by: Staci Stallings
Human beings seem to be hard-wired to go for something. It might be to win. It might be to succeed. It might be to be the best at something. It might even be to grab as much pleasure as possible by doing as little as possible.
It also seems that we are hard-wired to not just want to go for whatever it is, but to be the best at it. To be the chief of it.
Zaccheus knew all about this hard-wired human drive. You know how I know that? Because the Bible says Zaccheus was the chief tax collector. That means he was over all the other tax collectors. That would be like being the manager of the tax collectors, the supervisor. He wasn’t just some newbie, rookie who was working his way to the top. He was at the top.
Now you also have to understand what being a “tax collector” meant at the time to understand the depth of Zaccheus’ “top” mentality.
Tax collectors worked for Rome, and the Jews hated Rome. Think the Boston Tea Party before there was a Boston or tea.
This was the forerunner story of taxation without representation.
The Jews pretty much paid taxes to Rome for the express reason that Rome owned the Jews and their land. And the Jews held great animosity for Rome just taking their money via taxes.
Add to that, the tax collectors got paid by taking more money from the people than Rome demanded. So if your tax was say $20 (I know, but let’s make this easy). Then the tax collector would come and collect $22–$20 for Rome and $2 for himself.
But here’s the thing. If you decided not to pay the Roman tax, you could be thrown in jail–possibly for a very long time, leaving your family, wife and children, to fend for themselves. You couldn’t say, “Come back tomorrow. I’ll pay you then.” You couldn’t put it on a credit card. You either paid it, or you went to jail.
So let’s say for a minute that you are a Jew back in this time, and the tax collector is coming. How much fear do you attach to that arrival? After all, you may know what Rome will charge, but what will the tax collector add on top of it? What if you can’t pay that? Worse, tax collectors became much like extortionists in that they began to “collect” as much as they could get away with. Instead of $22, maybe he would charge $30. And if you didn’t have it, off to jail.
Do you see why this man, this chief tax collector (who probably collected taxes from the tax collectors in his “downline”) was so hated?
Long story to get to this question.
What are you “chief” of?
When we become “chief” of something, like Zaccheus, we can take our eye off of people. We put it instead on the goal–on the money or the prestige or on ourselves–what we want, what will look best for us, what will give us power. We forget to be servants. We forget to have compassion. We forget about love.
And this chief mentality can creep in some very subtle and sinister ways. For example, I’ve seen it in church choirs, where a choir member is told they are not good enough to be in the choir by the chief. I’ve seen it in schools where the chief leaves others out on the playground simply because he or she can. I’ve seen it in organizations where the chief refuses to listen to anyone else’s ideas. I’ve seen it in relationships–parents to children and between spouses–where one opinion always wins, and no one else gets a say. I’ve seen teachers with a chief mentality and bosses with a chief mentality. I’ve seen managers with this mentality–lording their power over workers who must comply risk getting fired. I’ve even seen this mentality in esoteric situations like writing–where certain authors set themselves up as “chiefs” and dictate to others what can and can’t be written.
I’m sure you have many other examples.
I think that Jesus’ answer to the chief mentality was best displayed when He washed the feet of the disciples. In Jesus’ Kingdom those who want to be first must serve, not be served. You don’t acquire a high seat in the Kingdom. You don’t get to be chief because you understand that God already is, so that is not even your goal. Your goal is to serve as many people as possible. Forget about being “chief.”
So the question, “What are you chief of?” should make us stop and think, “What am I pouring my life into trying to be a worldly chief? And how can I turn that around and instead be a servant?”
In the work place, maybe the manager calls everyone in and says, “I want us to be a team. So you tell me what you need to be able to work better?” Maybe an organizational leader says, “Tell me your best ideas” and then listens and incorporates those ideas. Maybe the parent says, “Let’s sit down and work out how we can make this work for both of us” rather than me dictating everything.
In fact, I just had a conversation with my 13-year-old the other day. I said that years ago I heard someone say that when you’re a parent, you start as the hands-on worker with the child. The child’s schedule is determined by you. What the child eats, what they wear, everything is determined by the parent, and that power is seductive. The problem begins when a parent needs to move from manager to supervisor and then from supervisor to consultant. If as a parent you don’t or can’t make that switch, you will have an extremely contentious relationship with your child. Put another way, as the child gets older, you are no longer the “chief.”
The truth is, the older you get on this cycle, the less “chief” you will be. You will have even less of a managerial position with your grandkids than you did with your kids. You will have even less with your great-grandkids. Each generation, you are required to relinquish more control. It’s a lesson I think that is woven into the very fabric of being human. So learn to let go of being “chief.” Let God take that position in every situation in your life. I guarantee you, it will greatly reduce your stress level!