He had always believed that his shortness of stature was a horrible burden to bear. As a child he had been laughed at and picked on by boys who were bigger than him but no older; as a man he had been disregarded and overlooked until he found a way to make them take him seriously. In his world there were two things that made everyone sit up and take notice: money was one and the power of Rome was the other. And there was one way a rather clever nobody like him could use both of those to his advantage – become a tax collector for the Romans! Nobody would dare despise him then (or, at least, not to his face).
And it worked, well, mostly it worked. Nobody dared openly offend the man who set their taxes. And he gained wealth, much wealth. Of course by the standards of Jewish law it was dishonestly gained wealth, because Rome set the amount they wanted for the district and then he collected the actual taxes from people, setting them at levels that gave him a nice little excess he could keep for himself. Alright, to be completely honest (which he never was), it was quite a large excess, and he enjoyed all the privileges of wealth. The fact that people possibly liked him even less than in his bullied childhood was something he took care not to think about. Wealth and power certainly had their compensations. But somehow they hadn’t freed him from his burden, and he was no longer childish enough to blame his lack of height. It was like having an itch that he didn’t know how to scratch.
Then one day he heard a rumour that the Teacher, the strange new prophet called Jesus was coming to town. Normally such things were of little interest to him, but for some reason he felt he had to be there. But so, apparently, did other people; the roadside was already crowded and he couldn’t see over their heads. He knew, from bitter experience, that while no one would dare be openly aggressive towards him, there were one hundred and one ways they could passively express their disgust of him by just pretending they weren’t aware of his presence. There was no way they would let him through the front so that he could see anything.
But then he saw the solution – there was a large sycamore growing by the roadside. He was agile enough, he could easily climb it, make himself comfortable on one of the big branches, and peer out between the leaves. He would be above everyone else, and no one would even notice him. The thought pleased him and he climbed the tree.
And just in time, for Jesus was coming now. He was surprised at how excited he felt, but even more surprised when, a moment later, Jesus stopped, looked straight up into his hiding place, and called him by name. “Zacchaeus, hurry up and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” The Teacher knew who he was and wanted to dine with him? Nobody had ever wanted Zacchaeus before.