Summary: Zacchaeus was hated and misanthropic, but salvation came through the obedience of faith and the call of Jesus.
Tuesday of 33rd Week in Course
Lk 19: 1-10
Jericho is the oldest city in the world, as near as archaeologists can determine. Today it’s a dusty little Palestinian village a short drive away from the Dead Sea. The town would be dead, too, if it weren’t also the lowest city in the world, at the foot of some pretty big hills that collect water which feeds several springs that nourish the town and its palm groves. There, the Romans had franchised a tax-farmer named Zacchaeus. The tax farmers in Israel, here called tax-collectors, were somewhat different from IRS agents. They were more like Mafia enforcers, employing thugs to shake down local citizens and merchants. The Romans specified how much each tax man was supposed to pay them, and the architelōē or chief tax-collector, gave rake-offs to his bag-men and kept the rest. He is also described as πλούσιος, or wealthy–opulent. So he was very good at his job, as far as the Romans were concerned, and very hated by the citizens of Jericho.
He probably didn’t care, because he was also mikros, or really short in stature. People had been rejecting him all his life for his size, so he probably was a misanthrope. People hated him and he returned the favor. He was just curious about this Jesus who associated with tax collectors and women of the street, and was reputed to change their lives. So he climbed a sykomorea, a sycamore-fig tree–you can still see it in Jericho–and Jesus saw him, and called him by name.
That look, that call, changed Zach’s life instantly. The change was dramatic. If you count up what he dedicated to alms and restitution, there wasn’t much left over for Zach. His dramatic actions probably impoverished him. But Luke was really telling us, who are all like Zach in some way or another, that Jesus is everything we need. The call of Jesus is to give up everything and follow him. Thus salvation can come to our own households through the obedience of faith. No matter what sin, what shortness of moral or physical stature has kept us from doing right, Jesus is always ready to receive us, and to share His own life with us through this sacrament of healing, nourishment, and communion.