The Reading: Luke 19:1-10
“… if I have defrauded anyone of anything …” (v.8) RSV
Zacchaeus, unlike the Prodigal Son, had not squandered his wealth, but had exponentially increased it. To some extent he was like our modern day bankers. His riches came out of the pockets of the people. He was a tax collector on behalf of the Romans, so he was doubly unpopular: i) because he worked for ‘them’, and ii) because he extracted far more tax than he should in order to line his own pockets.
As far as he was concerned he was a highly successful businessman, and yet he was to discover that he had been wasting his life. After his encounter with Jesus he learned the meaning of the proverb: “What does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (Mark 8:36). He suddenly realised that his life was worthless. All he had achieved was materialistic and selfish.
Jesus had opened his eyes to re-evaluate his accumulation of wealth. He had given nothing away to charitable needs, and much of what he had gained was through defrauding innocent people. He wanted to make amends, to make a clean break and have a new start. He therefore announced (always a good thing, since there is no going back on it!), that “the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” (v.8).
Zacchaeus’ repentance, like all true repentance, is not merely remorse or regret, it is a change of mind. He made restitution where possible, and would live a different life from then on. If we mean business with God, and we feel that we have wasted our lives in materialistic gain (say) then we too will need to repent, reassess our values and start to live differently.
Zacchaeus may have been financially poorer but he was richer within himself. He was alive. He had been “lost” (v.10), but he had now received “salvation” (v.9).
Lord I (and probably others too) had not realised that my life, though prosperous, was selfish. Forgive me and show me what I must do, for your name’s sake. Amen.
1 What did Jesus do and say to thieving traders in the Temple?
2 What about the rich who made their money off the poor?