It is the time of year for W-2’s. I got my reminder of the annual chore of filing taxes by mid-April. Since the first time I ever filed back when I was 18, I never waited, not once in all the years since, to file at the last minute. I am not a last minute person. I don’t live on the edge. Now that I know I’m living on the autism spectrum, I susect autism has something to do with my tending to this chore in Feburary instead of April.
I didn’t work for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), but spent a couple of decades in another agency. If I had worked for the IRS, I doubt I would have told many people. Just the folks I would have trusted to not slash my tires. I don’t know if the IRS is the most unpopular U.S. government agency, but if it isn’t, it surely has to be close to the bottom.
Tax collectors weren’t popular in Bible times either. One reason is there were bad apples who would take some of the money they collected and put it in their own pockets. So it was understandle for the common folk to be distrustful of tax collectors who lived among them.
A chief tax collector got some coverage in the Bible. He has a story and it is told in Luke 19:1-10:
19 And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.
2 And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich.
3 And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature.
4 And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way.
5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house.
6 And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.
7 And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.
8 And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord: Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.
9 And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham.
10 For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.
Zacchaeus had at least one strike against him and it was his unpopular profession. As a chief tax collector, he was a rich man in wealth but not so much in popularity. It doesn’t say he definitely took more than his fair share, but the townfolk of Jericho certainly viewed him with suspicion as they would any collector. He also lacked in height. The scripture only says he was short in stature. It doesn’t say he was bullied about it. He certainly might have been. As it is true today, it was probably true in Zacchaeus’s time of odd height, odd weight, odd skin color, odd behavior, etc. who were bullied.
I gather from the scripture that there was a line of people in Jericho waiting to get a glimpse of Jesus. Perhaps some stood in line for Jesus because they had heard of Jesus’s miraculous healing powers. Some wanting to be healed while others wanting to satisfy their curiosity. Zacchaeus joined the townspeople. Due to his lack of height, he was at a disadvantage. The taller people did not move over to give Zacchaeus a spot on the front row. They may have had to pay Zacchaeus taxes, but they sure didn’t have to step aside for him.
If Zacchaeus had just been curious, I think he would have given up and just gone home. But instead, he eyed a sycomore tree and climbed it. Now mind ya, although he was short, he was a grown man. As a general rule, grown-ups don’t climb trees. Maybe he didn’t worry about folks’ laughing at him up in the tree because his reputation was so sorry with them anyway. Or, maybe he was more desperate than curious to see Jesus. I wonder if he was looking for something that all his wealth had eluded him.
When Jesus came to the tree, he looked up and told Zacchaeus to come down. It doesn’t say that Zacchaeus had yelled his name out to Jesus, seeking to get His attention. Jesus knew his name and where he was. It was meant to be for Him to go to Zacchaeus’s house. From what the scripture says, Jesus didn’t have to ask him twice. He didn’t have to talk Zacchaeus into coming down. He eagerly came down and welcomed Jesus into his home.
The only ones not happy was the townspeople who witnessed this exchange. They looked upon Zacchaeus as a sinner. He wasn’t one of them. If they thought of themselves as sinners, well, they weren’t as bad as Zacchaeus. It is easy to look at someone else and think, “I have my faults, but I’m not as bad as that person..” Jesus didn’t condone dishonesty or cheating anymore than he condoned adultery when he intervened for a woman who was about to be stoned for the act. He cultivated the fine art of forgiveness and reining in our judgement. Those murmuring at Zacchaeus may not have been guilty of dishonestry or greed, but they all had their own sins too.
Jesus visit to his house was a life changing event for Zacchaeus. So much so that he made a twofold promise to the crowd. One was to give up half of his possessions which was no small deed. And, if he cheated anyone out of anything, he’d restore to them four times the amount.
Jesus was pleased with the change of heart in Zacchaeus. He declared that Zacchaeus and his family had been saved. They put their faith in Him and were committed to following Him. Jesus again stated his purpose for coming to Earth was to seek and to save that which was lost.
If Jesus were to come and walk among us, whether it be days or months or years, I think we’d be surprise to those he woud say, “I must abide at your house today.” It might be in neighborhoods that I would be too afraid to enter. It might be in institutions that house the outcast and forgotten. Instead of the popular, he might instead rub elbows with the unpopular like the sinful woman who poured perfume on his feet.
It gives me comfort that Jesus spent some of what precious, little time he had on this Earth so long ago with those who were out of the mainstream. He even chose a tax collector by the name of Matthew to be one of his twelve disciples. Jesus’s invitation in John 3:16, “…whosoever believeth on him shall not perish but have eternal life”, includes us all. No matter how much one may be out of step with their companions.
When I walk into a special ed classroom, I often think of the short unpopular guy who climbed up a sycamore tree.