Zacchaeus was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” Luke 19:2-5
Why can’t we all be like Zacchaeus? It only takes ten verses for this guy to make a dramatic spiritual transformation.
Zacchaeus starts out as the baddest of the Jericho bad. He’s is a tax collector, which means that he is a traitor, a Jew who collaborates with Roman colonial rulers. He’s a chief tax collector, which means he’s one of the most important traitors around. And he’s a rich chief tax collector, which means he’s great at extortion.
Zacchaeus is the baddest of the Jericho bad. But, for some reason, he is interested in Jesus. He can’t see Jesus over the crowd, and he can’t get through the crowd — so he runs ahead of the crowd and he hoists himself up into a tree.
Earlier in the gospel of Luke, there are plenty of stories of rich men getting a hard time from Jesus. We have every reason to suspect that Zacchaeus is next. But instead, Jesus asks him to come down from the tree, and invites himself over for dinner. And that’s all it takes. The next moment, Zacchaeus promises to give half of what he owns to the poor, and pay four times what he owes to anyone he has defrauded.
Why can’t we all be like Zacchaeus? Well, most of us don’t start out as the baddest of the bad. SBut it’s not only our unexceptional back stories that create a stumbling block. Living a faithful life is a project that just keeps going, even if we have big revelations and life-changing reversals. We keep facing new and complex decisions. Remembering to love God and neighbor every day is a challenge.
Some people even wonder about Zacchaeus. Does he really follow through on his promises? And even if he does, what happens next? Does he resign his post as a tax collector? Does he develop a new relationship to his people, his faith, his God?
Whether we take Zaccheus as a role model or a warning, I hope we can embrace some of the enthusiasm of his interaction with Jesus. As we make our everyday choices, may we discover our own thirst for divine encounter, and be refreshed by God’s extravagant response.
God, you come to our hometown and walk right down the street. Help us to run ahead and climb a tree, or do whatever it takes to see who you are and learn how to follow you. Amen.