“And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he made haste and came down, and received him joyfully.” – Luke 19:5-6
We know just a few things about Zacchaeus before he encounters Jesus. He was a wealthy Jewish man who lived in the community of Jericho. His occupation was tax collector. When he makes his appearance in Luke’s gospel, he is doing his best to catch a glimpse of Jesus as he travels through Jericho. Zacchaeus has a hard time seeing Jesus because, as the scripture says, “…he was short in stature.” He climbs up a tree to better see Jesus.
Tax collectors were hated by the Jewish people. There were two significant reasons for this. First, no one likes to give their money away. Tax collectors collect hard-earned money on behalf of the government and that does not earn them many friendships. Secondly, tax collectors in the time of Jesus represented Rome. They were a reminder of foreign occupation. In the gospels, they are often given the title “sinners.” They were outcasts who turned on their own country in service to Rome, while making a profit off the people within their own community.
Zacchaeus did not simply climb that tree because he was short, he climbed that tree because he was not welcome to stand among the people. His occupation, his actions, harmed the people of Jericho. When Jesus called him down from that tree, it was not just to go to Zacchaeus’ house. It was to give him a new start on life. What Zacchaeus needed was for someone to offer grace and extend mercy. That is exactly what Jesus did. He approached the outcast tax collector and welcomed him back. Jesus said, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:9-10)
It is difficult to imagine what the day-to-day life of Zacchaeus was like. It was normal for him to be an outcast, shunned by his own community. When Jesus arrived, he offered a new normal. Zacchaeus was reconnected. Like Zacchaeus, we find new life when we encounter Jesus. When we experience the moments of our lives where we are shunned because of who we are or because of our actions, Jesus speaks mercy and grace and offers us a salvation, a new normal to redefine our lives.
– Rev. Keith King, Pastor of Worship