen as the Apostle to replace Judas in the Book of Acts.  This story is unlikely since Matthias was counted as among those who had followed Jesus since he had been baptized by John.  In another later church work the Apostolic Constitutions dated about 380 A.D. Zacchaeus the Publican was recorded as having served as the first Bishop of Caesarea.  The implication of all of these traditions is that the transformation of Zacchaeus in this story resulted in the tax collector becoming a follower of Jesus.


x-salt-balsam-gum   In assessing the authenticity of the story, several details in the account are very accurate.  First, the Chief Tax Collector of Jericho would have been very rich.  A thriving industry in Balsam Gum, the famous balm in Gilead, had its headquarters in Jericho.  Also the very lucrative trade in Dead Sea Salt, so valuable that Roman Soldiers were often paid in salt (remember euphemism worth your salt), was also headquartered in Jericho.  With all of these very expensive trade goods passing through Jericho, the collection of taxes would have been enough to make a person wealthy.  Because the tax collectors were taking a cut of the tolls they were gathering on behalf of the Romans, most of their fellow countrymen considered them to be traitors, collaborators with the enemy – prompting the comment in verse 7 : “All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.’”


x-sycamore-fig-trees         If you have ever visited the City of Jericho, you will recognize another important confirming detail in the story – there are sycamore fig trees all over the City.  The sycamore fig is also symbolic in this narrative, because it is known as the “resurrection tree.”  This species of tree which often lives on the edge of the desert will hibernate if it is covered over by sand dunes.  Centuries later, if the tree is uncovered and water gets to the root system, the sycamore fig will come back to life.  So when Jesus first encounters Zacchaeus, the little tax collector is sitting in a resurrection tree.


x-zacchaeus-was-curious-about-jesus          As we examine the process of the transformation of Zacchaeus, we first note curiosity.  We don’t know what reports the little tax collector had heard about Jesus, but maybe we can assume he had heard marvelous stories about healings and a message about God’s love that included social outcastes like himself.  This Rabbi Jesus reputedly had dinner with publicans and prostitutes, and one of his closest followers was even a tax collector from Capernaum named Matthew.  So Zacchaeus was curious.  He wanted to get a look at this unusual Rabbi for himself.



The Limbic Reward System lights up when curiosity is piqued.

The process of transformation often begins with curiosity.  How might my life be different?  Can faith make a difference in my life? Is there really any hope for me?  What if God touched my life?  Curiosity makes change possible. Curiosity stimulates portions of the brain that create new circuitry especially associated with learning and memory.  When we are curious, our brains are receptive to forming new neural pathways for new behaviors and attitudes.  This is your brain without curiosity, this is your brain on curiosity!  Feeding our curiosity opens our minds to the possibility of transformation.


x-motivationSo, Zacchaeus was curious, but he had a problem.  He was vertically challenged.  Given the crowds that surrounded Jesus as he was passing through the streets, there was no way a short person was going to be able to get a glimpse of the Rabbi.  Zacchaeus figured the route Jesus was taking, and ran ahead using side streets.  Climbing a tree, the little tax collector waited to get a glimpse of Jesus.

The story does not tell us how Jesus knew Zacchaeus’ name.  Perhaps noting that this fellow had climbed a tree in order to get a look at him, Jesus asked one of his companions or a member of the crowd, “What is the name of the man who has climbed the tree?”  Jesus recognized motivation, and acknowledged Zacchaeus’ curiosity by inviting himself to the tax collector’s house for the mid-day meal.



x-the-spiritual-gift-of-hospitality   So the second step in the process of transformation was challenging Zacchaeus to open his home in hospitality.  Pushing this congregation to embrace radical hospitality was a step in the transformation of this congregation from a club atmosphere to a community of faith where everyone was welcomed.  No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.  And not just welcome, you are invited to the sharing table where everyone sits down to eat together.  In many churches small groups of friends, hot foot it out the door together to visit the restaurants after worship.  Here we invite everyone to stay and fill a plate and visit with everyone. For this is the Sharing Table of Jesus.

Zacchaeus was honored to be asked to provide hospitality.  As an outcaste “good people” would not have visited his home, much less sat and shared a meal at his table.


x-half-my-possessions-i-share-with-the-poor         We do not know what all transpired at the home of the tax collector that day, what stories were shared, what questions were asked.  The gospel, however, reports that Zacchaeus’ transformation was made whole, when he stood up and said, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” He offered to make restitution for any cheating he had done, and he gave away half his wealth to the poor.  So the transformation of Zacchaeus was not just a change of heart and a decision to follow Jesus, it was a change of behavior in making amends for wrongs he had committed and a generous gift of sharing his wealth with the poor.  Jesus confirmed the change of heart and behavior he observed in the tax collector, when he said, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.”


x-bound-by-his-wealth          And I want to lift up Zacchaeus in contrast to the example of the Rich Young Ruler.  The Rich Young Man came to Jesus asking, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus asked him if he was faithful to the Law of Moses.  And the young man replied, “All these laws I have kept since I was a child.”  And Jesus recognizing that his great wealth was the impediment that stood between him and God said, “One thing you lack, go sell what you have and share with the poor and come follow me.”  Of course the Rich Young Ruler went away sorrowfully, because he wasn’t about to do anything as foolish as to part with any of his wealth.  Zacchaeus was transformed, liberated, by his willingness to offer hospitality and share his wealth with the poor, while the Rich Young Ruler remained spiritually bound to his money.


x-use-some-of-our-money-to-feed-the-poor    Zacchaeus didn’t have to give everything away, he just had to unburden himself of a share of his wealth that was holding him back from being liberated to love other people.  He was finally able to come to the Sharing Table, when he was able use some of his money to invite the poor to come and eat with him.


x-we-have-to-really-want-to-change           How many of us are willing to allow the transforming love of Jesus to change our behavior?  Maybe it is like the question, “How many psychotherapists does it take to change a lightbulb?”  Answer, just one, so long as the light bulb really wants to change. And truth to be told, most of us really don’t like change.  Change is hard.  Change is difficult, especially when we are talking about changing ourselves!


x-one-thing-we-could-do-differently           Maybe a quotation from Stephen Covey’s, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, is a place to begin. “What one thing could we do (we aren’t doing now) that if we did on a regular basis, would make a tremendous positive difference in our personal lives?” No one is asking us to give all of our money away.  No one is asking us to change our lives completely.  No one is asking us to get divorced, change jobs move to Alaska or Hawaii.  Just what is one thing we could change, that if we did that on a regular basis, would make a positive difference in our lives?  Daily physical exercise?  Thirty minutes of prayer a day?  Starting the day with a list of thanksgivings?  A regular program of savings?  Going back to school?  Tithing?  Or making a concerted effort to reach out to others, especially people who might need our help in friendship and love?


x-baby-steps-curiosityWhatever change we are willing to make start with baby steps – small changes. And then like Zacchaeus let’s add some curiosity to our lives and who knows the love of Christ might transform us!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s