He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5When 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.” 6So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 8Zacchaeus 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.” 9Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
This story is one I loved as a child – the little short guy couldn’t see Jesus, so he climbed a tree. Of course, as children we miss the point that Zacchaeus was a wealthy tax collector, a person the “respectable” people would not even talk to. Zacchaeus would not have been welcome in the homes of the Pharisees of Jericho; they would not have sat down at a table with him. But on this day, he wanted to see the wandering rabbi he had heard so much about, and so he climbed a tree. But Jesus surprised everyone that day! He stopped directly under the tree where Zacchaeus sat, and called up to him – “Hey Zacchaeus! Come down – I’m going home with you today!”
And all the “good” and “righteous” people of Jericho shook their heads, saying “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner!” One did not even eat in the presence of such people!! Whose hospitality a visiting rabbi accepted was a mark of honor – like when the circuit riding preacher would come to my grandmother’s church, and would eat fried chicken at someone’s home after the last service. It was a great honor to be the one to serve fried chicken to the preacher.
But Jesus went to the home of a notorious tax collector and sinner. He did not say, “Zacchaeus, if you repent and change your ways, I will come to your house.” He simply said, “I am coming.” And I imagine that Zacchaeus gathered all of his tax collector and sinner friends, all of those not welcome at table with the righteous people, and he had a great banquet for Jesus, who loved and accepted him as he was. And at the end of that banquet he stood and said to Jesus and to all his guests, “I will give half of my possessions to the poor; and if I have cheated anyone, I will pay back four times as much.”
Jesus said, “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.” Zacchaeus did repent and change – the lost was found. But Jesus called to him first – and ate with him – and showed him grace. It is not up to us to judge where Jesus did not, but to show God’s grace and love. In that people find God – the lost are found.