Unless you turn and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt 18, 3)
Zacchaeus, like a smart kid, runs and climbs a sycamore tree. He shows himself sharper as he receives Jesus, at whose behest he has come down right away, in the manner of a child caught in a forbidden act. He gets to find true wisdom.
In the eyes of many, Zacchaeus is clever because he is very rich—if not also because of his having quickly come up with a solution, so the crowd might not prevent him from seeing Jesus. But despite his wealth, this chief tax collector does not seem to take himself too seriously. Otherwise, he would have acted with a little more gravitas and refinement.
Zacchaeus gives the impression that he feels comfortable in his own skin. He presents himself as someone who sees nothing shameful in being short of stature, literarily and figuratively. Maybe the constant insults have left him numb to all criticism. Used to being frequently condemned, he does not expect anyone of some renown to pay him attention. It is noticeable that he is greatly surprised by the one who volunteers to be his guest. He is very happy, unlike that very rich official who got quite sad (Lk 18, 18-23).
The key difference lies, in my opinion, in that, like a curious child, Zacchaeus opens up to, and lets himself be drawn, by another person, while the official, though consulting with a teacher, seems locked up in his own interests, in his concern about salvation, of course, and also in his wealth. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for them to be freed, those who insist on remaining imprisoned in themselves and on confining “their outlook and their plans to a certain circle, in which they enclose themselves as on one spot” that they do not want to leave, to quote St. Vincent de Paul (Coste XII, 92).
Only those who are not self-absorbed will be saved, those who, coming down from their impenetrable ivory tower of arrogance, recognize someone other and greater than themselves. They have better chances of accepting Jesus, the wisdom that is worth more than all worldly riches, the little ones who with all naturalness admit themselves dependent on others and, above all, on God. Those who do not inflate their own importance get to believe in Jesus, the incarnate mercy of the God who can do all things and overlooks people’s sin that they may repent. The Father hides the mysteries of the kingdom from the wise, the learned, the observant who condemn others, and reveals them to the childlike, the tax collectors and the prostitutes.
Zacchaeus is halfway there as he pledges to give half of his possessions to the poor and repay four times over anyone he has cheated. If he perseveres in the Christian teaching, in communal life, in the breaking of the bread and in prayers, he will soon prove himself worthy of his calling. He will sell and give all, in imitation of the one who, loving to the extreme, laid down his life for his friends.