Once I saw a cartoon that had a picture of a poor man sitting in the sand, naked except for a loincloth around his waist. He had a piece of pottery and was scraping his sores.
A young man in a business suit was coming up behind him, wearing sunglasses and carrying a briefcase that said, “IRS.” The caption said, “Hello, Mr. Job. I hope I didn’t come at a bad time.”
Throughout history people have hated taxes, and as a result, we have not been fond of tax collectors. These feelings were intensified during Jesus’ time, because the tax collectors worked for the Romans who occupied their country. On top of that, tax collectors in Jesus’ day often extorted more taxes out of people than they owed.
So the story of the little tax collector up a tree in Luke chapter 19 has to be one of the funniest stories in the Bible.
Jesus was coming to Jericho, a border town where people often had to pay import and export taxes. The name of the head tax collector was Zacchaeus, and he had gotten wealthy cheating people. Zacchaeus heard about Jesus, and wanted to see him. But he was too short to see over the crowd. Very likely, the crowd took delight in blocking his view. Here was a chance to put that sorry tax collector in his place.
So what did he do? He climbed up in a sycamore tree to see Jesus. When Jesus came to the spot, He stopped and looked up at him in the tree. There was one of Jericho’s wealthiest citizens, hanging out of a tree, his robe flapping in the breeze. The crowd must have snickered at the scene.
But then Jesus did a shocking thing. He said, “Zacchaeus, come down here. I must stay at your house today.” Undoubtedly, the crowd gasped. “The Lord is going to eat with that thieving traitor! Doesn’t He know who he is?” they must have thought.
Then an even more shocking thing happened. Zacchaeus hopped down, had Jesus for dinner, and was so changed by the Lord’s willingness to accept and love him, that he repented of his sin, gave half his money to the poor, and repaid everybody he had cheated. “Today salvation has come to this house!” Jesus rejoiced.
Now here’s the lesson: The very person that you and I laugh at and scorn is the same person that Jesus loves and accepts. He even loves ... this is hard to say ... he even loves the IRS!
(Copyright 2013 by Bob Rogers. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Read this column each Friday in the Herald. Visit my blog at www.bobrogers.me.)