“Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he…”
The story is not new, its been told a thousand times and sung a thousand times to a familiar tune that it’s lost it’s power. Zacchaeus was a tax collector, a collaborator with the Roman government, who was in the business of collecting as many taxes as possible from people because he was allowed to keep any excess collected. He had no real friends because he was a crook and a traitor. No one would want to be seen in public with him. And he probably didn’t have many dinner guests. Which probably makes it so surprising that Jesus decides to show up one evening for dinner. Jesus has dinner with Zacchaeus. Jesus had dinner with a traitor and a thief. Jesus had dinner with the town outcast.
You can almost hear the rumors and whispers going around town. “Does he have any idea who Zacchaeus is?” “What kind of Rabbi is this guy? No Rabbi with any self-respect would be hanging out with the town sinner.” “Is Jesus in league with the Romans too.” “Maybe Jesus doesn’t know what this guy has done, if he did he would never be at his house?”
And if the town’s people were surprised, think about how surprised Zacchaeus must have been. I’m sure he had no idea when he climbed the Sycamore tree to see Jesus that he would soon be having him over for dinner. No one ever came over for dinner, now all of a sudden a famous Rabbi was inviting himself over. What if Jesus found out about Zacchaeus’s life? What if during the middle of dinner Jesus confronted him about his sin? What if this was all a set up, a trap, to try to catch a thief. There was probably a moment when Zacchaeus wished he had never climbed the tree, that he had never come into contact with Jesus.
But that’s the amazing part of the story, Jesus did know. Jesus knew exactly who Zacchaeus was. Jesus knew Zacchaeus was a criminal and a traitor. Jesus knew that Zacchaeus didn’t have any friends in town. Jesus knew that when Zacchaeus walked down the road everyone else turned their backs and hid their faces. Jesus knew that no normal, proper citizen would be caught dead with Zacchaeus. He knew it all, and he still went to his house for dinner. And he didn’t go to try to trap him, or ensnare him, or confront him in front of everyone and embarrass him. Jesus went because he loved him. He knew everything about him and he still loved him. He knew he was a thief and a traitor and he still wanted to be with him. There was nothing Zacchaeus could do to make Jesus stop loving him, even though at the time Zacchaeus had nothing good about him.
Jesus loved him warts and all…and that love is what changed his life.
It’s very easy to put the focus on the wrong character in this story. It’s easy to put the focus on Zacchaeus; he climbed a tree, saw Jesus, and started giving away his wealth to try to make up for his mistakes. That’s a good angle, a nice moral to the story. But if we turn the focus to Jesus the story takes on new meaning. The story now becomes God’s unrelenting love for everyone. The story is about how Jesus came to share his love with all people, not just the good church people. The story is about God’s Mission to the world, his mission to love and redeem his creation back into relationship with him. The story is about a God who knows everything we ever did, knows every mistake we’ve ever made, knows that no one else in the entire city wants to be with us, and still decides that there is only one house he wants to go to for dinner; ours.
The same God who pursued Zacchaeus and loved him back into relationship is on mission to pursue and love the entire world back into relationship with him.
Now that’s a good story!