(First of a Series)
Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.” Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
Certainly we all yearn to meet those people who hunger and thirst after righteousness. These are people who have sought answers to life’s big questions in all the wrong places and have found the answers either nonexistent or severely lacking. They have been brought to the point of not looking within themselves for the answers or solution. They have a conscience that yet speaks to them so that they feel guilt and even an emptiness.
Zacchaeus had certainly heard—to his face and in whispers behind his back—what a wicked man he was. Over a period of time this must have had a crushing effect. Though he had power and wealth as a higher echelon tax gatherer, he was not admired. His own people generally despised him and showed this by linking his office with the status of open sinners. How might the supreme Roman authorities view him? Doubtless in no better light. They knew the Jews and how they looked on the tax gatherer as a lackey.
Zacchaeus knew very well how many times he had abused his office and cheated in the gathering, as he later admits. To this man in this situation the Lord comes. We should not think that this was just an idle stroll of our Lord. Far from it, for our Lord wanted Zacchaeus to know His love, this one who was anything but loved by all around him. In this we should remember for ourselves that it is our Lord who likewise purposefully sends us. He puts us into situations in which we may show His love. He purposely gives us the opportunities along life’s way to reach out. Our Lord looks up into the tree with the purpose to reach Zacchaeus.
The Lord centers His attention on Zacchaeus, for every soul is precious to our Lord. Our Lord came into the world to save sinners, and here was one very obvious sinner. The love of God is beyond our human imagination. Aren’t we supposed to be kind to those who are [not] kind to us? Or do we just favor those who favor us? The love of God, on the contrary, means to pray for your worst enemy. The love of God means to return good for evil. The love of God means to pay attention to the unloved and despised. There are so many lost, afloat on a dark sea of life with no rudder and no oars. We come to them with the Gospel rudder and oars.
Beyond merely giving His passing attention to Zacchaeus on the road, the Lord would go to his house (and this done with the obvious disapproval of others). Outreach is beyond the comprehension of the hypocritical world. Just where might we find ourselves at times to reach out with the Word?
The immediate reaction of this prospect was that “He made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully.” By the demonstration of Jesus’ loving attention this prospect believed. “Today salvation has come to this house….” Zacchaeus shows that he repents and believes, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold.” He does better even than the law of restitution [cf. Leviticus 6:5]. Such is the power of the gospel of the living Christ.
Not only was the Lord standing before him, but He was living in the man’s heart. Although in this encounter there is not much conversation recorded, yet we see the attitude of love that is a prerequisite for witnessing.
We see also that the Church of our Lord is not just for those who are outwardly upright. How many times haven’t we seen some bum or disreputable person and never dreamed of him sitting next to us in worship?
Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. When we reach out to the despised of this world, we pray that the attention we center on such as Zacchaeus will raise hope within his heart and that he will listen to our words.