What Is Restitution?

May 9, 2019

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:8-10

Restitution is a word we don’t hear too often. Restitution is when the perpetrator of wrong restores or pays back to the victim whatever was wrongfully taken from them. Occasionally we hear it in court cases, but not too much in simple personal relationships. But restitution is very important to God and is significant in restoring broken relationships.

Zacchaeus is the subject of a Sunday school story. Perhaps because he is sung about as a “wee little man” in a tree, he is somewhat affectionately remembered. But Zacchaeus was not a sweet little guy; a playmate of sorts for children. He was a hard-driving tax collector and businessman. In fact, he took his business ethics to a real low: He not only worked for the enemies of his people, he participated in fleecing them. New Testament tax collectors were hired by Rome, and they had to give a set amount of the monies collected to the government. But they could add as large a “service tax” for themselves as they could collect. Zacchaeus did that, making himself rich on the backs of the poor.

When Zacchaeus met Jesus face to face, his immediate response was repentance and restitution. He recognized that he couldn’t just glibly say, “Thank God, I’m forgiven! The past is the past, but from now on I will change.” He knew he had a responsibility before God to do what he could to restore the things he had stolen to the people whom he had cheated. He didn’t excuse himself by saying the government said it was okay. He knew it didn’t fit the new person he was becoming to keep what was not his. He gave half of his wrongly gotten possessions to the poor, and then paid back to anyone he had cheated four times what he had taken.

Jesus stepped in then with restoration. He affirmed his belief in Zacchaeus. He told the entire crowd how much he believed in Zacchaeus and said salvation had come to Zack’s house. He identified as Zack’s friend. Restitution proved the sincerity of his heart and set him free from shame.

  • Few things are as restorative as restitution. Restitution allows a new level of trust between the persons involved. It serves as a healing agent in forgiveness. It evidences the sincerity of the one making restitution. It also serves as a great reducer of repeat offenses, and an accountability tool. It eliminates shame. It provides a tangible sense that a debt has been satisfied.
  • Who needs restitution from you? How can you do it?