But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.” Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.”[Luke 19:7-8]
Over the course of three years, Jesus had amassed a large following. Undoubtedly the vast majority of people who had gathered in that crowd had heard of him in some way or another. We know that he had healed all the sick from whole villages, thousands of people, and so that would have brought him a large degree of infamy. To this end, the biggest name in ancient Israel at the time just declared publicly that he MUST stay at one of the house at one of the most hated names. They all complained. They grumbled. The parallels to the prodigal son, again, are staggering. The Father just welcomed the son home, greeting him and kissing him and rejoicing. And when they saw it, like the older son, they began to grumble. They never got it. People of Israel never got it. All the way to the end they’re holding on to their vile, damning self-righteous religion while Jesus is saving sinners. This scene shows the difference between the heart of God and apostate first century Judaism.
When they saw this scene, they did not thank God for showing his grace, but became upset that God was showing his grace to someone they feel didn’t deserve it. This is absolutely predictable. The mentality was that no self-respecting Jew would ever expose himself to such severe pollution by staying at the house of the chief administrator of taxation, the most corrupt of all tax gatherers and then to eat a meal with him and to sleep at his house. It was an absolute outrage.
Though I do wonder if perhaps this should have come as a complete shock. After all, Jesus had a history of this. He healed lepers, told stories of tax collectors being justified before God prior to this, and had become to be known as a friend of sinners and prostitutes. Though not all would have known these things, so they justifiably upset. Not only that, but there were more than likely people in the crowd who were merely looking for some action on the part of Jesus to take them on the last few steps to being convinced that He’s the Messiah, and instead He does something that would literally undo all of their previous idea that He would be the Messiah by defiling Himself in this way. It’s against the grain of everything that was a part of their religious thinking.
And yet he declared his intention to associate with Zacchaeus publicly. He said that openly. Jesus knew that that was a serious breach of Jewish expectation. If they thought He was the Messiah, if they thought He was the man of God, if they thought He was the prophet of God, if they thought He was holy and righteous, if they had any inkling along that line, this would utterly and completely floor them because you didn’t go to the house of a man like that and you didn’t say overnight at the house of a man like that. In fact, that action was tantamount to sharing in his corruption. Zacchaeus was a sinner. They were not. And that is why they grumbled.
Look at Zacchaeus’ reaction to the criticism and shame he is bringing on his guest. First, he stands up, indicating probably that he had fallen to his knees before Jesus. He was bowed down, weak in the knees so much that they had apparently buckled. He was prostrate, overwhelmed with emotion, but now he stands. It is the overwhelming unbelievable joy of an aching heart, of an empty heart having a meeting with someone who represents God. He was eagerly joyous though he must have been stunned. It doesn’t say he received Him with fear.
Next, he offers to give half his possessions to the poor. The rich young ruler in Luke 18 had trouble disposing of his wealth, but not Zacchaeus. In one stroke he pledges half his possessions to help the poor. Here is a fledgling disciple who does not love money, but has his priorities in the right place. Immediately the transformation showed itself up right in the realm where his sin was most dominantly manifest. He became like the Macedonians in 2 Corinthians 8, generous to a fault. Zacchaeus’ acts of repentance were both genuine and required if he is to remove from Jesus the shame of associating with him. And so what does he do? He confesses him as Lord. The first words out of his mouth were Behold, Lord.” This detail is foundational in understanding what has taken place here.
His next words are promises of generosity and restitution. he wasn’t making up arbitrary numbers and amounts in his head. Instead, he would have gotten it from Numbers 5 “Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 6 “Speak to the children of Israel: ‘When a man or woman commits any sin that men commit in unfaithfulness against the LORD, and that person is guilty, 7 then he shall confess the sin which he has committed. He shall make restitution for his trespass in full, plus one-fifth of it, and give it to the one he has wronged.’“ This was pretty much the Jewish standard. Twenty percent, one fifth, would have been what was necessary in restitution.
If you stole something from somebody, or defrauded them, you were required to return what you had taken plus twenty percent, which would cover something of the lost interest or accumulation that could have been gained by whatever it was you stole. Zacchaeus then could have offered that twenty percent and under any law that would be sufficient. Or he could have done it another way. He could have based it on Exodus 22, which in the case of an ordinary robbery, you paid back double. Zacchaeus could have decided to pay back two-fold. That would have been more generous than twenty percent, as now you’ve gone to two hundred percent.
So why did Zacchaeus say fourfold? Because in the first verse of Exodus 22, it states “If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and slaughters it or sells it, he shall restore five oxen for an ox and four sheep for a sheep”. That is, if you robbed someone with violence and destruction, a fourfold response was required. Zacchaeus went to the max.He didn’t cower and quibble and try to respond with them most minimum requirements he could get away with, but rather was so aware of his sin that his offer was tantamount to saying “I accept that my thievery and sins are the worst, so let me perform the maximum demonstration of obedience to show my repentance.” It was an acknowledgment of his actions and his desire to make it right.
There wasn’t any law that said give half of everything you have to the poor. He would have probably given more, but he needed to keep half because he was going to give back four hundred percent of what he had defrauded people of to the maximum of Old Testament allowance. This is the kind of obedience that marks the one who has denied himself, taken up his cross and followed Christ and doesn’t live on the minimal but lives at the maximum level of obedience. He acted as if every illegitimate defrauding taxation was destruction, violent, devastating. No protestations. No excuses. No attempts at self-preservation or to maintain a degree of pride and rightness.
Only a mark of great and holy repentance.