Dismembering an Idol

In Luke 19, Zacchaeus the tax collector was converted. He vowed to give back fourfold to anyone he had defrauded. Imagine a conversation he might have had when returning the money. 

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"Dad, there's a man at the door. He said his name is Zacchaeus."

"Zacchaeus!" Judah's face flushed with sudden anger. "What does he want?" Under his breath he muttered, "The little vermin." His young daughter didn't need to hear that.

"I don't know."

Judah moved brusquely past his daughter, clenching his jaw. If the little weasel even hints at more money, I swear… a thunderstorm of violent thoughts broke in his mind.

When he saw Zacchaeus he exploded, "WHAT?" Zacchaeus reeled slightly from the verbal blow.

"I'm here to return something to you, Judah."

"What do you mean?" The words sounded more like "Get out of my sight!"

Zacchaeus held out a small moneybag. Judah was suspiciously confused. This man had robbed half of Jericho collecting taxes for Tiberius. No one was more conniving and slippery with words. Fearing some kind of set-up, Judah didn't move.

"What are you doing, Zacchaeus?" The cynicism hissed through Judah's teeth.

"I'm dismembering my idol."

Judah's fiery glare turned to stony bewilderment. "What are you talking about?"

"Judah, I know how strange this must sound. And you have every reason not to trust me. I'm here because I've defrauded you. I've charged you more taxes than Rome required and kept them for my wicked little self. I know that you and everyone else knows that. But now I've come to ask your forgiveness for sinning against you like that, and to make restitution. That's what's in this bag."

Zacchaeus held it out again. This time Judah tentatively took it. He looked inside. "There's a lot in here. It's got to be more than you overcharged me."

"Yes. It's four times what I overcharged you. I've got all the records, you know." Zacchaeus smiled.

"Why are you giving me four times what you owe me?" Judah's distrust was not dispelled.

"I'm keeping a vow. I promised Jesus that I would repay everyone I defrauded fourfold."

"You mean the Rabbi Jesus? You know him?"

"I do now. He's in town, as you know. And the other day I wanted to get a glimpse of him. But being, ah, short-legged, I figured the only way I'd see him was from a tree! Wouldn't you know, as Jesus passes by he stops, looks up at silly me in the sycamore and says, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.'"

Judah gave him a puzzled look.

Zacchaeus said, "I know, I know! I was as shocked as anyone! How did he know my name, right? So Jesus and his disciples come to my house and in a matter of minutes my world falls apart and comes together."

"Falls apart and comes together."

"Judah, when I was a boy I was in awe of what I thought money did for people. It seemed to open all the doors to power and pleasure. So I vowed to myself that whatever it took I was going to be rich. And I kept that vow. Back then I had no idea how empty being rich would be. But up till two days ago, I figured it was still better than the alternative.

"But as I sat in my home with Jesus and his disciples, who have nothing, nothing but God—Judah, I've never seen happier people in my life! And as Jesus spoke, it was like his words were alive. My heart burned with a longing for God I had never felt before! And a deep shame that I traded him for money.

"Then it hit me like a cedar beam: I'm poor, not rich! They had God; I had a dead idol: money. They were rich; I was no more than a beggar. They were free. But the only doors money ever opened for me led to dungeons. My world, as I had known it, fell apart.

"And there sat Jesus, looking at me as if he could read me like a scroll. Everything in me just wanted to follow him. I wanted the forgiveness and salvation he's been preaching about. For the first time in my life I wanted God more than… anything! Suddenly, it was like life never made more sense. Before I knew it I was on my feet vowing in front of everyone that, well, that I would dismember my idol."

"Give away your money."

"Right. Well, some of it is your money."

This time Judah smiled.

Later, Judah's wife found him staring at a small moneybag on the table.

"What's that?"

"A tax refund."

"A what?

"I think we need to go hear Rabbi Jesus."

"Rabbi Jesus? Why?"

"I think we're poor."

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Some of our idols need to be dismembered for us to be free of them. Jesus knows what they are and how to help us see them. It may feel like we are losing our world to lose them. That's okay. Jesus said, "whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matthew 16:25).

"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose" (Jim Elliot, October 28, 1949).

Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) is the author of Not by Sight: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of Walking by Faith and serves as the President of Desiring God, which he and John Piper launched together in 1994. He lives in the Twin Cities with his wife, Pam, their five children, and one naughty dog.