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Something About Jesus

Posted on 16 Jun 2024

June 16, 2024

Luke 19:1-10

Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman


He was too short.  He was too rich.  He was a liar and a cheat.  These are all ways that children’s Bibles describe Zacchaeus, and depending on the children’s Bible or Bible translation you read, all of these things are either true or gross exaggerations based on people’s assumptions and prejudices.

The New Revised Standard version says that Zacchaeus is short in stature.  Stature can have different meanings though.  It can mean height – that Zacchaeus was a wee little man as the song says.  Stature, in English, can also pertain to how respected, intelligent, or moral you are.  If we go back to the Greek word “helikia”, it, too, can go either way.  “Helikia” can be age, size, or maturity.  A related word can be translated as either how much or how big, or as a peer/comrade.

Does Zacchaeus climb that Sycamore tree because he’s not tall enough to see over the crowds?  Or does Zacchaeus climb that tree because as a chief tax collector, as an agent of the oppressive Roman Empire, he might have power over his neighbors but he does not have their respect?  As Zacchaeus tries to see Jesus, do the others in the crowd push him back, push him away?

We have no way of knowing if Zacchaeus is a little person or if Zacchaeus is simply not well thought of.  The same is true about knowing whether he is a liar and a cheat.

Dislike of tax collectors was pretty common in Jesus’ time.  Not much has changed; however, put yourself in the shoes of someone living in Israel two thousand years ago.  The Roman Empire took over their land and their lives.  We marvel at what that Roman Empire was able to accomplish, at the feats of architecture they built which still exist – aqueducts, Hadrian’s Wall, the Coliseum in Rome.  Amazing accomplishments – which were funded by the people they conquered and then taxed, and taxed heavily.

Imagine your frustration and anger, at barely being able to scrape out an existence for your family and then having the Roman Empire come along and take a large portion of what you had – for things that did not even benefit you.  And then add to that that the person collecting the tax was your neighbor, your fellow Jew, and they were adding their payment on top of the tax, an amount of their own choosing.

Whether it was true or not, I think even the most open-minded compassionate person would wonder about the morals of such a tax collector, wonder how they could be a part of a system that oppressed their own people, wonder how they could choose to get rich, not just make living, but get really wealthy off their neighbor’s labor.  And if that’s what you thought about a tax collector for the Roman Empire, what did you think about a chief tax collector who was in charge of all of the others?

Biblical scholars debate whether Zacchaeus deserved that reputation as a liar and a cheat.  In verse 8, the New Revised Standard version of the Bible translates the Greek as future tense: “half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor” (Luke 19:8, NRSV)  So is this the promise of a reformed man?  Going forward will Zacchaeus give 50% of his possessions, which is a lot more than the ten percent God calls him to give?  As the Children of God Storybook Bible says, has God changed Zacchaeus’ heart?

If you translate verse 8 in the future tense, the story of Zacchaeus is certainly one of transformation, how Jesus can change the lives of even the most unchangeable.

Some translations though quote Zacchaeus as present tense, saying, “I give away half of my income to the poor.” (Luke 19:8, The Message)  If that is the case, then Zacchaeus does not deserve his reputation as a liar and a cheat.  Instead, his neighbors should respect him and even try to emulate him as he goes above and beyond in his generosity.

It’s an interesting question.  Does Zacchaeus deserve his bad reputation?  Is his heart changed by Jesus? Or is Zacchaeus disliked for other reasons? For his height or the color of his tunic?  For some misstep he made as a child that his peers continue to judge him for or for his career path?

Sometimes, we just dislike people for being different.  Sometimes, we mistreat people for being different.  Sometimes we justify our dislike and mistreatment by blaming the person. Zacchaeus is too short, too rich.  He’s a liar and a cheat.

Does Zacchaeus deserve his bad reputation?  It’s a good question.  However I’m more interested in a different question.  What was it about Jesus that compelled Zacchaeus to climb that tree?

I am going to assume like in our time that in Jesus’ time, you did not often find an adult climbing a tree.  Was it pure curiosity?  Was Zacchaeus making it work so he could see?  Or was there something more, something more about Jesus?

I think so because it is one thing to be curious about Jesus.  It’s one thing to want to know what this guy looks like.  It’s a completely other thing to risk social embarrassment, to open yourself up to even more dislike and disdain by climbing a tree.

Whether he could articulate it or not, Zacchaeus was looking for something when he made the decision that day to come and get a look at Jesus.  What was he looking for?  What are we looking for?  Friends? Community?  Acceptance?

Peace of heart? Peace of mind?  The comfort and strength of being able to lean on someone else when life gets particularly hard?

What was Zacchaeus looking for when he went to see Jesus?

What are we looking for when we seek out Jesus?


I’m not sure we always know, but deep in our hearts, at the core of our souls, we just know that there is something about Jesus.  We might not have the words.  We might not climb a tree, and still we know, there is something that draws us to Jesus.

There is something about him that we know is going to heal our hurts, fill those empty places inside of us, and make us whole.  There is something about Jesus that is going to change our lives.  There is something about Jesus that does change our lives.

And that something is love, unconditional love.  Jesus is God’s amazing grace, God’s unconditional love in human form.

When we feel lost, not sure which direction to choose; when we feel lonely, not sure if anyone cares what happens to us; when we feel desperate or despairing, unsure as to how to turn our life around, how to calm it all down, how to have the joy outweigh the drudgery; the choice is as simple as listening to that soft voice inside ourselves calling us to turn to Jesus, calling us to seek out Jesus, just like Zacchaeus did.


Jesus wants to love us.  Jesus wants to heal us.  Jesus wants to comfort us.  Jesus wants to include us.  Jesus is forever reaching out his hand and saying, “Come down.  Come close.  I want to go to your house.  I want to spend time with you.”

And even when we don’t understand it, even when we can’t put our feelings or thoughts into words, we know that yes, Jesus, God’s Word made flesh, God’s love made flesh, yes, Jesus is that somethingwe need.