You probably know this song:Zacchaeus was a wee little man,
Zacchaeus was a wee little man,
a wee little man was he.
He climbed way up in a sycamore tree,
for the Lord he wanted to see.
And when the Savior passed that way,
he looked up in the tree
And said “Zacchaeus! Come down out of that tree,
For I’m coming to your house today.
Do you know the next verse?
Zacchaeus was a very rich man. He collected taxes owed
And then a whole bunch more.
When Jesus sat as his table that day, he said,
“Jesus, I give half of what I have to the poor.
Where there is fraud, four times I will restore.”
You don’t know that verse because it hasn’t been written.
That’s regrettable. Because the story of Zacchaeus – the full story of Zacchaeus – does something the gospels rarely do. It takes us past a personal encounter with Jesus and shows us how life was changed – radically altered – by that encounter.
Zacchaeus must be experiencing both shame and guilt. Shame as he was disowned by his own community and guilt for his participation in an unjust system. That’s a toxic combination – shame and guilt – that can wear away at one’s very sense of self. In fact, the Greek that is so charmingly translated as “wee” actually says diminished. Zacchaeus was a diminished man, perhaps not short physically, but worn down by carrying the weight of exclusion and collusion.
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus has repeatedly called in those who are alienated from community and called out the rich, so it’s not surprising that he calls up to Zacchaeus, who is hedging his bets up in a tree. Jesus doesn’t just call Zacchaeus out of the tree; he invites himself to Zacchaeus’ house. Perhaps Jesus knows that, like a lot of us, Zacchaeus might never have got around to inviting Jesus into his life, so Jesus just goes ahead and invites himself into Zacchaeus’ life. Jesus often has to do that in stubborn situations of shame and guilt.
Jesus frees Zacchaeus and then – and here is the part we don’t usually see – we see what Zacchaeus does with his freedom. Zacchaeus announces the way that he intends to live. He is giving away half of what he has to help the poor in his community and where there has been fraud he will make reparations.
Now, what Zacchaeus does is both very specific to his situation and very universal. He is rich, and he participates in a corrupt system, so he gives money away to help others and tries to restore fairness within a flawed system. More generally, he announces that he will use his freedom to be a person of generosity, honesty, and justice.
What might your announcement sound like? What’s the third verse of your encounter with Jesus?
Perhaps you already know. Or it might take some prayer, and conversation and journaling. It might help to have a spreadsheet to review of your finances. Perhaps you will look at the political, social and religious systems of which you are a part and figure out the part you want to play. It might mean working your way back through 40 days of generosity again when the 40 days of Lent are over. It might require sustained counseling to address issues of dependence or shame, that you carry around. It may mean spending time with the neighbors you have now, not the neighbors you used to have or thought you wanted to have.
Jesus himself seems excited to hear the outcome of his encounter with the once diminished Zacchaeus. We can almost see Jesus leap to his feet to make his own announcement: Salvation has come to this house today. This too is a child of Abraham. For the son of man came to seek and save the lost. This must be the free way of living that Jesus has longed for all the lost, the diminished, the burdened, the broken, the rich and the powerful to experience.
We each have our own song to write, our own announcement to make on the life we will live in God’s kingdom of justice, generosity and welcome.