Walking through Jericho one day, Jesus looked beyond and above the crowds and saw a small man perched in a tree. All the locals knew it was Zacchaeus. He was a rich man due to his work as the chief tax collector. His riches came by way of collusion with the occupying force of Rome, gathering taxes and tribute from a people already under the heavy hand of the empire. His partnership with the oppressor daily exploited his neighbors – a wedge between them, I’d imagine.
Jesus called out, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” The little man moved down the tree and into the street quickly, eyes shining with excitement at the unexpected opportunity to host the Rabbi. “Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” It was then, after this astonishing statement of restitution, that Jesus declared, “Today salvation has come to this house…”
Giving half of his possessions to the poor was an extravagant act of charity – a great start. But the most revolutionary action was the decision to offer restitution to those he defrauded. He knew his riches were gained by exploiting the poor and that his actions had impoverished an entire community.
His offer of restitution demonstrated his awareness that they deserved more than charity (discretionary giving from his abundance) and more than compensation (dollar for dollar repayment). His offering made it clear that he was moving away from unjust gains and toward the costly practice of justice.
I think this is why Jesus declared that salvation, or transformation, had come to his house.
Think about those who he would repay over the next set of days – what must that exchange have been like? They would come face to face with the chief tax collector but this time they would walk away with a heavier purse – radical! They would look him in the eye and he would do the same and maybe for the first time ever they saw each other as ‘neighbor.’ Amazing!
Such interactions would mark the beginning of a new relationships between them and a new way of engaging in community life together. I imagine Zacchaeus’ road of restitution was hard and had its share of pitfalls as he learned this new practice, but I am convinced it was a worthwhile journey toward the good that blessed the entire neighborhood.
Reconciliation has to be about more than mere contrition or even gestures of charity. It must include the hard, vulnerable and costly work of making the relationships right again and restoring what’s been lost. It must include the back-breaking efforts involved in finding common purpose and releasing justice into the entire neighborhood.
Zacchaeus gives us a panoramic view of reconciliation – from the recognition of his wrong-doing to the hard work of restitution toward communal restoration. It’s breath-taking and a challenge to us all.
This post is an excerpt of an article first published on SheLoves Magazine, a Simply Jesus partner.