Have you ever been to a parade, or a concert or a sports event where you couldn’t see much more that a sea of hats or heads? When that happens, a periscope may be just what you need – you know, one of those things they use in submarines to see above the surface of the water … you can see over tall objects, even around corners.
Well, today’s story is about such a situation. A man went to a parade, but couldn’t see above the crowd. The main attraction in this parade was man who had become quite famous because he had performed many miracles. He had raised people from the dead and restored sight to the blind; he cured people of leprosy and drove out demons. This man Jesus, Luke tells us, was passing through Jericho. Notice He wasn’t intending to stay overnight. The atmosphere was like a circus parade. People lined the streets hoping to get a glimpse of Jesus. Zacchaeus REALLY wanted to see Jesus! But he was small of stature and he didn’t have a periscope
Remember the song …. Zacchaeus Was a Wee Little Man ….
So what’s a short guy to do? He runs on ahead of Jesus and climbs a sycamore tree. Now, I’ve read that people in the Middle East do not generally run and they wouldn’t be caught climbing a tree. Zacchaeus would have had to run a long way ahead of the crowd to have time to climb up this tree and get a view of Jesus. The law – the city codes – did not allow the planting of sycamore trees within the city limits. They had to be planted at least 75 feet outside the city walls. So, Zacchaeus had to run past everyone in town to climb up that tree. Now, just imagine that parade of people surrounding Jesus. Most had their attention focused on Jesus but surely some would have spotted the little thieving rich guy climbing up in the sycamore tree.
Jesus arrives under the tree and looks up to Zacchaeus. Their eyes meet. Jesus called Zacchaeus by name. He made eye contact, and spoke to him face to face. Jesus communicated to Zacchaeus that he was glad to see him. How embarrassing for Zacchaeus. You can just hear the people taunting him, shouting insults, and calling him names. Jesus knew everything there was to know about Zacchaeus, yet He still loved him and still had compassion on him. What a picture of grace! That’s how it is for us, too. Jesus knows everything there is to know about us, but He still loves each of us.
Jesus silences the crowd and His voice rises above the din of their taunts and shouts. He absorbs the ridicule and shame of Zacchaeus upon Himself and invites Himself over for supper. The people in the crowd were shocked! Zacchaeus was one of the most hated men in all of Jericho. They considered him a thief and a cheat! No observant Jew would dine with this sinner. Yet, Jesus chooses to honor the tax collector by staying at his house. The crowd couldn’t believe it! Of course they grumble. Jesus, on the eve of the Passover, hadn’t planned to stay in town. And now he’s going to stay and eat in an unclean house? Jesus is defiling Himself. Zacchaeus gets down from the tree and gives his famous speech. He promises, if he has ever cheated anyone, to give half of his goods to the poor and restore four times the amount he has ever stolen.
That’s when Jesus makes the bold declaration, “Salvation has come to your house!” Zacchaeus got saved! He was born again! Experiencing the love of Christ, he became more concerned about others.
Jesus doesn’t say that Zacchaeus is saved because he plans on repaying everyone. Salvation has come to Zacchaeus’ house because He is simply lost. In his search for salvation, he humbled himself by making a spectacle of himself climbing up a tree. Perhaps you have heard the saying, “To reach the fruit of a tree, you must go out on a limb.” That’s exactly what Zacchaeus did.
One Biblical scholar has described the paradox in this story. “Zacchaeus is spectacular because he is not like other characters who encountered Christ. He was not called as the disciples were, nor was Zacchaeus suffering from some kind of affliction. What makes Zacchaeus so special is that he was an average man.” Most of the characters in the Bible experience a call from Christ either as a personal invitation or through the public preaching of Jesus. Others sought Jesus because of some affliction. Zacchaeus was different. He was a successful business man – and a wealthy one! An interesting part of this story is that, as far as we know, Zacchaeus did not change jobs after his encounter with Jesus. He did not join the entourage that traveled with Jesus. He was a tax collector before he met Jesus, and it seems he continued collecting taxes after he met Christ. His job was the same, but his destiny was different.
The text says Zacchaeus was “seeking” Jesus. But if I read the story right, Jesus really was seeking Zacchaeus. He came to seek and save all the lost. Zacchaeus tried to climb up to God, but he didn’t get past the lowest branches. Zacchaeus gets to host Jesus that evening because Jesus invited Himself to celebrate the Passover meal. Jesus always ends up being the true host. Jesus invites Himself here today. If you’ve come to seek good news, it’s the same the message Jesus spoke to Zacchaeus: “Come down; salvation has come to your house. I want to dine with you this night.”
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB, Prioress