One of the favorite stories for children’s pastors, the imagery of this story is fascinating. Zacchaeus is a short man physically and a wealthy man despised by many. As a chief tax collector, he was the tax collector’s tax collector! We’ve read many times that tax collectors were not well thought of, so here we have even more reason to appreciate the predicament.
He wanted to see who Jesus was…so he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him
The first thing that strikes me is that this wealthy man has to resort to a child-like endeavor to see Jesus. He doesn’t have friends to lift him up nor relations with officials that would arrange a meeting (initially, he just wanted to see who Jesus was). Instead, this not-so-young man has to climb a tree along the route.
The rest of the story provides some insight. Something has happened to Zacchaeus that motivated his actions. This wasn’t just a siting of someone walking by, I believe Zacchaeus was much more hopeful than that. I think he was presenting himself as a child to Jesus, not because he read the scripture (that didn’t exist in printed form), not because he was checking a checklist, but because he was truly humble and saw this opportunity to change his life walking his direction.
Jesus immediately picks up the story and as usual does the remarkable and extraordinary:
Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.
There’s no indication that they had met before this or any explanation that Jesus knew Zacchaeus in human terms, but here we see Jesus calling him by name as he’s perched in a tree. Perhaps Zacchaeus was that well known and perhaps he was feared to some degree since we see no direct words toward him, just muttering. Yet there is no embarrassment or shame. Zacchaeus shimmies down the tree and welcomes Jesus gladly! As the people begin to mutter, he says to Jesus he will give away half of his possessions to the poor and 4x to any he has cheated…before Jesus utters a word about salvation.
For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.
Here we are referred back to Ezekiel 34:11-16, part of the prophecy that proclaims the Lord will be Israel’s shepherd. Jesus is on a mission to seek and save the lost and Zacchaeus provides a perfect lesson: humble yourself before the Lord and he will save you.
We are commanded to take up that mission and continue to seek those who are far from Christ, those who don’t know. Lord help us to see these opportunities to look beyond what the world sees, straight to the heart.