Breaking Taboos

Jesus was the king of doing thing’s that broke social or religious taboos. He knew how to make a splash by doing what others thought improper. Yet, He never sinned. His daring actions usually caused unthinkable transformation. The perfect example of this is when Jesus encountered Zacchaeus, the famous tax collector.

Tax collectors were as popular during Jesus’ day as they are now. Look at this video to see what I mean.

I don’t know if people would run over tax collectors with their mules. But the masses certainly viewed tax collectors with suspicion. They were agents of an oppressive Roman system that included high taxation.  

The Jews generally viewed tax collectors as unclean. Some religious Jews would not even associate in private life with them. Zacchaeus was a rich man. But I doubt that he had a lot of people who wanted to eat dinner with him.

Although the Roman empire had instituted tax reform, there were still collectors who overcharged tax payers and pocketed the extra. Maybe Zacchaeus, as the chief tax collector, had a reputation for taking too much. We don’t know about his personal character pre-Jesus. But we do know what happened after having dinner with Jesus.

Salvation came to Zacchaeus and his house. More than just that. It came to many poor in the city of Jericho. Think about what would happen when a man whose job it was to take money from the poor masses became a philanthropic posture child. Imagine the citywide impact?

Jericho was a wealthy town where many rich people went to say in the winter months. Jesus traveled through Jericho on His way to Jerusalem.

Toward the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus was walking to the cross. Along the way, He encountered a wide variety of people who needed their own divine moment.

Zacchaeus, a short man, tried to get a glimpse of Jesus. But he was too short to see. Maybe Zacchaeus was curious about this holy prophet who had a reputation as a friend of sinners and tax collectors (Luke 7:34). Maybe Zacchaeus wanted to see if Jesus would do a great miracle in the city.

Regardless the reason, Zacchaeus did two things that men just didn’t do in those days. First, he ran ahead of the crowd. No self respecting publican would have run ahead of anyone. Second, he climbed a tree, which was hardly a distinguished position. It reminds us of what a school boy might do not a man.

When Jesus got to where Zacchaeus was, He looked up and called to the tax collector. Jesus basically invited himself to dinner. And in this situation, the host would be honored to oblige. Here is a well-known prophet who wants to stay at the house of a tax collector. That was scandalous and highly peculiar. Zacchaeus wouldn’t likely ever get this invitation again.

Jesus told Zacchaeus that He “must” stay at His house. The word “must” indicates that Jesus had more on His mind than just a nice place to stay. Although we don’t know for sure, Zacchaeus may have been His primary reason for going through instead of around the city.

Ever the master of the moment, Jesus understood what the crowd did not. While they were murmuring that Jesus was going to stay with a sinner, Jesus brought redemption to the city. True evangelism changes one heart at a time. Those “small” changes can cause massive, deep changes over time.

Zacchaeus responds to Jesus by giving away half his possessions to the poor. As a wealthy man, Zacchaeus must have lots to give. Then he offered to make restitution to anyone that he had cheated in the past.

Jewish law allowed for various approaches when it came to restitution. Zacchaeus chose the most stringent requirement when he offered to pay back four times the amount. There were no shortcuts here when it came to repentance. Zacchaeus meant what he said. The Gospel of Luke indicates that Zacchaeus gladly made his announcement. Think about how you might feel if you gave away that much money?

It can be easy to forget that Jesus not Zacchaeus is the hero of the story. He is the one who initiated the transformation by his dinner request. Luke testified that Jesus came to seek and save the lost.

Zacchaeus represents the guy that others have given up on. He is the sinner who everyone feels will never change. Jesus stopped for a single person, and we are still talking about that transformation more than two thousand years later.

Jesus dared to break a taboo because a soul was worth more than his reputation. The story touches us because the camel passed through the eye of the needle that day.

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