A Big Man: Zacchaeus

Deborah Beach Giordano
© October 31, 2016

Luke 19:1–10 ~ as told by Deborah

Jesus was passing through Jericho where a man named Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector and who, incidentally, was rich.

Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of the Lord as he passed by. When Jesus got there, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down from there at once, because I have to stay at your house today.”

So he immediately climbed down and was happy to welcome him.

Those who saw what happened started complaining, “He’s going to be the guest of a sinner.”

Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Here’s what I will do, Lord: I will give half of all my possessions to the poor; and if I have cheated anyone of anything, I will pay it back four times.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

The Story of Zacchaeus of Jericho
~ as told to Deborah

My earliest memory is of a crowd of stamping feet, surrounding me on all sides, pressing in against me, as I wail in fear. Above it all, my brothers and their friends’ shouted voices, “Get out of the way, short stuff.”

Bruised and bashed and pushed aside — that was the story of my childhood: the youngest, the smallest, the weakest, the slowest; the runt of the liter, the last to be chosen, the first to be cut from the team.

But it’s true, as they say: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and nobody in Jericho is stronger than me. I learned what it takes to make things happen; I went to the right places, met the right people, made the right connections, joined the right clubs, I did what needed doing.

It paid off: wealth and comfort, power and prestige. Ask anybody and they’ll tell you: Zacchaeus the Tax Collector is a big man in this town.

Ok, I’ve taken a few liberties, played a little fast and loose with the rules. So what? That’s what it takes to get to the top.

Maybe my mother — God rest her soul — wouldn’t approve of all I’ve done. But I’m telling you: nobody looks down on old Zacchaeus now. Nobody.

I’ve been hearing a lot about this fellow, Jesus. On paper he’s nothing special: an itinerant preacher from out in the provinces with a dozen or so followers. The son of a carpenter, neither royal nor rich or powerful: how does he manage to impress people the way that he does? I want to know his secret.

I’ll bet he’s tall. And handsome, stately in demeanor, athletic, self-assured …. Smug, sanctimonious, too good to have any dealings with the likes of me: Zacchaeus the petty thief, siphoner of wine jugs, tipper of scales, bribe-taker, liar, cheater.

How I wish I hadn’t come. I simply can’t stand it. I can’t let that man Jesus look down on me. He won’t set eyes on me at all; I’ll hide myself up in this tree.

That must be him, coming along the road. Why, he’s nothing special to look at, at all! Flat-footed so-and-so, covered with dust from the road, clad in plain-spun robes — probably lives on bugs and honey like that crazy fellow called John. He wouldn’t dare to presume to judge me in my fragrant, embroidered finery!

Besides, he’ll never see me. He won’t notice one little guy sitting very quietly, up above the crowd.

Oh no! He’s nearly here. What possessed me to do this? Why would I subject myself to scorn and contempt? I can’t bear to look; I’ll close my eyes and just hold on until he has passed by.

My heart is pounding so hard that leaves are being shaken off the tree.


“Zacchaeus,” Jesus called, “Zacchaeus, come down from there! I have to stay at your house today.”

It was the strangest thing: I’d never met Jesus before, but his voice sounded so familiar. It seemed quite natural at the time, but now I wonder: how on earth did he know my name?

It was a little embarrassing — well, more than a little — to have to climb down from the tree. It took a bit of time; my clothes kept snagging on the branches, and when I got to the ground there were twigs and leaves in my hair. My dignity was in shreds.

“Here I am, Lord,” I said.

“So I see,” he smiled.

“It would be an honor to have you stay with me. No one,” I began, as sobs arose in my throat, “No one like you has ever come into my home.”

“Don’t be too sure,” Jesus said softly. Then he reached out and brushed some of the leaves from my robe, “Come, Zacchaeus, we have things to do.”

At that the crowd gathered around us began hissing like snakes, “Some prophet he is: not recognizing a sinner when he sees one.”

“Wait, Lord, let me tell you something;” I straightened my shoulders and looked directly at the whisperers, “I will give half of all that I own to the poor and, if I have cheated anyone, I will pay back whatever I have taken, fourfold.

“This I will do, in God’s name,” I continued. My voice was clear and confident. The words felt warm in my chest, almost radiant. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced before.

And Jesus said, “This is a day of new beginnings! This man is as much a child of God as the most pious priest, and every bit as precious. These are the ones the Son of Man has been sent to find.”


Although Jesus left my house after only one day, he has stayed with me ever after. His tender mercy and abiding faith in God’s love has transformed my life: I now look at others — and myself — differently. No one is lower than another, no one is forsaken, no one is beyond redemption: all — every last one of us — is precious in God’s sight.

I do kindness and love mercy — not to set myself above others, but out of an abundance of joy. I simply can’t help myself: God’s goodness is so great, the divine compassion so extensive, how can I keep from singing?

I may no longer be a big man in this town, but I hope to always be a big-hearted one.

God’s great blessings be upon you!

Zacchaeus of Jericho


Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Is there anyone you have written off as “unworthy,” or “irredeemable”?

About inklingscommunity

I am a struggling Christian, committed pacifist, near-obsessive recycler, incurable animal lover, inveterate tree-hugger; a nature mystic, a socialized introvert, an advocate for the vulnerable, an opponent of exploiters.
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