My friend, the tax collector

A Christian Science perspective: Biblical tax collector Zacchæus shows by example what it means to be transformed by Christ. 

In the height of tax season here in the US, I’m reminded of the Bible story about a man named Zacchæus, who was a tax collector – a publican – in Jericho. It’s likely that he didn’t have many friends. Tax collectors in biblical times were not popular. The system was corrupt. The collector could set a rate higher than the Roman government required, and the higher the rate the more money he could keep for himself. Zacchæus was a rich man, so evidently he had done very well for himself, but through questionable means.

One day, Christ Jesus was traveling through Jericho. Zacchæus’ desire to catch just a glimpse of that holy man was so great that he climbed a sycamore tree to see over the crowd. When Jesus singled him out to tell him that he must spend time at his house that day, Zacchæus “received him joyfully” and not only this. Zacchæus was so inspired by Jesus’ recognition of him that he vowed to give half his wealth to those who needed it. He even promised to repay fourfold everything he had taken dishonestly (see Luke 19:1-9).

Such a profound change in character indicates to me that the dawning of Christly enlightenment in individual thought brings an enrichment of meaning and purpose into our lives that nothing else can. It opens a range of opportunities to love and help others. We begin to find treasures of spiritual qualities in ourselves and our fellow man that we may not have seen before.

The issue is not about how rich we are, nor what our background includes. It’s about the kind of change Zacchæus experienced. The Scriptures and their companion book, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy, who founded this newspaper and Christian Science, show the relevance of the story of Zacchæus today. A thoughtful study of these books reveals that the Christ, the divine nature – which is expressed in man, God’s image and likeness – is always with us. We comprehend man made in God’s likeness as we grow in our understanding of God’s nature of pure goodness. Our encounter with the holy presence of the Christ comes today in the form of transforming spiritual inspiration.

Understanding, even in a degree, man’s spiritual identity and individuality lifts us above worldly fears, furies, and frustrations. With Zacchæus, it started with a desire to see Jesus, but he was really being drawn to the transforming influence of the Christ, which Jesus represented. His first step was to climb upward to see above the crowd, and later as he stood in the presence of Jesus, his life was profoundly transformed. The change was not so much self-improvement as it was self-discovery. Jesus’ recognition of him as a loved, pure child of God allowed him to recognize his own value and worth as God’s expression.

Sometimes, whether in the midst of material wealth or lack, our hearts yearn to know we are loved and valued. But we, too, can take that first step that lifts us above the crowds of fear and limitation, and begin to glimpse man’s true God-given nature. It may appear as a change of character, but it’s really man’s innate Christlike nature becoming apparent. A new you – which is the forever you that God created – is emerging. Self-improvement is good, but self-discovery is infinitely better. And anyone who shows by example what it means to feel this enriching, transforming touch of Christ, like Zacchæus, is someone I would be glad to call a friend.

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