This feels like a sermon. But here goes....
Last week I was revisited by a sing-song melody of my distant childhood. As I placed it I began to sing along. "Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree to see what he could see." And so on.... So I reread the story of Zacchaeus, the miniature tax collector and found it quite compelling especially in contrast to another rich man in scriptures that met Jesus.
In Luke 19:2 we learn that Zacchaeus was a wealthy high ranking official. The next 8 verses sum up his encounter with Jesus. The itinerant Jewish rabbi was entering Jericho and Zacchaeus wanted to see Him. Of course as the song clearly notes, due to his diminutive stature and the throngs of gawkers, Zacchaeus was having a great amount of perturbation in that respect. So he ran ahead of the crowd and he climbed a tree. Now as much as I know about first century customs, which isn't a lot I suppose, this activity of running and climbing was very unseemly for a man, especially one of prominence. But it was an earnest act. One of apparent desperation and humility, and Jesus not only noticed but responded by inviting himself to the tiny taxman's house for dinner, an act in Jewish custom that signified in no uncertain terms the commencement of a friendship. Zacchaeus instantly renounced any and all fiscal impropriety and promised four fold reparations to the wronged at which point Jesus declared that salvation had come to the wee little man. Amen!
In Mathew 19 verse 16 another rich man has his life collide with Jesus. The short account has the man asking Jesus what good thing he can do to find eternal life. After a rhetorical question that might have been more a comment on the mans motives, Jesus gives him the Mosaic response telling the man to obey the commandments. This the man had done without fail since his youth. So Jesus said simply and yet improbably "If you want to be perfect sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor." (And as Luke 18:22 adds, to follow Him.) We all know how that went over, for the man was very rich and sulked away. Prompting Jesus to tell his disciples that "it [was] easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven". Ouch.
Two rich men. Two completely different outcomes. But why? What struck me first was each man's desires. The rich man in Matthew was looking for eternal life, Zacchaeus, well, he was looking for Jesus. The bible says God gives us the desires of our hearts. The ones we state and the hidden ones that rule us I suppose. Zacchaeus wanted Jesus. He got that and eternal life. The rich man wanted eternal life, but the price was too high. His desire was for his wealth more than anything else. He didn't get eternal life because he didn't desire the one in whom eternal life is found. He wanted heaven, and so Jesus offered it to him, but in the future tense, if he would spend himself on behalf of the poor. (Not, I suspect to "buy" his eternal salvation by some "good" work, but to show the humble repentance of his heart.) Zacchaeus just wanted Jesus and Heaven was given to him, that day, right there, "salvation came to his house". God responds to our urgency, our desperation, our earnestly, humbly seeking Him.
Secondly, Jesus says in Luke 19:10 that he came to seek and save that which was lost. Zacchaeus knew he was lost, knew his own corruption and greed. Certainly everyone else did as per their reaction when Jesus decided to eat with him. The rich man on the other hand was righteous by the religious standards of the day. He had obeyed the law and the prophets and this would have been well know in such a close community. In his pride, or maybe his religious conditioning, he missed what Jesus had asked him, albeit cryptically, "Why do you ask me what is good? Only One is good." In essence, there is no eternal life through your good works, but only in heaven's good work- The coming of the Christ, to seek and save the lost. And then the man's true desires were exposed, as desire's always are, in the self-evident truth that "where your treasure is there will your heart be also".
The final thing that I wanted to mention was this. Zacchaeus met Jesus and instantly gave half of his possessions to the poor. In the early church those that had experienced Jesus had all their possessions in common. This was the reoccurring theme of those having experienced the redemption of the cross and the Person of Jesus, and their subsequent desire to give back all they had in worship of the one who Sacrificed all of Himself for them. A primary external manifestation of a heart being filled with the loving presence of God is the desire to love others, to meet their physical needs, and to share in their suffering. A heart that has been transformed by God's sacrificial love will do this instinctively, organically, and spontaneously with great joy. It is the fruit of the Spirit that naturally grows from the seed of salvation. Which begs the question? What do we, the elect, do with what we have on behalf of the poor? Are we so incredulously fulfilled by God's tender longing for us that the world and it's possessions have dimmed and faded in importance? Or are we sulkily resisting the Holy Spirit when he asks us to take care of the least among us, to really love our neighbor as ourselves? If we really have met Jesus, if He is really the desire of our hearts, is He enough for us down here? Is He our treasure?