“He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. 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.’ So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, ‘He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.’ 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.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost’ (Luke 19:1-10).
Some would not have considered Zacchaeus a failure. Many people would have gladly traded checkbooks with the wee little man. Zacchaeus was rich and powerful. But he was also empty.
To get where he was, Zacchaeus had to pay a high price. The Roman Empire heavily taxed their conquered peoples to maintain their power. Rome would sell tax positions to nationals who would collect the required amounts and then pocket the rest. The level of greed a Jew, like Zacchaeus, would need to buy one of these tax franchises is hard to imagine. Working for the evil Romans is bad enough, but then using the Roman military to extort money from fellow Jews was unthinkable. It was betrayal.
Zacchaeus was a social and spiritual outcast in Israel. But this filthy rich man apparently had enough heart left to feel his moral filthiness. I say that because he really wanted to see Jesus.
In eastern cultures, honor and shame are ways of life. It is culturally more important for someone in the east to be respected than to be right. Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus enough to shamefully climb a tree. As Jesus approached, crowds packed the roadsides. Because Zacchaeus was short, he couldn’t see through the people. Because he was despised, no one volunteered to let him squeeze through.
Is there hope for such a man? After all, his heart had been hard enough to take the tax job. God’s people bitterly hated men like him. Perhaps it wouldn’t be surprising if Jesus spit on such a sinner.
But Jesus didn’t spit on this desperate man. He stopped at the tree and called Zacchaeus by name and invited himself over for lunch. I’m sure Zacchaeus was shocked. The Bible says he hurriedly climbed down the tree and received Jesus joyfully.
Jesus loves desperate sinners. He actively engages the ones who realize their desperation, like Zacchaeus. Jesus changed Zacchaeus’s heart that day. He was getting a fresh start.
The change Jesus brings is not an empty sentiment. He transforms a person from the inside out. Jesus gets to the heart of the problem by changing the person’s heart. New motivations and desires, and a new ability put godly desires into action.
Jesus is powerful enough to provide that level of transformation. And Jesus is happy to do it, too. Most people don’t think of themselves as hopeless enough to seek Jesus for his mighty help––they assume they can fix themselves. But if you feel your despair, Jesus is ready, willing, and able to help you.
Take a Moment to Reflect:
Zacchaeus’s story is found in Luke 19:1-10 in the Bible. Read through the story again carefully. Put yourself in Zacchaeus’s place. Feel the weight of his social and spiritual situation. The last sentence of the story summarizes Jesus’ attitude about helping those in need: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” If you are in a similar situation today, seek out Jesus. You will find that he is seeking to save people just like you.
By John Crotts