I had always thought that having enough money would solve all my problems. I hadn’t grown up in a rich family, and I was always aware of the things that other people had and we didn’t. My deep resentment was fertile soil for avarice and envy to grow. I wanted all the comforts that wealth could bring, to live not only knowing where my next meal was coming from, but that it would be delicious and just to my taste, and to know that no one could evict me from my home, and that this same home would be filled with beautiful things that gave me pleasure. My family owned no land, and had no wealth for me to inherit, nor had I been trained for any lucrative trade. I would have to work out my own path to wealth.
I am not a strong man to engage in big physical tasks, I am a small man – oh, let’s be honest! – a very small man. Not a fine upstanding figure in any sense. As a child I was mocked even more for being small even more than for being poor. That does something to man’s sense of self as well (ok, I mean his pride) and I was always looking for some way to make people take notice of me, some way to assert my power so that everyone would have to take account of me. It took me some time to realise that I could gain both wealth and power by becoming a tax collector for the Romans.
So I did. It was a ridiculously easy way to make money for anyone skilled enough to read and write and count. The Romans told me how much tax they needed from the area, I collected from people as much as I could get away with, and after paying Rome the allotted amount, the rest was mine. But it certainly didn’t make me any friends. To my fellow Jews I was both a thief and a traitor. Happiness continued to elude me. The very wealth and power I had sought had become a dragging burden.
Then, one day, when I was feeling at a particularly low place, I heard that the celebrated teacher, Jesus, was coming to town. Acting completely out of character, I decided that I wanted to see him for myself. I knew that no one was going to make room for me in the front of the crowd, and I couldn’t see over them, so I decided to climb a big sycamore tree. Peering out from between the leaves I would have a really good view, but no one else would notice me.
It didn’t work out quite as I had planned. True, no one in the crowd noticed me, but Jesus did. He looked straight up into that tree, as if he had always known I would be there, called me by name (how did he know?) and told me to come down because he wanted to eat at my house. I was astonished (so was everyone who knew me), but the invitation was irresistible. I had never climbed down from a tree so fast, and didn’t even stop to consider that, in that moment, I was also climbing down from the high and lonely perch of unlawful wealth, misused power, and deep, deep resentment (which can be the most self-righteous choice there is). I simply looked in his eyes and saw that he loved me, that he was glad to meet me, and suddenly all the things I had held onto so tightly seemed like dust and ashes by comparison, and the embrace in which I had held them seemed like prison chains which bound me to misery. I could give it away, I could be done with it all, I could be free.
And Jesus smiled at me and said, “Today salvation has come to this house.”