Summary: Jesus doesn't preach to Zaccheus. No moralising, no ridiculing. Just unconditional acceptance. That's all it took change him radically.
A popular story recounts a meeting that may have taken place at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago in 1923. There is debate whether the meeting in fact occurred, but what is not in question is the actual rise and fall of the men featured in the story, who were nine of the richest men in the world at that time: (1) Charles Schwab, President of the world's largest independent steel company; (2) Samuel Insull, President of the world's largest utility company; (3) Howard Hopson, President of the largest gas firm; (4) Arthur Cutten, the greatest wheat speculator; (5) Richard Whitney, President of the New York Stock Exchange; (6) Albert Fall, member of the President's Cabinet; (7) Leon Frazier, President of the Bank of International Settlements; (8) Jessie Livermore, the greatest speculator in the Stock Market; and (9) Ivar Kreuger, head of the company with the most widely distributed securities in the world.
What happened to these powerful and rich men twenty-five years later? (1) Charles Schwab had died in bankruptcy, having lived on borrowed money for five years before his death. (2) Samuel Insull had died virtually penniless after spending some time as a fugitive from justice. (3) Howard Hopson became insane. (4) Arthur Cutten died overseas, broke. (5) Richard Whitney had spent time in a mental asylum. (6) Albert Fall was released from prison so he could die at home. (7) Leon Fraizer, (8) Jessie Livermore, and (9) Ivar Kreuger each died by suicide. Measured by wealth and power these men achieved success, at least temporarily. But it did not surely guarantee them a truly successful life.
Many people think of fame and fortune when they measure success. However, at some point in life, most people come to realize that inner peace and soul-deep satisfaction come not from fame and money, but having lived a life based on integrity and noble character. The book of Proverbs says: "A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold." In the final analysis, living an honorable life is more satisfying than fame and fortune. Jack Higgens, author of such successful novels as The Eagle Has Landed, was asked what he would like to have known as a boy. His answer: “That when you get to the top, there’s nothing there.”
Probably Zacheuz knew this better than anybody else. As the chief tax collector of the city of Jericho, he surely was wealthier and more powerful than any of his Jewish neighbors. The chief tax collector was not a worker on a fixed salary; he was the sole proprietor of a business enterprise. The Roman administration would levy a city the amount of money they expected the city to contribute in a year. The chief tax collector would pay that amount to the Roman authorities and then have the sole right and freedom to impose and collect taxes from the inhabitants of the city. He himself determined how much each person would pay. He would employ tax collection agents to go round and collect the taxes. Whatever money they collected over and above the lump sum he paid to the Roman administrator was his profit.
But all this wealth probably did not make him happy. He was hated by everyone in the city, not only because he overtaxed the people, but also because he was helping the pagan Romans to exploit his own people. He was regarded as a public sinner, as a traitor and as someone unclean before God. When Luke says that Zacheus was a man of short stature, he not only refers to his physical shape. Everyone looked down upon Zacheus. He was a small, lonely man.
And probably this is why Zacchaeus was fascinated with Jesus, this poor Galilean who enjoyed the goodwill and the loyalty of the people. What was his secret? Zacchaeus would love to find out. But how would he meet him? Would this popular teacher be willing to meet this worthless tax collector? So he decides climb a tree and hide himself up there, probably hoping that nobody would notice his presence there.
We don’t know if anyone found him before Jesus spotted him. Luke doesn’t say anything about that; but it is probable that someone in the crowd must have spotted him first. Can you imagine the shame and embarrassment he must have felt to be spotted up on that tree? The people must have jeered at him. Zacheus must have felt even smaller than he actually was. But then all the jeering and giggling stopped when Jesus spotted him. And what a generous offer: “Zacheus, come down; for I must stay at your house today”. Can you imagine the surprise and the joy of Zacheus? I am sure he grew two feet taller suddenly.