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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Sunflower Seeds

Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

A Stroll through the Zacchaeus Story

Zacchaeus was a wealthy man… but he was an occupational loner.

Today we’re going to take a stroll through the story of Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus, the tax collector. It is found in Luke 19:1-10. The story begins with this curious statement: Jesus intended to pass through the town (Jericho). So, even Jesus changed his plans sometimes. What made him change his plans here? We soon find out. It is a person. It is Zacchaeus. (We too probably change our plans mostly because of a person or persons, not so?)

Then Zacchaeus is introduced. We learn he is a tax collector. Although a Jew, he is in cahoots with the detested occupational forces, namely, the Romans. No wonder he is hated by his fellow Jews! And we learn he is not just any tax collector. He is a chief tax collector. He rose in the ranks. How? By being good at what he did. He collected those taxes for those Romans no matter what. No hard luck story would warm the cockles of his heart. He accepted no excuses. You paid what you owed or else! The Romans must have loved this guy!

(Confession: I’m getting tired of typing Zacchaeus! So I’m going to call him Zack.) Zack was short in stature. That genetic happenstance plays into the story. He came to see Jesus–probably out of curiosity–and because he’s short, he can’t see Jesus. And no one in that crowd is going to say to this pariah, “Oh, Zack! Come and stand here in front of me so you can see Jesus!” No. So quick-thinking Zack, the loner, scrambles up a nearby tree, a sycamore tree. (Scripture scholar Lee Magness says it was not an actual sycamore tree, but a fig tree. In Greek the word fig has the same lexical root as the word sukaphanies, meaning defrauder or extortioner–which Zack was when he climbed that tree!) The point is, by telling us what kind of tree it was, Luke “roots” this story in reality. This story happened in a real place (Jericho), with real people (Jesus and Zack), and with a real tree (a sycamore/fig). This is no fairy tale! (Here’s another thought: When you are “up a tree,” do you seek out Jesus? What about when you’re not up a tree? Do you still seek out Jesus? Good questions for Advent.)

As Jesus passes, he notices Zack perched in that tree. How could he miss him? I bet seeing him in that tree made Jesus smile. Then Jesus says, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” I could say something about every word in that sentence. But let me focus on these few. First, Jesus calls him by name. How did he know who he was? Probably the same way we all get to know people in our midst who are loners, shunned, not welcome in our circles. Jesus would have heard the rumors too. Zack’s bad reputation preceded him.

But Jesus looks up at Zack and tells him to come down quickly. He’s saying, “Come to me, Zack. I’d like to meet you eye-to-eye.” (Does Jesus say similar words to us?) Then Jesus adds, “for I must stay at you house.” Wow! The word must denotes an urgency. And talk about being forward! Jesus invites himself to dinner–and more. He invites himself into Zack’s house, that is, into his life. (Is Jesus doing the same for us? Do we welcome him into our whole house–or are there some “rooms” in our house that we have decided are “off limits” to Jesus? )

Zack scurries down that tree, brushes off his expensive robes, and proudly walks beside Jesus, leading him to his house. I picture the crowd stepping aside so this “odd couple” can pass by. I can hear them grumbling: “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner. Tsk! Tsk!” I bet Jesus lost a number of followers that day. Some would have concluded: “He can’t be much of a prophet or even a holy man. Lookie! He openly associates with sinners! The very idea!” They all probably knew the old maxim: A man is known by the company he keeps.

What really happened at that dinner table that evening?

Next, there’s a glaring omission in this story. There’s no indication of what Jesus and Zack talked about during their time together! And I, for one, want to know–especially what Jesus said or what he did that turned Zack’s life completely around–180 degrees! What happened at that dinner table that changed him from a cold-hearted, conniving, selfish tax collector into a kind-hearted, generous, sorry-for-my-sins, I’ll-make-things-right-again kind of guy? In short, what turned Zack into a good and happy person? We know the answer. It was Jesus. It was Jesus being Jesus.

There’s one more thing that touches me in this story. At the end, Jesus highlights Zacchaeus’ amazing transformation: “Today salvation has come into this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” It’s that little word seek. Yes, we seek God, we seek Jesus. But our seeking pales in comparison to the Divine Seeking of God for each one of us. In that truth lies our salvation!

We might want to ask ourselves: where are we in this story? We may not be in cahoots with the devil, but we can all relate to Zacchaeus. We fall short. (Pun intended). We don’t live up to our ideals. We become cold-hearted at times. Or perhaps we feel shunned like Zack. No matter where we find ourselves today, hopefully we are retaining our curiosity about Jesus–about his life, his teachings, his way. Or maybe we’re in the crowd, judging others, even ostracizing them whom we have labeled as no good, lost, unworthy of our attention, care, or even prayer. Or maybe (hopefully at times!) we’re Jesus–in those moments we willingly change our plans because someone we encounter needs our attention and love.

This story is no fairy tale. It happened in a real place, with real people, and a real tree.

For reflection:

What stands out for you in the story of Zacchaeus?

Where are you in the story?

Is there anything you would add to this reflection?

Our song today revolves around that word seek: “Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God.” And where is that Kingdom? It is within us… and among us… May we all be given the eyes to see what and whom we seek

I welcome your comments, additions, insights below…

25 Responses

  1. Good morning, Sr. Melannie…
    Good morning, all…
    Loved every word of this! What you say about inviting Jesus in but keeping certain doors shut or locked made me stop, think, and wonder.
    But my big take away was Jesus’ willingness to cross “political lines,” so to speak, to reach out to another, to no doubt listen to another, but to not condemn another. That’s how hearts are changed.

  2. Thank you, Sister Melanie. Zach’s story always brings me back to when I was teaching at St. Agnes School sharing this story with my first graders. Six year olds could really relate! Small in stature…big in the Lord’s love.
    Good memories.

  3. Wow! another powerful teaching. You have so many gifts to make the love of God alive. Would like for all my family and friends to experience these gems.

  4. I’m struck by your comment of God seeking me! I will keep that in mind when I’m engrossed in the humdrum details of my life. Something much bigger is going on and I’m grateful and blessed for that.,

  5. Good morning Melannie. I love this story and how you reflected on it in your writing.
    I too, am curious about Jesus and look forward to meeting him in person some day.
    Have a blessed day.

  6. I’ve always loved this scripture and when I had the privilege to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Jericho was one of our stops. I wanted to get into the story and was really interested in the tree they think was the very tree that Zack climbed….I tried to imagine the crowd and the day and how he might have felt. Being short of stature myself, I could understand wanting to get a good look at Jesus, this person I had heard so much about…..but I never learned to climb a tree….I wonder if I would learn now, if it meant growing closer to Jesus? Thank goodness there are ways to deepen my relationship with Jesus/God without having to climb a tree…..for watching a woman on the cusp of her 80th year trying to climb a tree would be quite the sight, indeed!

    Thank you Sr. Melannie for your thought-provoking stories,

    1. Since we’re both on the cusp of the same number, we can get a boost up from each other. Then we’ll share Who we see then go to dinner together. Pass the Bread.

  7. Sr Melannie,
    Your question of where am I in this story is a sad realization. I am certainly one of the grumbling mass that is complaining seeing Jesus choosing “Zack’s” company. YET, it is so reassuring that the Zacks in us are being sought by Jesus. There is hope.

  8. Thank you Sr. Melanie for this new Blog connection. I have missed the weekly visits.
    I do love Zacchaeus and look forward to this reading each year. The story is so human and I am drawn into each year. This year was no exception. Thank you for bringing it to us!

  9. Hi Sr. Melannie,
    This is one of my favorite stories of the Gospels and your reflection of it is spot on. The Gospels are full of stories of Jesus reaching out to the marginalized and scorned: the woman at the well, Samaritans, and tax collectors. I reiterate John’s comment above regarding Jesus “crossing political lines” to seek out all people to be part of God’s kingdom.

  10. I’m so glad to see your blog posts back in my inbox. I would love to know what their dinner conversation consisted of, too, but I guess it’s enough to know the fruit. And what joyful fruit it was!

  11. Thanks again, Sr. Melannie. The despised , shunned ones of a society have fallen *short* of the standards of most people, who don’t appreciate that all people are somehow flawed, and so the low people need some compassion and respect as fellow humans. What Jesus said–what we might say to some unliked person–is unknown, but as Jesus said to some needy person, What can I do for you? What do you need? Getting to know anyone involves some sharing, honesty. Zack “came down” (came forth) when Jesus called, but he left his comfort zone first, on deciding to see Jesus. I imagine the Holy Spirit prompted him, as she will wherever she will, doing the will of our divine Parent who wants us all to love each other.

  12. What a delight to find Sunflower Seeds back in my inbox! Reading it was always a nice way to begin a new week. Thank you.

  13. Loved this post Melannie!!! Your wonderful humor shines through. Plenty here to reflect on as advent continues to grow on us…Loved the pics also, especially the kitten in the tree. While I was in the Holy Land, my tour group was alerted to the tree that ‘may’ have been the sycamore Zack climbed. Regardless, it provided a unique meditation. Thank you so much.

  14. Dear Sister,
    Your insights and side sights and all around sights are so enlightening; to paraphrase you, they are real Sites. One memory kept poking through: the song from 50? years ago. “There was a man in Jericho called Zacchaeus”. At the time, I didn’t play guitar but my students and I managed because it was Scripture we wanted to learn from. Now, thanks to today’s Sunflower Seed, I ‘get it’ much better. Gosh, I am Zacchaeus. Jesus acknowledges, invites, and bestows His comPANionship on me! Wow, He really demonstrates how to overlook a lot in dealing with people. Hopefully, the world will ‘get it ‘

  15. I loved reviewing this story with my 4th grade CCD class each year. The children always loved it – they pretended to be “Zack” and I was Jesus and we acted the story out. One of the best answers to Jesus’ invitation was “ I’m getting out of this tree now to follow you so when I’m taller I can stand next to you”. That was from a 9 or 10 year old! Their hearts are so pure. Great memories and greater lessons. Thank you Sister, for highlighting “Zach”.

  16. Your acknowledgement, “I could say something about every word in that sentence,” so resonates with me. I find an inquiring approach to be the joy of reading scripture. It’s a delight to “seek and find” the abundance of treasure hidden within the Word of God. Along with the reminder that “you shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” Jesus also declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me will never go hungry, and he who believes in Me will never be thirsty.” Zacchaeus was truly nourished that day. As Christmas approaches we remember that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we behold His glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” And as Zacchaeus did, may this broken world come to Jesus, know His grace and truth, and believe!

    I’m so glad to be receiving these Sunflower Seeds! Thank you, Sister.

  17. Wonderful and inspiring! Admitted not the brightest nor the desired most dedicated but I am a seeker. Here is just one thought I can take from Zack. I pray each day for world peace and those who suffer because of war. Thy Kingdom Come Thy Will Be Done. But
    Instead of demonizing Putin and the Homas, which is so easy to do, would it not be better to pray for their conversion—like Zack?

  18. Hallelujah!!! I have been trying to get your blog back. I don’t know what I did to make it stop…but tried everything to get it back. And then after I gave up hope…about 3 months…your blog popped up in my email! Thank you, Sister and thank you, God!!! I’ve missed you! Loved you retelling Zack’s story with questions all along the way…it just brought it alive for me. Thank you! I hope I get another surprise in my inbox next week! Happy Advent!

  19. How often we don’t want to be seen by others; but we desire to be seen by Jesus. And when we’re seen by Him~~we don’t mind if anyone else sees us!
    Melannie, I ❤️🌻Seeds

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Meet Sr. Melannie

Hi and welcome to my blog! I’m Sister Melannie, a Sister of Notre Dame residing in Chardon, Ohio, USA. I’ve been very lucky! I was raised in a loving family on a small farm in northeast Ohio. I also entered the SNDs right after high school. Over the years, my ministries have included high school and college teaching, novice director, congregational leadership, spiritual direction, retreat facilitating, and writing. I hope you enjoy “Sunflower Seeds” and will consider subscribing below. I’d love to have you in our “sunflower community.” Thank you!

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