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Jesus and Zacchaeus
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich. He 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.’ So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’
Jesus said: … I must stay at your house today.
Yesterday we heard of the blind beggar whose sight was restored as he cried out for Jesus to have mercy on him. We heard of an outcast from society who was restored in a way that could not be brought about by anyone else. Today we hear of another outcast, but one from the other end of the social hierarchy.
Zacchaeus was a wealthy tax-collector. As such he would have been shunned by the entire Jewish community. Tax-collectors were seen as dishonest collaborators with the ruthless Roman occupying forces. Their chosen profession distanced them from other Jews because it was seen as reinforcing a brutal regime as well as providing a source of income that was derived from oppression and sharp practice. Zacchaeus was certainly another outcast, and an outcast who was viewed as being beyond hope. Then Jesus entered Jericho.
Like the blind beggar we read about yesterday, Zacchaeus must have heard about Jesus. Whilst he probably did not consider himself to be in need of ‘healing’, his curiosity was aroused. Rumours of Jesus must have been widespread. Large crowds gathered around him to hear his teaching and to witness the power that emanated from him. Zacchaeus was certainly curious, but his efforts to see Jesus were thwarted by his diminutive stature. In order that he might gain a glimpse of the Son of God he had to make an extra effort, he had to climb a sycamore tree.
It is not made clear whether the climbing of the tree was the catalyst for Jesus’ words and actions, but it is clear that it was a sufficient demonstration of faith for Jesus to, once again, challenge the taboos of the Jewish community and invite himself into the house of the chief tax-collector.
We are all very good at judging others, sizing them up according to the standards we choose to apply. Such standards are flawed, of course, because they do not leave room for forgiveness and redemption. This is not the way we see in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Jesus always looked for that glimmer of hope, that tiny seed of faith, that would provide a way into a renewed relationship with God. Let us pray that we might make the effort, to climb that tree, that brings us closer to Jesus and thus opens our hearts to those family members, friends and neighbours we are called to love unconditionally … just as Jesus does.