Zacchaeus, Come Down From That Tree

“’But I am in the midst of you, as He that serveth’ (Luke 22:27).

I shall not attain Jesus, if I seek him reigning in the place of honor. I have to look for Him and find Him in that place where He is hiding, in the last place, in His suffering and humiliated members. It is because they are not looking for Him there that so many men cannot believe in Him or have only a nominal faith in Him. Zacchaeus had to come down from his sycamore in order to join Jesus in the crowd.”

(A Monk of the Eastern Church, Jesus, a Dialogue with the Savior, p. 64)

2 thoughts on “Zacchaeus, Come Down From That Tree

  1. Ted, Do you suppose Jesus was intentionally undermining Rome’s brutal tax regime by redeeming the vital collection agents one tax collector at a time?
    According to Luke, Jesus’ enemies (scribes and chief priests) “watched him and sent spies who pretended to be honest, in order to trap him by what he said, so as to hand him over to the jurisdiction and authority of the governor So they asked him, ‘Teacher, we know that you are right in what you say and teach, and you show deference to no one, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’” (20:21-22)
    The governor, Pontius Pilate, was responsible for collecting Rome’s taxes in Judea. The scribes and priests must surely have known where Jesus stood on the question of paying taxes from precious encounters and through their spies, which is why they chose that question to entrap him. Pilate was unlikely to tolerate a Jewish rabbi preaching to ever-growing crowds against the legitimacy of Rome’s taxes.
    “So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, ‘What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.’”–John 11:47-48 Other than tax resistance, what could Jesus possibly be preaching that would induce Rome to destroy a subjugated people who were supporting the Empire with their taxes?
    It seems likely to me that Pilate would have already known of Zacchaeus’ “salvation’ at the hands of Jesus, depriving Pilate of his “chief tax collector.” At what cost to Rome in lost tax revenues?
    Jesus’ response to the entrapping question did not answer the question whether or not they should pay Caesar’s tax. (Mark 12:15) Jesus’ retort was a brilliant non sequitur, which befuddled his questioners and avoided the trap. His response was, however, a plain statement of one’s right to own property in strict accordance with the Ten Commandments, specifically, “Thou shall not steal.” Give Caesar what belongs to him. And Jesus’ cryptic response must also have been designed to point up the fact that anything Caesar might claim as his had been stolen from others through conquest, plunder, enslavement or violent taxation.
    Jesus response befuddled the spies, but when they reported back to their masters, the chief priests knew exactly what his response meant. So when they later dragged Jesus before Pilate, they were not lying when they made this accusation, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.”
    While no one can know why Pilate decided to crucify Jesus, and although the Gospels may appear to indicate otherwise, I think it is most likely Pilate killed Jesus as a dangerous tax resister. The Gospel accounts of the trial of Jesus were not witnessed by any of the apostles,, who had all deserted him the previous night.
    Finally, since Jesus added, “Give God what belongs to him,” anyone trying to correctly decipher Jesus’ meaning would need to know what, according to Jesus, belongs to God and Caesar respectively. I think Jesus would have accepted the teaching of Scripture on the question, which is unequivocal. For in at least six places, as in Psalm 24:1, Scripture declares, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it…,” which leaves nothing for poor old Caesar.”
    I think Jesus’ left instructions to his disciples NOT to pay taxes, which supported Rome’s brutal government.
    What do you think?

    1. Fr. Ted

      I think Jesus held closely to His teaching that His Kingdom was not of this world. He doesn’t appear to be trying to set up an alternative worldly Kingdom, but really is speaking of something heavenly. He doesn’t summon an army from heaven to fight for him, and He doesn’t train an army to conquer the world by military means. He speaks very little of worldly government. I think Mohammed and Islam did set out to create a theocracy – an earthly kingdom for sure. I don’t think Jesus was trying to undermine the tax authority of Rome, but He does seem to deny that an earthly kingdom like Rome has very limited authority on earth. The might of imperial Rome and its great army was not an ultimate power. In Luke 4:7, Satan claims all worldly power and glory belongs to him, whether he was exaggerating or not, Jesus doesn’t challenge the point but rejects that particular power and glory and says we are to serve God alone. Kingdoms may tax, raise armies, subject people, grow in might, but that doesn’t mean we should honor them as if they were divine. They are human institutions with limited human goals. Kingdoms however seem to hate Jesus’ loyalty and love for something beyond and outside the bounds of imperial power. Kingdoms can kill, but not cast anyone into hell. It seems to me Jesus simply relativizes all human power and authority. He doesn’t deny it exists, but sees it as having limited power and authority.

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