Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Never the Same Again
A song that I learnt in childhood about Zacchaeus focuses on his short stature: “Zacchaeus was a very little man, a very little man was he.” But by the end of the story in Luke 19 Zacchaeus has grown immensely. It is a fascinating story, filled with irony and innuendos. Irony is evident in Zacchaeus’ name, which is the Greek rendering of a Hebrew name that means “innocent” or “clean.” Yet it seems from the story that Zacchaeus is anything but innocent or clean.
The Romans had recruited local Jews like Zacchaeus to collect tax from their compatriots, perhaps not wanting to tie up their own personnel. Tax collectors received a commission, and Luke’s reference to Zacchaeus’ wealth indicates that he may have done a very good job of wringing funds from his own people. Ironically, the monies collected added to the capacity of the Romans to continue the oppression of the Jews. To say that the tax collectors were despised by the Jewish community would have been an understatement.
With Jesus’ passage through Jericho that day, Zacchaeus’ standing in the community was about to be changed. Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus, but his stature posed a challenge. However, Jesus offered more than a solution. When Jesus stopped, he not only addressed Zacchaeus directly; he held the offer of an intimate presence in his life.
Jesus’ action with Zacchaeus has been typical of his relations with individuals over the centuries. He is always the one coming to us, seeking us out, and offering us the gift of transformed lives. When we accept Jesus’ offer to be a guest in our homes and in our lives, we, and those around us, are never the same again.
Desna Henry Goulbourne, pastor, Tremont Terrace Moravian Church, Bronx, New York