Zaccheus: Saint Luke’s Model of Stewardship

The gospel reading for the last weekend of October reveals to us the encounter Jesus had with a wealthy tax collector named Zacchaeus as he was passing through the town of Jericho on his way to Jerusalem (Luke 19:1-10). The significance of this incident gives us insight into that aspect of Saint Luke’s theology of stewardship that concerns itself with the appropriate stewardship of money and wealth. This encounter is unique to the Gospel of Luke as it is not found in the other three gospels. Arguably, it can be said that the meeting between Jesus and Zacchaeus can be regarded as one of the most important in the gospel for it illustrates the gospel’s concern that one show substantial generosity toward the poor and the exploited in order to enjoy Jesus’ friendship. Zacchaeus was a superintendent of customs officials. Tax collectors were often corrupt, and hated by many of their fellow Jews who saw them as traitors for working for the Roman Empire. His position would have carried both importance and wealth. Described as a short man, Zacchaeus climbed up a sycamore tree so that he might be able to see Jesus. When Jesus reached the spot he looked up into the branches, addressed Zacchaeus by name and told him to come down for he wanted to visit his house. The crowd was shocked that Jesus would condescend himself to being a guest of a tax collector. Zacchaeus receives Jesus with joy, opening his heart and his wallet in a heartfelt expression of generosity. Moved by Jesus’ public acceptance of him, Zacchaeus promises Jesus to give half his wealth to the poor and to pay fourfold in restitution to anyone he may have defrauded. In addition to his dignity and reputation, Zacchaeus now risks his financial security and his social standing among the rich. His vow of giving to the poor and restoration to those defrauded goes far beyond what is contemplated in Mosaic law. But he seeks Jesus’ approval and friendship, and he makes a great sacrifice in order to do so. Jesus does not ask Zacchaeus to leave behind his profession nor to give away the rest of his possessions. Rather, he meets him in the place where Zacchaeus wants to meet him and he opens up a saving way forward within his life’s reality. For Saint Luke, those who sincerely desire to see and be known to Christ, like Zacchaeus did, will make the necessary sacrifices to do so. They show a specific concern for the poor and the marginalized, those who suffer injustice and oppression. Those who listen to Christ’s call become sensitized and proactive at some level to the suffering in the world. Zacchaeus gave public proof that he was willing to be converted in order to enjoy Jesus’ friendship. Christ has come to his house, and where Christ comes he brings salvation with him. And through Zacchaeus, Saint Luke offers a model of stewardship.