Wee Little Big Man

Jackson Snyder, October 31, 2003, All Hallows Vigil (Click for History)
The Rich Ruler and Zacchaeus, the Tax Collector

 

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Go Directly to Message        The poem, “I Am Just Winking        The song, “Zacchaeus Was a Wee Little Man

 

Luke 18:18. One of the rulers put this question to him, “Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 19. Yahshua said to him, “Why do you call me good?  No one is good but Yahweh alone.   20. You know the commandments: You shall not commit adultery; You shall not kill; You shall not steal; You shall not give false witness; Honor your father and your mother.”  21. He replied, “I have kept all these since my earliest days.” 22. And when Yahshua heard this he said, “There is still one thing you lack.  Sell everything you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”  23. But when he heard this he was overcome with sadness, for he was very rich.

 

Luke 19:1. Yahshua entered Jericho and was going through the town 2. and suddenly a man whose name was Zacchaeus made his appearance; he was one of the senior tax collectors and a wealthy man.  3. He kept trying to see which Yahshua was, but he was too short and could not see him for the crowd; 4. so he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of Yahshua who was to pass that way.  5. When Yahshua reached the spot he looked up and spoke to him, “Zacchaeus, come down. Hurry, because I am to stay at your house today.”  6. And he hurried down and welcomed him joyfully.  7. They all complained when they saw what was happening. “He has gone to stay at a sinner’s house,” they said.  8. But Zacchaeus stood his ground and said to the Master, “Look, sir, I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount.”  9. And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham; 10. for the Son of man has come to seek out and save what was lost.”

 

Luke 18:9. He spoke the following parable to some people who prided themselves on being upright and despised everyone else, 10. ‘Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector.  11. The Pharisee stood there and said this prayer to himself, ‘I thank you, God, that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like everyone else, and particularly that I am not like this tax collector here.  12. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all I get.’  13. The tax collector stood some distance away, not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven; but he beat his breast and said, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’  14. This man, I tell you, went home again justified; the other did not. For everyone who raises himself up will be humbled, but anyone who humbles himself will be raised up.”

Lost Christianities, Bart Ehrman

 

Luke 3:10. When all the people asked John, “What must we do, then?”  11. he answered, “Anyone who has two tunics must share with the one who has none, and anyone with something to eat must do the same.”  12. There were tax collectors, too, who came for baptism, and these said to him, “Master, what must we do?”  13. He said to them, “Exact no more than the appointed rate.”  14. Some soldiers asked him in their turn, “What about us? What must we do?” He said to them, “No intimidation! No extortion! Be content with your pay!”

 

Invitation to the Apocrypha, Daniel Harrington

 

Sirach 44:1-10,13-14. Let us now sing the praises of famous men and women, our ancestors in their generations.   Yahweh apportioned to them great glory, his majesty from the beginning. 

   There were those who ruled in their kingdoms, and made a name for themselves by their valor; those who gave counsel because they were intelligent; those who spoke in prophetic oracles; those who led the people by their counsels and by their knowledge of the people's lore; they were wise in their words of instruction; those who composed musical tunes, or put verses in writing; rich husbands and wives endowed with resources, living peacefully in their homes – all these were honored in their generations, and were the pride of their times.

   Some of them have left behind a name, so that others declare their praise.  But of others there is no memory; they have perished as though they had never existed; they have become as though they had never been born, they and their children after them.  But these also were godly men and women, whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten; Their offspring will continue forever, and their glory will never be blotted out.  Their bodies are buried in peace, but their names live on generation after generation.

 

Humility and Justification

   In last week’s message (Sholom Asch and Divine Democracy), we recall Yahshua’s parable about two men praying in the temple – one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee was praying, “I thank you that I’m not like that tax collector over there, grasping, unjust and adulterous.”  The tax collector was beating his breast, crying, “Be merciful to me, a sinner.”   Yahshua’s point in the story is that whoever raises up self will be humbled; and whoever humbles self will be raised.  As you know, humiliation before the Almighty is a recurrent theme in the New Testament.   

   The Pharisee, a righteous man in the eyes of the religious, exalts his own purity before his god; while the tax collector, considered by most to be exactly as the Pharisee had described him – grasping, unjust and adulterous – dares not even lift up his head in his humiliation. 

   Yahshua tells us that the man who begged for mercy was justified; which, you may recall, means “freed of the guilt and penalty attached to grievous sin.”  We all hope to be rescued from the wrath of the Almighty in the future; but we won’t be saved then unless we’re justified now. 

   The actions of the tax collector show us how we may be justified before the Supreme Court of Eternity – and justified right now.  Consider your ways, and be wise.  (The contexts of the humility passages are worth studying for our own personal spiritual development.[1])

 

The Strange Order of Commandments

   As Yahshua and his group go on their way from there, some people they meet illustrate his parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.  First, there’ s the synagogue ruler[2] we meet in Luke 18:18; he’s a Pharisee[3] and he’s filthy rich.  Pharisees just loved money (Matthew 16:14) though they were well aware that

... the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs (1 Timothy 6:10).

The Pharisee ruler approaches the Master and asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life.  Yahshua says to him, “Man, you already know what to do, don’t you?”  Then he lists a few of the ten commandments – the commandments Yahshua knew the Pharisee had not kept – these commandments:   

You shall not commit adultery; You shall not kill; You shall not steal; You shall not give false witness; Honor your father and your mother.

   The fact that Yahshua doesn’t give these commandments in the proper Biblical order is a mystery to scholars.  But the explanation for his strange order isn’t really so hard to figure when you remember that “he knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of man; for he himself knew what was in man” (John 2:25).

   You see, breaking these commandments in the order mentioned was the ruler’s road to riches.   Only he could have known this – it was his secret sin – and Yahshua condemns him in this secret way so no one else will understand.   No one else but you and me, that is.  We know how the ruler got so rich.  Consider:

  • Yahshua recites the seventh commandment first, “You shall not commit adultery.”  In managing the estate of a rich widow (for that was one of the duties of a synagogue ruler), he seduced her, inveigling himself in her personal affairs and financial arrangements.  The ruler was a conniving adulterer. 

  • Yahshua then goes back to the sixth commandment, “You shall not kill.”  Having put himself in good stead with his prey’s financial portfolio, the ruler murders the widow so he can collect. 

  • Yahshua then goes to the eighth commandment, “You shall not steal.”  After doing away with her, the ruler inherits her fortune, dispossessing her family.  He is an adulterer, a murderer and a thief.

  • Then Yahshua goes on to the ninth commandment, “You shall not give false witness.”  The ruler lies in court about the affair, the larceny and the murder.  After all, he’s a smart lawyer and he’s got the case sewed up.  He has to call in some favors; but now, through his lie, he can repay. 

  • Yahshua then slips back to the fifth commandment, “Honor your father and mother.”  After the ruler becomes rich, he’s able to pay the corban tax[4], giving him the legal right to put his aging parents out of their own house and into the street.  Like Crabby Appleton, the synagogue ruler’s rotten to the core.

 

The Ruler – “All these I kept out”

   There must’ve been a great pause as the Pharisaic ruler considered his answer to Yahshua.  “Gulp!  I’ve kept all these since my earliest days,” he says through the translator of The New Jerusalem Bible.  But in the original language, there’s a double meaning.  He could also be saying, “[Since] youth, all these I kept out (efulaxa ek).”  All these commandments I kept out!  This ruler had everyone snowed but “Jesus and me.”  Didn’t he have a diploma? Wasn’t he wearing righteous robes?  Wasn’t he leading the community?  Hadn’t many looked to him as an example?  Hadn’t he fixed the affairs for plenty of widows?  Yet the ruler knew full well what was in his own heart!  And what he was knowing he wasn’t showing. 

   Only one little thing you lack then you can have your eternal life,” said Yahshua.  Sell everything you have and follow me.  As things are right now, your prospect of entering Eternal Life is impossible – impossible as dragging a camel through a needle’s eye. 

   In ignorance of the true situation and the condition of this man’s soul, those around wondered,

¿Is this not the righteous ruler, who’s ‘kept’ the commandments his whole life, and taught them, and has even financed this synagogue?  Selling everything isn’t even a commandment!   If that’s what this magnificent example of entire sanctification must do to be saved, then who can be saved?”  

The ruler knows he’s a loaded cigar in a banana skin.   Yet, with Yahweh, all things are possible – even eternal life for this criminal is in the realm of possibility.  How so?  Give up your ill-gotten gains, repent and follow me,” says Yahshua, “and even you may gain treasures in Heaven.

 

Repent and Follow

   “Give up all you have!”  Wow!  Well, all he has is stolen anyway.  He even stole his parents’ home and retirement.  One can’t be justified or saved without first paying back.  That’s what true repentance is all about – pay back.  Salvation without restitution is impossible; yet so many try – so many rationalize or marginalize or compartmentalize their sin – so many will not repay:

 

So many are thinking that Yahweh is winking

Whenever they transgress his Law.

But most will be pacing, regretfully facing

His judgment in those days of awe.

“I know you are thinking that I am just winking

Those times you so willfully sin.
You’re sure you’re in clover but when you’re life’s over,

Oy Vay, what a mess you’ll be in, be in, be in;

Oy Vay, what a mess you’ll be in!”

 

   This is why I placed the word “repent” into Yahshua’s mouth just for you.  It’s impossible to follow him – it’s impossible to have life – it’s impossible to avoid harsh judgment and punishment – if one doesn’t first repent; that is, give it up and turn it around.  Without repentance – justification, salvation and eternal life are simply impossible.  As for following – Yahshua turned plenty of would-be disciples back because their sins were scarlet and they simply weren’t willing to be washed white as snow.  Yes – with G-d, all things are possible for men – even death can be swallowed up in victory – but only if men are willing to give it up and turn it around.   If this malicious con man killer could turn over a new leaf and be saved, so could you – easily.  But he wasn’t willing.  You must be willing.

   Now the “Jesus Group” leaves the “would be saint” behind in the dust, continuing to Jericho.  “O, well,” the rich ruler sighs.  He steers his mind to more enjoyable thoughts: to his religion, the angels and heaven.  Hobbies are such pleasant and potent distractions!

 

Wee Little Man

   By this time, Yahshua is gaining in favor among the common people, whom he champions.  He’s a celebrity.  There’s a large crowd already formed in Jericho for his arrival.  One man has an advantage in seeing Yahshua close up because he’s very short and able to rush his way through the crowd[5] like a pro fullback through a defensive line of cabbage patch kids.   Having dodged through, he climbs the sycamore tree.  That’s some feat.  Who is this wee little big man?  Why, it’s the tax collector of Yahshua’s parable – the one who beat his breast in repentance in the temple – the one with whom the wretched Pharisee was favorably comparing himself. 

   This treed tax collector is actually quite famous for he, too, is a ruler – the king of collectors.  Everybody hated him because hating tax collectors was in fashion then just as now.  And also, then just as now, many of them were crooks.  Yeah, they hated this tax boss even more than they loved the rich, rotten ruler in the last little town.  So this diminutive ball of gristle had become a legend in his own time.  He’s even more famous in our time because everyone in the world knows a song about him.

 

Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he,

He climbed on top of a sycamore tree, the good Lord for to see.

And as the Savior passed that way, He looked up in that tree,

And He said, “Zacchaeus, you come down!

For I’m coming to your house today!”

 

   “What?” cried some folks there. “The so-called Son of Yahweh’s going into the house of this famous sinner?  We should’ve known he’d be no more holy than the rest of those con men on the radical religious right.  He’s going for a bribe – why else would he stay with that repulsive, crooked little gnome?”

 

He Stood His Ground

   I like the way the New Jerusalem tells us that Zacchaeus “stood his ground.”  He might’ve been small of stature, but he didn’t get to be the collections king by acting wimpy!  If he could fight through the mob, if he could climb a sycamore tree, he could probably knock a few heads together. 

   (Funny how every time Bible believers stand their ground, some sinner will point a yellow-stained finger and blubber, “You say your a Christian!  Christians don’t do that!  Christians turn the other cheek!”) 

   Zacchaeus fearlessly justified himself from the top of that sycamore tree in earshot of every irritating, treacherous critic in Jericho, and the Son of Yahweh, too!  He cried,

   “You people, call me a sinner if you dare to judge The Righteous One.  (For this is what the name Zacchaeus means.)  You were there when John baptized me.  Didn’t John say, ‘You with two coats share with those who haven’t any, and you with food, share’?  Well, I do far more than that.  Yahshua, sir, I give half of everything to poor people – half of everything. 

   “And didn’t John command tax collectors like me to ‘Collect the tax; but no more’?   If I take too much, I give back four times the difference, far more than required in Leviticus Six. 

   “And didn’t John command us not to blackmail?  You might think me a gruesome elf, but y’all know that I could pound the peas outta any three of ya if I had a mind to – or pay some Nephilim goons to huff and puff and blow your house down; but have I ever blackmailed anyone here?  No, I haven’t. 

   “I’ve done nothing but good for you people when I could’ve done you a whole lotta hurt. 

   “Yahshua, sir, have mercy on me!  I’ve more than proved that I fulfill the law of love, even though I’m pretty d*mn mad at my neighbor just now.  Amen?”

 

What’s the Difference

   Well, Zacchaeus sounds a lot like the Pharisaic ruler who boasted in his holiness, and from a treetop at that.  Yes, they did sound alike – bragging in their good deeds – claiming to fulfill the Law and love the neighbor.  However, there’s one huge difference.  That difference has nothing to do with profession, social class, religious distinctions, or haughty outbursts.  The difference is that the ruler lied about his obedience and the tax collector told the truth.  The Pharisee had made a career of the Law but not only didn’t keep it, but lied to Yahweh’s messenger. 

   Zacchaeus was thought by all to be a wretched sinner because of his job, but he kept the Law Yahweh and was thus justified before the Law; and he was justified in justifying himself when he was cornered by this mob.  Obviously, Zacchaeus had, at one time or another, found himself in that temple where no other tax collectors dared go, looking at the ground, and crying out to the Father in Heaven, “Have mercy upon me, a sinner.”

   And didn’t we determine that Yahshua knew hearts?  It wasn’t because Zacchaeus’ speech was so compelling that Yahshua counted him righteous, but because he knew the tax collector’s heart.  Zacchaeus, you come down!  Let me lift you up!  For I’m coming to your house today! 

 

 Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector.  [But] this [tax collector] went home again justified; the other did not. For everyone who raises himself up will be humbled, but anyone who humbles himself will be raised up” (Luke 18:10,14).

 

What Became of Him

   Further preaching is futile considering how obvious the morals of these three narratives are; namely, the story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, the Biography of the Rich Ruler and the History of Zacchaeus. 

   What isn’t so obvious is what became of Zacchaeus after Yahshua left his house.  The Bible says no more.  But according to The Recognitions of Clement (II.1, Clement, Peter’s traveling companion and successor), Zacchaeus didn’t only give half his goods to the poor; he ended up giving all and following Yahshua, then Peter, into the upper room. 

   Clement expressly tells us that Zacchaeus was called on to moderate the dispute between Peter and Simon (Magus) the Magician (Acts 8:9-24).  Peter had laid hands upon Zacchaeus and consecrated him bishop of Caesarea, where Yahshua had headquartered his movement, and where Peter’s home was located.  Zacchaeus then became Simon Magus’ pastor.  Peter appointed twelve disciples in Caesarea with Zacchaeus, including Lazarus and Nicodemus. 

   In beautiful Caesarea on the Sea of Galilee, many came to learn of repentance and justification.  And who better to teach and baptize these new disciples than the wee little big man who humbled himself before Yahweh and, in due time, was exalted?

 

Sermon Checkoff  (Not in order – more fun this way.  Can you get them all?)

[   ] Luke 19:3. “Zacchaeus was a wee little man.”

[   ] Luke 18:14. “Anyone who humbles himself will be raised up.”

[   ] Luke 18:13. “Be merciful to me, a sinner.”  

[   ] Justification: “freed of the guilt and penalty attached to grievous sin.”

[   ] Luke 18:20. “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not kill; You shall not steal...”

[   ] Luke 18:11. “I thank you, God, that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like everyone else...”

[   ] Luke 18:14. “Anyone who humbles himself will be raised up.”

[   ] John 2:25. For Yahshua himself knew what was in man.

[   ] Luke 3:13. John bid tax collectors to “Collect the tax; but no more.”

[   ] Luke 18:21. “I’ve kept all these since my earliest days.”

[   ] Luke 18:27. “With Yahweh, all things are possible.”

[   ] Luke 19:8. “Zacchaeus “stood his ground.”

[   ] Luke 19:5. “Zacchaeus, you come down!” 
[   ] 1 Timothy 6:10. The love of money is the root of all evils.

 

 

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[1] Humility: See Matthew 18:4; 23:12, Luke 14:11; 16:15; 18:14; Philippians 2:3,8; James 4:6,10; 1 Peter 5:5,6.

[2] Ruler: (arcwn, rulers)

[3] Pharisee: The nature of the ruler’s answers indicates he was a Pharisee, which was a sect of laity who had no rule against being rich.  Sadducees didn’t have synagogues and Essenes took a vow of poverty.   Jairus in Mark 5:22 was a synagogue ruler, though the type of synagogue isn’t mentioned.  However, the same word is used for both.

[4] Corban: “It occurs only once (Mark 7:11). It means a gift or offering consecrated to God.  Anything over which this word was once pronounced was irrevocably dedicated to the temple. Land, however, so dedicated might be redeemed before the year of jubilee (Lev. 27:16-24). Our Lord condemns the Pharisees for their false doctrine, inasmuch as by their traditions they had destroyed the commandment which requires children to honor their father and mother, teaching them to find excuse from helping their parents by the device of pronouncing “Corban” over their goods, thus reserving them to their own selfish use. –Easton’s 1897.  For a message on Mark 7:11, see “The Corban Conspiracy.”

[5] Front Row: Luke 19:4 prodpamwn eiV to emposthen – “having run forward into the front.”