Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, He looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately! I must stay at your house today." So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a sinner." But, Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord. "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount." Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost. ""
Most of us are familiar with the children's song about Zacchaeus. It’s easy to understand why children love the story. They can identify with being too small for a lot of things. I had not thought about the story of Zacchaeus since I quit teaching preschool many years ago. Then I looked at the passage and realized how meaningful this story really is and how much it tells us about God.
Zacchaeus was a Jewish man, living in the town of Jericho. He was tiny in stature and in his culture that meant he was looked down upon. In addition he had become a chief tax collector for the Romans and his peers believed he was doing "dirty work" for the Roman government and treated him as if he were an enemy. At the time, most tax collectors became rich by taking extra taxes from people and putting it in their own pockets so they may have believed he had robbed them. All of these things would have cause him to be hated by the Jewish community.
Zacchaeus had heard of Jesus, but didn’t know what he looked like. He was curious, but couldn’t see past the crowd because of his short stature. He ran ahead and climbed up a tree and waited for Jesus to come. When Jesus came, He paused beneath Zacchaeus and looked up and called him by name! It amazed Zacchaeus that Jesus knew his name and where he was perched before He even glanced up. Jesus invited Himself to Zacchaeus' home and Zacchaeus responded quickly, coming down from the tree. He found in Christ a love and acceptance he had not experienced in a while. In light of his reputation, it may have been a long while since he had any fellowship with others in his home. As he began to experience Christ's love, Zacchaeus realized all of his wealth couldn't satisfy needs like Jesus could.
As a result, Zacchaeus was changed from being a "thief" to a "giver." He told Christ he would restore what he wrongly took from people fourfold! The crowd criticized Jesus for spending time with Zacchaeus, but Christ did not respond to their criticism directly. Instead He told Zacchaeus, "This day is salvation come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."
What can we learn from story about Zacchaeus? First, Christ seeks us out while we’re still sinners. He knows us by name and chooses to reveal Himself to us. His heart looks past our visible sins sees our invisible ones as well. He invites us to a face-to-face encounter so we can choose to either reject Him or embrace Him. If we embrace Him, it changes our hearts so we live in a radical way. What we need to realize is when we feel the most lost and believe that we are unredeemable, it could be the moment He calls our name and invites us to come to HIM! Lastly, Christ comes to seek and to save the lost and we want to be sure we're not like the crowds judging Zacchaeus and be open to the people God puts in our paths. We do not want our own biases to get in the way of their seeking the love of Christ. To be like Christ we need to be open to offering fellowship and discipleship to new believers, looking past their past to what they can become in the hands of a holy, powerful God. I know people who gave up trying to live for God, because they couldn’t live down mistakes. To prevent this, we need to offer acceptance, mercy and accountability to new believers. We can't help but smile at the instant change in Zacchaeus, and wonder if Zacchaeus, the wee little man, walked a little bit taller the day Jesus invited Himself to dine in His home.
Prayer: Father, sometimes when we have heard a story over and over we fail to see all the significant lessons in it that You would have us learn. Open our eyes to Your truth even in the familiar. Thank you for choosing us and reaching out to us when we are caught in our sin. Thank you for calling us by name and being a God who chooses to relate to us. Thank you for the way You reveal yourself to us even though our sin has tainted our lives. Thank you for maintaining the vision of what You have created us to be. Help us love the unloved people for Christ. Amen.