1He 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."
But the shortness or the richness of Zacchaeus is not the telling detail. The description that made people angry with Zacchaeus was that he was a chief tax collector. Tax collectors in America are a harmless bunch. I've never met one personally but I imagine them as grey-suited accountants with fedoras, like in those black-and-white movies from the 1940's. Tax collectors in Palestine during the time of Jesus were another story. They were universally disdained because they defrauded their own people. You can see the allusion to this in verse 8, "if I have defrauded anyone of anything..." Jews living in Palestine were taxed by the Romans for the expenses of running the Roman Empire. Those who collected the taxes were fellow Jews. Since these tax collectors had little to no oversight, many of them overcharged their own people, pocketing the extra for themselves. Hence tax collectors were seen as despicable traitors. The culture at that time so equated tax collectors with fraud, that two collective nouns "tax collectors and sinners" became a stock phrase for bad/evil/despised/unrighteous people.
Given all this cultural background, what does Jesus do? WWJD? The easy thing, the crowd pleasing thing for Jesus would have been to simply ignore Zacchaeus. Don't even give him the time of day. No one would have been upset b/c that's what they all did. Ignore him. Pretend that you don't see that short man up in a sycamore tree.
But Jesus will have none of that. He calls out Zacchaeus much to the grumbling unhappiness of the crowd. Jesus calls him by name (Jesus probably asked who's that man in the tree) and then invites himself to Zacchaeus' house, "I must stay at your house today." [Can you imagine any of our pastors telling people, "I must eat at your house today"? Won't fly. But then again we are not Jesus.] For Zacchaeus, being called out and having Jesus insist that he come over to his house is a great honor. To have someone so important coming over to your home means you are significant, by association. Everyone understood this. And everyone was not happy. Overwhelmed with this great honor, Zacchaeus blurts out probably without calculation, "I will give half of my wealth to the poor. And for those I defrauded I will pay back four times" (paraphrase). An amazing change of heart. In response, Jesus says, "Today salvation has come to his house."
The calling out of Jesus to Zacchaeus by name starts this wonderful cascade of change in Zacchaeus. Who, me, Lord? You want to come over my house? You want to spend time with me and get to know me? The change of heart in Zacchaeus begins right here: "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today."
This is true of every one of us. Jesus initiates. Jesus calls us by name. Jesus invites himself over to our house (aka, our hearts). We are overwhelmed. We are overwhelmed because we are "tax collectors and sinners." We are overwhelmed by the gracious, generous love of God in Jesus. Jesus wants us to be his friends! WOW!
Let's pray: Lord Jesus, WOW! Our wow expresses how we feel about your unconditional, unilateral, gracious love that you have for us. We remember when we first heard our names called by you. We recall how you got to know us and how we got to know you. May your initiative and unconditional love that started our life in you remind us that even as we mature in you that it's always your initiative and unconditional love that sustain us. So, in response to your love, we ask that we would get to know you deeper and better. Yes, Lord, come over to our homes/hearts/lives and let's eat and fellowship together as dear friends. In your name, amen.