Zaccheus was no exception. He, too, wanted to see Jesus. The story does not tell us why. After all, he had everything a man could have. He had power: being a taxcollector he was protected by the state-oppressor of Rome. Moreover, St Luke tells us that he was a “chief tax collector”. He was one of the top ones. He had riches. Luke specifically tells us that he was rich. Now, never had it been heard that there was a tax-collector who was not rich! So, this Zaccheus must have been exceptionally so! Still, he desperately wanted to see Jesus. In spite of everything, he probably felt something was lacking, something that perhaps this travelling Rabbi could provide.
Had Zaccheus been a normal man like so many others, he could have probably just mingle with the crowd, and gently ease himself to get as close as possible to Jesus. But Zaccheus’ story was very different to that of everybody else. Like each one of us, he was carrying a huge, and in his case heavy baggage. Different things hindered him from seeing Jesus.
First of all there was his smallness. He was short. This made it difficult, or rather outright impossible, for him to see Jesus from behind everybody else.
And there was the crowd, that was against him! For obvious reasons, they would not let him pass. They hated him. He definitely knew this, and did not even bother to try. So, he opted for another solution: tree-climbing.
In a way, Zaccheus’ story can be the story of each and everyone of us. Who of us can say that we have not been hindered at some stage in our lives by our smallness in our journey with the Lord? We are painfully aware of our smallness, of our unworthiness, of our not being up to standard. Somehow, the truth of what we pray before communion. “Lord, I am not worthy”, becomes an obstacle rather than a spring-board to thrust ourselves into God’s merciful arms.
Then there is the crowd. When following Jesus implies having to go against the current, we immediately feel the pressure of the fact that everyone else does or acts differently. We feel we cannot go against the crowd. We feel that we have to conform, to join, to not be different. The fear that we might be ridiculed or having to stand out is very real. It’s worth noting that, in that crowd there was a good number of people who were actually following Jesus - followers and disciples. This prompts me to ask the question: have I ever, being a follower of Jesus, been an obstacle to others in their desire to follow Jesus? Perhaps by my actions, my judgements, the way I relate to them?
Due to all this, Zaccheus climbs the sycamore tree. In the thick foliage of that tree, he can see without being seen. But Jesus does see him, orders him to immediately come down, and invites himself into this sinner’s house. This reaching out from the part of Jesus prompts the conversion of that sinner. Jesus did not ask Zaccheus to change his life-style so that he could go into his house. It works the other way round.
Do not be afraid of your littleness, of your unworthiness. Unlike the other “good” people who started grumbling against Jesus for going to the sinner, Jesus is not scandalized by our unworthiness. Just accept Jesus’ invitation to come and visit you, and allow the rest to happen.