Summary: Jesus works with you as an individual, not as a number.
He Knows Your Name
September 11, 2005
There was a time when Jesus, while travelling, came to Jericho, a city beside the Jordan River and 825 feet below sea level. This city was literally ‘down’ from Jerusalem, situated on a prominent hill. Jericho is in the current West Bank, a disputed area in the current Middle East. It tends, because of its low elevation, to have a warm climate and to have some lush vegetation, especially near the water, and where irrigation is possible.
Please turn to Luke 19. We’ll read the story and let it happen here, in Cornwall, today.
v.1- Jesus in Jericho
v.2- Zacchaeus lived there. He was tax collector and was very rich. Now, you might wonder why? We might know people who work in the taxation department of the Federal or Provincial governments today, and they’re not particularly rich. Let me fill you in on how this worked in that day.
The Romans, under whom this area was held at the time, farmed out the task of collecting the taxes in any particular area to the highest bidder. The man did not receive any salary for his work but collected as much money as he could so that he would have a handsome rake-off after paying the government the appointed sum. Zacchaeus was such a tax farmer.
It was common for the tax collectors to abuse their office in order to get rich, and they had all the force of the Roman Empire behind them, so it was not easy to argue for, and receive, a lesser taxation amount. If the tax collector needed military backup, it was his, because the Roman Empire wanted the appointed taxes.
As you can imagine, Zacchaeus was not the most popular person in town. He was wealthy, but he was very limited in whom he could spend time with because many would not want to spend any time with him. Talk about ‘issues’, as we do these days. People in Jericho had ‘issues’ with Zacchaeus. He was considered the lowest of the low, a turn-coat working for the enemy and profiting by taking advantage of his own people- not a pleasant situation, but one that suited him well, as far as the money side of things was concerned.
v.3- Zacchaeus was short, he wanted to see Jesus, and he couldn’t because of the crowd. You can be sure that the crowd wouldn’t be all that accommodating, either, to allowing him to get to the front of the crowd, like we might permit a shorter person when we watch a parade, because we can see over him or her. In this case, people would be delighted at a chance to make life a little difficult for Zacchaeus and would likely close in more tightly so he couldn’t squeeze his way through to the front. People can be nasty, as you and I know.
v.4- Zacchaeus did not get where he was in life by rolling over and playing dead. He had a keen mind and was able to use that in many ways. He could think. He was not one to be put off by people’s animosity. He had experienced it before; often, though, he had the upper hand. In this case, he didn’t. However, he had to think of another option, and he did. He could tell where Jesus would go, understanding the route of the street he was on, so he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree that was on the street. Possibly this was one he had used before to set up his tax collection station- a tree that gave him shade and made his extortion a bit more pleasant. Or, maybe this was a tree he and his brothers and sisters had climbed when they were growing up in Jericho, so was one he remembered how to climb. You can be sure he hadn’t climbed many sycamore trees lately- that wouldn’t be appropriate to someone in his station of life and society. He wanted to see Jesus, knowing He would pass that way.
v. 5- Jesus did come there and he saw a man in the tree. Now, the record doesn’t say that Zacchaeus wanted to talk with Jesus- just that he wanted to see Him- this greatly respected and followed rabbi. Perhaps he was simply curious about this man the masses he despised- the simple folk he extorted- were following. Maybe he was aware of a threat to the social order, and potentially, to his income, that lay with this Jesus. Perhaps he had heard people talk of him as the Messiah or the one who would overthrow the Romans, and was curious. Certainly, someone perceived to be so powerful could powerfully disrupt his lifestyle.
Perhaps Zacchaeus hid himself in the tree- perhaps he wasn’t fully visible, as wanting to see and be seen. No matter what the case, Jesus came to the tree, looked up, saw this little man- and spoke to him. Zacchaeus, you see, didn’t particularly impress Jesus. Of course, Jesus didn’t have to pay taxes to him, because he wasn’t from Jericho. But Jesus could see right through Zacchaeus. What did he see? Did he see a powerful and rich man? Or did he see a little child wanting to be loved and respected? Did he see Zacchaeus, as a child, and as he used to be, having climbed into a favorite tree? We don’t know a lot of that- we can only speculate and imagine.