You could call him a hatchet man for Rome. (In his day and age, the Roman government recruited Jewish folk to collect taxes from other Jewish folk). Or “a sawed-off shyster,” in the words of one great devotional writer. Or a turncoat. (Can you imagine pulling up in your BMW to collect the first quarter’s federal askings from those in the trailer park around the corner?)

Zacchaeus: Rich (according to the text), corrupt (implied), despised. It doesn’t take a fecund mind to imagine the name-calling that ensued among the faithful. “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he. He climbed into a sycamore tree, because Jesus he wanted to see.” (But dyk the grammar in Luke 19 makes it possible that Jesus was the short one?)

Everyone in the crowd that day in the trade center of Jericho had a good idea what Zacchaeus was. Did anyone know what he could be? Did his mother? Did he himself? “Humans look on the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Perhaps only one in the crowd knew that the besmirched tax man had it in him to be a super-duper giver. “A son of Abraham” is how Jesus described him by day’s end. (Remember Chuck Colson? “From Nixon’s hatchet man to friend of Jesus.”)

In some parts of the Christian church, he goes by the nomenclature of St. Zacchaeus. Bro. Zacchaeus, who traded in his money for altogether different kind of wealth. “Look, half of my possession, Lord, I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will restore it fourfold” (Luke 19:8). In the early days of the fellowship called the Way, they all knew Zacchaeus. They remembered. Zacchaeus remembered, too, with a wry smile. How could he forget what happened when he came down from his perch. “The way up is down.”

The Rev. Eugene Stockstill is pastor of Ebenezer United Methodist Church and Myrtle United Methodist Church in Union County.

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