When the people of Jericho looked at Zacchaeus they saw the problem. When Jesus looked at Zacchaeus he saw the answer.
When Jesus shows up in Zacchaeus’ home town of Jericho, as usual, a crowd gathered. Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector, we are told he was a small man in stature. Along with many others in the town he was curious about Jesus and unable to see over the crowd, he climbed into a nearby sycamore tree.
This picture of Zacchaeus in the tree is important.
Zacchaeus would have paid a high amount to Rome to be the chief tax collector of this region. This job went to the highest bidder, and as chief tax collector he would have been responsible to Rome for a quota. Anything above that amount would have been his to keep. This created the platform for an unfair system of bribes. Those with adequate resources might have been tempted to bribe the chief tax collector for an adjusted tax assessment, those unable to provide bribes would have suffered from potentially unfair assessments at the hands of an unfair tax-collector. The chief tax collector would have further divided his region into smaller regions and placed deputy tax-collectors over these smaller areas. He would incentivize these deputies with similar quotas and by doing this the system of corruption would become thicker.
So into Jericho walks Jesus, and Zacchaeus because he is short but also because he is alienated from the people of Jericho has to climb into the tree to get a look at Jesus.
Poverty is not simply lack of resources. In the book, Transformation, by Ed Silvoso, Dr. Silvoso outlines the four types of poverty, 1. Material, 2. Relational, 3. Motivational, & 4. Spiritual. As we look beneath the surface of this situation in Jericho, we can see these forces at work.
Zacchaeus who is materially wealthy, is forced into the tree because of his relational & spiritual poverty. No one in Jericho really likes him & his connection to Jesus before their encounter that day was probably nonexistent which left him spiritually poor. Anyone without a relational connection to Jesus suffers from spiritual poverty. The people in Jericho were victims of material, spiritual & motivational poverty. Systemic corruption produces systemic poverty which deeply affects peoples motivational desire to put forth any effort. At their core they are afflicted with the nagging question, “What is the point of me making the effort?” This unseen tangled web is what Jesus walks into in Jericho & he doesn’t ignore it.
Seeing Zacchaeus in the tree you might think that Jesus has him in the perfect place to rebuke him for his corruption infront of the towns people, but instead of rebuking he tells Zacchaeus he wants to come to his house for dinner.
When I was thinking about this picture of Zacchaeus the head of this corrupt tax system perched in a tree, I was struck by the idea of a tree of corruption. How do you bring down a tree of corruption? Many might struggle to differentiate the complex branch structure from the root system, but here we see Jesus going right for the heart of the tree. Instead of openly rebuking Zacchaeus, he dignifies his humanity. He meets his felt need for friendship & it so deeply touches Zacchaeus that he responds by giving half his property to the poor & repaying those who have been victims of his corrupt taxation schemes, 4 times what he took from them.
The kingdom of heaven came to Jericho that day. Not only did the Kingdom come into Zacchaeus’ heart but the transformation that took place in the city of Jericho, would have had a very tangible impact towards the elimination of systemic poverty.