“Zacchaeus was a wee little man.” Those of us who attended Vacation Bible School as children probably learned the story and the accompanying song. He was short, he climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, he was rich, and people didn’t like him because he was a tax collector. Oh, and Jesus went to his house and ate with him. End of story – or is it???
Zacchaeus was trembling with anticipation. Jesus was coming to Jericho! He had heard the stories about the man who could heal the sick. Why, this Jesus even claimed He was the Son of God. Now that was someone worth seeing! Of course Zacchaeus doubted the stories he had heard. Some people would believe anything. Jesus had a huge crowd of followers. Poor peasant people; he supposed false hope was better than no hope at all. Zacchaeus almost felt sorry for them – almost. But then he remembered how much those same people hated him.
“They’re just jealous because I’m rich,” Zacchaeus thought to himself. “They don’t understand that I’m just doing my job.”
His job, tax collector. Not just tax collector, but CHIEF tax collector. Zacchaeus was proud of his title. He had worked hard to achieve that position. Sure, he’d had to do a few underhanded things, paid a few people under the table, granted a few favors – but who didn’t? It was survival of the fittest, and he was a survivor – and a very rich one at that. No, he didn’t feel sorry for those mindless people who blindly followed Jesus. They didn’t even realize that he collected more taxes from them than was required! Stupid people, really. He considered himself superior to them.
But still, he was anxious to see this man that had the hills of Jericho buzzing with rumors. He heals the blind! He heals the crippled! He turns water into wine! Some even claimed that he raised the dead! And the way He spoke, like in riddles. Oh, the most important fact, He broke the Jewish laws! What kind of person would do that, and then defend himself against the rulers of the synagogue. Zacchaeus figured that Jesus was just some delusional man, but he was curious about what drew people to him. And so that day, Zacchaeus left someone else in charge of collecting taxes, with a warning that he would personally count every coin when he returned, and set off to find Jesus. It wasn’t difficult, the crowd of people milling around immediately let him know he was in the right place.
There was just one small problem; Zacchaeus was short. He cursed his height now. It had never really bothered him before. He had his wealth to atone for this glitch in his genes. But now… Zacchaeus attempted to elbow through the crowd. Unfortunately, people recognized him and pushed him back.
“Go back to your money!”, they cried as they stepped on his bare toes.
He quickly realized he needed a new plan. Glancing around, he noticed a sycamore tree. Zacchaeus’ memory went back to a time when he and his brothers climbed trees and threw stones down at people walking by. “Surely I can still climb trees,” he murmured to himself. Sprinting around the crowd, he made his way to the tree. If I can just climb about half-way, I’ll be able to see everything that’s happening, and still hear what this Jesus says, he thought to himself. Grabbing onto the lowest branch with both hands, he hoisted himself up. Peering at the next closest branch, Zacchaeus continued climbing until he reached his intended destination. He made himself comfortable, and waited for Jesus and His followers to come closer. He observed them coming closer and closer.
To his utter amazement – and embarrassment – Jesus stopped at the very tree in which he was sitting! For once in his life, Zacchaeus wished he was even smaller; he didn’t want those stupid people to see him. Why there would be no telling what they would accuse him of, and in front of Jesus too! ￼ As we all know, wishes usually only come true in fairy tales, and this one was no exception.
Not only did Jesus stop at the tree, He looked up into its branches. And not only did He look up into its branches, but He shouted. And not only did He shout, but He shouted Zacchaeus’ name! And not only did He shout his name, but He said He wanted to come eat with him! Zacchaeus quickly climbed down the tree, propelled by a mixture of confusion and excitement. He heard the crowd begin to murmur, their words getting intense and raucous.
“Do you know who he is, Jesus?”
“He’s a thief!”
“He doesn’t keep the law!”
“He’s a sinner!”
“Why would You want to go to HIS house?”
Suddenly, it didn’t matter what they shouted. It didn’t matter that he was hated. As Jesus bent down, eye-level to Zacchaeus, he knew. He knew the rumors were true. He knew this Man was indeed the Son of God. And Zacchaeus felt an emotion he was unfamiliar with. He felt shame. He felt his dishonesty. He felt his snobbishness. He felt his sins.
“Lord!”, Zacchaeus cried, with tears streaming down his cheeks, “I will give half of my wealth to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone, I will pay them back four times as much!”
Jesus looked lovingly into the sorrowful eyes of Zacchaeus, and proclaimed, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”
That’s the key. We, as followers of Christ are to seek out those who are lost. The lost don’t normally come to us; we must go to them. Seek – to go in search of… That takes us out of our homes, and out of our comfort zones. It may take us to places we’d rather not go, places we’d rather not be seen in. But you know, it’s not about us. It’s about Christ, and seeking the lost. After all, where would Zacchaeus have been, had Jesus not sought him out?
Scripture Reference: Luke 19:1-10