Part 4: Why Did the People Grumble?

When Jesus invites Himself to the home of Zacchaeus, why do the people grumble? Shouldn’t they be rejoicing that someone who is most despised is being restored? Or is something else going on? Do they really want what Jesus is doing?

In this five-part series, we are going to discover what it means to be a disciple and to do this we will use the encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus as our blueprint. 

In this episode we are going to find out why the people grumbled, and what this means for us today.

Video Transcript

In our previous episode we have seen that by climbing into the sycamore-fig tree Zacchaeus was taking ownership of his status of a defrauder, and by Jesus calling him out of the tree and inviting himself to Zacchaeus’ home he was restoring Zacchaeus to his community.

But when this was happening the onlookers grumbled. In this episode we are going to examine why there would be discontent if a sinner is restored, shouldn’t that be something to celebrate?

And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.

So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully.

And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”

Luke 19:5-7

Who Were The Onlookers?

So who were the people who grumbled?

As we discovered in our first episode, Jericho was a winter resort town for the aristocracy of Jerusalem. 

This would have included the Priests and Levites who would live in Jericho when they were not required to attend to their duties at the Temple in Jerusalem. About 12000 priests and Levites are estimated to have lived there in the first century.

Jericho also played a central role in the highly lucrative balsam trade and was well connected, so the city would have been home for the well to do merchant class.

So we can expect that those in the crowd would have included Priests, Levites and Merchants.

Even though these people would have been ideologically opposed to what Zacchaeus stood for, and therefore despised him, they also benefited from the system that he represented, and would therefore have worked their relationship with Zacchaeus to their maximum advantage. 

The Onlookers Were Compromised

The High Priest presiding over the Temple in Jerusalem was appointed by Rome. He was not independent. You could say his position was somewhat compromised, as the security of his position depended on remaining in the good graces of Rome. 

The merchant class also benefited greatly from Rome, as it facilitated trade.

In addition to these political considerations, the tax farming method lent itself to corruption, so it would be safe to assume that the elite would have had special preferential relationships in place with the Chief Tax Collector. 

So it was in the interests of the elite not to upset the status quo.

A Fundamental Change

In our previous episode we saw that Jesus coming to Zacchaeus’ home represents the symbolic death and resurrection of Zaccheus, the death of his old nature and his adoption of a new one.

Something fundamentally changed for Zacchaeus when Jesus came to his home.

A Guest Who Dismantles

We find a clue to what this fundamental change was in the words that the onlookers spoke. They said:

He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.

Here we see that Jesus is described as a guest.

The Greek word that has been translated as guest here is the word καταλύω (kataluō).

Καταλύω  (kataluō). is a word that means to dismantle or to disassemble. It is used in the context to dismantle or disassemble buildings, laws or social movements.

With this understanding we can read verse 7 as:

And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to dismantle the man who is a sinner.

Luke 19:7

So the people were grumbling not because of who Zacchaeus was, but because of what Jesus was doing to him.

What Did Jesus Dismantle?

They were grumbling because the restoration of Zacchaeus was complete and included the dismantling of his operation, and this threatened their own position.

As Chief Tax Collector, Zacchaeus was all about enforcing the people’s validation of Rome’s central claim – that Caesar is the Son of God, the High Priest. This is what Zacchaeus’ operation was all about.

The claim that Caesar is the Son of God equates to the claim that Man is God, and we can trace the origin of this claim all the way back to the Garden of Eden – where man ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil so that he could become like God.

This is the original sin. This is what Jesus came to dismantle.

As Jesus restored Zacchaeus everything about his old nature was dismantled, so that his new nature could emerge.

Zacchaeus changed from being a defrauder of God to being a servant of God.

Could Zacchaeus Still Retain His Position?

Now as I have studied the account between Zacchaeus and Jesus I have found that many people claim that Zacchaeus retained his position as Chief Tax Collector after his encounter with Jesus,

But that he now adopted Christian principles to his profession, acting honourably and without corruption.

Whilst this view does address the defrauding that was being carried out by Zacchaeus against his fellow countrymen it does not address the defrauding of God Himself.

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. 

Matthew 6:24

Both Caesar and Jesus were claiming to be the Son of God and the High Priest…

When Jesus restores us it is not purely an academic exercise. It is not something which only occurs inside our minds, or only applies to the spiritual side of our lives. 

Restoration causes a radical shift in our entire life, in how we interact with the world around us, because restoration changes the foundational premise by which we experience our reality.

Original sin, the concept of man as God, has been overcome.

I believe Zacchaeus’ conversion was complete, and that he was fully in. He became fully committed to the God of Israel. Only by being fully committed could he fulfill his destiny… something that would be impossible to do if he still had one foot inside each of the two camps.

The Effect of Restoration

When Jesus restores us it is not an academic exercise. It is not something which only occurs inside our minds, or only applies to the spiritual side of our lives. 

Restoration causes a radical shift in our entire life, in how we interact with the world around us, because restoration changes the foundational premise by which we experience our reality.

Original sin, the concept of man as God, has been overcome.

I believe Zacchaeus’ conversion was complete, and that he was fully in. He became fully committed to the God of Israel. Only by being fully committed could he fulfill his destiny… something that would be impossible to do if he still had one foot inside each of the two camps.

In our next and final episode of this series, we are going to see what the destiny of Zacchaeus was and how he fulfilled it, and we will discover what this means for us today.

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