Contemporary story of Zacchaeus
'Zacchaeus... Zacchaeus... come on down. I’m coming to your place for a meal.'
The story of Zacchaeus, along with that of the apostle Paul, is among the most dramatic and memorable callings in the history of the Christian church. Both Zacchaeus and Saul heard the voice of Jesus and it turned their lives inside out and upside down. When any one of us hears the voice of God breaking into our life, new beginnings are possible. For Zacchaeus, an invitation surprised him in his hiding place in the sycamore tree - the voice of Jesus, who he thought would never bother with the likes of him.
Everyone loves the story of Zacchaeus - the little man whom everyone shunned (with good reason) but who met with God in the person of Jesus and found a new start in life. His newfound generosity also transformed the town of Jericho where he lived.
The trouble is that his story is so familiar to many of us that we forget the impact it would have had at the time. Here is the story in a new context: the streets of London rather than the streets of Jericho, and drawing on imagery from one of the most famous of London’s money-making board games. What follows is the story of Zacchaeus and his new beginning... based on the Monopoly™ board.
A helpful way in to telling this story would be to talk about popular board games that are enjoyed today. One of the most well-known and enduring is, of course, Monopoly, which was patented over 50 years ago.
Before you tell the story, you might like to talk about some of the playing counters used, or the London streets that are on the board. With a smaller group, you could hand round Monopoly cards that are available in a playing card version of this famous game. At the very least, a big Monopoly board, open in front of you, would be a useful visual aid.
The Bible story is from Luke 19:1-10.
You couldn’t live in a big city without paying your taxes. You couldn’t pay your taxes in this particular big city without meeting the tax collectors. And when it came to raking in the taxes, there was one tax collector who had a monopoly.
Nothing moved on the board of life in this city without going past his 'Go!' and paying him £200. He had houses on Park Lane and hotels on Mayfair. It was enough to bankrupt you, if you ever landed there. No amount of waterworks would change his mind.
Nobody liked this player of the game - this tax collector - this Zacchaeus!
The other players turned their backs on him whenever he went by, wearing his top hat to make him look taller than he was. They sent him straight to Coventry... Street. They wanted to give him the boot, but he had the banker behind him. They hated him because he held all the cards. It was rumoured that he had even stolen from the community chest.
This tax collector even charged for free parking, and ruled with a rod of iron.
The city had had about enough, when by chance - or so it seemed - a new player arrived in town.
This man played by a different set of rules. He was happy to land on Old Kent Road or be seen in Pentonville. He mixed with the politicians in Whitehall, the tourists in Trafalgar Square and the shoppers in Oxford Street.
He was everyone’s Pall… mall. He loved all the players. Nobody was beneath his station.
Even the tax collector was impressed by this angel of a man and wanted to meet him too. So he took a chance one day. Choosing some electric company, he climbed up a lamp post to see the new player pass by in Leicester Square.
But he had the shock of his life... and not just from the lamp post!
‘It’s your turn, Zac,' said the new player, calling him down. ‘I’m coming to your home on Park Lane for tea… today.’
Everyone held their breath with anger and surprise... and missed a turn.
‘Why is he bothering with a man who treats us worse than his Scottie dog?’
‘A man whose lifestyle is decidedly dicey?’
‘A man who is on every board... on the board!?’
Now, nobody knows exactly what went on during that meal. Nobody knows what the surprising player actually said to the surprised tax collector. But everyone knows what happened next.
Zac took a turn... for the better.
Zac sold half his hotels and houses and shared the money with the other players.
Zac paid back the exorbitant rents he’d collected... four times over.
Zac even surprised the banker with his financial generosity!
Zac had decided it was time to start playing the game all over again.
And then it was the stranger’s turn to speak
‘This is why I joined in,’ he said. ‘To help everyone play by the original rules. To take everyone back to the start. To help everyone "get out of jail" free.’
‘And how? All because of... what I will do... at... King’s Cross!'
Some possible words to end with
Jesus called up to Zacchaeus and he found a new beginning.
Many of us try to make our own new beginnings in life - perhaps with New Year resolutions or good intentions - but more often than not, they fail to give us the new beginning we hoped for.
Christians believe that we can find a true and lasting new beginning only through Jesus Christ. That new beginning comes when we open up our hearts and minds and inner ears to the voice of God. God is always speaking, and his call might come from as surprising a place as the path beneath the sycamore tree where we're hiding.
However it comes, it is when we say 'yes' to that voice that real new beginnings can happen for us, our families, our communities, our cities and the world in which we live.
So are you listening out for God’s voice to you... today... right here... right now?