Reading: Luke 19.1-10
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’
Today we have another well known story from Luke’s gospel. The story of Zacchaeus is one that many can recite: the story of the short man who had to climb a tree to see Jesus, and whose subsequent encounter with Jesus changed his life. However, there is a problem with our familiarity with the story of Zacchaeus. We over-simplify it. We turn it into the plot of a pantomime rather than a story of a life-changing encounter with our Saviour.
There was nothing cute and appealing about Zacchaeus. Yes, he was short, but he certainly was not cuddly. Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector, not just a tax collector but a chief tax collector. The Jewish community would have hated this hard hearted traitor to their culture. Not only was Zacchaeus responsible for collecting taxes on behalf of the Roman occupying forces, but he would have cheated the Jewish community as well. As we are told, he was rich. Someone so rich must have been acting in a corrupt way, irrespective of the effect it had on his victims. No, Zacchaeus was not a nice man.
But … one day, Jesus came to town. Like everyone else in the crowd, Zacchaeus would have heard the stories being told about this amazing man. Like everyone else, he wanted to catch sight of the celebrity who was passing through. But, he was a very short man. Despite his sense of self-importance he could not see. To get even a glimpse of Jesus he had to make an extra-special effort, he had to climb the sycamore tree, and that would not have been easy for him. But, he made the effort and he was rewarded in a way that could not have been further from his mind. Yes, Zacchaeus got to see Jesus, but Jesus also got to see Zacchaeus. Jesus saw the man who was so despised by the Jewish community and he saw hope and light in him.
Jesus called out to Zacchaeus, saying that he would be dining with him that very day. Yet again Jesus flew in the face of the traditional customs and attitudes of the orthodox Pharisaic law. Jesus declared before the crowd that he was going to dine in the house of a chief tax collector. As we have seen before, Jesus did not shun people whom others despised. Instead, Jesus stretched out his arms and offered them new life. In the case of Zacchaeus that new life was grasped eagerly. The chief tax collector truly repented. He turned away from his old ways in that very moment and became the faithful follower of Christ we are all called to be.
Today’s challenge is straightforward. Are we ready to make the effort to inconvenience ourselves so that we might catch a glimpse of Jesus? Are we then ready to welcome him into our homes and our lives? Are we ready to lead the life he wants us to lead, rather than the life we have been living all these years?