When I was a kid I could not wait for summer break. Summer was the answer to the grind of school, the crazy pace of life and annoying people. Then summer would come and never live up to my expectations. But come September, I believed in summer again!
The dictionary defines disillusionment as, “The feeling of disappointment resulting from the discovery that something is not as good as one believed it to be.” In Luke 19:1-10 is a story about someone who finally reaches the point of disillusionment, and it is a good thing.
Jesus was not planning to stay in Jericho; he was just passing through (verse 1). Jericho is a fascinating place, a Mount Everest in reverse, sitting at one of the lowest points on the planet — 846 feet below sea level. In those days, Jericho was a lush oasis in the middle of desert desolation.
One lush, fertile tree in Jericho is the sycamore tree, the only tree in the Middle East with big green leaves, excellent cover for hide-and-seek or for a small adult not wishing to be seen (verses 2-4): “And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way.”
Zacchaeus is disillusioned. How do we know this? Because he has it all but is still looking for something else. Zacchaeus runs Rome’s taxing operation for Jericho. Roman rule meant taxing conquered colonies to increase Roman wealth and to maintain subjugation by way of impoverishment. Surprisingly, tax collectors were not Romans but locals who collaborated with Rome’s oppression and got rich in the process.
In his book “Counterfeit Gods,” Timothy Keller writes, “Why would anyone take such a job as a tax collector? What could seduce a man to betray his family and country and live as a pariah in his own society? The answer was – money.”
Zacchaeus thought money could make him important. However, money has let him down; he is looking for something else.
What Zacchaeus finds is breathtaking. When important people visited a town in the ancient world, they were greeted by the important people of the town. Then all those important people would parade through town to a banquet hall for a big party. Meanwhile, the unimportant people would gather to gawk.
Zacchaeus planned on the crowd dispersing by the time it reached him at the edge of town hiding in the sycamore tree — remember Jesus was just passing through. The crowd, however, did not disperse. They see him and yell out his name using colorful, four-letter words, which is how Jesus learns his name! Violence is in the air — remember Zacchaeus is a hated man. Jesus looks up and says, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today” (verse 5). Jesus does not eat with the important people; he eats with a notorious sinner (verse 7). Jesus befriends Zacchaeus by sheer grace alone. Zacchaeus spent his whole life trying to be loved, accepted and important but could never attain it. Now, Jesus’ love and acceptance reaches and heals him: “So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully” (verse 6).
Did you notice in verse 7 how the bad mood of the crowd shifted to Jesus? “And when they saw it, they all grumbled, ‘He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.’” Jesus absorbs the crowd’s rejection; he takes it away from Zacchaeus. Days later, on a cross in Jerusalem, Jesus becomes rejected in our place so we can be accepted forever. Jesus’ sacrificial love and acceptance replaces all disillusionment. Hurry and come down to receive him with joy.