19:1 He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small of stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. 5 And 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.” 6 So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”(Luke 19:1-10)
The story of Zaccheus is a cherished favorite. I think kids more or less identify with a man who likes to climb trees, as they do. May be they relate to him being short. But for a man to climb a tree to see another man, there is something undignified about that isn’t there. Which one of us men would climb a tree in order to see another man? I don’t care if you are short. But Zaccheus just wanted to see Jesus.
As Luke tells this story, if unfolds with majestic wonderment. Here is a rich man, perhaps richer than the young ruler who would not pass through the eye of the needle to enter the kingdom of God. Zaccheus was rich. He was a tax collector like Matthew, but more powerful, and in a different area. I wonder sometimes if they knew each other before this? Luke doesn’t let on if they did or not, and there is no reason to assume they did, they shared a profession that tended to make a person rich even when they did their job honestly, and they often did so dishonestly. Roman tax collection was a bureaucratic nightmare fraught with fraudulence. And Zaccheus had prime tax collecting real estate, Jericho, on the road to Jerusalem, the pilgrim’s path. So rich a ground for tax collection it was, that Herod built a palace there so he could over see the comings and goings. Of course the walls of Jericho were never to be rebuilt, and so this vexed the pious a bit. Zaccheus, though, was awash in wealth.
And all he wanted to do was see Jesus. He climbs a sycamore tree. Jesus stops, looks up and invites himself for dinner. Here was a man who showed no shame in his admiration for Jesus, he climbed a tree to do so, as if he was a little boy, and with the same enthusiasm boys have for their heroes. And now he was going to have Jesus in his home. The message was simple. Jesus had come for such as these. The lost.
I watched a comedian the other night who did a parody of God going to a party. What is peculiar about Jim Jefferies take on this, is he pictures God the same way the Pharisees did. Someone who would have no compassion on sinners, someone who would look down on a guy like Zaccheus, rather than looking up to the man as Jesus did, well he had to Zaccheus was in a tree. The Pharisees complain that Jesus is going to the house of a sinner for dinner. He is. This man led the syndicat. His house was the abode of pimps and hookers, a place for revelry. I doubt the upstart hip hop artists of today would even know where to begin putting on a party more lavish than the cultured people of Jesus day knew. Seriously, reading the accounts of life back then is an eye opener for party planning ideas. God literally went to the party Jim Jeffries describes, and acted nothing like Jim expects he would. Of course neither do the sinners.
Zaccheus is so happy that Jesus is coming to his home, he pledges to give back everything he has ever stolen and them some. Jesus doesn’t ask him to. Zaccheus does so of his own accord, because the gospel, here expressed in Jesus acceptance of Zaccheus, his willingness to go to his house, which means as much as Jesus knew Zaccheus he was not afraid to eat with him and keep him as a brother. He had forgiven him, his sins. He doesn’t say it verbally, he looks past it. Here is the gospel being preached without words, as St. Francis of Assisi could never conceive of it! Jesus just doesn’t hold back. He doesn’t tell Zaccheus hey clean up your life and I’ll have dinner with you. No! He invites himself over for dinner, and Zaccheus is so moved by the love Christ has shown him he learns to love! We could learn from that today. Jesus still seeks these men out, even today. He died for men such as this. Sinners who are lost, rich and poor, neither of whom could ever pass through the eye of the needle, but with God all things are possible, and the kingdom of God is brought to sinners with whom he eats.