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."
- Luke 19:1-10
Yesterday we read that Jesus took the twelve aside and said to them, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again." But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken. Then it happened, as He was coming near Jericho, that a certain blind man sat by the road begging. And hearing a multitude passing by, he asked what it meant. So they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. And he cried out, saying, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Then those who went before warned him that he should be quiet; but he cried out all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be brought to Him. And when he had come near, He asked him, saying, "What do you want Me to do for you?" He said, "Lord, that I may receive my sight." Then Jesus said to him, "Receive your sight; your faith has made you well." And immediately he received his sight, and followed Him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God."
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. Jericho was known as a place notorious for sin and unjust behavior. Zacchaeus, as a chief tax collector, may be just the representative for such a place. Not only is he a chief tax collector, with all that means for the Jews, but he is also rich. We can imagine how he came to that wealth, especially as we read further down in the story. Recently, Jesus remarked to the disciples during an encounter with a rather virtuous wealthy man, "How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a came to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." And He replied to their query, "Who then can be saved?" by saying, "The things which are impossible with men are possible with God." The story of Zacchaeus certainly proves the possibilities in the grace of God! Everything about Zacchaeus indicates symbolically his deficiency in spiritual terms; he's of short stature, and he must climb up into a sycamore tree to see Christ. St. Ambrose interprets this as showing he's short on faith and virtue, and that no one so attached to earthly matters can see Jesus. Christ's intention to pass that way reveals that Christ will approach anyone willing to repent and to believe. The crowd that prevents Zacchaeus from seeing symbolize all those worldly concerns and passions that keep us from seeing Christ.
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." In some sense, Zacchaeus is chosen by Christ, in a kind of conversion experience that may come to any of us. We see how Zacchaeus responds to the presence of Christ in that he received Him joyfully. Zacchaeus' response in his joy at receiving Christ is repentance. He will give a free and generous offering to the poor, and he will restore what he owes to those whom he has cheated, as was required by the Law (Exodus 22:1). So Zacchaus responds to Christ by not only fulfilling the Law, but also showing his love of the gospel.
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." My study bible says that the title son of Abraham indicates that Zacchaeus had become like this patriarch of Israel: he's counted righteous by his faith, he became generous toward the poor, and he was united to the people of God. Early records of the Church tell us that he went on to become a bishop.
It is easy to imagine the changes that happen in Zacchaeus' life because of this "intervention" of Christ. We can imagine the people he's used to associating with, those who share in the gathering of wealth through extortion and false accusation, enforcing (and abusing) the law and power of the occupying Romans. There are probably those as well who profit from his wealth, including whatever family he has. And, one imagines, he associates also with those like him, who are glad of his wealth and don't much care how he came by it. Jericho, after all, was known as a place of iniquity. But the encounter with Jesus shakes up his life. It doesn't much matter where he starts, an encounter with Christ, whom Zacchaeus receives joyfully, is going to disrupt his life. A conversion experience, when it does come to someone as Christ comes to Zacchaeus and insists that He must to stay at his home that night, will have such an effect. All those people he knows, all the things and places and ways in which he associates with the world, are going to be put into new order and discarded in favor of a different kind of life, and different choices. This is what God's effect in our lives does, this is what Christ making His home with us is going to do. Zacchaeus is going to change, and it means that everything in his life will change as well. All those people with whom he associates, anyone who profits from what he's doing, the ones who are used to him as he is, are going to be given a surprise. It is no longer going to be business as usual or life as usual. Christ asks us to rethink what we hold dear and whom we hold dear; receiving Christ joyfully into the home of our own hearts will call upon all the connections we have in life and re-evaluate them in light of the gospel and our relationship to Him. Our old interests may no longer interest us, and friends may find it simply inexplicable to understand the things that become important to us, and the ways in which we change. Even loved ones may not want nor understand what has happened, even when it's for nominal good. These are the fruits of spiritual conversion. The fact that my study bible says Zacchaeus goes on to become a bishop in the early Church tells us the depth of change and the transformation of his life that takes place. One can only imagine the difference it made to all those around him or who knew him. I think it's important to remember what is perhaps hidden in this story: that change for the good isn't always going to be welcomed by those associates we know and are habitually used to us as we are. An encounter with God is going to change us and change our lives; prayer is not an ineffectual exercise but something we do to call upon Deity. And we just don't know the power of God and where and how it will reach into us. Let us be joyful to receive Christ, as is Zacchaeus, and prepared for the kinds of changes he makes in his life as well.