There was a man named Zacchaeus who lived during the time that Jesus physically lived among us. Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector, which made him a very wealthy man in his culture. What we have to understand about Zacchaeus, and particularly his job as a tax collector, was that the Roman Empire was ruling over the Jewish people during this time and they would use Jewish men to collect taxes on their behalf from their Jewish brethren.
So, not only was Zacchaeus reviled amongst his kin because he was collecting taxes for their oppressors, but it was also common place for the chief tax collectors to over tax their people and pocket the difference, thus causing him to become very wealthy from the burden and oppression of his own people. Rather than sharing in their oppression, and seeking to help his Jewish family, Zacchaeus chose to help their Roman oppressors. Needless to say, he was hated! And understandably so.
Most of you reading this already know the rest of the story, so I’ll spare the theatrics and get to the point. When Jesus approaches the town that Zacchaeus lived in, Zacchaeus had climbed up in a tree so that he could see Jesus as he passed through (he was reportedly very short in stature). At this point Jesus had become quite well-known, and the stories of his miracles and theological bouts with the religious rulers of the day had spread far and wide.
Upon passing by the tree that Zacchaeus was in, Jesus called him by name and asked him to come down from the tree. Now, we must remember that we have no record that Jesus and Zacchaeus had ever met before this day, and can safely assume that Jesus’ calling him by name was miraculous in its own right. Naturally, Zacchaeus scurried down the tree, and Jesus proclaimed that he would be joining Zacchaeus at his home to dine and stay with this rejected tax collector. “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner”, the people murmured as they walked away. How dare Jesus, right?! Is Jesus allowed?!
During their murmurs, something amazing happened in Zacchaeus that changed the way he was thinking. He had encountered Jesus who wasn’t judgmental towards him, but was willing to show him kindness, compassion, and love. It shifted Zacchaeus’ heart, and allowed him to proclaim, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
It’s interesting, because it was if in that moment Zacchaeus was faced with two choices: (1) He could stay in that tree, thus staying in his old mindset, routines, and thoughts about himself, or (2) He could embrace, through trust, the relationship that Jesus was offering in that moment. He chose wisely and decided to embrace the opportunity in front of him, which led to the following statement by Jesus:
Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Notice, Zacchaeus didn’t say a prayer. He didn’t take a knee. He didn’t even confess his sins. Rather, he exercised, by action, the change that was taking place in his heart.
I love this story because it is a beautiful reminder of the love of Jesus and how he is always willing to receive us no matter how our family, friends, or culture views us. What’s more important to realize is that he’s willing to love us no matter how we view ourselves!
Zacchaeus, a cheat and thief no doubt, surely dealt with the insecurity of being hated by all of the people he was supposed to be closest to. Over time, this kind of treatment can wear a person’s resolve. So much so, that Zacchaeus probably faced many times where he decided to agree with their negative statements about him. Zacchaeus had come to recognize himself as a liar, a thief, a cheat, and generally just a bad human being. The hatred he had experienced from his peers for so long had finally converted into a type of self-hatred.
So, when Jesus came along, and spoke something completely counter to that which Zacchaeus had become accustom, he had no choice but to hear. Jesus’ words rang through to his heart in such a piercing way. It was almost as if Jesus was standing at the foot of that tree and proclaiming how he “actually” saw Zacchaeus versus how Zacchaeus, and everyone else, saw him.
I believe that each of us walk through moments just like this in our lives. Maybe we’re not liars and thieves like Zacchaeus, but nevertheless, life can throw so many accusations at us that it’s easy for our mindsets to be shaped by that way of thinking.
Jesus wants to speak truth in place of the lies that we may have believed about ourselves. The lies that say, “You’re not good enough”, or “You’ll never amount to anything.” What about those who’ve grown up without a mother, father, or both? What about the lie the orphan believes about themselves? The ones that say, “No one really loves you”, or “If they really loved you, then why didn’t they keep you?”
Jesus is constantly calling, and inviting us into a conversation with him. In that conversation he desires to speak to us about how HE sees us, and not about how we see ourselves. Once Zacchaeus began to see himself the way that Jesus saw him, you can notice a drastic change in his thinking. This is a man that had made himself very wealthy from the financial plight of others, but in a moment Jesus changed his heart and thinking from one of greed and self-loathing, to one of self-sacrificial love. Zacchaeus was immediately willing to give up everything to restore to people what he’d taken.
This love that Jesus has for us can take the greediest heart and convert into the most generous, and giving person you could ever meet. He can also take the heart that’s been injured, abused, or hurt by no fault of their own and make it whole again. His love knows no bounds, and there is no one too far away from the reach, and grasp of that love. Love wins!