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The Zacchaeus story is all about how Jesus restores a man from being a defrauder of God to becoming a follower. But what is the purpose?
In this final episode of our five-part series, we are going to discuss the purpose of discipleship… what did Zacchaeus do once he had been restored?
Being a disciple is to be more than a follower, it is to follow with the intention to become like the one that is being followed.
What does a disciple do?
What changed for Zacchaeus after he had been restored by Jesus?
Let’s read the final three verses of our passage:
We see that Zacchaeus does two things:
- He gives half of his goods to the poor
- He restores those whom he has defrauded four-fold
As a result of doing these two actions Jesus declares that Salvation has come to Zacchaeus’ house, since he is a son of Abraham.
What is a son of Abraham?
The nation of Israel can trace its origin back to the patriarch Jacob, who is the son of Isaac, who is the son of Abraham.
God gave Abraham a blessing which defined the destiny of his offspring.
This blessing is recorded in Genesis 12 and verse 3, and says:
Abraham’s offspring, and specifically those of the line of Israel, were to be a blessing to the nations of the world.
How Israel is to be a blessing is recorded in Genesis 18 and verses 17 through 19:
Abraham’s descendants, specifically those descended from Jacob/Israel, would be a blessing to the nations of the world by doing two things, they would exercise:
- Righteousness, and
This defines the destiny of Israel – a nation that exercises Righteousness and Justice, this is what it means to be a son of Abraham.
What does it mean to exercise righteousness and justice?
The Hebrew word translated as righteousness in our passage is the word צדקה (tsedaqah) and the Hebrew word for justice is משׁפט (mishpat).
Both these words describe two different facets of the concept that we know as justice – they are two sides of the same coin.
צדקה (tsedaqah) describes distributive or social justice, whilst
משׁפט (mishpat) describes retributive or legal justice.
So let’s look at these words, one by one.
What is righteousness?
Righteousness, or צדקה (tsedaqah), describes an ethical standard by which people relate to each other, it is about treating others as the image of God.
It is ensuring that people’s basic needs are met.
When we see that our fellow man is the image bearer of God, how we relate to him reflects how we relate to God.
This is righteousness.
What is justice?
Justice, משׁפט (mishpat), can refer to retributive justice – ensuring that the sinner pays the consequences of his sin.
However in the bible משׁפט (mishpat) most often refers to restorative justice.
It goes one step further than retributive justice, which punishes the sinner. Restorative justice seeks to restore the one who has been taken advantage of, to help the vulnerable.
Restorative justice, is about changing social structure, and being an advocate for the vulnerable, in order to prevent further injustice from being perpetrated.
This is what lies at the core of משׁפט (mishpat).
How does Zacchaues exercise righteousness and justice?
When Zacchaeus has been restored by Jesus he is able to exercise both righteousness and justice.
By giving half of his wealth to the poor he is exercising צדקה (tsedaqah), or righteousness. He is performing social justice. He is looking out for the orphaned, the widowed, and the marginalised.
And by restoring four fold that which he has defrauded he is fulfilling משׁפט (mishpat), or restorative justice.
The Torah outlines that the thief is to restore four or five times the value of that which he had stolen. This is what Zacchaeus does.
However, we must remember that a central component of משׁפט (mishpat) is the changing of social structures to prevent further injustice.
This shows to me that the restoration of Zacchaeus, or his conversion, resulted in a radically altered shift in his daily existence.
What determines the standard of righteousness and justice?
The Biblical account does not tell us if Zacchaeus left his position as Chief Tax Collector.
However, it does tell us that Jesus declared Zacchaeus to be a son of Abraham and that he has therefore fulfilled what a son of Abraham is destined to do… to exercise righteousness and justice.
The question then arises by what standard do we exercise righteousness and justice?
Can we, as man, determine this standard, or is this standard determined by God?
Of course, the scriptures are very clear on this. It is God’s standard of righteousness and justice that give life, not man’s determination of what is good or evil.
Therefore as Zacchaeus is fulfilling the aspects of righteousness and justice fully in accordance with the Word of God he is advocating for God. He is declaring Jesus as the Son of God.
Now he can not do this and simultaneously advocate Rome, the two are polar opposites.
In my view, it would be impossible for Zacchaeus to have retained his position as Chief Tax Collector.
THE RESULT OF DISCIPLESHIP
As Zacchaeus is able to fulfil his destiny, as he exercises righteousness and justice according to the standard of the Word of God, something beautiful happens.
Jesus declares “Today, salvation has come to this house”.
This happened instantaneously. Salvation came that day… but not to Zacchaeus alone, rather it included his entire house.
This is an example of the fulfilment of the promise God gave to Abraham… that the nations of the world would be blessed as his offspring exercise righteousness and justice.
When a man casts off his own claim of sovereignty, and declares God as King and submits fully to His Word, not only will he be blessed but so will his family.
As his family is blessed, so is his community. As his community is blessed, so is his country. And as his country is blessed so is his world.
This is what it means to be a son of Abraham.
This is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.