Learning the story of Zacchaeus in Sunday School, and singing the accompanying song (a wee little man was he!) I always thought that the people hated Zacchaeus so much because he was short. (Was it a crime to be a wee little man??) When it gets to the end of the song where Jesus calls him down from the sycamore tree my Sunday school teachers instructed us to point our fingers and yell sternly, “Zacchaeus, YOU COME DOWN!!!” I seriously thought this story was about Zacchaeus being in trouble for climbing trees. But the Jews’ hatred for this tax collector ran much deeper than him being a midget tree-climber, as explained in my previous post.
Luke 19:7 says that the people were displeased when Jesus said he was going to Zack’s house. They grumbled, “He is going to the house of a notorious sinner.”
Before this event, Jesus blessed children, healed outcast lepers and cripples, and allowed Himself to be anointed by a “sinful” woman. “Sure, Jesus, heal the people we ignore every day, forgive the adulterous woman, and touch the disgusting lepers. But…hang out with Zacchaeus?? Are you kidding me? He’s a crooked government worker. He works for the Romans. He practically robs us!”
Have you ever wondered…if Jesus walked on the earth now, who would He spend time with? I think about that all the time. This situation would be like Jesus going to the home of a crooked politician. You know, the kind of person we blame for all our country’s issues. Would it be shocking to us? It’s easy for us to visualize Jesus serving and helping the poor…that’s what He should do. But the oppressors? The victimizers? Is there room for them at the feet of Jesus?
Zacchaeus’ heart was apparently ready, because his surrender was immediate. He was a Jewish Ebenezer Scrooge, suddenly giving enormous amounts of wealth to the poor around him, whom he’d previously ignored. In Luke 19:9, Jesus says that salvation came to Zacchaeus’ home, “for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham.” This phrase would’ve shocked those listening. They didn’t want to admit that this swindling crook was a fellow son of Abraham. In their minds, he was a traitor working for the secular government. Not one of the family of Abraham. Why is it significant that Jesus said this specifically? He could’ve said any number of things at that moment…about forgiveness, about faith, about not judging others. But He chose His words very carefully. He cut to the heart of the matter. What was He doing?
He was restoring Zacchaeus back to the community. He knew the pain this man felt from constant rejection by his fellow Jews. He knew the unforgiving hearts of those in the crowd who thought of Zacchaeus as the scum of the earth, a cheating government worker who was beyond hope. But Jesus calls him one of the family. A true son of Abraham. Gently saying, “He’s one of us.”
This is what Jesus does. With lepers, with the bleeding woman, with the prostitutes…He not only heals and forgives, but He restores people to community. For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost. -19:10
Who are the people we’re most disgusted and repulsed by? Liars, murderers, traffickers? The people we think are beyond hope? We may try to gain justice by giving them what we think they deserve…but Jesus blocks us and says, “Hey, step back, I got this one. I can handle it.” He sees the heart. He knows what we don’t. And His grace goes beyond ours.