Q + A: Why did Zacchaeus change his mind?

We read the story about Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10.  A very wealthy man, Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector in Jericho, wanted to see Jesus – just look as he passed by.

Because of his profession (at the very least) he was considered unclean and unacceptable by his fellow Jews (tax collector is used almost as a synonym for sinner in the Gospels).  Its likely that Zacchaeus was like most other people in that when explicitly rejected by a group, we tend to bear a level of animosity towards that group and all they represent.

And yet by the end of the episode, Zacchaeus had not only accepted Jesus and his disciples (who are in every way part of the group who rejected Zacchaeus – Jews concerned about faithful obedience to God) to dinner at his house, but he has pledged to give away half of his wealth to the poor (who would by and large also be this same group).

More than that, the poor seem to be a group that Zacchaeus has previously overlooked helping, or felt no significant responsibility for helping.

There is also the matter of Zacchaeus’ pledge to pay back 4 times to annoying he has cheated out of anything.  I think this indicates that Zacchaeus was pretty honest, because if you were regularly cheating people of any significant amount (either individually, or in total), there is no way you could actually afford to pay back four times the amount.

Zacchaeus has undoubtedly changed his mind about some significant things here, and its a good question to ask why.

The Bible doesn’t answer this directly in this passage, so we need to infer from the events, and the rest of the Bible why he changed his mind.

It may be that Jesus’ acceptance of Zacchaeus, and love for Zacchaeus, without any conditions or judgement, contributed to Zacchaeus caring for others.

Jesus regularly preached about God caring for the poor (there are 8 previous mentions of the poor in 7 events in Luke’s gospel alone prior to this event, and the most interesting of these in this instance is in the previous chapter – Luke 18:22 – which I’ll leave you to look up and ponder).  This may have contributed to Zacchaeus changing his mind.

Maybe Matthew’s (previously a tax collector) situation and story as part of Jesus’ followers was significant to Zacchaeus.

All of these things, and similar ones, are possible.  We shouldn’t discount them, but we also shouldn’t make too much of them.

Because many passages in the Bible talk about God being the one who changes us – our hearts and our minds.  The Spirit of God works in us, sometimes quickly and sometimes less so, to change what we value, what we care about, what we desire, making us more like Jesus.

You can read this in passages like Jesus’ discussion of the Spirit’s role in being born again (John 3), Acts 9 (Saul’s conversion), Acts 10 (the Spirit coming on all who heard the message before Peter had even finished speaking, and Peter’s explanation in Acts 11), Romans 2:29, Romans 8:30, and 1 Corinthians 2:14, among many other passages that point to the Spirit of God’s work in changing us.

That does not mean we can’t point to other things that God uses – people, teaching, messages, scripture, actions and so on.  It means that godly change in our lives is God’s work, and that makes is somewhat mysterious.

The more you listen to the stories people tell about how they became Christian, the more you will hear reasons which seem to be too weak on their own to sustain a change in someone, and the more you will realise that becoming a Christian is a work of God – just as the Bible indicates.

And this is the real reason why Zacchaeus changed his mind – because the Spirit of God worked in his heart.

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