A Guest blog from our mate Andy at SPEAK, loving our tax collectors...
Did Jesus pick on Zacchaeus because he was wealthy? Or did he pick on him because he wasn’t saved? Or was it simply because he was short? (This is a joke. I promise. I am 5 foot 6).
At the beginning of Luke 19:1-10, we read that Zacchaeus was the “chief tax collector”; or to put it another way, he was completely loaded. Zach wasn’t too bothered screwing his fellow Jews out of money, asking for a bigger chunk than the Roman oppressors actually required. He had built his life upon economic exploitation.
But then Jesus invites himself to dinner.
The thing that surprises me is that the moment Zacchaeus calls Jesus “Lord” (v8) is the moment Zacchaeus commits himself to economic justice. His first response as a Christian – before becoming baptised, before saying a ‘sinner’s prayer’, before telling a close friend or even before getting linked up to a church (…though that last one is important!) – is to set his bank balance in order.
In a nutshell: Zacchaeus climbs a tree. Zacchaeus has dinner with Jesus. Zacchaeus gives half his possessions (note: possessions, not just cash) to the poor and pays anyone he cheated four times as much. To which Jesus responds “Today salvation has come to this house” (v9).
For Zacchaeus, salvation and justice are inseparable; justice is the irrepressible expression of salvation. To imagine what mission looks like to our course mate/lecturer/stranger-on-the-street, we must imagine what justice looks like for this changed person.
Jesus understood that for Zacchaeus to be set right with God, he needed to be set right with his fellow brothers and sisters too – and this meant giving back a buck or two from the stuff he’d extorted.
This is why I’m part of SPEAK. We believe that God wants to save those caught up in the toxic web of injustice, just as he wanted to save Zacchaeus. And he does this by pointing at ourselves and asking how we love our neighbour, by pointing at our food and asking how was it grown, by pointing at our money and asking how was it made. He asked Zacchaeus. And short changed.
The SPEAK Network connects together students and young adults who pray and campaign about issues of global injustice. We’ve got our annual gathering coming up soon, during which we’ll be visiting the HMRC Inland Revenue to remind them that Jesus still loves tax-collectors.