Luke 19:1-10 (AD 30)
Zacchaeus may or may not have been chubby like he is in many Sunday School materials pictures, but he definitely wasn’t a sweet guy. He was pretty much a scumbag and admitted it during this story. In Roman-occupied Israel, tax collectors were paid a set and relatively low wage for collecting a set amount of tax per person to be passed on to the Roman authorities. But they were empowered to extract however much they saw fit, and pocket the difference between that and the tax. Thus, they were justly hated. Zacchaeus was effective at this extortion and had long curried favour with the Romans – hence being a ‘chief’ collector of taxes and not a mere lackey.
The objection to Jesus’ behaviour, that “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner!” (v.7) wasn’t some Pharisaical nonsense, but rather the natural reaction of “All the people” (v.7). The story then isn’t about how Zacchaeus turned his life around, but how God, through Jesus, was willing to forgive even the absolute worst kind of treacherous, thieving, conniving, greedy little wretch imaginable.
Note Jesus’ words in verse ten when he described his own role as being “to seek and to save the lost”. Jesus sought Zacchaeus, Jesus saved him, and God changed his life so radically, so quickly that Zacchaeus wanted to honour God right away, even though it impoverished him.
Jesus’ actions then serve as warning, challenge and encouragement:
Do you overlook the obviously horrible people in your prayers? Do you pray for the salvation of those who spend their lives opposing and fighting against all that is dear to you?
Has the salvation that God has given to you made a difference to the way that you live? It’s unlikely to be as obvious, quick or radical a shift as in Zacchaeus’ case, but your desire to live justly before others will grow if you are a child of the creator of justice.
Do you ever think of yourself as so unlovable that God couldn’t love you? Perhaps you can believe he’ll tolerate you and agree to forgive your sins because, well, he’s gotta keep his promises, right? Or do you know the kind of joy that Zacchaeus knew, when he found out he really was forgiven by a God who wanted to come to “stay at [his] house”?