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High climber turns over new leaf

Jesus & Co

An old proverb claims that ‘a man is known by the company he keeps’. If true, the people Jesus met can offer insight into his character and world view, as Nigel Bovey investigates

The adulterous woman (John 8:1-11)

Zacchaeus of Jericho worked in a despised occupation

PEOPLE often describe themselves by their job. For example: ‘Hi, I’m Elton, I’m a trajectory scientist.’ Some jobs, though, come with a load of grief. Who loves traffic wardens, second-hand car salesmen or politicians?

Zacchaeus of Jericho worked in a despised occupation. With his country under occupation, he collected taxes from his countrymen on behalf of the Romans.

He was not a junior clerk, someone low in the office food chain. He had made a career as ‘a chief tax collector’ (19:2 New International Version). To those who hated the Romans, he was a collaborator. Worse, he was lining his own pockets in the process by ripping off his countrymen.

While not short of a bob or two, Zacchaeus was short in stature. In all likeli­hood, he had been ridiculed about his lack of height all his life. He was rich, but was he happy?

When Jesus came to Jericho, the crowds flocked to see him. The vertically chal­lenged Zacchaeus climbed a tree to get a better view.

As Jesus passed by that tree, he singled Zacchaeus out from the crowd. He told him to climb down and that he was staying at his house for the night. What a day!

While Zacchaeus welcomed Jesus gladly, the townspeople were outraged. They said: ‘He has gone to be the guest of a sinner’ (19:7). They were not wrong.

It is not reported whether it was Jesus or Zacchaeus who brought up the post-dinner subject of his fraudulent money-making activities, but alone with Jesus, Zacchaeus confessed his sin.

Standing up, Zacchaeus said: ‘Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my pos­sessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount’ (19:8).

On the basis of such repentance, con­fession and offer of restitution, Jesus told Zacchaeus that ‘salvation has come to this house’ (19:9).

Jesus does not follow public opinion. He does not despise or ridicule. He does not define any of us by our jobs. To Jesus, the person is always more important than the position.

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