Who are considered the most despicable in our society? The murderer, the paedophile, the rapist, the dictator? Would Jesus have accepted them? Would you? In Jesus' time, the tax collector (publican) was very despised. Rabbinic teachings declare: as one robber disgraced his whole family, so one publican in a family. Promises were not to be kept with murderers, thieves and publicans (Nedar 3:4). The synagogue alms box and the temple treasury must not receive their alms (Baba Kama 10:1). It was not lawful to use riches received from them; nor could they judge or give testimony in court (Sauhedr. 25, sec. 2). Why? Firstly, the tax collectors collected on behalf of the Romans, the oppressors of the Jews. Secondly, most were local Jews. To be plundered by foreigners was bad but to be aided by fellowmen was far worse. Thirdly, many of these tax collectors were in fact extortionists. As any extra tax they managed to collect was theirs. Zacchaeus was a wealthy chief tax collector, it implies that he really creamed the tax system. Yet Jesus opened the door to him. Luke 19:5-7 (NIV) 5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. 7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’” Would we treat the most despicable sinners like Jesus would? With an open heart? And perhaps God may touch their hearts, like He did with Zaccheus?
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