He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 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 down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” Luke 19:1-10
My husband and I were enjoying a seafood lunch at a restaurant overlooking a harbor, when we noticed this little guy sitting on a boat.
The gull was holding a starfish in his mouth. A great catch. More than he could eat, literally. Every couple of minutes he would throw his head back to try to swallow the still-wriggling bounty from the sea, but it just wouldn’t go down. You could see his throat swell with a couple of starfish tentacles, and it looked as though he might accomplish it, but back up it came. Just too big. If only he were a pelican… Other gulls swooped by, to see if they could take his prize, but he ducked his head and held onto the potentially delicious food. He wouldn’t even set it down to peck it into smaller pieces for easier eating, because someone else might pick up the pieces.
What do you think Jesus was talking about the day Zacchaeus decided to set down his wealth so it could be shared? (Remember the old Bible school song—“Zacchaeus was a wee little man…”? It’s about this story.) Zacchaeus had made a living taking from others more than anyone could possibly need, maybe more than he could spend in a lifetime. He was classified a “sinner” by the leaders, because he was a cheat. But the cheat climbed a tree that day so he could hear life-giving words. Those words—whatever they were—moved him to set down his wealth so it could be shared. Perhaps he’d been thinking about it for a while, but that was the day he began. And Jesus commended his generosity by telling him it had brought him salvation. Wow, this one little gesture saved him?
Saved from the downward spiral of greed, saved from the spiritual vacuum caused by having so much that he couldn’t see need—the material needs of others or his own spiritual need. Because this grabby man climbed a tree one day and heard Jesus, he was changed into someone whose life purpose became—not continuing to get more, but the ability to give it away, to set it down so it could be shared.
You can just hear the excitement in Zacchaeus’s words. Had he been energized by cheating his way into having more? Maybe at the beginning. But now he’s energized by sharing the wealth. Letting go enables growth. A small gesture? Maybe. He still has half his wealth, which likely is just plenty. But huge in its spiritual and material impact.
The last time I saw the seagull, he was being pursued by another gull who was interested in the starfish. They scuttled out of my sight on the dock. I don’t know what happened, but I’m guessing neither would have been satisfied with part of a starfish, even though the whole one was too much for either to swallow.
© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2010