SUMMARY: I rarely meet men that have life all figured out. In fact, I think most men are looking for something more than they have right in this moment. Most of the time this quest is connected to discovering our greater purpose through deep change. In this Resolute Podcast, Vince Miller discusses our search for meaning and purpose through the life of a man who had material wealth yet lived in spiritual poverty, and through his quest we discover our path to real purpose.
RESOLUTE STUDY GUIDE:
I rarely meet men that have life all figured out. In fact, I think most men I meet are looking for something more than they have right in this moment. Most of the time this quest is connected to discovering our greater purpose through deeper change that will result in increased impact on the world. Who does not want that? And while sometimes this desire for more can lead us toward self-fulfillment. But I believe the fact we have this desire for purpose is evidence of God, since fulfillment of our purposes can only be found in God himself.
Our quest for purpose is often resurrected most in the challenging moments of our lives. The moments we feel overwhelmed, where we experience the limited impact of our human efforts. I know many men, just like me, feel pushed to the brink and these moments reveal the truth about us. We have over spent our income. We have over extended our time. We are isolated from real relationships. We are unhappy with our jobs and our career choices. And we even feel unfulfilled in the church we attend. And it is in these moments we come to ask the deeper questions that relate to purpose.
I meet men all the time who feel this way, but this is only revealed in moments of real transparency. We just work especially hard at hiding our desires from others for fear of being found out. Therefore, in public we pretend to have life all figured out, and in our families, we fake our way through the challenges, until the moment we cannot take it any longer. And in our desperation, we explode or implode as we face the reality of the plethora of decisions that got us to this point of utter frustration. And there is not a man listening today, including myself, who has not felt this way. Yes, even I, working in ministry over the last 23 years have felt this way many times in my life.
In our story, today, we are going to look at such a man. At least one who I believe was desperately seeking purpose and change. The story today is found in Luke 19:1-10 and is a fantastic story that has much to teach us about God and the change we want. Follow with me as I read Luke 19.
“He [that is Jesus] entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. 5 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.” 6 So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 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.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
There are several observations that are important to this story that I want to draw out.
First, the city of Jericho. This was the first city that Israel conquered coming into the land from the wilderness. This was a well-known toll town for people passing through between Judea and Perea. This was a great place of travel and therefore industry and commerce. Jericho was also a popular location to produce balsam, which was a resin from plants used for medicine in their day. This meant someone of Zacchaeus’ occupation, a tax collector, would have been critical to the Roman empire in this location.
Second, notice Zacchaeus was a “chief tax collector,” meaning he was at the head of the local tax system, and he would have overseen numerous other tax collectors. Essentially a person of this occupation was a private subcontractor by the government who would tax travelers usually along a roadside. Roman officials favored hiring locals, who were motivated by money, who also understood the region, its people, and the land. Some had so much work that they often hired subcontractors, like Zacchaeus does here as a “chief” tax collector. And the way a tax collector would make money, was to inflate regional taxes. While the Roman government wanted their commission, they gave a lot of freedom to these contractors which resulted in widespread corruption. Because of this the occupation attracted devious people who were not well-liked.
Third, notice the grumbling of the people. The people are not excited about Jesus’ interaction with this tax collector, and even shocked by his engagement. But this is our Jesus, always messing with our perceptions of Him and our paradigms of the world. The people had their viewpoint on men of this occupation, and throughout the Gospels tax collectors appear to play a type of sinner. And Jewish religious officials went one step further and declared them religiously unclean and isolated them from religious service and interaction. Even Jesus himself, twice in Matthew, categorizes tax collectors in the camp with prostitutes and unbelievers. But here Jesus does something quiet surprising.
What follows is what I love about my God. He notices immediately that this small man is looking for big change in his life. Zacchaeus climbs a tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus. And I assume that his behavior is a result of issues in his own life like relational loneliness, occupational dissatisfaction, and spiritual poverty all emanating from what – extraordinary financial wealth. Even though he is wealthy by the world standards, the resultant poverty is killing his soul’s real need. He is looking for something more. He desires deeper meaning, purpose, and change. And while the text does not explicitly state this, I have always seen Zacchaeus as the epitome of the successful businessman who is materially satisfied and spiritually devastated.
I would assume that Zacchaeus is asking all the great metaphysical questions in his mind. The ones he is too ashamed to ask, but knows he needs the answer too. Questions like, Who am I? What is my purpose? How do I find meaning? Why am I so empty? How do I find significance? Why are my relationships falling apart? Why am I so empty?
What is beautiful about Jesus is that he knows Zacchaeus’ quest. I love that everyone else misses this, but God gets it. And Jesus does the most compassionate thing he can do for this confused man. A man that cannot communicate his heart effectively, express his emotions adequately, or even understand completely his spiritual, occupational, and relational confusion. And what does Jesus do? Well he invites himself over for dinner. I love it! What better way to get a self-made man to open-up than to stroke his reputational ego and simultaneously give him the thing he wants more than anything – a real purpose. And this is not just any dinner guest, this is the God-man. The man who defined purpose. The one who will resolve his quest for purpose. And while the crowd heckles, Jesus’ dinner experience with this man, changes everything. He discovers in a single meal fulfillment, purpose, and wholeness. And I am not talking about a full stomach but a full life. Somehow in the short time he spent with Jesus he found everything he was missing. Something so valuable that he was willing to give away half his income, and repay four times over any transaction where he lacked financial integrity.
As I read this story, I am reminded of two other stories in the New Testament. The first is the parable of the treasure hidden in the field. It tells about a treasure discovered in a field that is worth so much, that the person who discovers it will do anything to purchase the field that contains the treasure. The second is the story of the rich young man. The one who came to Jesus searching for eternity, but left with nothing, because he rejected selling his riches and giving them to the poor. These two stories combined with Zacchaeus’ story communicate a very important point. It is this; if we are looking for purpose and change the question is not so much what is my purpose, but rather, what am I willing to do to find my purpose?
And this is where Zacchaeus teaches us all something about what he willing to do to find his purpose. And I have identified five willing actions I see in Zacchaeus example.
First, get uncomfortable. Are you willing to get uncomfortable? Zacchaeus welcomes a religious stranger into his house who for all he knew could have ridiculed him. Welcome change means welcoming the unknown.
Second, take steps with small decisions. Are you willing to take steps with small decisions? Zacchaeus climbs a tree. Maybe you need to do the same, but not literally, but figuratively. Sometimes we forget how many decisions got us into the mess we are in. How did we get here? Well with a lot of little decisions and the only way out is through, well, a lot of little decisions.
Third, consider extreme measures when appropriate. Are you willing to consider extreme measures? Zacchaeus gives it all away. It might be necessary to rid ourselves of somethings in life that are getting in the way of our purpose. So maybe you need to do some house cleaning with all the clutter that is keeping you from purpose and true fulfillment.
Fourth, stop letting the obstacles get in your way. Are you willing to overcome the obstacles that are in your way? Zacchaeus chose to not let the prejudice of others keep him from dealing with his deeper issues. I know I sometimes let the perceived or real prejudices of others impact how I feel, think, and behave. While these prejudices have slivers of truth they often have shreds of falsehood in them. We must live beyond them and stop letting them get in our way.
Fifth, take responsibility for your actions. Are you willing to take responsibility for your actions? Zacchaeus was willing to pay it back. I think this step is very redemptive for his soul and relationships. When we are looking for purpose we must realize that we have kept purpose from ourselves and come to terms with our failure. So own it. Jesus gives us purpose freely in Him, it is us who rejects it, and chooses to live our own way.