The Short Story of Zacchaeus

This story is an example of storytelling, as covered in the previous article.

It's not easy being short. Zacchaeus knew that from experience. When he was a child he had to stand on a chair just to reach the tabletop (that's how he developed the habit of always eating his meals standing up).

When he went to Hebrew school his arms were not long enough to open the scrolls far enough to read all across the page. The rabbi had to hold the scroll open for him.

When as a young man he would walk in the procession to the temple, he rarely saw anything except someone's else's back. It was even worse if he happened to be walking behind a donkey!

But worst of all was the teasing. "Hey, I heard that Zacchaeus was studying to be a rabbi. Well at least all his sermons will be short." Very funny.

"Hey Zacchaeus, I heard that short people don't live long." Hardy har har.

"I'll show them," he thought. "I may not be big. I may not be strong. But I have brains. I'll get even. I'll become a tax collector!"

And that's what he did. As tax collector he had all the power of Rome behind him. Those who teased him when he was young, now trembled when he knocked on their doors. To those who handed him insults, he now handed bills. Those who once laughed at him now addressed him with respect: "Yes, Mr. Zacchaeus. No, Mr. Zacchaeus. Good day, Mr. Zacchaeus."

Zacchaeus even liked to tell his own version of short jokes: "Did you hear about the short tax collector? The bills he handed out were longer than himself!" (That's not funny, Zacchaeus.) Zacchaeus was so good at tax collecting that he became the chief tax collector in his town of Jericho. And he grew very, very rich.

The only problem with being the chief tax collector was that you didn't have any friends. Zacchaeus didn't have any friends before he was a tax collector, but now it was worse because he had enemies. Before they just teased him (they didn't really mean to hurt his feelings; they just didn't understand what it felt like to be short), but now they outright hated him.

Zacchaeus felt that hatred. It was worse than the teasing. And his revenge of collecting taxes didn't make things any better for him. He wanted friends but what could he do? The only job he knew how to do was collect taxes.

He was truly a miserable little man.

Then one day he heard about Rabbi Jesus who was teaching that God loves everyone: the black and the white, the Jew and the Roman, male and female, tall people and short people. This sounded quite interesting to Zacchaeus and he wanted to meet this Rabbi Jesus.

Wouldn't you know it. One day Rabbi Jesus came to Jericho. A huge crowd of people thronged around the Rabbi. You could not get anywhere within 100 cubits of the man. Zacchaeus strained his neck. He stood on tiptoe. He jumped in the air. He couldn't get so much as a glimpse of the Rabbi.

But Zacchaeus had brains. And he put them to use. As he watched the crowd move along the Jericho Road he noticed a sycamore tree growing in an orchard beside the road. One of the branches grew right out over the road.

"Ah, ha," thought Zachaeus. "If I can climb that tree and shimmy out on that branch I will be so close to Rabbi Jesus when he come this way that I will almost be able to touch him. I'll certainly be able to see him and hear what he is saying."

So Zacchaeus climbed up into that sycamore tree and waited. With his robe bundled around him and his face peeking out from the leaves he looked more like a Cheshire cat than a tax collector.

Then the crowd shuffled by. They stirred up dust into the air which made Zacchaeus cough. And that made the Rabbi look up. "Zacchaeus," said Rabbi Jesus, "Come down right now. I must stay at your house today."

Well, Zacchaeus was dumbfounded. He didn't know what to say. He shimmied back down that tree and stood looking up at Jesus, who look down at him and smiled. And Zacchaeus knew this was no joke.

Zacchaeus turned and led the way to his house. You have to smile when you think of it now. There was this wee, little man leading the procession. Behind him was Jesus, so tall and handsome. Behind him were the disciples and then all the people whose pockets Zacchaeus had made lighter. But at least for once in his life, Zacchaeus was at the front of the parade.

The people at the back of the procession and those standing along the street were amazed, and not a bit too pleased. "Look," they said. "Rabbi Jesus is gone to be the guest of a sinner." "A friend of tax-collectors is no friend of mine," muttered others of the bystanders.

When they arrived at Zacchaeus's house Zacchaeus ordered his servants to prepare the biggest feast they could put together — apologizing for giving them such a "short" notice. In hardly any time at all, the servants had a huge meal prepared of roast lamb and mutton and bagels and everything kosher. The people waiting out in the streets could smell the delicious aroma wafting out through the open windows. Those closest to the house could hear what was being said.

Zacchaeus was so happy that his smile stretched from ear to ear. He looked more like Howdy Doody than a tax collector. "Imagine, Rabbi Jesus in my house," he thought to himself. He who had no friends now had the most famous Israelite in the world as his friend. "Rabbi Jesus sitting at my table," he thought.

I don't know what they talked about, but as they did Zacchaeus seemed to grow six inches taller. I'm sure if you measured him he wouldn't be any taller but it just seemed that way. His eyes were brighter. His shoulders straighter. His frown was gone. There was a confidence and … yes, a joy in his face.

Then Zacchaeus stood up. And no one dared tell a joke about his height. There seemed to be a dignity about him.

"Look, Lord," he said loud enough for all to hear. "Here and now I give half my possessions to the poor" (there was absolute silence in the room as everyone's mouth dropped open total wonderment). "And", he continued, "if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount." Everyone stared at Zacchaeus and he just stood there beaming like a lighthouse, not at all like a tax collector.

Then Jesus spoke to the crowd. I think he was half laughing for joy. "Today salvation is come to this house," he said. "because this man too is a son of Abraham."

I guess you could say that at that moment, Zacchaeus's career as a tax collector was cut short.