A friend of mine wrote a devotional in which he spoke of Zacchaeus. Remember him? He’s the little guy who climbed up into a tree to get a better view of Jesus. The devotional pointed me to a hidden feature of this story.
Zacchaeus was a short guy. He was also a rich dude. Moreover, he was a hated man. Zacchaeus was a Jewish tax collector working for the occupying force—the Romans. He became rich (like all the other rich tax collectors) from overcharging his fellow countrymen. The Romans didn’t care how rich he became as long as they got theirs. As you can imagine, however, his fellow Jews cared. Thus the hatred…
Why did Zacchaeus risk his neck?
News spread one day that Jesus, a new teacher, was on his way through town. Zacchaeus, for whatever reason, wanted to see this man who was creating such a stir. Because he was so short, he climbed up into a tree close to the road so he could catch a glimpse as Jesus strode by.
If you know the narrative, you know that Jesus spotted him in his lofty perch, invited himself to Zacchaeus’ home, and the rest is history. And, I might add, Zacchaeus was a changed man.
I know all that, and I’ve known it for many years—decades in fact. What my friend pointed out, and what I’d never considered, is Zacchaeus’ disposition in this whole matter. There were several things in this event that didn’t exactly add up.
First of all, he was wealthy. What did he care about an itinerant preacher who didn’t have two shekels to rub together? Secondly, why would he bother to venture into a crowd of folks who hated his guts? Thirdly, why would he further endanger himself by climbing a tree? This put him in a position of a treed raccoon surrounded by hunting dogs.
The simple answer we always assume is that he was too short to see over the crowd that had gathered. That, of course, is true. It’s a truism that still doesn’t answer the questions I just asked. Why would he even go near that throng of people?
“Just do it!”
The only thing Scripture tells us about his mindset that day was, “He wanted to see who Jesus was.” If it was simple curiosity that drove him, he could have ended up as one dead cat. We can’t go back in time and read his mind, but one thing is sure.
When he climbed up that tree, he was actually lowering himself. Someone of his age and means didn’t have to be climbing trees. Something drew him to Jesus that day. He could have easily resisted that urge. Yet, he lowered himself by climbing up. It was an act that changed his life.
Like Zacchaeus, we all have defining moments when we have opportunities to “put ourselves out there.” They can be very scary moments indeed. Yet the life changing rewards can be immense. As the Nike folks like to say, “Just do it!”
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]