A few observations from the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus in Luke 19:
Zacchaeus Was Rich. “[Jesus] entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich.” (v.1-2)
Zacchaeus Was An Overachieving, Type-A, Busy-body. Observe him in action as he demonstrates his ability to outpace the competition: “And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way.” (v.3-4)
Jesus Knew How To Communicate With An Overachiever Like Zacchaeus. Listen as Jesus talks to Zacchaeus in the pace he was already in: “And when 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.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully.” (v.5-6)
Jesus Loved Zacchaeus. Even though everyone else seems to avoid Zacchaeus, Jesus said, “I must stay at your house today.” (v.5)
People Didn’t Approve of the Fact That Jesus Loved Zacchaeus. We might say “rightly so” to the fact that everyone hated Zacchaeus, but it is worth noting that the crowd also disapproved of someone showing him compassion: “And when they saw it, they all grumbled, ‘He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.’” (v.7)
Zacchaeus Was Changed By Jesus’ Love. Notice that Jesus did not command Zacchaeus to change his despicable ways. Instead Zacchaeus, upon receiving Jesus’ unconditional love, was motivated toward righteousness and just treatment of the poor: “And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.’” (v.8)
Implications for Our Present Context
What can we learn from this ancient story? I can’t help but think about our present cultural discourse. Like the crowd in Jericho, many of us despise the Zacchaeuses of our day, whether they be “the one percent” (angering the left) or “the tax collectors” (angering the right). In both cases, we can easily add our angry voices to the grumbling crowd and maybe even expect that our protest will motivate them to change.
But Jesus simply loves them. True, we can find many, many passages in Scripture where Jesus is on the side of the poor, the lost, the outcast, the blind and lame. But here we see that Jesus considers rich people to be “lost” as well.
And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (v.9-10)
Today, we can choose to remain among the grumbling crowd, angrily decrying the unjust actions of the rich. Or, we can follow Jesus as he unconditionally loves rich (i.e. lost) people. Who knows, one day our love might motivate them toward justice and righteousness.