Sometimes Sunday school lessons can be a learning experience and some times our time in class can be outright contagious. Last weekís lesson was on Zacchaeus, a short man who may have been a dwarf and the head tax collector of Jericho. Jesus was on his way to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem and was passing through the area where Zacchaeus lived by way of the Jericho road. Other than these there are just a few of the facts we had from the story to work from. One thing led to another but imagination ruled the order of thinking.
Among the things I learned was that the Roman Officials appointed people to the Tax collectorís position when they conquered nations. In Zacchaeus case, he was appointed as the administrator of taxes for the Roman Empire in the region of Jericho and he employed several agents to collect taxes. One assumption was that the Romans assessed the amount of tax to be collected and allowed the collectors to charge a fee over and above the amount assessed. Another assumption was that Zacchaeus was given limitations by Roman law in the form of what we would call operational standards today. No matter what, the tax collector develops deafness to why the taxes can not be paid and needed a firm hand to collect the amount set by Rome. The people had personal reasons for holding a grudge against the tax collectors because the taxes took money they were going to live on.
Someone brought up the idea that Zacchaeus gained his wealth through extortion. It was a common policy of the Roman conquerors to plunder the wealth of the nation they conquered. Connecting the dots with the facts can sometimes be more assumption than based on fact and you can make a person guilty without knowing all the facts. The thought was that Zacchaeus had gained all his wealth through his position as tax collector is possible, but somewhat out of Character.
It is easy to assume the character of Zacchaeus was not good. First, the name Zacchaeus is a Greek derivative of the Hebrew name of Zaccai. This tells us that Zacchaeus was a native born Israelite who was doing business with the sworn enemy of Israel which was considered a strike against him. Names from the Greek derivatives were common in those days, but all that means was Zacchaeusís parents were more liberal than most true Israelites. Today tax collectors are not well thought of either and the Israelites did not think highly of Zacchaeus for the same reasons, specially when consensus of men is that all tax collectors are crooked. On the other hand, we could understand that Zacchaeus was a shrewd businessman known by both the Romans and the people of Jericho. We could also believe that Zacchaeus was earning a living through legal means instead of living according to a stereo type of his job. There are two sides to a coin, one is reluctant to give up what he has worked hard to achieve and one easily gives up what he has worked for when he reaps the benefits.
Contracts were awarded to people who could produce results and the Romans just as easily have done a background check on Zacchaeusís former life including his business operations before awarding the tax collectors position to Zacchaeus. His family may have been able to give Zacchaeus the benefits of an education, which would have benefited the Romans as well. Finally, Zacchaeusís must have had the right background and credentials for the Roman authorities for that position, a man the Romans understood was very capable of collecting the taxes for Rome.
It is easy to assume that Zacchaeusís wealth came solely from collecting taxes, but lets remember that today a number of wealthy people go into politics and have more than one business. However, having wealth in politics seems to imply a lack of morals. When one considers the background of government and the reasons of government existing, meditating about Zacchaeusís life could completely change. Zacchaeus could have received a political appointment because he was involved with government before the Romans came into power. In addition, Zacchaeus may have been a member of the ruling upper class and may have had money most of his life. As administrator of the tax collection, Zacchaeus collected a fee based on the collections that his agents collected. It is also possible that he never collected taxes himself, but lived off the agentís royalties. In any event there is enough reasons to explain why he had wealth through legal means.
Zacchaeus was a self made man and the proof was in his actions to achieve the things he wanted to do and see. Being horizontally challenged his personal stature made it difficult to do even simple tasks such as seeing a distinguished person from within a crowd who was passing by. The people who knew him gave him little respect if any perhaps called him shorty and possibly pushing him to the aside when the opportunity came around. Zacchaeus had to go the extra mile to accomplish the station he wanted in life. Climbing the sycamore tree was a determined effort to see Jesus Christ as he walked by. His effort paid off as Jesus took special notice of Zacchaeus who was perched in the tree. Whether it was by plan or not, Jesus had to talk to a man who desperately wanted to see and speak with him.
Jesus looked up and saw Zacchaeus in the tree, and then invited himself to dinner at his house that night. The crowd, on the other hand, grumbled, wanting recognition from Jesus. Christ but gave him more respect than Zacchaeus had heard and felt from the crowd in a long time. Moved by the compassion of Christ, Zacchaeus vowed to give half of his wealth to the poor and four times as much to anyone he had cheated.
I canít see Zacchaeus making a vow that would have bankrupted his financial condition. The way Zacchaeus used the word if indicates that if he had cheated anyone it was without his knowledge and likely did not exist. Therefore, we should try to see both sides of the issue before condemning anyone for something he did not do.
Walking in the tax collectors shoes while we meditate on his life will teach you a lesson about life. Most people are trained by this world to assume the worse scenario because they belong to a self-centered world. Everyone does what is right in their eyes, but sees enough lumber to build a house in the eyes of other people. What appears to be obvious can not be seen when you think in an evil manner, instead we are ready to lower the boom on anything you donít think is right when we do not have all the right information to work from.
When meditating, we often create a stereo type for the person whether good or bad and base our thoughts according to our experience. We also base the character around the events in life as we see them. Regardless of how careful we keep in line with the story it is still possible that our meditation can be wrong or something you canít explain allowed that you to chase the cat up the wrong tree.
Lessons can be learned from meditation and that is the reason for thinking about the behavior of people in the bible. The second reason for meditation is to train our mind to think in a godly fashion.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
The question that needs to be asked is, do we meditate on the scriptures with thoughts of love or are we just passing a sentence? The third reason for meditation on godly things is that it opens our mind to hear from God. The prophets spent hours alone with God and often sought God a week or longer before they came back with the "word of the Lord." The final reason for meditation is that it allows us to foresee problems in our own life with the means to predict and avoid sin.
The alternative is to know more about the worldís system and how it works. At work your employer demands the use of your mind only to go home to glue our minds to the television set. This when the world is waging a war to control your thoughts and what you buy. The Christian mind needs to work independently from the world because God wants you to be separate from the world. Refreshing the Christian mind requires you to stay close to the source of power, truth, love and life found in God. The world literally chokes the power of God from those desiring to stand firm in Christ. The affect of meditating on Godís word refreshes your spirit so you are able to reflect the glory of God to the world.
I have to admit that I can get carried away when I meditate. With the story on Zacchaeus most of the information that I found and used was not in the story and I have to admit its my opinion. The story gives enough facts to give you a basic scenario with information commonly associated with everyday life. The bible says that there is nothing new under the sun, so what has happened will happen again. Men say that history repeats itself and the way men conduct their affairs seldom changes. It is from this principle and a little imagination that we can meditate about the principles of God for the purpose of applying them to our lives. At the same time we are men and women that needs to lead their life in such a way to reflect the holiness of God in our thoughts and deeds.
As you know, the kind of life we would prefer does not always go our way. The people around us make choices that affect our lives and we have to adjust our plans to work through their agenda. Here was Zacchaeus with a problem of stature that after considering his situation overcame his handicap by climbing a tree to see Jesus Christ. Zacchaeus was so intent on seeing Jesus Christ that his daily routine of collecting taxes was put out of his mind. The faith of Zacchaeus was working and Jesus Christ rewarded him by dining with him?
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