If only Zacchaeus were taller.
I’m sure he had wished it many times over. Although Luke is diplomatic in his wording…..he says Zacchaeus was a short man….
…..He resists the popular wording, “wee little man”.
I hate to break it you, but the term, “wee little man” is only to be found in the children’s song. No translation…..not even Eugene Peterson’s popular Message transliteration uses the term “wee little man”.
The long and short of it is this: Zacchaeus was short. And this makes the story of Luke 19 all the more interesting. Because of his stature, the little tax collector faced a predicament. He wanted to see this Jesus he had heard about. He wasn’t sure about how this day would turn out but he would never forgive himself if he missed an opportunity to see Jesus first hand. He couldn’t bear to miss seeing one who loomed so large in the minds of the multitudes. He had heard people refer to Him as the Kingdom talker. The proclaimer of peace. The purveyor of hope. The person of God.
Zacchaeus had to see him. And he had to see him first hand.
He knew from experience that when crowds gathered he was disadvantaged. He had learned that the crowds took sick satisfaction in putting this little tax collector in his place. They resented him. They would push and shove and crush him if they could, using the anonymity of the crowd as a way to shield themselves from possible repercussions from the tax man.
He was, after all, most likely, a Jew like they. But he had become a turncoat in their eyes. It seemed to them that he was serving the Roman regime by collecting taxes from his own brothers…whether they could afford it or not. They also knew that the arrangement between tax collectors and Roman officials is that the tax collector could assess any amount possible as long as Caesar got his cut. Any excess amounts could go into the pockets of the tax collector. Zacchaeus had accumulated a fair amount of money. He was a short man….but he had deep pockets.
The people resented him.
The crowds would take joy in blocking his view.
So Zacchaeus came up short. He wouldn’t be seeing Jesus today unless he came up with a way to overcome his inadequacies. Since his childhood days he had experienced harsh treatment for his size. When the bullies came his way, he found that a tree would provide a way of escape. He had spent many an afternoon finding protection and refuge in a tree. So on that day he looked to a tree. It would be his way of seeing Jesus. A tree would bring him close to the Messiah.
Climbing up, he saw the crowd part and the cloud of dust told him that the Kingdom talker was coming his way. He had heard courtyard discussions about this man and his talk of a new kingdom at hand. By all accounts, the Kingdom talker was saying that a new domain was emerging. To Zacchaeus this meant that his arrangement with the Romans might possibly come to an end and that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. He had done his job and done it well but he didn’t sleep well at night knowing that he benefited personally from Caesar’s kingdom all the while seeing the ill effects of his work on his fellowman.
On a tree, he would see Jesus coming. He would see his face. He would behold his eyes and behold the seriousness of his facial expression. But he also hoped he might see forgiveness and experience the grace of God he so yearned for.
As Jesus drew close, Zacchaeus sensed an awareness that he was being observed by the Kingdom talker. At the very moment when Jesus approached, Jesus looked up to Zacchaeus, called him by name and informed him that he intended to come to his house. In his own home, he would visit with this Kingdom talker and hear in more detail about the new reign of God ever so close at hand.
Just the thought of Jesus initiating such acceptance, came upon Zacchaeus as a renovation of his heart.
“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.” The bondage he had felt by his association with the Romans seemed in that moment to drop away like chains turned to dust.
On that day, a “wee little man” stood taller. Only now at that vantage point could he finally see the world as even the tallest of men long to see.
In days to come, in post resurrection days…..as Zaccheus would tell and retell his story, he would perhaps exclaim, “only by way of a tree was I able to see Him that day and only by the tree of Calvary has He come to be seen by all men today and everyday since”.
Come to Him. See Him. Let Him come into your house. He will lift you up.
If only Zacchaeus were taller…..but then….
….I’m glad he wasn’t.