Monthly Archives: October 2017

Zacchaeus and Public Opinion

“Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he.” I was introduced to this odd little song with accompanying gestures somewhere between my twenty-third and twenty-eighth birthday. I had never heard children’s songs like this. What a fascinating character, this wee little man.

Zacchaeus “was a chief tax collector, and he was rich” (Luke 19:2). Here was a target for public opinion to heap its scorn. He collected taxes from his countrymen for an occupying nation, the Roman Empire. He was a chief tax collector, a man with underlings to do his bidding. Being rich probably was an incentive for people to stir their scorn with envy. And, oh yes, “he was of short stature” (Luke 19:3).  When people feel powerless in the face of a grinding bureaucracy, it is tempting to seize upon any seeming advantage. Surely, it was no different in those days. A wee little man was he.

This object of public hatred had many honorable characteristics. The first one recounted in the Bible is “he sought to see who Jesus was” (Luke 19:3).  Many people are like the wayside where seed was sown. Jesus depicted this in the parable of the sower. They have no interest in Jesus. Thus, “the birds of the air came and devoured it” (Mark 4:4).  Zacchaeus, on the other hand, exerted himself to see Jesus. He compensated for being short. He climbed a tree. We can fairly say his interest in seeing Jesus was more important to him than the humiliating commentary surely generated by such a spectacle. Zacchaeus had the humility to set aside his dignity in favor of seeing Jesus. When Jesus told him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house,” Zacchaeus rejoiced. This was more than passing curiosity. He was looking for the hope of Israel.

The crowd complained about Jesus: “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner” (Luke 19:7). Zacchaeus must have felt compelled to explain himself: “Look, 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 19:8). Public opinion paints with a broad brushstroke. How easy it is to be blinded to the good that may exist in areas where we think that it cannot.

Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector working on behalf of an occupying nation and he was rich. On the surface, it would appear he was traitorous, rapacious, and a scoundrel. Think of the Facebook memes people would generate about him if such circumstances existed in our time. How many of us would give a “like” to such a meme? In Jesus’s time, the crowd did not acknowledge that somebody had to do the dirty work of collecting taxes for Rome. How many people were spared the iron fist of the Empire because Zacchaeus was fair? He also must have governed the collectors under him in a fair manner. The fourfold restoration he spoke about would not have been for himself alone, but also for those whom he supervised. Also, with his profit, he helped to lighten the burden of the poor. The public, on the other hand, was blinded to these things. Even if they did not have access to the details of Zacchaeus’ decency, their evil speaking made it impossible to consider anything but their own opinions.

These were voices of murmuring, discontent, reviling, and fear, malleable voices able to be bent to wicked schemes: “the chief priests stirred up the crowd, so that he (Pilate) should rather release Barabbas to them” (Mark 15:11). Undoubtedly, it was opinions like those voiced against Zacchaeus which gave strength to the future rebellion against Rome. Jerusalem was destroyed, and of the temple, not one stone was left upon another.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; and assuredly, I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’” (Luke 13:34-35).

And again: “For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?” (Luke 23:31).

Jesus spoke to Zacchaeus for the sake of those who scorned: “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:9). Jesus began His work among His own, the Jews. Among the Jews there were those like Zacchaeus, decent and honorable, yet scorned. Probably, there were among the scorners lost sheep who, in other areas, were decent and honorable. For the sake of Zacchaeus and the crowd, Jesus concluded, “for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).

It is often quoted, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Yet, this truth can be undermined by public opinion. It is a big voice of generalities playing to our sense of indignation and yes, helplessness. Public opinion can blind us to this fact:  the way of Jesus is strong, not helpless. We have been given the power and the message of overcoming the world. Through Jesus, we can become like Him, the Lamb of God. There is a bigger picture than our worldly concerns: resurrection, redemption, salvation, transformation, the judgment day, the new and heavenly Jerusalem. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

~ Louis Garbi

Save the Children

What are the chances that your children and grandchildren will remain faithful in the church? Not that good.

It’s a disturbing reality, but the facts are hard to deny. Academic studies on denominational churches show that about 70% of all young people will quit attending church within 2 years of leaving the home. In the churches of Christ, it might take a little longer and the percent loss might be a little better, but the facts are nonetheless alarming. Take a moment to consider the faithfulness of children raised in your congregation. In the congregations with which I am most familiar, about 50% of children leave the church soon after leaving the home.

What’s going wrong?

There’s no need to distribute blame, except to acknowledge that the responsibility of raising faithful children belongs to parents. Not the schools. Not the community. Not even the church.

The church should support the work of the parents, enable parents, educate and encourage parents. However, the church should not and cannot replace the work that God gives parents to do. This idea is evident in Malachi 2:15: “But did He not make them one [in marriage], Having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one [in marriage]? He seeks godly offspring.” Procreating and raising godly children is the work of parents. We live in a world which would have you believe that raising children is everyone’s job. You’ve heard the phrase, “It takes a village.” Certainly, I appreciate the idea that everyone can make meaningful contributions to the development of children, but the village can’t take the place of parents.

The church and the community can support the work of parents but they cannot assume the responsibility of parents and cannot absolve the parents of accountability when something goes awry. An example is Nehemiah 13:23-26:

“In those days I also saw Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. And half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and could not speak the language of Judah, but spoke according to the language of one or the other people. So I contended with them and cursed them, struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, ‘You shall not give your daughters as wives to their sons, nor take their daughters for your sons or yourselves…”

Who was ultimately responsible for this failure? Nehemiah didn’t blame the priests. He didn’t call out the community leaders. It wasn’t a failure of the government. The task of teaching children to serve the Lord was the responsibility of the parents. It was the parents who failed to teach them the Hebrew language and the laws of their God. The Jewish leaders deserved some blame, but still the parents were accountable.

So what should we do?

First, we must acknowledge the root of the problem. In a survey of college students who dropped out of church, about 50% said they did so because of “lack of belief.” Essentially, children leave the church because they aren’t fully persuaded in the first place. They spend 18 years in their parent’s home attending their parent’s church, but their parent’s faith never really becomes their faith.

This lack of faith manifests itself in various ways – like decreased church attendance, marrying outside of the church, and substance abuse – but the end result is the same. The child leaves the church for an alternate religious experience or just leaves religion altogether.

This is a well-defined problem and fortunately it has a biblical solution: teaching.

As a father of one young child, I’m no expert on the subtleties of successful parenting, but anyone can see the message for parents in the Bible. Raising a faithful child starts with biblical teaching in the home. Love and discipline are also essential, but teaching must be at the core. Deuteronomy 6:5-8 is a familiar passage on this topic:

“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.”

Spiritual topics should be a constant conversation in your home. Help your children to understand that everything in life relates back to God. When you’re eating, talk about how God created the foods that they’re enjoying. When your child notices the trees changing colors in the fall, talk about how God made them that way just so we’d remember to think about him. Teach them that God made the child in a mother’s womb. Teach them that God put the stars in the sky. Teach them God loves them, and that he’s listening to them when they pray. As a child gets older, your spiritual conversations should mature with them. Talk with them about temptation and sin. Talk with them about love, forgiveness, and God’s plan of salvation. Talk with them about how they can glorify Jesus around their friends. Talk with them about who they should marry and where they should go to church. Talk with them about who you want them to be when you’re dead and gone.

If it doesn’t come naturally, then make plans for it. Write down questions you’ll ask your child. Plan time to read the Bible. When a child has spiritual questions, give them your undivided attention. Nothing you might be doing in life could be more important than helping them to learn about God. Whatever you do, keep on teaching.

~ Tad Morris