After reading through those incredibly intense verses in James 5, I’m left wondering how we can move forward. If our culture teaches us that greed is good, how do we break free of that? How do we choose to use our wealth in a way that honors God instead of enriching ourselves?
As I was processing through those questions with the Lord, he reminded me of the story of Zacchaeus. This man has a whole children’s song written about him, but this is far from just a children’s story. I believe there are profound implications for our lives if we choose to dig in a little deeper.
Here’s how the story goes:
Jesus was passing through the town of Jericho—I think he was strategically passing through that town at that time in order to have a personal encounter with the man, Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector who had made his immense fortune by swindling his own people. Tax collectors were agents of the Roman government who would collect more taxes than the person owed in order to enrich themselves. They were literally stealing from their own people—and Zacchaeus was one of the best. He was the head honcho of this particular Ponzi scheme and was likely hated by just about everyone.
But Zacchaeus was interested in what Jesus had to say. He ran up ahead of Jesus and climbed up into a tree, creating his own box seats for himself. But Jesus spotted him and called him out.
“And 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 and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”” Luke 19:5-8 (ESV)
This is incredible! Jesus intentionally sought out the crook, the unjust businessman, the mob leader and radically changed his heart in an instant. This story reminds me that no one is too far gone for God. And my greedy heart is no match for the love and compassion of Jesus.
In response to Jesus, Zacchaeus adopts a posture of radical generosity that he didn’t have to take. His promise to pay back four times what he stole becomes even more powerful when we understand what was required of him by the Law of Moses.
“…if he has sinned and has realized his guilt and will restore what he took by robbery or what he got by oppression or the deposit that was committed to him or the lost thing that he found or anything about which he has sworn falsely, he shall restore it in full and shall add a fifth to it, and give it to him to whom it belongs on the day he realizes his guilt.” Leviticus 6:4-5 (ESV)
Zacchaeus’s story reminds me that grace will always require more of us than the Law.
According to God’s instructions to Moses, Zacchaeus was only required to give back what he took plus one-fifth. Instead, he goes well above and beyond, which I fully believe was a supernatural act of faith, trust, and heart change. Why else would someone agree to give back four times what was stolen?
I believe that God is calling us to be like Zacchaeus. The remedy to greed is Holy Spirit-led generosity. Every time I start to worry about money or feel tempted to hoard it for myself, I am reminded of this story. Generosity is the antidote for the greed that can so easily come over me.
The beautiful thing is that generosity looks different for each of us. If we love objects, maybe we need to downsize and give things away to those who have less than us. Or maybe we need to start tithing and grow our giving from there. Maybe God is calling you to take a greater leap of faith in your giving.
I believe we each have a next step we can take when it comes to using our money to glorify God. I encourage you to spend some time with him and ask what he’s calling you to do in this season.
Greed is sneaky and tempting, but, thankfully, Jesus can set us free from its clutches. And Holy Spirit-led generosity can help us guard our hearts against this insidious sin.
What stands out to you in Zacchaeus’s story?
How do you practically fight against greed?