Luke 19:1ff tells the childhood favorite tale of Zacchaeus, though there is so much more to the story than his short stature. Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector. He’s not just getting money when he does his job; he’s getting a cut of all the people under him when they do their jobs.
Still, Zacchaeus was compelled to see Jesus. And when Jesus sees him, he calls him by name. He knew him. And what’s more, he said, I must stay at your house today (19:5). I love that part. In a religious environment where ritual purity was judged by interaction and close contact, once again Jesus breaks religious taboos. Jesus goes to his house. This troubled the people (19:7), but something about it must have touched Zacchaeus.
Luke never tells us that Jesus makes any demands of Zacchaeus—give this, do that, sell this, repent of that. Maybe he does, but the story seems to suggest that before it came to that, Zacchaeus is convicted on his own. “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” (19:8). We hear a couple of things in this commitment. One part is a commitment to integrity moving forward. He also makes promises for restitution for the past, following OT precedent (2 Sam. 12:6).
But that part about letting go and giving to the poor signals something else. It’s the deny yourself, take up a cross daily, and living in the rhythm of dying and rising to the love of God and others part of discipleship that we heard last week. It’s compassion for the needs of others. But it’s also someone who was too full to receive God making room for God and others.
Notice that he didn’t sell everything like the rich ruler was instructed to do in chapter 18, nor was he asked to do so. He offered half, and half was more than enough to experience salvation that very day. Faithfulness is not an exact monetary formula. We see people covering the full spectrum of means and levels of wealth and giving who follow Jesus in the gospels.
It’s not necessarily what you have. It’s how you get and maintain what you have. It’s what you do or don’t do with what you have. It’s how you think about what you have. It’s how you think about and care for others who don’t have. It’s about priorities and pursuits and ultimate source of purpose. Who do you serve? What do you cling to—God, or the “almost god” that is money.