Mene. My friends call me that. But it wasn’t always a term of affection or endearment. It was an insult, a pejorative.
My name is Zacchaeus and I’m now chief tax collector and a wealthy man. I suppose I’m an influential member of my community, perhaps powerful. Of course, it’s not Jerusalem, but Jericho is a solid town in its own right. Joshua thought it was worthy of his efforts. Alexander the Great enjoyed the views and our thirst-quenching springs.
I worked hard and, through my sweat and intelligence I attained this position. But growing up it wasn’t my hard work or brains that my schoolmates focused on. It was my size — or lack of it. I was, and remain in a physical sense, of small stature.
I guess I was so slight that I didn’t “count” in their eyes. Maybe I didn’t “measure” up. But the joke is on them! Now who’s counting? I have more coins to count than all of my schoolmates together. Who is measuring? I measure them, assess them for tax purposes. Now who lacks stature? I have the power of the Roman Empire backing me up.
Growing up I was picked on, bullied, because of my size. I was in many ways an outcast. Oh, I participated in all the ceremonies and festivities of our faith. But I was never really accepted by my peers. Not until I attained my present position. Now people no longer walk over me. They are more careful around me. They still ridicule me, but not to my face. Except for the Pharisees. Those arrogant, self-righteous zealots! They still spit in my face.
I thought that I would find satisfaction in my power. And for a while, I did. I have great wealth, great power. But that power seemed empty. And I began to realize what I sacrificed by taking this position. While giving my children an inheritance of creature comforts, I was rejecting the inheritance promised to my People. I didn’t have any more friends in my position. Sure I was surrounded by sycophants seeking to gain my good graces. All that I gained was empty.
And then I heard of the Teacher. The stories that came from Galilee about this man! He gave sight to the blind, and healed the lame! The Pharisees hated that, which made him all the more endearing. Sure I had influence and could buy just about anything I wanted, but the stories I heard told of real power!
For weeks I wanted to meet him. No, just to see him. From a distance. I knew he was way over my paygrade, way too good for me. I was not worthy to meet him, but I only hoped to witness his miracles, or just hear him teaching. I heard wonderful things about him and hoped for, well, I don’t know what I hoped for. I can’t exactly put it into words. All this power, wealth and respect is great, but it didn’t quite do it for me. I still felt a nagging emptiness that I cannot describe, an itch that could not be scratched.
I wanted to see him, but he was all over the area, preaching here, teaching there.
And then I overheard my servants talking about him. There was an excitement in their voices that was more intense than usual. I edged closer to the servant’s quarters to listen in. In hindsight, I find it ironic that I felt the need to eavesdrop on my own servants in my own home. But I wasn’t ready to admit my interest in the Teacher — not even to myself.
I heard words, then sentences.
“He gave sight to the blind!”
“He’s on his way!”
“He’ll be here tomorrow!”
I almost fell through the door on that last one! I felt my heart pounding hard in my chest. I felt my resolve harden: I had to see him!
The next day I woke up extra early, dressing in my fine robes admittedly to impress the Teacher. I had a lighter-than-usual breakfast, hoping to get to the main road before he arrived. That’s when I heard the growing hullabaloo. Excited voices shouting outside my walls, then my servants start agitating, cleaning up quickly, speaking in hushed but frantic tones. I finally cornered one to find out the fuss.
“He’s already here!” he said. “The Master is entering the town!”
I rushed out the door, hoping to catch a glance. I had planned on getting out early to find a good spot on the side of the road. But by the time I got out, the streets were filled with the crush of crowds pressing to touch his cloak. You would think all my power and money could get me a decent seat for the impromptu parade, but no one gave me a second thought as they shoved me aside in my attempts just to peek at his advance.
I had imagined standing some distance from the crowds, watching from a hilltop and striking a dignified pose. This plan quickly dissolved as I scrambled for any promontory. I finally spied a sycamore fig down the street where the parade route was sure to lead. The crowd was thin here, and in desperation I scrambled up its trunk, clinging to the limbs.
Some pointed up at me, laughing. “Mene! Mene! In the tree!” began the chant, but soon their attention returned to the approaching entourage.
The crowd surged ahead of the main event, and for a moment I clung hard to the limb for fear of falling. The tree swayed slightly but the breeze fell still as the crowd’s noise rose from a murmur to a dull roar. And then I spotted him! He had a shy, serene smile. He clearly enjoyed the kids running by him and pulling on his robes and fingers. Just witnessing this sense of peace amid the turmoil around him was enough to bring calm to my soul.
I was getting ready to climb down so I could follow the crowd as it passed. But then something strange happened. Jesus looked up and said to me, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” Me? A Tax collector?