Today's blog post/story was suggested by my friend David Edwards. His writing prompt was simply "Whatever happened to Zacchaeus?" Today being Easter Sunday, I decided to incorporate Zacchaeus' story into the last week of Christ's life, as well as his eventual death, burial, and resurrection. The story's a little rough around the edges, I know, and likely needs some rewriting. But I hope you'll enjoy this early version of it at least. Happy Easter, everybody!
March 30th, A.D. 33
Wow, what a day! I'm still trying to process everything that's happened, so forgive me if my words come out a bit jumbled. It all started around mid-morning. I had just opened for business, but customers were few and far between.
Nobody wants to have to pay taxes, so I'm not the most popular guy. Up till today, I've not really cared much for my clients, either. Sure, I'd take their money -- and then some -- but I couldn't care less about them personally. You wouldn't believe how many sob stories I hear in a typical day -- "I can't afford to pay my taxes because I can't find any work." "I have so many kids, they have to eat -- I must choose between starving my children and paying my bills." "I refuse to pay taxes to a government that cares nothing about me." Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah! After a while, it all sounds the same. Which is why I've never felt that guilty about overcharging those poor saps. I've got the power to do it, and I've always figured why not. Who's going to stop me? Besides, I've got a wife and kids of my own, and they've got to eat too, you know.
Anyway, I'm getting off-topic. So I had just opened the tax office, and all of a sudden, I hear a hubbub of activity outside. I peek out the front door, and the street is literally wall-to-wall packed with people. I try to see what's going on, what all the fuss is about, but it seems like everyone who passes by me is at least a head taller than I am, and I can't see a thing.
I've always preferred to think of myself as more grounded than everyone else, but the truth is I'm just plain short. My father, an average-height man himself, always told me when I was growing up that I was just one growth spurt away from catching up to all my friends. I kept waiting, but it never happened. By the time I'd reached twenty-five years of age, I knew it never would happen. Fortunately, I found a nice woman who didn't mind my being short, and we fell in love -- a good thing, too, because we were betrothed to be married by our parents anyway, no matter how we felt -- and we soon started our lives together.
Anyway, back to our story. I told you I might ramble. So, I was standing there at the front door to my office, unable to see a thing. I tried to glean any snippets of information from the passersby, but all I could make out was a name: Jesus. I didn't know any Jesus, personally, but I had heard talk of a popular teacher who was headed through Jericho. Seemed to have quite a following. Must be this Jesus fellow everyone was talking about. I thought I'd better check him out, to see if he was worth listening to.
I closed the door to my office, and crawled out my back window. The alleyway behind the office led to the edge of town, where there were more trees than structures. Maybe if I could climb a tree -- something I always loved to do when I was a boy -- and get a better vantage point so maybe I could see and hear what was going on. A sizable sycamore tree just at the edge of the woods looked like the perfect spot and I quickly scaled the tree -- just like old times! -- and waited for the crowd to approach. I didn't have long to wait.
As they approached my position, the man at the center of the crowd -- who I could only assume was this Jesus fellow -- stopped at the opposite side of the road where Old Man Marcus, the blind beggar, sat calling out for help (like he always does). I assumed this Jesus was going to drop a coin or two in Old Man Marcus's lap, a kind gesture from a charismatic teacher. Plus, how great would that make him look to his many followers? They'd lap that stuff up like it was gravy!
But I was shocked and amazed by what this Jesus actually did. He put his hand on the old man's forehead, bowed his head, and appeared to be praying. Then he leaned down and spoke to Marcus quietly and the old man looked up at him, smiling. To everyone's astonishment, Old Man Marcus stood up and started shouting, "I can see! I can see! My eyes! I can see!" If I didn't know the old man personally as a life-long resident of Jericho, I'd have sworn he'd been planted there and the whole thing was a big act. But it wasn't! Old Man Marcus could see! The crowd only got louder in their adulation of the man at that point. I could definitely see the appeal. He was either the real deal, or he was a very good actor. Either way, I could appreciate what he was doing.
A minute later, Jesus and his entourage were passing just below me. I got a good look at him now. He wasn't a particularly handsome fellow, but he wasn't too ugly, either. He was just your average guy, by the looks of him. But there was something about him that stood out -- something you can't easily put in words. His followers felt it, and I have to admit -- I felt it too. I was still staring curiously when Jesus surprised me by glancing up at my tree and looking me square in the eye!
"Hello, Zacchaeus," Jesus said matter-of-factly.
"How do you know my name?" I was floored.
"Never mind that," he continued. "Why don't you come down from that tree now?"
"I wasn't doing anything wrong!" For some reason, I felt guilty, even though I don't think his comment was intended to shame me in any way.
"Of course you weren't, Zacchaeus. You simply wanted to get a better look. Come down from the tree now. We're going to your house for supper."
"My house?" This guy was crazy! First of all, I didn't know him from Adam. Second of all, if he was such a great person like all these folks thought he was, he wouldn't want to associate with the likes of me (a dreaded tax collector) in any way, much less share a meal with me and my family. Thirdly, my wife will kill me if I bring home some strange man and his close friends for a meal with out warning her in advance. But all my objections seemed not to matter in that moment.
"Certainly. Now come on down from that tree." Jesus spoke with quiet authority, not scolding, but persistent nonetheless. I could only obey his wishes and follow him. What was that all about?
I could tell that some of the people outside of Jesus' close circle of friends were also in disbelief at this strange remark. I could hear the whispers. "What is Jesus thinking, taking a meal with an old sinner like Zacchaeus?" "Serves him right! That fool Zacchaeus is finally going to get what's coming to him!" Who was I to argue with that? As strangely exciting as the thought of entertaining this stranger was, I was also exceedingly nervous and unsure what to expect from him. I climbed down from the tree, in wonder.
Two hours later, as we -- me, my family, Jesus, and his disciples -- were finishing our meal, I realized what it was about this man that made him so different. He was completely unselfish, completely unconcerned with who I was or what I did for a living. He cared about me -- Zacchaeus -- and he knew I needed what he had to offer. What I needed, what he provided was forgiveness. Without judging me, without telling me the wrongs I'd done (though he undoubtedly knew, and I can't tell you why I think that, I just do) -- he forgave me. He said, "Your sins are forgiven."
Now I'm not stupid. I know no man has the power to forgive sin. Only God has that power. But as I looked at this man, and listened to the words he spoke, and was fully convinced that what he had said was true, I knew. This was no ordinary man. This was God in the flesh. This was my Messiah, the one I -- and all of our people -- had been waiting for, for so long. And I believed.
"Jesus," I said, as he finished his last bite of bread. "I am a very rich man, as you may well see from my home and my belongings. But I have not gained this wealth through honest means. I have cheated and defrauded others to fill my own pockets. But no more! I will repay all that I owe four times over. I will give half of my belongings and wealth to the poor. I will make right what I have made so very, very wrong."
Jesus didn't say a word in response. He just smiled, put a hand on my shoulder, and rose. His disciples followed suit, and gathered their things and headed toward the door.
Just before he left, Jesus turned to me and my family and spoke these words: "Today salvation has come to this house. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. You were lost, Zacchaeus, but now you are found in me."
"Thank you." I couldn't think of anything more profound to say. But I don't think anything more was necessary. I was grateful. For his forgiveness, for his love, for his presence in my life, unexpected though it was. I know that my life is forever changed. The Messiah has come!
April 6th, A.D. 33
I still can't believe this is happening. It all happened so fast. Too fast! This is not the way this story was supposed to end. I'm sorry, I'm rambling again. I can't help it.
They've killed him. They've killed my Jesus! A mockery of a trial, a plea to Pilate, and just like that, Jesus is on a cross, dying for crimes he didn't commit, and too soon it's over. He's dead!
But this doesn't make sense. He was the Messiah! God in human form! He can't be dead! Who can kill God?
Unless...unless I was fooled too. Unless he was just a man like Caiaphas and his lot were saying. A man who spoke blasphemy, claiming to be God's Son. Maybe that makes more sense than this. I don't know. Nothing makes sense anymore. All is lost.
April 8th, A.D. 33
This is unbelievable! I've spent the last three days moping around because Jesus was killed, and for good reason. My Messiah was murdered in cold blood, and for what? For me, that's what! Or who, rather. But now!
But now, the news has come from his disciples. Jesus is not dead -- not anymore at least -- he is alive! He's risen from the dead! I don't even know how that's possible, but apparently it's more than just rumors. Many have seen him, not just the disciples, but hundreds of others too.
I have to wrap this up quickly, because my wife is packing our things right now, and we're heading to Jerusalem to see him for ourselves. I'm ashamed that I ever doubted him, because now I know the truth. He is the Messiah! Who else could raise themselves from the dead but God? Jesus IS alive!