He was well-known, yes, he had a reputation, but not one to be envied. He was despised by his people for being a publican. As such, he was collecting the taxes from his fellow-Jews to the benefit of the hated power of occupation – the Romans. He was clever and knew how to profit from his post. He was a wealthy man and enjoyed his situation. Such was Zacchaeus (Lk.19:1-10).
But his dignity suffered from… a limitation – he was a short man. Amazingly, this contributed to… his salvation. For he was curious to see the Man of Nazareth, that preacher named Jesus who walked through the towns and villages speaking about some ‘kingdom’ or other. People said he called it ‘the kingdom of heaven’. Zacchaeus had to see for himself. But there was a problem: often large crowds surrounded that man and Zacchaeus was short, he would hardly manage to get a glimpse from the Teacher from afar. That is not what he wanted. His cleverness served him well once again.
He climbed a sycamore tree and had a vantage point to watch the scene of Jesus walking down the road in the direction where he was, up above, there in the tree. Have you ever had the sensation of being literally lost in a crowd and suddenly hearing your own name mentioned? Of course, everybody around you will turn to see who is that person being called out. This is what happened that day to Zacchaeus. He probably thought he was well hidden from sight and that nobody would notice his presence. But someone did – the very person he was eager to know!
His surprise was greater still when he heard Jesus tell him: “Zacchaeus, come down. Hurry, because I must stay at your house today.” “The house of a sinner”, complained those who heard this. We all know the rest of the story and its message: “Today salvation has come to this house… for the Son of Man has come to seek out and save what was lost”.
And if we, too, were invited to climb down… not from a tree but from that place where we have been hiding? Our pride… Our fear of God… Our conviction that we can manage on own… Our thinking that we are too sinful to be forgiven… We might be as surprised as Zacchaeus was… and as surely saved as he was!