Zacchaeus: The Little Man with a Big Story.
-Fr.Jose Therampil sdb
Zacchaeus may well have been the most hated man in Jericho. He was a Jew, but he was employed as chief tax collector for the Romans who had conquered Israel, and were occupying it at the time of Jesus. The Jews looked upon him as a traitor, and the Romans regarded him as useful, but inferior, because he was not a citizen of Imperial Rome.
Zacchaeus was very wealthy, for he collected more money than the Romans required, paid them what they asked and pocketed the rest himself. He had all the material goods he could use, but he was very lonely. He had no real friends.
Well, I think Zaccaeus had heard some stories. Perhaps he had heard how an old blind man named Bartimaeus had been healed earlier that very day, Luke 18:35-43. Zacchaeus probably knew Bartimaeus! May be he had heard the stories about how Jesus had healed sick folks, cast out demons and even raised the dead. May be he had heard about the miracles and the claims of Jesus. May be, in spite of his power, his position and his prosperity, Zacchaeus was a miserable, lonely man who knew something was missing from his life. He had everything but the one thing that mattered and when he heard about what Jesus had done for others, it may have stirred his heart. May be he began to think about what Jesus could do for him. I think that’s why he climbed that tree that day. He wanted help and he wanted peace and nothing he had tried had given him either. When he heard that Jesus was passing through Jericho, he may have thought,
“Surely this Man who has done so much for others can do something for me. I’ve got to see Him for myself!” By the way, it was no accident that Zacchaeus heard about Jesus! God was working ahead through His Spirit in the heart of this little lost man.
Zacchaeus was a tax collector, which meant that most people hated him. He was also very, very small in size, which meant that he probably got lost in a crowd. But Jesus didn’t care about either of these things. Jesus wanted to spend time with Zacchaeus, and Zacchaeus was more than happy to become Jesus’ friend.
Whenever we see Jesus walking through villages and towns in Judea and beyond, we see him constantly breaking down barriers, challenging the status quo, and always reaching out to the rejected and ostracized; even when those people are rejected because they are sinners. Think about the woman caught in adultery, the Samaritans, the tax collectors, the lepers. It is so clear from his ministry that Jesus specialized in bridging the gap not only between God and people, but between people and people.
Zacchaeus was curious about Jesus and wanted to see with his PHYSICAL eyes what all the commotion was about. But God was also working in Zacchaeus’ heart to enable him to see with SPIRITUAL eyes. God wanted the little tax collector to see that Jesus could bring salvation to every single person in that crowd, even a hated outcast like Zacchaeus. God wants us to see Jesus like that, too. When we listen to stories about Jesus and learn about what He said and did, we are like Zacchaeus watching from a distance. But when we truly understand that Jesus is the Son of God who died so that our sins can be forgiven and we can have eternal life, then we are seeing with our spiritual eyes! Jesus stopped right under the tree where the little tax collector was perched did something really surprising. He called Zacchaeus by name! The two men had never met before, yet Jesus knew everything about Zacchaeus. Because Jesus is God, He knew all there was to know about the man in the tree his name, his job, even the number of hairs on his head!
Luke explains that Jesus had no intention of stopping in Jericho, but was moved by the sight of this short man who humbled himself to climb a tree to catch a glimpse of him. Hardly a grand gesture. No request from Zacchaeus is recorded here, nor verbal profession of faith. It is Jesus who calls to him first and says “Today I must stay at your house!” When Zacchaeus pledges to give away his possessions, Jesus explains that salvation has come to Zacchaeus’ house because Jesus did not come to pat the righteous on the back. He came to save the lost- the sinners like Zacchaeus.
God is available and patient. The story of Zacchaeus’ encounter with Jesus brings out both these qualities of God. Zacchaeus desired to see Jesus, we do not know why. However, there were obstacles to his desire. The first was the crowd and the second, his short stature. He climbed a tree; he was willing to face ridicule and being mocked by the crowd. He was an earnest seeker and his search was rewarded. Jesus called him. It was a call to intimacy and companionship; it was a call to friendship. Jesus did not make a judgment about the past or present behaviour of Zacchaeus. It was Jesus’ total acceptance of Zacchaeus.
In this episode, sin and saving grace are meeting; the sinner and the saviour are coming together. This was possible because the sinner took the initiative. Luke tells us that Zacchaeus sought to see Jesus. He was a seeker like the psalmist. He sought the Lord with earnestness. In seeking Jesus earnestly Zacchaeus was also obeying the other command of Jesus, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness…” Mt: 6:33. In accepting Jesus wholeheartedly in his life he receives salvation, which transforms his life both outwardly and inwardly. So we see that, when Jesus comes into a person’s life and gains authority there, selfishness and dishonesty are eradicated.
God, who chose and welcomed into his service, Abraham who was a liar; Jacob, who was a cheat, Moses, who was a murderer and David who was an adulterer etc. now chooses Zacchaeus the sinner and wants to be welcomed by him into his house. The intiative of Jesus breaks through symbolically for all times the oppressive barriers of
caste, creed, colour, race and language. It is worth noting the fact that this episode is placed after the healing of the blind man. In both the cases it is a question of “seeing.” The blind man wants to receive the sight; the former physical sight and the latter spiritual sight.
The story of Zacchaeus illustrates that Jesus loves everyone, he sees the potential good in everyone, and he responds quickly to anyone who truly tries to seek him. There is one thing we can surmise with certainty: after seeking Jesus and deciding to follow him, Zacchaeus was never lonely again. It is indeed a soul-stirring story that reminds us that it is in and through ordinary events that Jesus enters into our lives.
-Fr.Jose Therampil sdb
Kothavalasa – 535 183
Vizianagaram (Dt) A. P
Thank you "Fr.Jose Therampil sdb" for sending your article.-Gabriel(spreadjesus.org)