When I think of living a life transformed, one of the examples that comes to mind is Zacchaeus. If you’re not familiar with his story, you can find it in the Bible in Luke 19:1-10.
The apostle Luke tells us, “Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.”
Pretty straightforward, right? You might think that at first glance. But there’s so much more to this story if we consider some details that Luke didn’t spell out.
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT ZACCHAEUS?
What do we really know about Zacchaeus? We are told that he lives in Jericho, a small town in Israel. At that time Israel was a conquered nation, under the rule of the Roman Empire. The Romans were not kind to those they conquered. They were hated by the Jews, and there was much tension between the two groups.
Next Luke tells us that Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector. There’s a lot to unpack in that. Zacchaeus worked for the Romans. He collected taxes from his fellow Jews and delivered their hard-earned money to their oppressors.
We are also told that Zacchaeus was wealthy. This was not because he was well paid by the Romans. It was common knowledge that many (perhaps most) tax collectors were dishonest. They would frequently demand more than what the Romans required in taxes, and then they would pocket the difference. Anyone refusing to pay their taxes would risk imprisonment or worse. It was a lucrative setup for the tax collector.
A ROOT OF REJECTION
Imagine, then, what Zacchaeus’ life was like. In working for the Romans, he would be regarded as a traitor to the Jewish nation. His neighbors would consider him a thief. One thing is certain: Zacchaeus wasn’t winning any popularity contests. He was probably a very lonely man.
You might think this was because of his career choice, and it’s true that was a decision he had made. But I think Zacchaeus’ rejection began long before that, because Luke gives us one more crucial detail.
Zacchaeus was short. Or as the old Sunday School song puts it, “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he…” Zacchaeus had been small all his life. What happens to children who are physically different from their peers? Often they are teased, taunted, ostracized, bullied…rejected.
I know that was true in my own life. I was a fat kid– and the other children reminded me of that, frequently. To make matters worse, I was an unathletic, clumsy boy with glasses who loved to read and learn. That set me apart from the other boys and made me a target for bullying. Is that something you can relate to in your own life, perhaps? Are there memories from childhood that still hurt? It is easy to imagine that the rejection Zacchaeus experienced began in early childhood and continued into adulthood. He was always on the outside looking in.
ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
There’s more, though. The Bible tells us, “he wanted to see who Jesus was.” Zacchaeus was wealthy and powerful, and had everything that money could buy. Why would he be curious about Jesus?
I believe it’s because Zacchaeus was an unhappy man. There were things in his life that he was powerless to change. The one thing he longed for most of all– acceptance– was out of his reach (no pun intended).
Obviously Zacchaeus knew who Jesus was. Perhaps he had heard of the miracles He had done, the other lives He had transformed. Maybe he was aware of his teachings, such as “love your neighbor.” Yes, Zacchaeus wanted to meet this Jesus.
But two things prevented him from doing so. One was his stature; Luke plainly states “because he was short he could not see over the crowd.” The second obstacle was the crowd itself. They knew who he was, they hated him, and they would never let him through.
The next part of the story is really pretty astounding: “So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see Him, since Jesus was coming that way.”
Zacchaeus displays unusual determination here. He was not going to let anything or anyone stop him from seeing Jesus. He was a desperate man. So he takes a most undignified course of action: he climbs a tree.
Can you imagine the derisive laughter of his neighbors when they see that? Can you imagine the cruel insults they tossed at him? How they must have mocked him!
When I look at Zacchaeus, I see a man who is scarred from his past. I see a man with deep emotional wounds, a man who has carried much inner pain his entire life. I see a man who yearns for release, for something more. I know, because in many ways Zacchaeus is a reflection of my own life. Perhaps you see a bit of yourself in him as well?
A DETERMINED DECISION
Zacchaeus could have stayed in his tax collector’s booth. He could have taken small comfort in what he had. He could have wallowed in self-pity or blamed others for his misery. He could have returned hatred for hatred.
But Zacchaeus did none of those things. Instead, he took action. He dared to hope for change, and he reached out to Jesus.
That’s the first step to living a transformed life. Acknowledge what has happened to you, admit where you’re at– but don’t stay there. Move on! Reach out for the healing and wholeness God has for you.
It may not be easy. It wasn’t for Zacchaeus: he had to swallow his pride and climb a tree. You may have to take some steps that won’t be easy; like Zacchaeus, you may have to humble yourself. Don’t let fear or pride keep you from taking action. Change is possible! I know, because God changed Zacchaeus’ life, and God changed my life also. God has blessings, breakthroughs, and a new beginning for you, too!
There’s much more to see in the life of Zacchaeus. The journey continues in my next blog post. I hope you’ll join me!
Click on the link “Little Man, Big Transformation Part 2” below for the conclusion of this article. You can also find it in the category Identity In Christ.