Summary: What made Zacchaeus become a tax collector? Why did Jesus appeal to him so that he would embarrass himself by climbing a tree to see Him?
A man went for physical checkup and the nurse asked him how much he weighed. He held his stomach in and replied, "160 lbs." She got him on the scales, weighed him and said: "No, your weight is 166 lbs.
The nurse then asked him how tall he was. Standing very straight he answered, "5 feet 10 inches." The nurse measured him and said, no - he was only 5’9".
Then the nurse asked him what his normal blood pressure was. After looking at her for a moment he said, "How can you expect my blood pressure to be normal??? I came in here a tall, slender man and you have already made me short and fat."
Zacchaeus was a wee little man
and a wee little man was he.
He climbed up in a sycamore tree,
for the Lord he wanted to see.
And as the Master passed that way,
He looked up in the tree.
And He said "Zacchaeus, you come down.
For I’m going to your house today."
How many of you have sung that song as a child? It’s a cute song. And the impression you get from it is that Zacchaeus is a sweet little old man who had only one basic problem: he was too short to see Jesus.
That would be true except for one basic fact - Zacchaeus was not a sweet little old man.
I. In fact, he was probably one of the most hated men in the region of Jericho.
Why was he hated?
Was it because he was so short?
Well, no. Although I don’t suppose that helped. I suspect his height was a problem. It made it easy for others to make fun of him, push him aside, persecute him, or even ignore him.
If you’ll pardon the pun, as far as others were concerned, Zacchaeus just didn’t measure up.
His shortness was at the root of his problems - but that was not why he was disliked. I believe the reason Zacchaeus was disliked was that he had an attitude problem. I think Zacchaeus had become a angry and bitter man because of the way people treated him.
WHY ELSE would a man take a job with such a negative effect on his life. This man was a tax collector. Public sentiment towards tax collectors in Jesus’ day was that they were scum of the earth. In the Gospels, we’re told (no less than 8 times) that people complained about Jesus eating with the "tax collectors & sinners." It’s as if there were sinners... and then there was a special class of sinners called tax collectors.
Twice in the Gospels, people complained of Jesus eating with "tax collectors and harlots." Harlots were women who sold their virtue for money. Apparently tax collectors were viewed as having the same vice.
This is not like he worked for the IRS. Very few people in our day "like" IRS agents, but usually we don’t "hate" them. They collect taxes that are necessary for the building of roads and other national concerns.
But by contrast, tax collectors in the day of Jesus were viewed as traitors. Men like Zacchaeus were individuals who’d betrayed people. Zacchaeus did not work for the nation of Israel. He worked for the Romans. And the Romans were a hated people - occupiers of Israel - an arrogant and cruel people.
And, not only were tax collectors regarded as traitors, they were also seen as thieves. The Romans exacted a tax from the Jews, which was bad enough, but they didn’t pay their tax collectors. Tax collectors made their living by adding an additional percentage on top of the Roman tax - and they usually added whatever they thought the person could pay. A savvy tax collector could make very good money without having to worry about being fair.
Publicans or tax collectors were hated men.
On top of this, Zacchaeus’ job required him to have constant contact with Gentiles. This would make him ceremonially unclean. That meant that he couldn’t go to the Temple and offer sacrifices. He was robbed of his ability to worship God. This effectively separated him from his God.
So, Zacchaeus was cut off from his people and alienated from his God.
Why would Zacchaeus take a job like this?
Well, nobody cared for him anyway. People mistreated and rejected him all of his life because of his height. AND God obviously didn’t care either. WHY ELSE would God create him a short man - an object of ridicule?
II. Zacchaeus took comfort in his job. He really liked his job. He wasn’t just a tax collector... he was a CHIEF tax collector. He was now a BIG man. People feared him. They may have loathed him and hated him, but they feared him. He was a man of power and influence. AND, he was a rich man. He was a rich man - in part - because he was much like other tax collectors of his day.