I love reading about Jesus’ encounters with people, and find Zacchaeus’ story fascinating.
Jericho was a lovely city with palm trees and rose gardens. We can perhaps imagine the exited crowds as Jesus came through on His way to Jerusalem.
The Bible tells us that because Zacchaeus was short he climbed the tree to get a better view. Could it be that there was also another reason? Obviously he was desperate to see Jesus, but leaving dignity far behind by climbing a tree is not normal behaviour for important government officials! Was Zacchaeus afraid of what the crowd might do to him if he was in their midst? Perhaps being up a tree felt safer.
People’s back stories are interesting because they explain how they got to where they are now. I wonder if from a young age, Zacchaeus’ father had impressed on him the importance of getting a good job with a reliable salary – and that working for the Roman Government would advance his opportunities? I wonder if, like many people, Zacchaeus had been conned by the idea that money and power lead to happiness.
Zacchaeus was certainly a man with a successful career – Chief Tax Collector at the heart of a vast trade network. The tax structure there allowed its officers to cream off money for their own use, so he became rich at the expense of his fellow countrymen as well as collaborating with the occupying power. Cheating other people carries a high price tag. Zacchaeus was deeply unpopular – not a happy man.
On the day that Jesus came into town Zacchaeus may have thought that he was hidden in the canopy of the tree. However, Jesus noticed him straight away and called him down. Unfazed, Zacchaeus scrambled down in full view of everyone. Was this the first time someone had wanted to spend time with him I wonder?
Jesus was often criticised for the company He kept, and true to form, the crowds grumbled when He invited Himself to Zacchaeus’ home. Probably there were many others in that crowd who would have enjoyed a one-to-one with Jesus. But this was Zacchaeus’ day.
It would be interesting to know what was said between Zacchaeus and Jesus at that impromptu tea-party? I have a feeling that Zacchaeus, encouraged by Jesus’ friendship, felt safe enough to share how lonely and unhappy he felt because of the way other people behaved toward him, talking about him behind their hands. Somehow I doubt if Jesus preached a one-man sermon on guilt at him! I think Zacchaeus already knew that much.
I think Jesus would have told him that in God’s great love there is forgiveness for penitent sinners. I think He might also have explained that true happiness is found in relationship with Him – not in possessions or position. God alone can give lasting peace and security and build our self-esteem.
My thoughts are only speculation of course, but something very significant happened that day because Zacchaeus came out of it a changed man, full of repentance. Discovering God’s love set him free to love other people. Now he was willing to go way beyond the requirements of the law in providing restitution to those he had harmed. In God’s great love salvation came to Zacchaeus’ house.
The whole community benefitted from this change and the grumbling crowd had plenty to think about on their way home!
All of us have a back-story – events and decisions made at an earlier stage in our lives, leading to where we are now. Some of our present difficulties may result from poor choices in the past. We reap what we sow. Are we now paying the price through poor health or damaged relationships?
The wonderful thing is that God can redeem situations. He knew Zacchaeus by name and met him where he was. God knows all of our names and treats us as individuals. Whether we are hiding up a tree, behind our front door, involved in an unhealthy habit, a wrong relationship, or an unhelpful group of friends. He knows where we are and wants to meet us there so He can lead us to a better place.
Verse 10 tells us why Jesus spent so much time in the wrong kind of company…. “the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost”. That includes us!
“Lord Jesus, think on me, and purge away my sin:
From earthborn passions set me free, and make me pure within.”
(Synesius of Cyrene, c. 375-430)