Luke 19:1-6 (The Message)
Then Jesus entered and walked through Jericho. There was a man there, his name Zacchaeus, the head tax man and quite rich. He wanted desperately to see Jesus, but the crowd was in his way — he was a short man and couldn’t see over the crowd. So he ran on ahead and climbed up in a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus when he came by. When Jesus got to the tree, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry down. Today is my day to be a guest in your home.” Zacchaeus scrambled out of the tree, hardly believing his good luck, delighted to take Jesus home with him. Everyone who saw the incident was indignant and grumped, “What business does he have getting cozy with this crook?”
About five years ago, elementary school students competing in a Bible Bee challenge answered a question that I could not. The question was: “What type of tree did Zacchaeus climb to get a better view of Jesus as he walked by?”
The immediate, seminary-trained answer in my head was: “Ummmmmm…. Well… Uhhhhhhh…”
The actual correct answer: a sycamore tree. The very next week in their school chapel I heard the song that taught them that particular horticultural gem: “Zacchaeus was a wee, little man / a wee, little man was he. / He climbed up in a sycamore tree, / for the Lord he wanted to see.”
Every time I read the story of Zacchaeus, I have that song stuck in my head for days. It’s catchy! So, if you know the song and it’s now running around your head, well… you’re welcome. Or sorry.
According to The New Interpreter’s Bible, “Roman officials contracted with local entrepreneurs to collect the prescribed indirect taxes, tolls, tariffs, and customs fees in a given area… Jews who collected taxes for the Romans were assumed to be dishonest and were hated by other Jews for their complicity with the Gentile oppressors” (vol. IX, 356-357).
Yesterday we looked at Jesus’ interaction with a rich young man who, after hearing Jesus’ advice, went away depressed. How different is Zacchaeus’ reaction to Jesus! Zacchaeus will joyously proclaim, “Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (Luke 19:8, NIV).
That “wee little man” who sought just to have a glimpse of Jesus as he and his friends walked by — he received a gift far greater than he ever imagined. He was the host of the Messiah. He was treated with grace and forgiveness. Zacchaeus immediately, fully, and enthusiastically embraces this chance at a new life. He’s all in.
When you first heard the gospel, were you excited and ready to jump right in? Or were you hesitant? How do you feel now?