Zacchaeus as a chief Tax collectors would not have been a popular. Tax collectors were thought of as dishonest, fraudulent and thieving with regard to the amount they would charge on top of the taxes they were collecting. Generally they they got away with this because as long as the taxes were paid then the Roman governor’s really didn’t care how much the collector were making. They were despised by those who worked and had to pay so much in taxes. Quite right too we might think but of course this is not a literal event but an allegory pointing to a deeper mystery where we find Zacchaeus surprisingly closer to the truth than we might first think.
One of the first observations we make about Zacchaeus is that he is short in stature. Actually the point here is not that he is short but that he could not ‘catch a glimpse of Jesus’.
Difficulty in seeing in stories like this are usually metaphors that almost always point us in the direction of lack of spiritual sight. It’s as if there is recognition that in Jesus that there is something profound and important but they haven’t yet ‘seen’ it for themselves. I remember being in this place in my own faith journey. I remember in Sunday school hearing stories of Jesus but try as hard as I might I couldn’t get it. I couldn’t catch a glimpse of it. But somewhere in me a burning desire to see had been kindled.
I remember too, in my late teens, watching a television programme about a prison chaplain who had been working with some of the most hardened criminals. The programme was about how one of the inmates lives had been turned around by by the chaplains approach. The chaplain began a weekly programme of meditating on stories from the gospels. To begin with these men saw this as a great opportunity to get out of their cells for an extra hour a week. But this soon changed for one man who began to realise there was a transforming power in these stories. He didn’t yet get it but a desire to see was kindled and this desire became a yearning for more (rather than merely the opportunity to get out of the cell).
He then described the moment when his spiritual eyes were suddenly opened and he saw who Jesus was, it was like an awakening for him. This was a transformational moment when his spiritual sight because and his desire was realised.
Desire for God is a powerful driving force in a person’s spiritual life – whether we are just beginning the journey or have become spiritually adept – this sense of yearning is a metaphysical process that enables the bond between God and the individual to be established. Indeed over time the yearning gets stronger it is experienced as a prayer and is designed to draw us into an ever deeper union.
But let us consider Zacchaeus for a moment… Here was a man who was rich and had all the trappings of material wealth. One could imagine he could easily have been proud and arrogant. And yet…
Such was his longing to see Jesus that he was prepared to humiliate himself in front of the entire crowd by climbing a tree. How undignified was that! What kind of a fool would this wealthy man have made of himself amongst those who who already despised him. Yet how great must have his desire been in order to drive him to humble himself before God.
But in this undignified act of climbing the tree we discover great keys to spiritual awakening…a yearning for God which humbles us as realisation begins to dawn. And even as we begin to wake from our worldly slumber Christ is unveiled, Zaccheus who has now seen and won’t ever unsee.
‘Zaccheus come down for I must come to your house today….’
This is symbolic of the Christ energy awakening within Zacchaeus – not Jesus going to his literal house.
That the crowds were scandalised show us that they were to busy worrying about other people’s lives (what Zacchaeus was doing and how Jesus was responding) to be personally awake enough, humble enough or desirous enough to want to experience the awakening within themselves.
Judgement, pride, lack of desire for truth and the soporific effect of literalism are the barriers that the human ego deploys in order to keep us as one of the crowd. Spiritual awakening begins with our burning desire to See God and our humility in approaching that sacred ground