I’m writing this just to get the record straight about the recent events that had unfolded in our town. In short, yes it’s true that I gave away most of my belongings to the poor and repaid those from whom I had swindled. So yes, I’m acknowledging that I have abused my power of the position that I hold. And no, I was not blackmailed into giving back the money. I did what I did of my own accord. Since I understand your skepticism, I wanted to clarify my side of the story.
Couple of months ago, I met Matthew, the tax collector, in Jerusalem. We have known each other for quite a long time. Went to the same school. We actually spent most of our childhood together. Those who know me would certify that I’m an introvert who does not have a lot of friends. But Matthew was always an exception. He was closest to the brother I never had. He understood me better than most people. As tax collectors, we are always misunderstood and looked down on as traitors because we extort money from our own people to establish Roman rule. We obviously shared the same pain of being ostracized from our own. We would spend hours together criticizing our own people, talking about politics and debating on the scriptures.
The ‘Matthew’ that I met last in Jerusalem was indeed a changed man. I could see that he was far more composed than I have ever seen him to be. In our whole course of conversation, he never brought up his share of hurt and pain. It seemed as if he was beyond that. As if he had been healed from all the hurt and it didn’t bother him anymore. There was so much compassion in his eyes. He mentioned that he had quit his job. His life had been turned around since the time he decided to follow Jesus, the Rabbi. I could not believe what I was seeing.
How was this even possible? Was Jesus really the man whom Matthew proclaimed? Seeing Matthew, I immediately recognized the depravity of my soul, how poor and sick I was. Compared to me, Matthew was always the better person. He never extorted money or took advantage of people like I did. On my way back, I kept wondering if there was any redemption for a person like me.
It was around noon yesterday, when I heard the news that Jesus was walking through my town. People in the town had varied opinions of him. Some thought he was a prophet. Others thought he was going to be the king of Israel who would eventually redeem us from the Romans. Some even thought he was a false prophet claiming to be the Messiah. I wanted to see who this Jesus was for myself. When I went to the town square to see him, I saw a multitude of crowd around him. Well, it was impossible to even have a glimpse of him since I am short. I was so desperate to see him that I decided to run ahead. I forgot everything and climbed a sycamore tree just to have a better look at him. It was also in the hope of remaining unnoticed.
As I was on the tree, waiting for Jesus, memories started flooding my mind. I was always the odd one out, the laughing stock of the family. In response, I became the rebellious kid. And as I became popular for all the wrong reasons, I was gradually left out from my own. I could not remember the last time I was invited to someone’s home. My parents and relatives were ashamed of me. I was ashamed of myself. I could not look myself in the mirror to see the person I had become.
Just as I was thinking about my life, I saw Jesus. He looked like anybody else. His appearance wasn’t impressive. But as he came closer to where I was, I could see what Matthew was talking about. There was something about him that got everyone’s attention. I could sense so much grace in him. And as I began to be nervous, I was hoping that he wouldn’t look up and notice me. But to my astonishment, he did.
When Jesus came to the place where I was, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down because today I must stay at your house.”
“Zacchaeus!” He knew my name.
To be honest, I have no idea of what took hold of me. Immediately I came down and welcomed him. I was so full of joy. I can’t even begin to describe of all that was going within me. Spending time with him was like Heaven. Heaven indeed.
I saw the compassion in him. He could see right through my facade and yet chose to love me. I know it was not about deserving because I had done nothing good in my life. It was about belonging. Though lost I was, I belonged to him. He had somehow found my lost soul. I have never felt so whole in my life. Never felt so loved. This love burned within me to an extent that I was willing to give up everything I held most dear. And that’s what happened. I gave half my belongings to the poor and repaid four times to those I extorted. What I gave was nothing in comparison to what I received from Jesus. My friends, the Messiah is here. You don’t have to keep seeking him anymore, he will come seeking you.
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