Zacchaeus: A Problem with Self-Esteem

My home is in Jericho, a town fifteen miles northeast of Jerusalem. My people first arrived in Jericho fourteen hundred years ago when Joshua fought a famous battle here. You might think I would be proud and happy to be a citizen of this great city. Not so, I have never been happy.

As a boy I had dreamed of being a great leader like Joshua but my dreams were dashed when I began attending school at the synagogue. Recess was always the same. The two boys who were the leaders would choose sides to play keep-away with a wool yarn ball. Every time, I was chosen last, for you see I am very short.

Eventually my father and my brothers became successful traders. When sellers intimidated me, my brothers told me I was not needed in the business and that I should find other work.

Their continual rejection of me left me sad, but I was still determined to show everyone that I was as good as they were. My opportunity came when the Roman rulers asked me to be the superintendent of customs for the district of Jericho. My friends and family considered me a traitor, but I was determined to show them up by becoming rich.

To increase my riches, I began to collect more than the Romans required, keeping the extra for myself. I just knew that when I became rich enough I would be happy. But the more I had the more I wanted, and instead of becoming happy I grew increasingly more sad.

The wise man, Jesus, who had been teaching in the synagogues and on the hillsides was coming into Jericho. He would know what I should do to find happiness. I was determined to see Him because I just knew He could solve my problem. After a lifetime of reminders, I did not need another to know that I would not be able to see Jesus over the crowd unless I climbed the sycamore tree beside the road. And that is what I decided to do.

I had just found a comfortable seat on a large branch when I heard some commotion down below. It was Jesus. He was a big broad-shouldered man with a friendly face. When He heard the rustling of the branches, He looked up. Then in a loud voice He said, "Zacchaeus! You come down! For I'm going to your house today!"

Hurriedly I climbed down the tree. Jesus was waiting for me. It had been a long time since anyone had been over to my house. I invited some of the people who were traveling with Jesus to come as well. I felt a certain satisfaction in having my living room filled with laughter. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves so much that I began to wonder if maybe I had missed the reason for having all the money anyway.

When the laughter died down, I cleared my throat then stood to my feet. In a gesture of friendship, I raised my cup to make a toast, "From now on I will give half of my wealth to the poor, and if I find I have overcharged anyone on his taxes, I will penalize myself by giving back four times as much!"

At first the room was quiet then, one by one, everyone joined in the toast saying a hearty, "Amen!" I wasn't quite sure, however, what Jesus was thinking. But in a moment, He rose to His feet and a hush came over the crowd. Then, all at once, He threw up His arms and said, "Truly, salvation has come to this house today."

Based on Luke 19:1-10.

Copyright 1997 by John C. Westervelt

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