Summary: We must follow God and start inviting ourselves and go out into the world and seek out others-just like Jesus and Zacchaeus sought each other out.
There is a story about a fitness centre that was offering $1,000 to anyone who could show that they were stronger than the owner of the place. Here’s how it worked. The owner would squeeze a lemon until all the juice ran into a glass, and then hand the lemon to the challenger. Anyone who could squeeze just one more drop of juice out would win the money. Many people tried over time-other weightlifters, construction workers, even professional wrestlers, but no one could do it.
One day, a short and skinny guy came in and signed up for the contest. After the laughter died down, the owner grabbed a lemon and squeezed away. Then he handed the wrinkled remains to the little man. The crowd’s laughter turned to silence as the man clenched his fist around the lemon and six drops fell into the glass. As the crowd cheered, the manager paid the winning prize and asked the short guy what he did for a living. “Are you a lumberjack, a weightlifter, or what?” the owner asked. The man replied, “I work for the Canada Revenue Agency”.
In Jesus’ time, tax collectors were as popular as they are today, and Zacchaeus was no exception. Tax collectors were required to collect the amount of tax assessed by the Romans, but they often tried to collect as much tax revenue as they could from the people. The difference between what they paid to the government and what they collected was their salary. It’s no wonder that tax collectors such as Zacchaeus and Matthew were hated so much. To make matters worse, Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector. He paid the Romans a fee to collect taxes in a certain area. In modern times, it would be similar to the owner of the local Tim Horton’s coffee shop paying a franchise fee to Tim Horton’s head office in Toronto. He likely had several tax collectors working under him. Zacchaeus was also short in stature, so in short (no pun intended!), he was nor your favourite person. For example, if he was a contestant on a modern day reality TV show, he would probably be one of the first contestants voted off!
So one day, he heard that Jesus is coming to town. He has likely heard about this dynamic young preacher, his teaching and healing. Like everyone else in town, Zacchaeus wanted to see what Jesus was all about, but there were so many people lining Jesus’ route that they blocked Zacchaeus’ view. What was the poor little guy to do?
Before I answer that, let me ask you a question. Have you ever wanted to see something so badly that you would do anything to see it, as long as what you would do is moral, legal and ethical? It doesn’t matter if it was your favourite TV show or your favourite entertainer in concert. What you do if you wanted to see it? Well, now you know how Zacchaeus felt, but I don’t think you would do something as drastic or as dangerous as he did. He climbed up a sycamore tree and crawled way out onto a tree limb to get a good view.
Not only did Zacchaeus get a good view of Jesus, Jesus also got a good view of Zacchaeus-both physically and spiritually!! Why did Zacchaeus really want to see Jesus? Was it out of mere curiosity, or was there emptiness in his life that he wanted to fill. Most theologians think that it is the latter reason, because Jesus told Zacchaeus to come down out of the tree so that they could have lunch together at Zacchaeus’ house.
Jesus shone his heavenly light on Zacchaeus’ heart and transformed it from a worldly priority to a spiritual priority. It is similar to a movie I saw recently. It was originally made in 1980, and it was called “The Blues Brothers”. It starred Dan Akroyd and the late John Belushi. In one scene, they attended a church service, but it was no ordinary church service. It was an evangelical service complete with singing, rolling in the aisles and dancing. At one point, a light shone down from heaven onto one of the Blues Brothers first, and then the other. As a result of this exposure, they believed that God had a mission for them-a mission that became the background for the rest of the movie.
Zacchaeus was quite wealthy, but his wealth could not buy him happiness. Apart from Roman officials and the tax collectors who worked for him, Zacchaeus had few friends because of both his job and his height (or lack of it). Unfortunately, there are too many people like Zacchaeus in the world today. They have all sorts of money and fame, but deep inside there is a spiritual emptiness that they try to fill with drugs, alcohol or illicit sex. These things do not fill the void-they only cover it up, with disastrous consequences. For example, one of the actors I referred to a moment ago-the late John Belushi- died in 1982 from a drug overdose that was caused by his passionate, non-stop, over the top, wild and crazy lifestyle.