in which Zaccheus meets Jesus (Luke 18:9–14)
an original story by Sarah Agnew
an original story by Sarah Agnew
Jesus enters Jericho and is passing through the town. He is not alone. His followers are with him – the twelve, the women, the followers travelling for various reasons and lengths of time. And the crowd. There is always a crowd.
As followers move on, or the support team of women go ahead to find food and lodging for the intimate group, words gets out. The word is out; wild, untamable, contagious and gathering mass and momentum.
The word is out! He heals! I am well again! She can see again! They – they – were made welcome! The word is out: the word is, he is, here! And the people spill out from their homes and farms, from the market places, shops and gardens. He is here, and all desire an encounter, to be closer, to see!
Zaccheus is in Jericho, a senior tax collector there, and very rich. Zaccheus wants to see who this Jesus is, who could be gathering such crowds, who is liked and loved by all; who is so many things that he, Zaccheus, is not.
Zaccheus is a short statured man, a man short on stature, and the crowd is full of bigger people. He cannot see. He tries to squeeze past shop keepers, but they are disinclined to let him through, this collector of their taxes for Rome. The women close ranks against that nasty little untrustworthy man (and his wife!). Children point and laugh at the little man, then run between the legs of uncles and aunts to find their parents. He may look a bit funny, but still they are afraid.
Scowling with rejection and determination, Zaccheus skirts around behind the crowd, to where he can move more freely, and faster than the procession (for that is what this has become as the people watch and shout and wave and reach out to try to touch this Jesus). Zaccheus spies a thick-trunked sycamore, with branches just right for perching upon. His knees scrape against the bark, and his feet slip several times; a sharp something cuts his hand, and he is quickly out of breath. But Zaccheus climbs on until he reaches that perfect perching point.
Looking down, Zaccheus gets his wish, there he is, this Jesus in the flesh. Sizing him up, he finds himself deciding, against his every intention, that he would very much like to meet this man – what is it that makes one love him right away? How do you know from simply looking at him, that life will not be the same from now, will yield riches beyond anything gold can buy?
Pondering these questions, Zaccheus suddenly realizes he can hear his name. It would appear that someone has been shouting it several times, and now others are shouting it, too. Zaccheus! Refocussing his gaze at Jesus, he sees that it is Jesus who is shouting his name – Jesus is calling to him! Zaccheus sways and holds on tighter to the tree lest he fall.
Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.
The crowd gasp collectively, his disciples mutter furtively: Jesus is at it again. Finding the least popular, most hated; choosing the outcast, forbidden folk and treating them like long lost friends. No one can quite understand it. Several community leaders turn sharply on their heels, and roughly barge their way out of the crowd away from Jesus.
Zaccheus is frozen for a moment. He can’t quite understand this either. No-one eats with Zaccheus, not the Jews, from whom he takes the rather harsh taxes; not the Romans, to whom he is a low level, forgettable, employee. Into his house of stale resentment and festering greed, Jesus wants to stay today?
Ooh. I’d better get down and show him the way.
More scrapes and bruises, this time unfelt in his shock and awe, and Zaccheus walks taller than his stature usually permits, through the streets of Jericho with Jesus.
And then, standing in his house, his opulent, gold-bedecked and therefore well-guarded house, in the presence of Jesus, Zaccheus sees all that treasure in its true empty poverty. His heart sinks. There are many lovely things here of which he has become quite fond. His wife won’t be happy. They still may not have any friends – we cannot undo what is done. But this way of living, Zaccheus admits to himself, cannot go on.
Lord, he looks up at Jesus; half of all this I will donate to the poor. If I have defrauded anyone – I have defrauded many ones – I will pay it back, no, I will pay back four times what I stole. I am so sorry for the way I have been living – a lifetime of wealth stored up here has not made me as happy as this one day in your presence.
Jesus looks at Zaccheus, a smile, a gentle nod of the head. Today, he says, loud enough for the crowds leaning in at the windows to hear, salvation has come to this house – because Zaccheus remembered he is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Humanity has come for this, to seek out and save the lost.
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