CAN a person be rich, powerful and yet unhappy? Well, Zaccheus was such a man.
But why was Zaccheus not happy? Firstly, could it be that he was socially alienated? You see, he was a tax collector. He collected taxes from the Jewish people for the occupying Roman empire. In the eyes of the nationalists, he was a traitor. Furthermore, it was the practice of tax collectors to extract more than what was due and to pocket the difference. Zaccheus was a social outcast. He was marginalised and had few friends.
Secondly, could it be that he was vertically challenged? The Sunday school song goes like this, “Zaccheus was a little man, and a little man was he.” Maybe, this labelling had depreciated his self-image. In our media-driven society, good looks are often promoted as the ideal. Books on romance tell us that girls are swept off their feet by tall, dark and handsome men. To a “sound bite” generation, it is impression that counts.
With so much attention being paid to appearance, Zaccheus did not stand a chance. Maybe, he felt the need to prove himself. He drove himself and studied very hard and later did succeed to be a chief accountant. He climbed the corporate ladder to the top only to realise that the ladder was leaning against the wrong wall.
Why was Zaccheus unhappy? Maybe he was alienated socially, physically and above all, spiritually. He felt that not only had the people rejected him, God had as well. He longed to be connected with God.
So, when Jesus came to town, he hurried forth to see Him. But there was a big crowd and no one would give way to him. His “excuse me, excuse me” fell on deaf ears. Imagine him tiptoed, struggling to wiggle in through the crowd. It was rather comical. At last, he decided to throw caution to the wind. He ran ahead and climbed a tree. Hear the laughter of the people.
Then something happened. Jesus stopped and looked up at him and smiled. Jesus immediately brought him down to earth and near to him. Jesus interrupted His ministry to the people to care for this one individual.
Surprisingly, Jesus invited Himself to Zaccheus’ house for a meal!
Was Jesus being rude and intrusive? Jesus had to invite Himself because He knew that Zaccheus must have felt unworthy to invite Him. Jesus took the initiative to break into Zaccheus’ disgraceful world to restore him. Jesus gave him “face”. (Sometimes, God breaks into our tightly structured and highly organised life to show us a better way.)
The crowd protested. The crowd complained that Jesus had gone to be a guest of sinners. But Jesus is not anti-rich or anti-sinners.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote:
‘After dinner, Zaccheus stood up and offered to share his possessions with the poor and to make restitution. This was a rather tall order. Some people advocate a “prosperity gospel”. But look at Zaccheus – he became much poorer after knowing Jesus! Salvation is both personal and societal. The dichotomy between the evangelical soul-saving and the liberal social concern is foreign to the Gospel of Christ.’
“… (Jesus) scandalised the religious leaders of His day, the prim and proper ones, because He consorted with the social and religious pariahs of His day … What was more, He came to turn upside down everything they knew … He had dared to have dinner with Zaccheus, a tax collector, a collaborator with the Roman oppressor, and had the temerity to call him the son of Abraham. He had invited another tax collector, Levi, to become one of His special followers. He had gone to dinner in his house, and there, quite horribly, incredibly, He had sat at the table with all the riff-raff of the town, those whom every respectable person would not be seen dead with, let alone supping with them – those prostitutes, those sinners, those drug-addicts, the so-called scum of society.
“Moreover, when the establishment men, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, those who knew everything about God and religion, challenged Him, He was not in the least bit embarrassed. No, He said: ‘Only the sick need a doctor, not those who are well.’ He said He had come to find those who are lost …
“Jesus revolutionised religion by showing that God was a God on the side of the social pariahs. He showed God as one who accepted us sinners unconditionally.”
After dinner, Zaccheus stood up and offered to share his possessions with the poor and to make restitution. This was a rather tall order.
Some people advocate a “prosperity gospel”. But look at Zaccheus – he became much poorer after knowing Jesus! Salvation is both personal and societal. The dichotomy between the evangelical soul-saving and the liberal social concern is foreign to the Gospel of Christ.
Zaccheus was a changed man. Did he go back to his job as a tax collector? The Bible is silent on this. But I sure hope that he did. But someone may oppose saying “That is a dirty job.”
Precisely, because of that, we need honest people to turn things around. Imagine Zaccheus back in his office the next day. In his capacity as the chief tax collector, writing a memo, he directed his tax collectors to be honest in their dealings. Think about the good this has on society.
This is a story with a beautiful ending: Spiritually, Zaccheus was connected to God. His dignity was restored. Economically, he was not as rich as before. Socially, he was being redeemed by his charity and honesty.
Physically? Well, he was still the same, not an inch taller. Jesus did not heal him of his shortness because there was no need to. Zaccheus might be short but he walked tall since that day.