"Zacchaeus: A Monologue"

Scripture:  Luke 19:1-10

Meet Zacchaeus

My name is Zacchaeus, but my friends call me Zach.  Well…  I like to think that if I had friends, they would call me Zach.

You see, I’m a tax collector.  In fact, I'm not just a tax collector, I’m the Chief Tax Collector and I have the privilege of overseeing the collection of taxes for the entire Jericho region.  My job comes with a whole lot of responsibility that I’ve earned from the Roman government - but also a whole lot of perks.  I'm accountable for one of the most populous and wealthy regions in all of Judea, which means that I manage a large staff of toll collectors who all have to meet their quotas, or else Rome will have all of our heads.  But that also means that when we do our jobs well, we are very well taken care of. 

But most of the people in Jericho don’t appreciate how hard I work.  They don’t particularly like what I do.  They don’t like that it’s my job to collect taxes from them.  They don’t like that my job – my success – has brought me wealth and allowed me to have very nice things.  Most people in town see me as a thief and a nuisance, somebody to be avoided at all costs.  Others take their hatred toward me even further and think that I’m a traitor and a conspirator against the Jewish people.  To the religious people in the temple, I'm unclean, untouchable, and unworthy.

Good at What I Do

To put it simply, I’m not the most popular guy in town.  You could say I'm well-known, to be sure…  But I’m not popular.  And I don’t try to be.  It’s not my job to be liked by my constituents – it is my job to take from the people of Jericho the money that they owe to Rome, and a little bit on top so that my family can live comfortably.  …And, not to brag too much, but I’ve always been pretty good at what I do.

I started out like all tax collectors do – collecting from one of the poorer, less desirable sections of town.  It may not have been much, but I took what I was given and I did what I could with it.  I did whatever needed to be done, and I made no apologies about what I had to do to get my money...  And before I knew it, my hard work was paying off.  I remember that the chief tax collector at the time once pulled me aside and told me, “Zacchaeus…  You’ve got potential.  The way you can get people to pay up - I'm pretty sure you could squeeze blood from a stone!  If you keep this up, Zacchaeus, you’ll be taking my job some day.”

And, not five years later, that’s exactly what I did.  I bought some land, built myself a big house, and even got myself some servants.  I was living the dream!

Something Missing

It didn't take long before I started hearing the whispers of people on the street as I walked by...  People calling me "greedy, a "scoundrel," a "collaborator," and "a disgrace to his people."  There were other names, too - names I can never repeat.  And, after a while, I started to realize...  They were right.

At first, I pretended that I didn't care.  I pretended that I took pride in the fact that people ran inside and slammed the door when they saw me coming down the street.  I pretended that I didn't care that the other tax collectors started avoiding me, and even my own brothers and sisters stopped associating with me.             

I told myself that even if I couldn't get their respect, at least I could have their money...  And I tried to convince myself that money was the better of the two.  After all - respect can't put food on the table.  Respect can't buy new suits or old wine...  But money!  Money can buy almost anything.  Money is security.  Money is success.  Money is power.

But inside, I knew that something was missing.  I had a growing feeling, a pain down deep in my stomach, that maybe money really wasn't what was most important...

I saw families shopping together in the marketplace.

I saw friends laughing together.

All around me, I saw people sharing meals, sharing life, sharing love...

I realized...  I was missing all of those things.  I couldn't remember the last time I talked to anybody who didn't owe me money.  I had been sending my servants to the marketplace because the shopkeepers wouldn't serve me.  Since I bought my house, my family hadn't hosted a single guest.

Jesus, Friend of Sinners

It was around that same time that I started hearing stories about this man named Jesus.  Some people were saying that he was a great Rabbi or even a Prophet.  Others were saying that he was just a troublemaker.  I even heard one person say that he thought Jesus was the Messiah.

Anyway.  What I did know was that there was a tax collector in the Galilee named Matthew who became one of his disciples.  -- Can you imagine?? --  What kind of Prophet associates with a tax collector?  For that matter, what kind of troublemaker associates with a tax collector?  Apparently this one did.

Jesus Coming

So when I heard that he was going to be coming through town, I just had to find out what all the fuss was about.  People were saying that he might perform a miracle.  I knew that I had to see who this man really is!

...Which turned out to be much more difficult than I expected.  By the time I wrapped up my accounts for the day, the crowd was much too think for me to squeeze my way in.  There were three things that made this even more difficult for me:

   First, the crowd was too excited to let anybody go in front of them and block their view.

   Second, nobody was inclined to let me in, on account of my reputation.  In fact, when they realized who I was, they pushed even closer together and threw out their elbows toward my head.

   Third, I'm so short that I couldn't see over anybody's heads, even when I tried to stand on my tip-toes.  If I jumped, I could see very briefly, but that wasn't going to work.

I knew that I had to do something if I was going to have any chance whatsoever of seeing Jesus.  So I made a plan.  I would run ahead, to right where Jesus would soon be passing.  To make sure the crowd wouldn't block my view, I would climb a large tree and stand on the highest limb I could reach.  Now, you might think that it's a bit undignified for a man of my age and position to be climbing trees like some small child...  Well, you may be right, but I realized in that moment that I had long ago already lost the respect of anybody who would see me, so I had nothing to lose.  So!  Up the tree I went - somewhat awkwardly, I must admit.

Jesus & I

I climbed the tree just in time, because as soon as I got settled, Jesus and his crowd of followers were coming down the road.  I'm not sure what Jesus was teaching about as he walked along, because I couldn't hear over the cheers of the crowd about Jesus and the snickers of the crowd about that "crazy tax collector Zacchaeus stuck in the tree."

They were wrong.  I wasn't stuck.  I was, however, dangling somewhat precariously above the street where Jesus walking.  People were whispering and sneering in my direction.  Apparently I was causing quite a commotion, because Jesus stopped right below me and stared for a second before he called out - "Zach."  --  Nobody had ever called me that before!  I'm not sure how he knew my name or that I wanted to be called Zach, but that certainly caught my attention.

"...Yes, Rabbi?"  Honestly, I don't know what I was expecting.  Maybe I was expecting him to point and laugh, just like the rest of the crowd?  Maybe I was expecting him to join in their insults - the things they were saying at that very moment - "Traitor!" "Sinner!" "Thief!"

But he didn't say any of those things.  He looked me in the eye, and he shouted up to me, "Hurry and come down here - I have to stay out your house tonight!"

At that very moment, I knew.  I knew he was a Rabbi.  I knew he was a Prophet.  And I knew why some thought he was a troublemaker - because I knew he was the Messiah. 

I leapt down from that tree as quickly as I could, filled with emotions I hadn't felt since I was a child - joy, hope, and love.  The moment my feet hit solid ground, I cried out to Jesus and to the crowd, "Half of my possessions, I promise to give to the poor.  And if I have defrauded anybody, I will pay back four times as much!"

--  Oops.  Maybe I got a little bit ahead of myself.  In the days after, I started the process of going through my records and I realized how many people I have cheated out of money...   But I still know that I did the right thing.

Dinner

It was a wonderful dinner.  I had my staff make up a great feast for Jesus and his disciples.  But the food on the table isn't what I remember.

I remember Jesus' smile.  I remember his voice.  And, most of all, I remember how Jesus made me feel.

For the first time in my life, I knew that I was accepted.  I knew that I was accepted as a part of this thing that Jesus called the "Kingdom of God."  I knew that I was good enough, exactly as I was.  I knew that God could forgive even a tax collector who made a career out of cheating people.  I knew that, even though I was such a broken, pitiful, greedy mess...  Jesus loves me.  Jesus loves me.

It's a scary thing to go out on a limb, to put yourself out there, to dangle precariously...  But it was only when I did that I saw Jesus, and I was able to see Jesus eye-to-eye.  And my life has been changed because of it.

I hope for all of you that you may be willing to go out on a limb in order to see Jesus in your own lives.  He's there if you're willing to look, to put in the time and the energy to find him, and to step out on the limb.  That's the funny thing about Jesus - even all these years later, he always seems to be passing through town, calling out to each one of us, and showing up for dinner.  

Comments