Zac was used to people calling him names behind his back and sometimes to his face. Even the beggars were reluctant to take his money. It was incongruous, considering that he was a wealthy man, but the religious leaders forbade the poor from accepting alms from him. The low status that his livelihood earned him amongst his own people hadn’t stopped him from working for the Roman conquerors or working his way up until he had become a chief tax collector—a man of power and plenty but not popularity.
Whatever had driven him to put so much effort into amassing wealth, it had worked. Yet his was an empty, loveless life. “Vanity, vanity! What’s it all for?” he often asked himself, echoing the words of Solomon, who seemed to have been describing Zac’s life when he wrote, “All his days are sorrowful, and his work burdensome; even in the night his heart takes no rest.”1
Curiosity had gotten the better of him that day. Like other Jericho residents, he had heard stories about the visiting rabbi—even tales of miraculous healings. Most of the people trudging the same path were probably hoping to see a miracle, Zac surmised. As new arrivals continued to pour into the crowd, the chances of him being able to see anything at all got slimmer and slimmer. As short as he was, there was no way he would be able to see above this throng unless he could find a vantage point.
It was then he noticed the wide sycamore fig tree growing by the side of the road. It wasn’t hard to climb, and soon Zac was situated where he could see a crowd proceeding slowly along the road. The center of everyone’s attention was a man of medium build with an air of kindly authority.
When the crowd reached the tree, the man called up to Zac, “Zacchaeus! Come down. I want to meet you. Take me to your house.”
So many years had passed since that day when the unexpected guest arrived for dinner. At the time, Zac hadn’t known how significant those few hours would be, but looking back now he realized that they had changed not only him, but his relationship with everyone he had encountered from that moment on.
The words of the Teacher had penetrated Zac’s heart. He had already known how vain his life was, but now he realized for the first time that he could do something about it. Before the night was over he had pledged to give away half of his possessions. This was no small sum, nor was it an empty promise. True to his word, Zac also paid back the people whom he had taxed unfairly. In fact, he compensated for his previous dishonesty by paying them back four times the amount he had cheated them out of.
“Don’t put aside treasures on earth,” the Teacher had told him. “Lay up treasures in heaven, for where your treasure is, that’s where your heart will be too.2 Don’t work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you.”3 With advice like that, collecting taxes in order to amass wealth soon lost its appeal.
It had taken awhile, but in time Zac was able to follow in his Teacher’s footsteps. The greatest commandments, he learned, were to love God and to love others.4 It was this path of unselfishness that he followed for the rest of his days.
The sunset was drawing to a finish. Zac closed his eyes one last time. Ever so quietly he passed from this world to the next, greeted by a golden sunrise in the presence of the Savior he had loved since they first met on that dusty road long ago.
* * *
“Today salvation has come to this house, for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”—Jesus, Luke 19:9–10
According to tradition and the writings of Clement of Alexandria (c. 150–215), Zacchaeus became a companion of the apostle Peter and in time was appointed bishop of Caesarea.
1. Ecclesiastes 2:23
2. Matthew 6:19–21
3. John 6:27
4. Matthew 22:37–40