19 He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. 3 Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” 6 And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly. 7 When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
Have you ever blown it? I don’t mean a little bit. I mean catastrophically blown it? You’ve done something that haunts you, torments your conscience, turns you into a pariah or just causes people to think poorly of you? Maybe it’s not something specific you’ve done, maybe it’s who you are. You feel like an outcast. You feel abandoned. Alone. Even the supposedly ‘good people’ think you’re hopeless or treat you badly.
That was where Zaccheus was.
We’ve talked about tax collectors before. They would bid money to the Roman government for the privilege of collecting taxation in a certain district. They would be granted a monopoly on tax collection. And whatever monies they collected above and beyond the paid amount to Rome was profit. They weren’t required to refund it or pass it along to the Roman government. Human nature being what it is, you can imagine that most tax collectors found excuses to engage in creative bookkeeping and became wealthy.
Zaccheus wasn’t just a little fish either. He was a chief tax collector. Folks like Matthew would bid to him to get a monopoly on part of his district. Zaccheus had been at this game for a long time. And though he was wealthy, it cost him.
He felt guilty. He was not well respected. He was not loved by his community or his town. He was a traitor to them, a thief, a scoundrel.
Zaccheus is a contrast to the rich young ruler we met in the last chapter. That guy was popular. He was respected. He was a shining example of a good Pharisee and he wanted the crowd to know it. He had kept the commandments from his youth, at least the letter of them, if not the spirit. He still felt lacking. So Jesus gave him an option: Let go of his old life, his wealth, his power, his position, his pride, give all that he had to the poor and become a disciple. The ruler couldn’t do it.
Zaccheus, is the opposite. He’s wealthy, but despised. They call him a sinner and deep down, he feels guilty. He’s blown it. He is a pariah.
Jesus receives him exactly as he received the pious ruler. Jesus calls out to him. Zaccheus wanted to see Jesus. Maybe he too had that same question as the ruler: what must I do to have eternal life?
But he couldn’t see Jesus. He was short. The crowd was too thick. So he climbs a tree. Already, he’s putting his pride away. He wants to see the Lord, he doesn’t care how he goes about it.
Jesus sees him and calls him down, inviting Himself over to Zaccheus’ house. This was a big deal to the man. No rabbi or pious Jew wanted to eat with him. He was a sinner. They said as much. Jesus received him as He would receive anyone: with mercy and compassion.
And the result of that compassion was the opposite of the rich young ruler too. Zaccheus was moved by the Lord’s love to make a difference. He would give up his wealth. He would give half to the poor and the rest he would use to make things right with those he had cheated. Once he had felt love, once he was accepted, once he saw a better way, Zaccheus wanted to change for the better. He wanted to have that compassion on others. He realized that his concern for wealth had led him astray, so he walked away from it.
Jesus said following the departure of the ruler, “How difficult it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” And after the disciples asked who could be saved, He replied that with God all things are possible. Here today, He rejoices with Zaccheus. Salvation has come to this house. Zaccheus is a son of Abraham. He was lost, now he’s found.
Others may remember your fall, they may despise you, but there remains hope. The Son of Man has come to seek and save the lost. That’s us. We’re all equal in His eyes. We all need our eyes opened like the blind man to see the things that matter most: Charity, compassion, mercy, people.