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Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters

Zacchaeus

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THERE was a soft spot still left in Zacchæus's heart, and that soft spot was this: Zacchæus was as eager as any schoolboy in all Jericho to see Jesus who He was. And like any schoolboy he ran before and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Jesus, for He was to pass that way. And simple things like that, childlike and schoolboy-like things like that, always touched our Lord's heart. Of such is the kingdom of Heaven, He was wont to say when He saw simplicity like that, and self-forgetfulness, and naturalness, and impulsiveness, or anything else that was truly child-like. We would not have done what Zacchæus did. We are too stiff. We are too formal. We have too much starch in our souls. Our souls are made of starch, just as Bishop Andrewes's soul was made of sin. But starch is more deadly than sin. Your soul may be saved from sin, but scarcely from starch. "Curiosity and simplicity," says Calvin, "are a sort of preparation for faith. Nay, it was not without a certain inspiration from heaven that Zacchæus climbed up into that sycamore tree. There was a certain seed of true piety in his heart when he so ran before the press, and so climbed up into that sycamore tree," so says on this subject the greatest of all the commentators upon it.

Had our Lord considered public opinion He would have looked straight before Him when He came to that sycamore tree, and would not have let His eyes lift till He was well past Zacchæus's perch. But our Lord was as simple and as natural and as spontaneous that day as Zacchæus was himself. Our Lord paid no attention to the prejudices or to the ill-will of the populace. The more ground there was for their prejudices and their ill-will the more reason there was to Him why He should stop under Zacchæus's tree and call him to come down. The windows and the walls and the roofs of Jericho were all loaded with sightseers that day, but our Lord did not stop under any of them. It was at Zacchæus's sycamore tree alone that our Lord stopped and looked up and said: "Zacchæus, make haste and come down, for today I must abide at thy house." All Zacchæus's past life, all his real blamefulness, all the people's just and unjust prejudices, and all the bad odour of Zacchæus's class, it all did not for one moment turn our Lord away from Zacchæus's house. Had our Lord asked Himself-What will the people think and say, He would not have imperilled His popularity in Jericho by sitting at the tax-gatherer's table. But one of our Lord's absolute rules of life and conduct was to make Himself at all times and in all places of no reputation. And thus it was that the thought of how Jericho would take it never for one moment entered our Lord's mind. Not for years had any man who wished to stand well with the people so much as crossed Zacchæus's threshold. Zacchæus, with all his riches, was a very lonely man. He was a well-hated and a universally-avoided man. And thus it was that our Lord's conduct that day towards him completely overcame Zacchæus. He could not believe his own eyes and ears. That this great Prophet, whose face he had been so breathless to see, should actually stop and call his name, and invite Himself to his house, and that He should actually be walking with him back to his house! Zacchæus was well-nigh beside himself with amazement and with delight. That halt under the sycamore tree, that summons of our Lord, that walk back together through the astonished and angry streets, and then the supper and the conversation over it and after it-all that entered into and at last completed Zacchæus's salvation. Are you a minister, or an elder, or a missionary, or a district visitor? Then, sometimes, invite yourself to the hospitality of the poor, and the outcast, and the sunken, and the forlorn. Knock civilly at their door. Ask the favour of a chair and a cup of cold water. Join them in their last crust. And see if salvation does not from that day begin to come to that house also.

I cannot get it out of my mind the deep share that Matthew the publican must have had in the conversion of Zacchæus. You remember all about Matthew. How he was sitting in his toll-booth one day when Jesus came up to him and said: "Follow me." And how Matthew left all and followed Him. And how Matthew made Him a great feast, and how the scribes and Pharisees found fault, and said to the disciples, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? And especially, you can never forget our Lord's golden answer: "They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick." Well, do you not think that Matthew must have had an intense interest in Zacchæus that night? Even if the eleven supped and lodged elsewhere in the city that night, our Lord would be sure to take Matthew with Him in order to encourage and to advise Zacchæus. When two members of any craft come together you know how they draw to one another and forget the presence of all the rest, there is such a freemasonry and brotherhood between them. They have so many stories to tell, experiences to compare, confessions to make, and confidences to share, that those who are not of the same occupation know nothing about. It is now going on to three years that Matthew has been a disciple, but it is like yesterday to him to look back to his receipt of custom. And when Jesus suddenly stopped under the sycamore tree that day and said, Zacchæus, come down, and when Zacchæus dropped that moment at our Lord's feet, no one's heart in all the crowd went out to the trembling little tax-gatherer like Matthew's heart. And all that night the two publicans had scarcely broken ground on all they had to tell one another. 'If He calls you to leave all and follow Him, you must do it at once. You will never repent it. You have no idea of Him. What a man He is, and what a master; and, how it is all to end, God only knows. But if He invites you to join us, I beseech you not to hesitate for one moment.' 'Tell me all about yourself,' said Zacchæus. 'What did He say to you? And how did you manage to cut off, and leave for ever behind you, the work and the wealth of your whole life so soon and so completely?' And Matthew told Zacchæus all we know, and far more that we need not listen to, for we would not understand it. Till, what Zacchæus stood forth and said next morning before our Lord, and before all Jericho, was fully as much at Matthew's instance and dictation as at Zacchæus's own repentance and resolution. 'Behold, Lord, I have made up my mind overnight, and I wish you and all men to know it-the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.' Brave little gentleman! By that noble speech of thine thou hast added more than many cubits to thy stature! Thy bodily presence, say they, is weak, and thy height contemptible; but all thine after life will be weighty and powerful!

"It is a determined rule in divinity," says a great divine, "that our sins can never be pardoned till we have restored that which we unjustly took away, or which we wrongfully detain. And this doctrine, besides its evident and apparent reasonableness, is derived from the express words of Scripture, which reckons restitution to be a part of repentance, and necessary to the remission of sins. For these are the determined words of Scripture-If the wicked restore the pledge, and give again that he hath robbed, and walk in the statutes of life, without committing inquity, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of his sins that he hath committed shall be mentioned unto him; he hath done that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live."


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Bibliography Information
Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Zacchaeus'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/wbc/z/zacchaeus.html. 1901.

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