Summary: This is the 5th in a 5 part sermon series on people who encountered Christ and how their lives were changed. Zacchaeus tells us that our lives can be different and we can be changed. It also talks about home.
The crowd was thick that day. The road coming into Jericho was thick with people pressed up against one another. They were there because word had it that the man Jesus of Nazareth was coming.
Jesus had earned quiet a reputation of late. People were talking about how he had healed many, restoring their bodies, making it possible for them to work and earn a living.
And the things Jesus said. It made one believe that things could be different, that life could be different, that one could have hope of a better tomorrow.
He had even confronted the religious leaders and the lawyers when he felt they were treating people wrongly...particularly the very poor and very sick...particularly the people no one else wanted to have anything to do with.
Zacchaeus was one of those people.
No one wanted anything to do with Zacchaeus. They had a name for him. It was traitor.
Zacchaeus had a despicable job of being a tax collector. The Emperor needed to fund his army. He needed to clothe and feed his soldiers. He had to have funds in order to increase his holding and territories - to maintain occupying troops in order to keep peace in occupied areas. So the Emperor taxed the very people who hated and despised the presence of the Romans - the occupants of occupied territories and taxed them heavily.
Those of Zacchaeus’ occupation were the worst sort of persons, and were seen as traitors who not only collaborated with the enemy, but everyone one knew they got rich and took advantage of their fellow countrymen doing it.
No one wanted to be a tax collector. No one wanted anything to do with a tax collector.
Zacchaeus’ occupation made him wealthy at the expense of his colleagues and fellow Jewish citizens and he was hated by them.
He may have been rich in money, but he was destitute when it came to friends and fellowship. He might as well have been living in isolation. No one would have anything to do with a tax collector for the Roman government. No one would have anything to do with Zacchaeus.
Zacchaeus had made his fortune off of others. His reputation was tarnished. His reputation was ruined. No one would have anything to do with Zacchaeus - not now, not ever.
That day, people lined the streets of Jericho. Jesus was coming. Several had seen the miracles he had performed. Many had heard him speak. Throughout the crowd there was an excited buzz about the approaching Jesus. People couldn’t wait to catch a glimpse of him, and they crowded together, pushing against one another, clambering to see him.
Zacchaeus had heard the stories about Jesus, too. He wondered if the stories he had heard about Jesus were true. Some of those people’s lives had been completely changed. The healing they had experienced was transformative to their situations in life.
And Zacchaeus particularly thought about the people who were just like him. He thought about the other tax collectors. He thought about the other people called sinners whom Jesus had gotten a reputation for associating with. He wondered if Jesus would have anything to do with him, with a guy like Zacchaeus.
I can just see Zacchaeus’ isolation and desperation driving his curiosity. He just has to check this Jesus thing out. He must find out if what he hearing is really true. Imagine the turmoil within him as he hears that Jesus is approaching his hometown of Jericho. All Zacchaeus can think of is seeing Jesus for himself, of looking in his eyes, of discovering there in those eyes if what he has heard is trued, of discovering if there is at least one person in this world who will accept him as he is, for himself, someone who might care for him - Zacchaeus.
But it wasn’t meant to be. There were so many people. And when they saw who it was behind them that was trying to push his way through the crowds, I can just see them moving together, elbowing him out of the way on purpose, shoving him to the back.
Why is HE here? Don’t want Jesus to see the likes of him! What would Jesus think? Its certainly not putting the best foot forward for the people of Jericho, is it?
So the crowd pushed him back. There was no hope of getting to the front, and Zacchaeus was too short to see over the heads of the people in the crowd.
But Zacchaeus is consumed with his desire to see Jesus. His reputation has robbed him of all of his dignity. So it wasn’t anything for him to do a most undignified thing for a grown man like himself.
First, he took off running. Grown men didn’t run in public. It was degrading, but what else would we expect someone like Zacchaeus to do?