e typically focus on Zacchaeus up the Sycamore Tree, but far more importantly is what he did after he climbed down; after Jesus had invited himself to supper at the rich man's house.
The entire event is a compelling story because we can see ourselves so clearly in it. One of the richest guys in Atlanta came to church because he had seen in the newspaper advertisement that we were preaching on Zacchaeus: He loved this story. That Sunday was his time to get his soul back in tune with God, and he became a fast friend. He would pick me up in the big Mercedes for lunch. He said that his beloved Great Dane and Zacchaeus were the only two things that mattered much anymore.
Zacchaeus didn't have much of a life. Money can't buy happiness. Especially unjust taxes swindled out of his own people. The Jews were like one big family in Jericho , and he was not a happy camper. Nobody would allow him to get in front of them in the line along the main street to catch a glimpse of popular, self-proclaimed Messiah; so, Wee Zach climbed up into a Sycamore Tree because he really wanted to see the Lord. Zacchaeus needed something in his empty life. One of my old preacher heroes used to say, “It was Jesus' look that redeemed Zacchaeus!” You too have had moments that mattered most: It's happened to us.
Everybody saw Jesus going home with Zacchaeus, the big sinner. As always, some who did not catch the significance of what had happened to Zach up the tree carped and criticized. They may have caught on later. Others must have marveled at Jesus' power to restore and save a lost soul. Some of them probably followed Jesus too as his band of Apostles climbed the high mountains to Jerusalem . Some must have been at the Cross and later heard the Resurrected Lord share the Good News.
Zacchaeus' magnanimous response to his new life is the only one recorded from that remarkable day in Jericho . “ Half my possessions I will give… and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much .”
Three hundred years before that day in Jericho , Aristotle had raised magnanimity as the highest achievement of the human soul: The generous act of giving up wealth for others is the most gracious and noble response of the human being.
Magnanimity is an almost divine word. Theologians typically reserve its use to describe the Magnanimous giving by the Father of His Son to save wee Zacchaeus and all humanity.
Jesus had said earlier: “Give and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” As Eugene Peterson loosely paraphrases verse thirty-eight in his The MESSAGE , “Give away your life; you will find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.”
It is true that a magnanimous life, given for others, brings joy and unexpected reward. We need to look no farther than Charles Dickens immortal character study of Ebenezer Scrooge to see it worked out. Some folks do not need to look any farther than their check book record.
At Stone Mountain First we used to get a young banker up every year during the Pledge Campaign to tell his story that caused him to re-commit to Storehouse Tithing. He had a dream in which he was holding in one hand his W-2 record of the big amount that he had earned, and in the other hand he guiltily glared down at his paltry Stewardship Report from his church. Tithing changed his attitude toward life. When we knew him, he was one of those guys whom everybody admired. I ran into him in the Sun Trust Tower a few years back and he had been made the head of personnel for the entire bank. They picked the right guy for the job.
Did you catch that phrase “ Storehouse Tithing ?” It refers to the biblical challenge to give to your home church, the “Storehouse,” your tithe of ten-percent, and then to give offerings to other causes. Here is that familiar passage from Malachi 3: 10, the New American Standard Bible, the closest to the original text:
the whole tithe into the storehouse,
Through His magnanimous love God gave His Son. Likewise, it is through tithing that we can partner with God to share His magnanimousness.
About my rich friend who loved the Zacchaeus story. He closed on one last big deal with Delta Airlines and came by one last time for lunch before he drove the big car into retirement back home in Texas , with his Great Dane in the passenger's seat. His life became one of magnanimous blessings from God. The last time I heard from him he was still reveling in God's blessings. It's promised!
sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor