He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector, and rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not, on account of the crowd, because he was small of stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was to pass that way.
The second Gospel of Holy Unction introduces us to a man named Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector of Jericho. Back in Jesus’ day, they didn’t have W-2 forms to report income or 1040 forms to take deductions. They didn’t have accountants to tell you what a fair amount was to pay in taxes. They had tax collectors, who would enter houses and arbitrarily demand sums of money or just seize property in the name of Caesar. They would also collect for their own salaries. This system was obviously corrupt. The tax collectors were dishonest, often assessing more than what was fair and padding their take with material goods or money that they would keep for themselves. Zacchaeus was not just one of the tax collectors. He was the chief tax collector. He was very rich as a result. He was also very despised.
One day, Jesus was passing through Jericho. It was a very public event, as a crowd went to see Him. By this time, Jesus was well into His public ministry. The Gospel of Luke places this event shortly before the entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Jesus was well known by this time and attracted crowds wherever He went. People knew that wherever He went, there was a good chance for a miracle, or a lesson about God.
The Gospel tells us that Zacchaeus had a desire to see who Jesus was. It doesn’t say what motivated this desire. Maybe it was a curiosity. Maybe he didn’t want to be left out of the crowd. He was reviled by everyone in Jericho, he probably didn’t have much of a social life, and this was something to do, where he might have some interaction with people. Maybe he already was starting to have a repentant heart and thought Jesus might forgive him, as He had forgiven others. We don’t know the motivation.
We do know that the crowd wasn’t interested in giving Zacchaeus a front-row seat, which he would have needed because he was short. For anyone who’s ever been to Disney World, you know that if you don’t arrive early for a parade, you won’t get a seat. The crowds are not merciful when it comes to accommodating latecomers. So, Zacchaeus had a problem in getting to Jesus.
Undeterred, he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree, in order to see Jesus.
One of the most beautiful things about the Bible, and one of the reasons it has such value to us two thousand years after the earthly ministry of Christ, is that we can relate to so many of the people we meet in the Bible. Zacchaeus is one of those people. He wasn’t a saint, not by a long stretch. He excelled at his job, he was the boss. And just like many bosses who get to the top by being dishonest, he was not kind as he made his way to the top. Like many people at the top, even those who get there with merit and with kindness, he found that he was wanting something else. Otherwise, he could have just stayed home that day in Jericho, celebrating his riches. Perhaps, there was a big empty space in his soul, a wound caused by greed that he couldn’t close with his money. And so perhaps he went to see Jesus not because he was curious, but because he was empty inside. Being rejected by the crowds confirmed that even more, and his desire to know Christ grew out of not only his greed but his isolation.
Many of us feel wounded in our souls. Perhaps we have been dishonest. Perhaps we feel rejected and isolated by the crowd. There are any number of reasons why one might feel empty. In these moments, do we think of Jesus? Is there a desire to know Him more deeply? Is there a thought that if we run to Him, we might feel relief? Is there a belief that He can fill the empty spaces? Is there a surrender to Him, realizing that it is only Christ who can fill some of our empty spaces?
Regardless of his motivation, Zacchaeus had a desire to know who Jesus is and got creative in climbing up a tree to see Him. In our state of being wounded by the world, we have many choices of where to run. We can run to self-medication—alcohol, drugs, food, pornography, binge-watching TV, etc. However, when our “medicine” of choice wears off, there will still be that empty feeling. Hopefully, there are people in our life we can run to, who will provide encouragement and reassurance. And hopefully, we choose to run to Christ, by whatever means necessary, through whatever words we can muster in prayer, by running to His temple, by immersing ourselves in His Word, by talking about Him with others. Getting to know Christ will go a long way to filling those empty spaces.
You, Who alone are quick to help, O Christ, manifest Your speedy visitation from on High upon Your ailing servants; deliver them from their infirmities, and bitter pain; and raise them up again to sing praises to You, and to glorify You without ceasing; through the intercessions of the Theotokos, O only loving God.
Christ “passes by” every day of our lives. Let’s run to meet Him. If the crowd is unfavorable, we can still get to Him. All it takes is a desire to know Who He is.