Today’s gospel speaks about Zacchaeus – a man of great wealth and small size. I find it hard to understand the problem with his height. I’m quite tall and actually I’ve never had a problem watching anything or someone over the heads of other people in a crowd or a cinema. My problem is different: sometimes I feel guilty when I have to stand or sit in front of someone else, because usually it means that person can see the back of my head or my shoulders. So, usually I try to take a place at the back rather than in front.
The size was not the only problem of Zacchaeus, and probably not even the most important. I suppose that his real distress was the opinion about him among people around him. Zacchaeus was a senior tax collector and that made him unpopular. In the society of those days tax collectors were unpopular for two main reasons: they collected money for the occupying Roman Empire and secondly they were accused of dishonesty in tax collecting.
Many years ago I worked in a parish on the Polish-German border. That was before Poland became a European Union member. There were two border crossings to Germany: one in the town for private cars and pedestrians and a big one for lorries and buses a few miles away. Consequently there were many customs officers living in the parish. Generally they were considered as corruptible and dishonest folk. Many of them were not, but that unfair opinion clung to all despite their personal honesty.
I think that Zacchaeus was an honest and fair man. Why do I suppose that? There are two premises at the end of today’s gospel. Zacchaeus spoke: “If I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount”. The first premise is this: Zacchaeus used a conditional sentence. He was sure he’d never cheated anybody purposely. Once I sent a packet to my friend. I needed a special envelope to protect the contents, but I didn’t have one at home. So I took the contents and address label and went to a post office. There I took an envelope from a shelf, put the contents in, sealed the envelope, stuck the address label and stood in a queue intending to pay for the envelope and the shipment. But when I approached a counter I completely forgot about the envelope. I realised my mistake when I returned home. I cheated Royal Mail, but not purposely. While I visited the post office for another business I paid my debt.
The second premise of Zacchaeus’ honesty is his readiness to pay back four times the amount. He was neither stupid nor a politician – that declaration would cost him a fortune if he wasn’t convinced about his honesty.
There’s at least one lesson from this story: people can think different things about me, but the most important thing is to be honest and fair despite others’ opinions, bad or good.