If you were to ask a typical Jew of Jesus' era what group of officials were the most despised, the answer would surely be the tax collectors. Jesus knew this and, as you will have noticed, used it to His advantage in getting out the message that His redemptive love embraced even the most despicable of lost sheep, each one of which He longed to restore, refresh, rekindle. The love within the Blessed Trinity is so enriching that Jesus hates to see even one of us fail to consciously reflect it.
No one taking advantage of the relatively helpless can be said to reflect a knowing, loving God. Tax collectors had license to prey upon the week and the poor. Zacchaeus, like Matthew, was a tax collector and had grown very wealthy in the process. He was a man who had chosen to isolate himself from his own people in order to pursue his self interest at their expense.
And yet, he was fascinated by the famous teacher, wonder worker, who appeared to seek nothing from his personal fame. He did not even have a home. As a student of humanity, Zacchaeus wanted to understand what made Jesus tick. When it was brought to his attention that Jesus was about to pass in front of his estate on the Jericho road, he scrambled up into a tree to get a good look at Him.
It was not simply his small stature that kept him from going out onto the road to join the crowd following Jesus, it was also a well founded fear of being attacked. Zacchaeus was not a very nice man. He had long ago paid a price for his wealth and the protection of Rome that went with it. It was a price far greater than ostracism. The price he paid was his own humanity. Hardness of heart was a prerequisite for a successful tax collector. Perhaps he was beginning to sense that to be heartless meant to be dead...no matter how rich. The fact is that he felt drawn toward the source of faith, hope and love.
Hiding in the branches of the tree overhanging the road, Zacchaeus must have been a funny sight. Jesus spotted him and revealed him for all to see and mock. Zacchaeus was so embarrassed! Jesus told him that He wanted to get off the road now and spend the night with him. The grins fell from the people's faces. This was an honour any one of them would have coveted...and Jesus was bestowing it on a pig! Arm in arm, Jesus and Zacchaeus walked down the lane toward his palatial home. Before long, Zacchaeus was totally smitten, converted, born again...you name it! His promised charity and restitution was more than enough to put him on the street. Jesus apparently took him at his word and praised him accordingly. Jesus was crucified ten days later. No doubt he was truly and deeply mourned by the penitent Zacchaeus. But I wonder if Zacchaeus kept his promises. I doubt it. And what is more, I am sure that Jesus, while accepting his enthusiasm, knew that he might well make significant changes in his life style but nothing too extreme!
If you look back upon the many moral admonitions attributed to Jesus in the Gospels you see one common element. He always sets the bar very high.
Learn from the Saints. I can assure you that there is not a soul in heaven who is not there in spite of many failings. The bar is set high so that we are always challenged. Does Jesus ask too much from us? Did He expect too much from Zacchaeus? ...NO!
"OUR SALVATION IS IN THE STRUGGLE FOR PERFECTION, NOT IN ITS ATTAINMENT."
Once again we are reminded that God judges us by how hard we try, ...not by how well we do.