11/11/07, Pledge Campaign
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. Let me say that during our brief friendship he came to experience the same Christ that Zacchaeus met on that fateful day in Jericho. Let’s look at this story that millions have identified with over the last 2000 years.
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 Zach was shunned and 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 new in his empty life. He wanted to change but didn’t know how. One of my old preacher heroes used to say, “It was Jesus’ look that redeemed Zacchaeus!” We too have had moments that mattered most: This conversion/redemption/salvation has happened to us.
Everybody saw Jesus going home with Zacchaeus, the big sinner and the big dinner. 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.” Zacchaeus’ magnanimous response to Jesus sets an example for everyone who meets Jesus in their hearts. This is the norm of evangelical Christianity.
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 the rest of us.
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. Some folks do not need to look any farther than their check book record.
At Stone Mountain First Church 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 magnanimous giving to our church. 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. Bigger giving changed his attitude toward life. 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.
Malachi 3: 10, the New American Standard Bible, the closest to the original text:
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse,
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.
Our challenge is to become magnanimous givers through our church!
sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor