Jesus’ interaction with the tax collector, Zacchaeus, demonstrated something important about how he viewed life.
Tax collectors in Judea contracted with the Romans to pay them a set amount of money from their own pockets. Then the Romans assigned soldiers to back up the tax collectors as they took as much money and goods from the public as the situation allowed. The difference between what a taxman paid Rome and what he could squeeze from his countrymen constituted his profit. Not only did tax collectors work for the hated Roman occupiers, they used Roman muscle to extort their livelihoods and consorted with non-Jews thereby rendering themselves ritually unclean. To top it all off they handled Roman coins stamped with a divinized likeness of the emperor, which was tantamount to idol worship.
Doubtlessly everyone expected Jesus to at least ignore this reprobate if not give him a well-deserved tongue-lashing. Instead, Jesus’ decided to improve the situation even if he couldn’t make it perfect. Responding to something good that he saw in Zaccheaus, Jesus accepted his promise to be more just in the future and share at least some of his wealth with those in need. When Jesus responded with, Let’s have supper together to seal the deal, the crowd must have been astounded and more than a little disappointed.
As emotionally satisfying and self-promoting as it would have been, Jesus chose to encourage something good in Zacchaeus rather than wax indignant at his failures. Not only did Jesus choose practicality over theater, he revealed something crucial about how God deals with us.
Jesus and Zaccheaus: a useful story in these times of religious and political frustration, distrust and hostility!