The story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-9 takes place as Jesus was passing through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem. Jericho was not the quickest way to get to Jerusalem, but He went for a special reason. He was seeking the very man who would be seeking Him.
Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector in Jericho. It was the job of a tax collector to accept the payments from the people and remit the taxes to Rome. They were not paid for their services; they made their living by collecting more than was due. Tax collectors were not regulated and they could charge whatever they wished. It is easy to see why they were so despised. Zacchaeus had gotten wealthy by overcharging taxes. Not only was he short in stature, but he was also small in the eyes of everyone who had dealings with him.
Zacchaeus’ height is important to what transpires. He would have only been able to see Jesus pass by if he had been in the front of the crowd, and someone as hated as he would be deliberately blocked. But Zacchaeus was determined to see Jesus. This was so important to him, he decided to climb into a tree to see above the crowd. A sycamore was the perfect choice of tree for Zacchaeus. Sycamore branches are low to the ground, making it easy for a shorter person to climb. Its thick foliage leaves could easily hide someone sitting in its branches. You see, as much as he found the high branches gave him a good vantage point, there was an added advantage of seeing Jesus without being seen, and the cover of leaves would prevent Jesus from seeing how unworthy he was. But as Jesus passed under the tree, He knew Zacchaeus was up there, just as He knew the woman in the crowd who was healed by touching the hem of His garment. Jesus knew him by his name, and He knew him by his need.
“I must stay at your house today.” There was urgency in the words Jesus spoke. He knew Zacchaeus needed transformation and he needed it immediately. Up to this point, money had been his god, but despite his wealth, Zacchaeus was an unhappy outcast. He knew that Jesus offered him access to another God, one worth worshiping. Zacchaeus hurried down from the tree to welcome Him.
As Zacchaeus came down from the tree, Jesus heard the familiar mumbles: “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus heard it too, and he know it was true – he was indeed a sinner, just like the others with whom Jesus had eaten. He was unworthy.
But Zacchaeus deeply regretted his past, and he was so deeply transformed that he willingly accepted the highest penalty given to a confessed thief according to the law of Moses: to restore what he stole and add one fifth to it. The penalty for stealing something he could be not restored was to repay fourfold. On the spot, he offered to pay back four times to anyone he defrauded, as well as give half of everything he owned to the poor.
What makes us feels small? Knowing that we have not lived up to what God wants for us… knowing that we haven’t treated others the way a Christian should… there are so many reasons. Many of them are little reasons, but they nag at us and make want to hide from Jesus. We want to see Him, we need the connection, but we don’t want Him to see us as we are. Yet, while we are seeking Him, He is also seeking us. He knows where we are hiding. He knows us by name, and He knows us by need.
Regardless of our physical height – whether we are short or tall – we feel small when we think of our past sins. Unlike Zacchaeus, restitution for those we have wronged is not always possible, but even if we can’t go back and change the past we can go forward and change the future. We can do this because once we meet Jesus personally, we are forever changed. Through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, our sins are forgiven and the slate is washed clean. Nothing washes cleaner that the blood of Jesus, and we are free from the blemish of sin as we partake in the Lord’s table of the Eucharist.Are you feeling small this morning? Are you feeling insignificant? Are you feeling unworthy? Do you feel separated from Him because of something you should not have done, or because you neglected to do something you should have done? Do you long to see Jesus but at the same time want to be hidden from Him? You really aren’t hidden because He knows exactly where you are. The good news is that He forgives and forgets. He knows your name and He knows your need. Come down from your tree and welcome Him into your home, your heart, your life.